At home with the Langobards

Atto: 4th duke of Spoleto

Spoleto’s 4th duke was Atto, who ruled for a decade, from 653 to 663. Very little is known of him, as well as of his predecessor. The oldest source is Paul the Deacon, who lived much later and uncoincidentally used vague expressions, such as circa haec tempera (Latin for “at that time, roughly”).

In his Historia Langobardorum Paul the Deacon only says that, once Theudelapius I had passed away, he was succeeded by Atto. We do not even know if they were relatives.

Nor do we know if his election was approved by Pavia, or if, when Thrasimund was elected duke in 663, Atto was still in charge and removed, or if the ducal see was vacant.

In the impossibility of discussing Atto, we will therefore discuss his administrative organization of the area.

On their arrival in Italy, the Langobards were a people in arms led by an aristocracy of knights and a warrior king elected from the ranks of the army.

The social structure was based on the Farae, military aristocratic clans, headed by a duke who commanded the Arimanni, free men belonging to the aristocraticy, linked to the duke by family ties. At the base of the social ladder there were the servants, who were essentially slaves, while at an intermediate level were the Aldii, semi-free men who performed military service as infantry soldiers, archers and squires.

The Langobards’ Social Pyramid

In Italy, the Farae settled on the territory rejecting any mixture with the Latin population and kept all those characters that distinguished them from both the Byzantines and the Romanesque unchanged, the language, the pagan religion, a strongly militarized social structure, well documented by the finds in the first necropolises.

Relationships with the natives was initially difficult and violent, but with time, signs of change occurred, especially after the conversion to Catholicism. The Langobards began to integrate with the old Roman elites, who gradually accepted their presence.

The cities, seat of the dukes, became essentially military control centres of the territory. The countryside, instead, was based on the Arimannie: rural territories managed by the Arimanni who took care, besides the military aspect, of the economic and productive resources by employing indigenous peasant labour.

The progressive consolidation of the Langobards’ power brought about the strengthening of the political structure based on the system of dukedoms: each duchy was led by a duke, no longer just the head of a fara, but a royal official with public powers, flanked by minor figures such as the gastaldi (king’s referendaries, judges, notaries) and, in the 8th century, the gasindi.

Under the dependence of the gastaldi there were officials of lesser importance, the sculdasci, with administrative, police and lower justice tasks, who in turn had as coadjutors other minor figures, such as the decani, the saltarii, the scariones.

From a military leader, the king gradually became a sovereign capable of representing the entire people institutionally, before the Byzantine Empire, the Papacy and the Franks. Likewise, the Longobard kingdom from military occupation became a state with a diversified society and a hierarchy linked to land ownership.

The conversion to Catholicism and the drafting of a body of laws written in Latin (Rotharis’ Edict) marked the end of barbaric customs and laid the foundations for the formation of a society based on land ownership, marriage union and hereditary law, but this is something to save for the next time.

Happy Monday with the Langobards!


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