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The Lombards (Latin Langobardi, from which the alternative name Longobards found in older English texts), were a Germanic people originally from Scandinavia that entered the late Roman Empire. They were known to the Romans from as early as AD 98, when the historian Tacitus mentioned them in his Germania.

Their own tradition describes how they left Scandinavia under leaders such as Ibor and settled in central Europe. They had initially settled in Pannonia by the Emperor Justinian as foederati. In 568 they invaded northern Italy under their king Alboin, but were unsuccessful at conquering any city with walls. They broke off sieges of most cities they tried to take and settled for what they could find in the countryside. They established a capital, Pavia. After the death of Alboin and his immediate successor, the Lombards failed to choose a king for more than 10 years, and the various regions were ruled by dukes.

When they entered Italy, some Lombards remained pagan, and some were Arian Christians. Hence they did not enjoy good relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Gradually, as they remained in Italy, they adopted Roman titles, names, and traditions, and converted to orthodoxy.

The last Lombard to rule as king of the Lombards was Desiderius, who ruled until 774, when Charlemagne not only conquered the Lombard kingdom, but in an utterly novel decision took the title "King of the Lombards" as well. Before then the Germanic kingdoms had frequently conquered each other, but none had adopted the title of King of another people. Charlemagne took part of the Lombard territory to create the Papal States.

The Lombardy region in Italy, which includes the cities of Bergamo and Milan, is a reminder of the presence of the Lombards.

Much of our knowledge of the mythological and semi-mythological early history of the Lombard people comes from Paul the Deacon's History of the Lombards (Historia Langobardorum) written in the late 8th century. By the title of this work the name of Longobards was commonly turned into Langobards.

According to the Lombards themselves, a legend documented by Paul the Deacon, their name was derived from a joke played on Odin (Godan) by his wife Frige (Frea). She told the Lombard women to tie their hair in front of their faces and when Odin saw them he asked about the longbeards. Then Frigg said that since Odin had named them longbeards, Langobards was to be their name. However, the name is generally considered to have come from a preferred weapon of the Lombards in war: the "long halberd" or long-bearded axe.

A Lombard law code survives from around the same period.

Historic Kings of the Lombards

(Ten year interregnum)

See also

Last updated: 02-08-2005 12:13:02
Last updated: 02-19-2005 10:38:14