Saturday, March 4, 2023

Liutprand of the Lombards

In order to preserve Western Europe for Christendom and repel the Muslim invasions, Charles Martel enlisted the aid of Liutprand, King of the Lombards (c.680 - 744). His reign from 712 until his death in 744 was one of the longer and more productive reigns in Lombardy.

He almost didn't make it. Due to political intrigue, his family was destroyed by rivals: the usurper Aripert II exiled his father King Ansprand to Bavaria, blinded his brother, and cut off the ears and noses of his mother and sister. Liutprand was young enough to be considered harmless, and so was spared and sent to Bavaria with his father.

King Ansprand returned with an army of Bavarians and Austrians. Aripert fled towards Gaul, but drowned crossing a river. On Ansprand's deathbed, the Lombard nobles called Liutprand and declared him his father's co-ruler. This practice—declaring a co-ruler—made succession clear and ensured there would always be a functioning ruler. Liutprand did the same with his own son in later years when Liutprand was ill. Ansprand died the next day.

The illustration shows a large part of the Italian Peninsula under Lombard rule, and Liutprand can take credit for that by taking advantage of local hostilities. Byzantine Emperor Leo III made edicts against icons in 726. Pope Gregory II, however, rejected iconoclasm. Some parts of the peninsula (remember that at this time "Italy" is not a country but a large number of independent states) accepted Leo's edicts; some did not. The clash was serious: for example, the Byzantine Duke of Naples was killed by a mob while trying to destroy religious icons.

Liutprand took advantage of the civil discord to take his armies south and conquer much of the peninsula. On approach to Rome, he was met by Pope Gregory at the ancient city of Sutri, where the two negotiated a deal by which the papacy would get control of Sutri and some other towns as a donation to the pope (the start of establishing the Papal States), and Liutprand was allowed to take as much other territory as he was able.

As the longest-reigning Lombard king, it would be inappropriate to try to summarize his rule in one brief post. His later relationships with popes and the Carolingians and his legal reforms deserve their own attention. Stay tuned.

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