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The Lombards

The Lombards, or Langobards, were a Germanic tribe that began in southern Sweden and worked their way down into Italy. They became Italians in the process and gave their name to the northern Italian region of Lombardia. This movement from Sweden to Italy was gradual: it took four centuries.

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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 earlier 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 unlike earlier Germans, they had not maintained the ancient Roman forms of government during their domination of the Peninsula, nor did the Lombard duchies which survived the Frankish onslaught in the South. The political landscape in Italy was given a German overlay by the Lombards, where eventually they spoke Italian and became Catholic. Basically, 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 survive long if they were the creators 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 of this came a papacy that became an arbiter of Medieval Politics. While the papacy controlled extensive lands in central Italy, the pope was never temporal power. The papacy created a balance of power between the various German kings that provided the Church an independence it would have never had if there were an effective Roman, or Holy Roman, emperor.


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