At home with the Longobards | FAROALD II – DUKE OF SPOLETO (681-728)

Today we resume our stories on the Duchy of Spoleto with its sixth duke: Faroald II.

In 663 Grimoald, who had become king of the Longobards, appointed Thrasimund duke (dux) of Spoleto, to reward him for his help in conquering the Longobard throne and also granted him the hand of his daughter. Having moved from the Duchy of Benevento to Spoleto at the king’s wish, they gave their son the name of the first Longobard duke of Spoleto, to reconnect with the oldest traditions of the great duchy in central Italy.

However, the circumstances surrounding his rise to the duchy remain a mystery. Paul the Deacon reports that Faroald had assumed the title on the death of his father Thrasimund, but it is not clear whether, to achieve this, he had to eliminate his uncle Wachilapus. Due to the lack of other sources, it is uncertain whether Wachilapus died before the death of Thrasimund or was killed by his nephew at the beginning of his rule.

This is the pious duke who restored the famous abbey of Farfa.

Under the reign of duke Thrasimund, a foreigner, Thomas, a priest from Morienna, came to these places and, seeing them so suitable for a solitary and religious life, stopped there, harbouring a great desire to renew the old monastery.

This plan of his had already had some humble beginnings for several years, when Faroald, having come to rule, gave great help and favour to this work, having the monastery rebuilt, and with donations of land, workers and servants, amply provided for its needs. He then sent Thomas himself to the Pope with a letter, asking him to confirm what had been done, adding spiritual penalties to those he had set out in his diploma of concession, against those who dared to usurp the possessions of the restored abbey, or in any way offend the rights and privileges of the same (A. Sansi, La storia di Spoleto, vol. 5, I Duchi di Spoleto).

Pope John VII accepted the duke’s prayer and took this monastery under his protection in 705, which suggests close cooperation, at least in some respects, between Rome and Spoleto.

In later Farfa tradition, Faroald II is remembered as the great protector of Farfa inspired by the Virgin Mary, under whose patronage the monastery was placed. The Chronicon Farfense also recounts that the duke donated eleven curtes to Farfa.

However, for unknown reasons, Faroald’s good relations with Rome soon deteriorated (around 712-713 at the latest) and he occupied some of the Church’s properties in Sabina. These possessions would only be returned to the pope some thirty years later, in 742, by King Liutprand.

Faroald is also remembered for having occupied Classe, Ravenna’s important port. However, this conquest remained in the duke’s hands for a short time. Liutprand, who had recently ascended the Longobard throne, forced him to hand this port back to the Byzantines. The king, who came to power after many years of bitter internal struggles, was above all concerned to have good relations with Byzantium and Rome, so as not to endanger the consolidation of his kingdom with new conflicts.

Liutprand, however, soon ended his policy of peace and resumed his old expansionism. But that is another story.

After about fifteen years, Faroald lost his duchy. According to Paul the Deacon, his son Thrasimund II turned against him and made him unfit for power, forcing him to take the clerical habit (719-20).

Faroald retired to the monastery he had founded at San Pietro in Valle near Ferentillo, in the present-day province of Terni.

Some traditions add that the old prince became a monk in the abbey he founded in Ferentillo, where he died after eight years of quiet, penitent life. The custodians of that place, among the furnishings in the church, point to one in which they say the body of Faroald was laid to rest. This is an ancient sarcophagus of good work, on the side faces of which a gryphon is sculpted, and on the front a portico of five arches supported by twisted columns: Here, in the spaces between the curves of the arches, are depicted animals and masks, and in the intercolumniations, a satyr with a wineskin on his shoulder, a kettledrum player, another satyr and a nymph, Hercules leaning on his club, and in the last place a last satyr portraying a leg above a horn, from which a serpent is raising its head.

It was the custom in the Middle Ages to use such sarcophaguses of the ancients to lay the bodies of the illustrious dead (A. Sansi).

Happy Monday with the Longobards!

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