The Medieval Review 11.10.30

Antonopoulos, Panagiotis. The Reign of Cunincpert: Saga, Reality, Stability and Progress in Lombard Italy at the End of the Seventh Century. Camberley, Surrey: Porphyrogenitus Ltd., 2010. Pp. 137. ISBN 978-1-871328-18-7. . .

Reviewed by:

Stefano Gasparri
Università Ca'Foscari Venezia

The aim of this book is to highlight the significance of King Cunincpert's reign (678-700) in the history of the Lombard Kingdom of Italy. The author complains about the indifference of most scholars who ignore the king's reign. Antonopoulos thinks instead that Cunincpert's reign was a key moment in Lombard history, a period of important transformation. As evidence, he reminds us of the fact that Cunincpert's reign is the only one covered by two books (V and VI) in Paul the Deacon's Historia Langobardorum. The first part of Paul's narrative depicts a period of instability, with the dangerous revolt of duke Alahis, the second one a period of peace, with the so-called Council of Pavia bringing an end to the Three Chapters Schism.

The book is divided in four parts: Cunincpert's life; changes in the Lombard state; Cunincpert's external policy; Cunincpert's in Paul the Deacon's History.

Before examining Antonopoulos' work in some detail, it has to be stated that the partial scholarly indifference toward Cunincpert's reign is due to the scarcity of sources. Antonopoulos is well aware of it, but he believes that his particular reading of the only source we have--the already mentioned Historia Langobardorum--allows him to understand many aspects of the period. In my opinion, many of the conclusions he draws from Paul the Deacon are merely conjectural because it is impossible to test these claims against other evidence.

First of all, Antonopoulos reconstructs Cunincpert's life, trying to establish the precise date of the king's birth and the meaning of his name. He tries also to investigate the secrets of the king's family, and in particular to discover the name of the mother of his daughter Cunincperga. He supposes that she was the illegitimate result of Cunincpert's love affair with a Roman girl named Theodote. In the author's opinion, the story has great importance, because Paul does not condemn Cunincpert's behaviour. Quite the contrary, it confirms the popularity of the king. Paul does not even condemn the conduct of Cunincpert toward two men of his retinue, Aldo and Grauso, whom he wanted killed, or the dangerous gift he made to Bishop John (an untamed horse). The author is amazed by the popularity of the king according to Paul's narration, notwithstanding some sinister episodes of his reign.

More convincing--but not new--is Antonopoulos' understanding of the role of the so-called Bavarian dynasty and the consideration that Cunincpert's reign is just the culmination of a longer process of change. Antonopoulos addresses the inner transformations of the Lombard kingdom in the second half of the eighth century: the growth of the economy and of towns, monetary reform, cultural improvement, the resolution of the Aquileian schism, and peace with Byzantium. The author focuses particularly on cultural progress, the evidence for which is relatively abundant and includes: the composition of the Origo gentis Langobardorum (the oldest historical work surviving from the Lombard kingdom); the royal commitment to the construction of churches, monasteries, and palaces, particularly in Pavia; and the presence of cultivated high clergy at court (the deacon and grammaticus Felix) and in the administration of the local church (Bishop Damianus). Antonopoulos does not use epigraphic evidence, which is noteworthy both for its artistic value and for its textual contents. Particularly important is the portrait of Cunincpert in his funerary epigraph. Instead, Antonopoulos uses the charters of Cremona, which are notorious fakes forged by an Italian scholar, Dragoni, at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The author is correct in attributing importance to the monetary reform of Cunincpert, the first Lombard king to imprint the two sides of the golden tremisses with his bust and the figure of archangel Michael, in clear imitation of Byzantine emperors. It is also true, as Antonopoulos affirms, that the Bavarian dynasty was a Catholic one, but he stresses perhaps too much the political meaning of the end of the Aquileian schism. It is not by chance that the only surviving source on the synod of Pavia of 698 (when the schism was ended by the intervention of Cunincpert himself), is a nearly unknown poem, surviving in a unique copy. Moreover, the text confuses the reasons of the schism just as Paul the Deacon did.

We have only scanty information about the international relations during Cunincpert's reign. The king may have had good relationships with the majority of his western neighbours (including Franks and Anglo- Saxons), with the popes, and even with Byzantium. In this context, Antonopoulos is correct in writing that the peace of 680 was not the official recognition of Lombard kingdom by the Byzantine emperors, but instead only a temporary stage in a long history of difficult relations.

At the end of his book, the author tries to detect the reasons behind Paul the Deacon's portrait of Cunincpert: a portrait that Antonopoulos believes to be rather obscure. Paul tells us about the scandalous events of Cunincpert's reign (his adulterous relationship with Theodote, the plot to murder two courtiers) and about the king's generosity. The author concludes that this was the portrait of complex personality: "a cultured and somewhat frivolous person, a brave warrior" (108). His personality was the reason for the general grief that followed his death.

In my opinion, Antonopoulos is not successful in highlighting Cunincpert's personal role in the growth of the Lombard kingdom and society in the second half of the seventh century. In his attempt, he is forced to rely almost exclusively on the chronicle of Paul the Deacon. His interpretation of a narrative source, written more than a century later in a completely different context, is, however, not persuasive. After the lessons of the linguistic turn, Antopoulos' psychological reading of Paul the Deacon can hardly be convincing.

To conclude, this book is a very traditional attempt to illuminate the history of the Lombard kingdom in the second half of the seventh century relying almost exclusively on a single narrative source. The author's goal is impossible to achieve in a satisfying way without exploiting other types of evidence, most importantly archaeological remains. To this methodological remark I wish to add the final observation that the bibliography is rather meagre and lacks important works, especially those written in recent years.