Key to Umbria: Spoleto

Lombard Duchy of Spoleto

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Dukes Faroald I (ca. 576-91) and Ariulf (ca. 591-601)

In ca. 576, a Lombard called Faroald, who seems to have been a mercenary in the Byzantine army, rebelled against his previous employers and seized Classe (the port of Ravenna) along with a considerable amount of plunder.  He then marched south and conquered a swathe of territory that extended from the Adriatic coast along the valley of Spoleto, taking in Spoleto itself, Camerino, Norcia, Foligno and Assisi to the north, and Terni, Rieti and the Sabine lands to the south.  He thus became Duke Faroald I, and his territory became known as the Duchy of Spoleto.  (Another Lombard mercenary managed to establish the Duchy of Benevento to the south at about the same time).

According to Ludovico Jacobilli, Faroald I established the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle outside Spoleto in 575 AD for SS Lazarus and John, two of the 300 Syrians who had fled to Rome some 60 years previously.  

Another mercenary, Droctulf (or Drocton), who remained faithful to the Byzantines, retook Classe in ca. 584: his epitaph in San Vitale, Ravenna recorded that: “when Faroald withheld by treachery Classe, ... [Drocton] conquers and overcomes numberless Langobard bands ...”.  Nothing further is known about Faroald I, except that another Lombard general, Ariulf replaced him in ca. 591.  Ariulf seems to have significantly extended the territory of the duchy along Via Flaminia and Via Amerina, taking Perugia for eaxample for a period in 592/3.

The Byzantine Exarch was subsequently able to establish a land corridor between Rome and Ravenna (including Gubbio, Perugia, Todi and Amelia) that came to form the northern boundary of the duchy.  This had the unintended effect of preserving its independence (and that of the Duchy of Benevento to the south of it) from the Kingdom of Lombardy.

Pope Gregory I (590 - 604)

In the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I, Pope Gregory I wrote of the turmoil caused by the Lombard invasion of northern and central Italy.   Two monks at his monastery of Sant’ Andrea, Rome, both of whom provided information for Dialogues, probably had first-hand knowledge of life in Spoleto at this time:

  1. Eleutherius and his monks from the Abbazia di San Marco, were living at Sant’ Andrea from ca. 574-9.  It seems likely that they had left Spoleto because of the invasion.

  2. Boniface, who had “until these four years last past remained amongst the Lombards” (i.e. until 589), told Gregory I about an unsuccessful attempt by an Arian bishop to take possession of San Paolo inter Vineas.  This Boniface seems to have been the same man as “my deacon Bonifacius” from Valeria (Book III, Chapter 20), first documented in 591 and later Pope Boniface IV.   The Catholic bishop may have been “Petrus”, a bishop whose epitaph in San Pietro was mentioned in the introduction of the legend of St John of Spoleto, written in the late 10th century.  According to local historians, Peter was bishop in the period 563-93.

In 598, the Byzantine Exarch Callinicus reached a truce with the Lombard King Agilulf (590-616) and then proceeded to take large tracts of the eastern part of the Duchy of Spoleto, including Norcia from Duke Ariulf.  The Duke managed to halt Callinicus's incursion at Camerino with the miraculous help of St Sabinus.

In a letter dated 599, Gregory I wrote to his agent telling him to deal with a request from “Stephanus”, the Abbot of San Marco for the restitution of property that Pope Benedict I had given to the abbey, probably just before the first Lombard invasion.  The letter instructs the agent to effect the restitution “ (without any hindrance or altercation).  This suggests that the abbey, and presumably the rest of Spoleto, was getting back to normal now that peace had been restored.

Letters from Pope Gregory I to Bishop Chrysanthus of Spoleto suggest that, while the bishop was well established in the city despite its occupation by the Arian Lombards, the diocesan structure within the Duchy had disintegrated:

  1. In 597, Gregory I asked Bishop Chrysanthus to assume responsibility for the formerly separate diocese of Bevagna. 

  2. In 603, Gregory I asked Bishop Chrysanthus to discipline the priests of Norcia, which probably did not have a bishop at this time. 

Tradition has it that he also administered the vacant dioceses Spello and Trevi, although there is no surviving documentary evidence of this.

Duchy of Spoleto in the 7th Century

When Ariulf died in 601, there followed the relatively uneventful (or at least undocumented) reigns of:

  1. Duke Teudelapius (601 - 53), the son of the former Faroald I, who emerged after a contest for power with his brother;

  2. Duke Atto (653 - 63); and

  3. Duke Transamund I (663 - 703), whom King Grimuald, the former Duke of Benevento, appointed after he took the Lombard crown in a coup in 662.

Two bishops are documented in this period:

  1. Bishop Adeodatus, at the Lateran Council in 649; and

  2. Bishop Felix, at a synod in Rome in 680.

Duke Faroald II (ca. 703-20)

The religious situation improved over the course of the 7th century as the Lombard nobility was assimilated into the local culture.  In particular, Duke Faroald II seems to have been a devout and orthodox Christian:

  1. In 705, he aided the restoration of the Abbazia di Farfa, an important abbey in the Sabine hills that was at that time within the duchy.  Pope John VII granted it important privileges in a letter that referred to Faroald as his "glorious son". 

  2. He apparently became a monk at the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle (possibly founded by Duke Faroald I - see above) when his son, Duke Transamund II deposed him in 72o (see below). 

The political situation however deteriorated as Byzantine authority in Italy crumbled.  In 717, Duke Faroald took Classe, although King Liutprand (see below) forced him to return it to the Exarch.  In 717, he seized Imperial Narni as part of a wave of unrest.  His reluctance to press further may account for his deposition in ca. 720.

King Liutprand (714-41)

King Liutprand came to the throne determined to unite much of Italy under his own control.  His father,  Ansprand, had been a courtier who opposed the coup by King Aribert II (701 - 12) and had been forced to flee to Bavaria.  Aribert I had mutilated most of Ansprand’s relatives, but he had allowed the young Liutprand to join his father in exile.  Among other exiled relatives was Peter (Petros), who had been sent to Spoleto.  As Peter prayed in "the church of the blessed martyr Sabinus" (San Sabino), St Sabinus appeared to him and told him that he would become Bishop of Ticinum (Pavia).  When Liutprand eventually came to the throne, Peter duly became Bishop of Pavia and built a church dedicated to St Sabinus on his own property in the diocese.

King Liutprand’s territorial ambitions were helped by the deterioration in the relations between the Emperor Leo III (717-41) and Pope Gregory II (715-31).  The initial cause was the high level of imperial taxes: the Exarch Paul sent an army against Rome to enforce his demands in ca. 723, and must have been seriously undermined when Duke Transamund II (see below) blocked his way and he was forced to withdraw.  It is unlikely that King Liutprand was pleased by this display of independence on the part of Transamund II.

Imperial-papal relations became much worse in 726, when Leo III issued a decree that prohibited the use and display of icons, a move that led to an Italian revolt.   In 727, King Liutprand used this opportunity to take a number of imperial cities and the threaten Ravenna itself.  A mob killed the Exarch Paul there soon after.

King Liutprand somewhat opportunistically made an agreement with Paul’s successor, Eutychius in 729, to the effect that they would depose Gregory II and end the independence of the Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento.  In fact, the respective dukes, Transamund II and Godescalc, surrendered to King Liutprand and swore loyalty to him soon after, removing his need for the deal.  He duly marched on Rome but met with Gregory II at Sutri and reached an understanding with him.  He also brokered a reconciliation between Gregory II and Eutychius.  It seems that King Liutprand believed that he could now replace the hated Leo III as the secular head of the Catholic Church in the west, but these aspirations were thwarted when Gregory II died in 731.

Duke Transamund II (720-44)

As noted above, Duke Transamund II deposed his father in ca. 720 and swore loyalty to King Liutprand in 729.  The uneasy peace lasted until 738, when he seems to have tried to re-assert his independence.  This heralded a period of great instability in Spoleto:

  1. King Liutprand took the Duchy in 739 and installed Duke Hilderic there.   An inscription records that Hilderic commissioned an altar at San Pietro in Valle at this time. 

  2. Transamund II fled to Rome and the protection of Pope Gregory III: Liutprand marched on that city, taking a number of others, including Amelia, on the way.  Gregory III sent an embassy to Charles Martel and he in turn sent back his own embassy to mediate between the warring parties.

  3. Gregory III helped Transamund II regain the Duchy of Spoleto in 740 and to depose Duke Hilderic.  Transamund II however refused to honour his promise to retake the cities that King Liutprand had captured and to return them to the papacy.   Indeed, he prepared to march on Rome. 

  4. At this moment, Pope Gregory III died and his successor, Pope Zacharias forged an alliance with King Liutprand. 

  5. With Roman help, King Liutprand retook the Duchy of Spoleto in 742 and installed his own nephew, Agiprand, as duke.  However, like Duke Transamund II before him, King Liutprand was reluctant to honour the promises that he had made.  However, Pope Zacharias met him in Terni in 742 and successfully negotiated the return of a number of cities and a truce of 20 years.

  6. King Liutprand's immediate successor, King Ratchis did not oppose the independence of the Duchy of Spoleto: Duke Transamund II was able to regain his position there in ca. 744 and hold it until he died in 745.  However, he was to be the last independently powerful Duke of Spoleto.

Kings Aistulf (749-56)

King Ratchis probably appointed Duke Lupus of Spoleto, who reigned uneventfully in the period 745-52.   He issued diplomas in 749 and 750 from “curte nostra ad Varianum”, the site of the church of San Fortunato, Montefalco.  When Duke Lupus died  in 752, King Aistulf (who had deposed his brother, Ratchis) re-established direct rule of the duchy.  

In 751, King Aistulf wrote to the Abbazia di Farfa confirming the donation of four properties in the duchy that Duke Lupis had made.  He mentioned Bishop Leodegarius: although his diocese is unspecified in the letter, he was probably bishop of Spoleto.

King Desiderius  (756-74)

When King Aistulf died in 756, his brother, King Ratchis resumed the throne and the nobles of the Duchy of Spoleto asserted their independence under a new duke, Alboin. apparently with the agreement of  the new Pope Stephen III.  However, his rule was to be short-lived.  Stephen III miscalculated by backing a coup that deposed King Ratchis.   His successor, King Desiderius soon showed his metal by marching South in 757 to depose Alboin and reabsorb the Duchy of Spoleto into the Kingdom. 

Return to the page on the History of Spoleto.