The Langobards (Lombards)

The Langobards (or Lombards) were a Germanic tribe that began in southern Sweden and worked their way down into Italy by the 6th century. There they established permanent German rule in Italy, but became Italians in the process and gave their name to the northern Italian region of Lombardia. This movement from Sweden to Italy was gradual, taking some four centuries.

When the Lombards --whose original name, Langobards, refers to their long beards-- descended on Italy in the 6th century, they had to deal with several earier waves of German invaders (particularly the Goths) as well as the resurgent Eastern Romans (who were a power in Italy into the 8th century). However, twenty years after the last of the Eastern Romans were expelled from Italy (751 AD), the Lombards were stomped by the better organized Franks. This was, technically, the end of the Lombard kingdom in Italy. But it also marked the completion of the Germanization of Italy. The Lombards, unlike earlier Germans, had not maintained the ancient Roman forms of government during their domination of the Peninsula, not did the Lombard duchies which survived the Frankish onslaught in the South. The political landscape of Italy was given a German overlay by the Lombards. While everyone eventually spoke Italian and became Catholic, Italy became another Germanic area.

Perhaps most importantly, the Lombards got involved in political arguments with the Pope, and this was what caused the papacy to call upon the Franks for aid. The papacy was a prize every Medieval magnate wanted to possess. But the popes knew that they could not long survive if they were the creature of one king or emperor. The Moslems had conveniently removed the authority of the Eastern Roman emperor from Italy (with a little help from the Lombards), but someone was needed to keep the Germans in Italy (and elsewhere) from controlling the papacy. For several centuries the protector of the papacy became the Franks (and later the French). Out of all this came a papacy that became an arbiter of Medieval politics. While the papacy controlled extensive lands in central Italy, the pope was never much of a temporal power. The papacy created a balance of power between the various German kings that provided the Church an independance it would never had if there were an effective Roman, or Holy Roman, Emperor.

The last remnanst of Lombard independence in Italy, the numerous duchies which they had established in the south, eventually fell to the Normans , who had originally come into southern Italy to serve as mercenaries for the Lombard dukes.