12.01.14, Roma, I Longobardi del sud

Main Article Content

Valerie Ramseyer

The Medieval Review 12.01.14

Roma, Giuseppe. I Longobardi del sud. Rome: Giorgio Bretscneider Editore, 2010. Pp. 491. ISBN: 978-88-7689-252-3.

Reviewed by:
Valerie Ramseyer
Wellesley College

I Longobardi del Sud is a collection of essays of varying lengths, some as short as 5 pages and some as long as 78 pages, focused on the Lombard states of southern Italy in the early Middle Ages. The book is almost 500 pages long and contains numerous photos, figures, and illustrations. Some of the articles have a single author while others have multiple ones. The book's main goal is to demonstrate how archaeological research in recent years has transformed our understanding of Lombard history. In addition, the articles seek a fresh approach by looking at change in terms of transformation rather than decline. Finally, the authors view ethnicity not as race but as a cultural construct, and the Lombards themselves as a multi-ethnic group with a fluid identity who created a society in southern Italy that included influences from a number of different places. Topics of discussion include the migration and ethnogenesis of the early Lombards, settlement patterns, roads and defensive structures, and epigraphy. There is also a lot of information on the material culture of the Lombards, including their money, ceramics, and grave goods. Some of the articles examine specific geographical regions or cities, and the sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo on Mt. Gargano is also discussed at length.

Marcello Rotili re-examines early Lombard history from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD, discussing both the legendary origins and movement of the Lombards as well as new information gleaned from archaeological research in both Germany and Italy. Studies of necropoles and tombs have traced the Lombards to settlements on the Elbe river in Saxony, where they lived in small villages between the 1st century BC and the 4th/5th century AD, with an economy based on livestock raising and farming. They then traveled through Germany and settled on the Danube river in Moravia in the late 5th and early 6th centuries, by which time they had become warriors, eventually entering Italy in the 560s. The author sees the Lombards as a diverse group of soldiers unified by the idea of common descent, and also discusses how Paul the Deacon recreated Lombard identity in his writings in the 8th century, making them and not the Byzantines the true heirs to classical civilization. Grave goods show a mixing of both pagan and Christian elements and of Lombard and Roman traditions. Next this article gives an overview of the early history of the Duchy of Benevento, contrasting it with the establishment of the Lombard kingdom of Pavia. Whereas the Lombard takeover of northern Italy was an organized conquest led by a king who was also a military leader, in southern Italy the Duchy of Benevento was created through a series of small raids. Contrary to what Paul the Deacon claimed, the establishment of the southern Duchy was not orchestrated by the rulers in Pavia but took place independently. Next the author discusses the disappearance of cities and dioceses during the period of the Lombard conquest, although he places the beginnings of population decline and the abandonment of agricultural lands in southern Italy in the 5th century. He then traces the transformation of urban space due to demographic decline, Christianization, and the militarization of cities, as well as the reorganization of the countryside by the Lombards, which included the construction of fortresses and the creation of villages under episcopal authority. He ends with a long description of the changes that took place to the city of Benevento in the Lombard era.

Claudio Azzara also discusses the disorganized manner in which small bands of Lombards took over southern Italy. In addition, he traces the gradual adoption of Roman traditions by the Lombards. His article ends with an overview of how Lombard history has generally been viewed within the larger context of Italian history. For Azzara the Lombard era should be viewed as a time of transition, rather than an era of decadence or rupture.

Ermanno A. Arslan's article focuses on the changing nature of coinage in Lombard southern Italy. At first Lombard rulers produced imitation imperial and Byzantine coins, developing a "national" coinage late in comparison to other Germanic rulers, most likely because they lived in the Byzantine monetary zone where the solidus circulated. Portraits of Lombard rulers did not appear on coins minted in southern Italy until the reign of Grimoaldus III (788-806).

Fabio Redi et al. examine the Lombards in the interior regions of Abruzzo. Much of the article is devoted to descriptions of the various sites and buildings that survive from the early Middle Ages, as well as Lombard material culture. Although the construction of monumental works in cities virtually disappeared after the end of the Roman empire, the Lombard era saw the building of a large number of religious houses. Moreover, archaeological research has shown that the Roman road system survived into the Lombard era, used first by the Lombards to conquer the region and then as part of their new territorial organization. It also suggests that the Gothic wars were much more destructive to the region's economy than the Lombard takeover. In addition, an examination of material remains shows the probable presence of local centers of artisanal production in the Lombard era that used material extracted locally. The fate of cities, dioceses, and rural sites are also discussed in the article.

Andrea R. Staffa'a article focuses on the Adriatic side of Abruzzo. Recent archaeological research has allowed scholars to follow with more precision the timing of the Lombard takeover, which was carried out by separate Lombard initiatives originating from both Spoleto and Benevento. Interior territories were taken early on, while coastal regions only gradually slipped out of Byzantine hands, with some coastal cities remaining under Byzantine control up through the mid- 7th century and the failed attempt by the emperor Constans II (641-68) to reconquer southern Italy. Much attention is paid to recent archaeological studies of tombs and material remains, and there are sections devoted to the archaeological evidence from Lombard settlements in the provinces of Pescara and Chieti. An examination of tombs found in various places suggests that the Lombard conquest was devastating to the region. A paleoanthropoligical analysis of 19 tombs resulted in the discovery of a genetic sequencing found today only in certain central Asian population groups. The article concludes with a discussion of cities and bishoprics. According to the author, coastal areas exhibited more urban continuity, while interior regions saw a return to sparse, modest settlements, characteristic of the pre-Roman era, that nonetheless were better suited to the local environment. The Lombard era also saw a reduction in the number of dioceses, although the 3 surviving dioceses of Terra, Penne, and Chieti were important points of reference for the reorganization of territory in the 8th and 9th centuries.

Valeria Ceglia's article examines early medieval necropoles in Molise, discussing the reappearance of grave goods in the 6th through 8th century and their disappearance in the late 7th and early 8th centuries. It also includes a description of a cemetery at Campochiaro, which contains a variety of funerary traditions, including burials with horses.

Paolo Peduto's article focuses on the material culture of the Lombards in Salerno, Capua, Sicopolis, and Capua Nuova. He also discusses the new system of territorial organization created in the 5th and 6th centuries, based on curtes and plebes. The article ends with a description of the early medieval village of Olevano sul Tusciano and its Grotta di San Michele, a rupestrian sanctuary that was an important pilgrimage site in the early Middle Ages. The sanctuary contains a number of frescoes that still survive today.

Rosa Fiorillo's article examines Lombard ceramic production, beginning with a new type of ceramic that appeared in the mid-6th century. The author stresses how we should not use ceramics as ethnic markers, as scholars in the past have done, because they mixed elements of late Roman traditions with the practices of people living on the borders of the empire. Moreover, Lombard symbolism was not unitary across regions. In southern Italy, the style was purely Roman-Byzantine, which leads the author to surmise that the Lombards here did not want to identify with their Germanness. Next the author traces ceramic production from before the Gothic wars, when the Roman state system was already in decline, through the early Lombard era. Ceramics produced in the 6th and 7th centuries were of a more simplified form, based to a large extent on late Roman traditions but also adding new elements that reflected changing tastes and markets. According to the author, there was a large amount of ceramic production in southern Italy in the Lombard era, manufactured in local workshops and transported along an efficient network of roads for regional exchange.

Chiara Lambert's article focuses on epigraphy in the 8th and 9th centuries. Although the widespread use of stone tablets for engraving disappeared during the crisis of the late empire, Christian funerary epigraphy continued, which meant that the specialized production of stone also survived in places such as Salerno, Benevento, and Capua. According to the author, an identifiable Lombard epigraphical tradition first appeared in the northern Lombard kingdom of Pavia during the conflict between Lombards and Carolingians. Carmi were first produced for southern Lombard princes beginning with the reign of Arechis II (774-87). Lombard epigraphy was based on fixed epic-narrative themes that included references to ancestry and physical traits as well as a narration of the person's actions and virtues. The poems drew inspiration from both pagan authors and the Bible, although the writing style was new and innovative. The use of epigraphical poems declined in the second half of the 9th century as the use of charters became more widespread.

Angela Carolla's article examines the network of roads in the gastaldate of Rota north of Salerno. The road system here was based on the existing Roman consular roads but also changed with the reorganization of territory after the Lombard conquest. For example, when Arechis II made Salerno one of the new capitals of the Duchy in the second half of the 8th century, new roads were built to connect the city to other places. The construction of new fortified centers and rural villages in the 9th century also led to the building of new roads. Finally, since goods in the early medieval era were often transported on people's back or on the backs of mules, new road systems were created through mountainous regions that shortened the distances people had to travel.

Giorgio Otranto's article discusses the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo on Mt. Gargano. Medieval texts place the initial connection between the Archangel Michael and Mt. Gargano in the late 5th century, and the cave became a popular pilgrimage site during the Gothic wars. A medieval text also claims that a certain Artellaide, a nephew of the Byzantine general Narses, gave money to the sanctuary for the support of building activity. According to Otranto, the Lombards early on were attracted to Michael's cult because of the similarities between the archangel and the Lombard's own war god Wodan. After the Lombard duke Grimoaldus I (647-62) conquered the area and took control of the sanctuary, it became an important part of Lombard identity. The rest of the article contains an overview of the various building activities undertaken by both southern and northern Lombard rulers.

Gioia Bertelli et al. discuss at length various aspects of Lombard history in Puglia. Much of the article is devoted to descriptions of building activity in the region, particularly the construction of churches and religious houses, which were used by the Lombard rulers to establish political control, and often times had military functions as well. The authors identify the unique features of Lombard buildings in Puglia, as well as the difficulty of dating structures. They also discuss painting and sculpture in the region in the Lombard era, which the authors place into the category of a campana- molisana style. The article also includes a long section on the networks of roads, as well as a discussion of tombs and grave goods, and the process of the Lombards' "Romanization," first seen in the graves of women.

Franca C. Papparella examines the region of Basilicata, for which little literary or archaeological evidence remains. The article describes briefly the various castles, churches, monasteries, and cemeteries that have survived from the Lombard era, with the aim of reading the material evidence within the context of their sites. The author is unable to draw any conclusions regarding whether the goods found in tombs were imported, produced locally, or made by itinerant artisans.

Giuseppe Roma et al.'s article focuses on the frontier region between the Duchies of Benevento and Calabria. The article begins with a discussion of the decline of commerce and agriculture and the abandonment of cities in the 6th century. The region at this time switched to an economy based more on a silvo-pastoral regime, and the use of uncultivated foods found in forests, giving the population a varied and balanced diet. A paleonutritional analysis of 2 skeletons found in tombs in northern Calabria provides evidence of a plant-based diet. As in other regions of Lombard southern Italy, the Roman road system survived here. Next the article traces the Lombard conquest of the region, and the construction of various defensive systems which guaranteed access to both roads and the sea. The authors believe that many of the defensive structures served as places of refuge for the population who continued to live in sparse settlements. The article ends with a discussion of toponymy and the use of place names based on Lombard vocabulary. The authors note that a number of fortified centers using the Lombard toponym galdo were linked to cult sites dedicated to the archangel Michael.

The articles in this book contain a wealth of information, in particular on the material remains of Lombard southern Italy. Although much of the information in this collection is already well known, and the articles themselves do not attempt to make any broad reinterpretations of Lombard history in southern Italy, they nonetheless do show how recent archaeological research has transformed some aspects of our understanding of the Lombards. For example, archaeology has given us more precise information about the movement of the Lombards and the timing of their conquests. It has provided some new insights on specific sites and material remains. It has increased our knowledge of settlement patterns, urban transformation, road networks, ceramics, and local artisanal production. In addition, the articles move away from some older, problematic ways of interpreting evidence, such as viewing grave goods as ethnic markers. They also depict Lombard society and economy as vibrant and changing. Lombard southern Italy may have been a more localized and materially humble world than the Roman one that preceded it, but it was marked nonetheless by movement, artisanal production, and building activity.

Article Details

Author Biography

Valerie Ramseyer

Wellesley College