The Lombards and Charlemagne

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The Lombards and Charlemagne                             (Back to menu of History of Italy)

Byzantine dominion was however short-lived. In 568 a new Barbarian invasion brought the Lombards of Alboin to Italy. They reached as far as the southern regions and built a large kingdom, with its capital at Pavia, which was to last for over two hundred years (774). This put an end to the political and territorial unity that the country had preserved thus far. In fact, alongside the Lombards the temporal power of the church began to take shape. It acquired the Exarchate and the Pentapolis, former Byzantine territory corresponding to today's Marche and eastern Emilia, obtained from the Lombards themselves after their conversion to christianity. Meanwhile, the island and both extremities of the peninsula, Calabria (modern Puglia) and Bruttia (modern Calabria), remained under Byzantium.

Italy was now incapable of taking an independent political initiative and after the Lombards had to submit to another European people. The Franks descended into Italy to support the pope against the Lombards. With the victory of Charlemagne over the Lombard Desiderius, Italy was to remain for over two centuries (774) in the orbit of the Carolingian dynasty, which had substituted the Lombards in the Kingdom of Italy. It was, however, a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire in the context of which it co-existed with the Patrimony of St. Peter, which was to become the future Papal States. The Lombards retained the Duchy of Benevento, which was transformed into a principality and maintained considerable independence until the beginning of the 11C when it provided the origins for the principalities of Salerno and Capua.

In the meantime, there occurred the Arab expansion throughout the Mediterranean and Italy herself was involved. During the 9C, in fact (827-902), Sicily fell entirely into Saracen hands and became the base for raids along the coasts or even into the interior of the Italian peninsula. Still in the South of Italy, there began to appear in this period the first independent city-states with the formation of independent signorie such as at Naples, Amalfi and Gaeta, which because of their position on the sea were able to develop a mercantile economy. These are the first examples of the free communes that were to flourish slightly later in Central-Northern Italy. In Southern Italy instead they were to be suffocated after a brief season by the arrival, towards the middle of the 11C, of another conquering northern people.

The Normans were professional soldiers and rapidly took control of all Southern Italy, Sicily included. Their rule lasted for almost two centuries, from 1029 (acquisition of Aversa) to 1220, which was the year of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen's accession to the Sicilian throne.


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