At home with the Langobards: duke Theodicius

At the end of 762 or, according to many scholars, at the beginning of 763, Theodicius was appointed duke of Spoleto. Unlike his predecessors, he did not call himself duke of the Langobards, but duke of Spoleto: Theodicius gloriosus et summus dux Ducatus Spoletani, i.e. a power extended over all the inhabitants of the territory he governed.

These were the years in which the fate of our duchy became increasingly intertwined with that of the temporal power of the Church of Rome.

When Pope Paul I died in 767, the struggle between the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the secular nobility began in Rome. Totone, governor of Nepi, entered Rome with his brothers Constantine, Passivo and Pasquale at the head of a large number of partisans. He threatened and forced the bishop of Preneste to ordain Constantine as a cleric, subdeacon and deacon, though he was a layman. On 5 July Constantine was consecrated in St Peter’s.

Sure enough, such an election couldn’t but trigger a reaction from the ecclesiastics, first and foremost Christopher. Christopher, who opposed Constantine’s election, was forced to shut himself up at home under strict surveillance. Pretending to become a monk, he managed to escape from Rome together with his son Sergius. They found refuge in the Duchy of Spoleto and begged Theodicius to help them because the Church was in great danger. The duke, realising the gravity of the situation, even escorted them to Pavia and had them received by the king, Desiderius. The Longobard king welcomed the request of the two fugitives and took advantage of the situation to have one of his men elected pope.

The two, alongside the Longobard priest Valpertus, who quickly gathered many armed troops in the Duchy of Spoleto, marched towards Rome. They arrived at the walls of the city on 28th June 768 and, having occupied the Salario bridge, thanks to Christopher’s supporters who opened the San Pancrazio gate, they entered the city. Totone came to the aid of the Langobards but was killed during the battle. The death of their leader caused havoc among the Roman militia, who eventually joined forces with the Langobards and together drove the antipope from the Lateran.

Taking advantage of the turmoil, Valpert had the monk Philip proclaimed pontiff. Yet another unacceptable election for both the secular aristocracy and the ecclesiastical hierarchy. However, on the very day of his appointment, 31 July 768, the clergy, together with the army and the Roman people, deposed him and, on the advice of the primicerius Christopher, elected the Sicilian priest Stephen III as pope. A sad fate awaited both the Longobard priest and the antipope.

Valdipertus had his eyes gouged out; Constantine was seized, his stole was torn off, his sandals cut off, he was put on a horse on a bench with heavy weights on his feet and in such ignominious state, he was taken to the monastery of Celle Nuove. He was then taken away from there, his eyes were also removed and he was left mercilessly on the road. (Dictionary of historical-ecclesiastical erudition by Gaetano Moroni Romano).

Despite the services by the Spoletans to the Romans, the latter were wary of our duke’s intentions, fearing he’d occupy the city with his troops. But Theodicius, as far as we know, never attempted such an undertaking.

There are memories of Theodicius’ generosity towards the monastery of Farfa. … From a diploma of Adelchi, we learn that Theodicius also donated places and possessions in his domains to the monastery of S. Salvatore in Brescia: certainly to please Queen Ansa, Desiderius’ wife, who had founded it, and Anselperga, their daughter, who was its abbess. But nothing is said in particular, nor do we know what possessions and places were donated.(A. Sansi).

Theodicius was such a strong supporter of Desiderius that, on the death of Stephen III, at the consecration of Adrian I on 9 February 772, the king elected him as his ambassador together with the duke of Ivrea and Prandolo, royal warder, to pay him due homage as the new pontiff.

But the relationship between the new pope and the king of the Langobards was soon clear: Hadrian I immediately accused him of treason for not respecting the pacts for the restitution of the territories of the patrimony of St Peter’s, formerly belonging to the Byzantines, then occupied by the Langobards themselves and promised to the States of the Church. These were clear and evident signs that he wanted to undertake a policy of alliance with the Franks: the reign of the Langobards was about to end.

Happy Monday with the Langobards!


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