Monday, March 6, 2023

Conquest of Lombardy

Although there once existed an agreement between the papacy and the Lombards, the desire of King Aistulf to take more land on the Italian Peninsula started an attempt by the popes to curtail Lombardy's power. To do so, they not only pointed out the hostility to them presented by the Lombards, but also their "heathenism" because of the type of Christianity they practiced. The years-long process culminated in calling on their most devout and powerful champions, Charlemagne.

The immediate precursor to the war between the Franks under Charlemagne and the Lombards came when Pope Hadrian I expelled the Lombard officials from the papal curia. King Desiderius then invaded papal territory, and Hadrian sent to Charlemagne for help.

Awkwardly, there were ties between the Frankish and the Lombard royal families. Charlemagne's co-ruler was his brother Carloman, whose widow Gerberge had gone to shelter at Desiderius' court, later settling in Verona. Desiderius claimed that her children should have a stake in ruling Gaul. Even more awkwardly, Charlemagne had married Desiderius' daughter, Desiderata, but had divorced her after a year and sent her back to her father—a grave insult.

Charlemagne brought at least 10,000 troops to the city of Pavia in September of 773. Although he had brought no siege engines with which to take the fortified city, Pavia had under-prepared for a siege anyway, having neglected to stock extra supplies. (The illustration shows part of the original medieval outer wall, now incorporated into housing inside the city.) Desiderius had sent his son, Adelchis, to Verona to guard Gerberge and her family. Charlemagne sent a small troop to Verona, taking it easily after Adelchis fled to Constantinople.

Charlemagne spent the first months of 774 subduing the land around Pavia. By summer, famine was a real problem in Pavia; Desiderius surrendered in June. Charlemagne declared himself Rex Langobardorum, "King of the Lombards." It was unusual to take the title of king over a subjugated land, rather than simply annex it to yours.

Although Desiderius was no longer king, he was allowed to live another 42 years. Let us look at his life and career next.

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