The following short post began as a reply to a query, regarding if the Lombard laws identify to whom they are applicable. This is only a brief summary and there is much more literature available, from a range of academic disciplines, but as the subject of how to become a Lombard is addressed in occasional clauses, referring to the primary evidence here may be of use – and hopefully interest too! Edit (August 2020): In response to a comment asking for some further clarification, I’ve expanded this blogpost somewhat, the new additions are in this red/brown colour.
The most important clause on this, is probably Edictus Rothari, No. 367 which addresses the subject or waregang that is ‘foreigners’. Specifically, the clause begins with the statement that:
All foreigners who come from outside our frontiers into the boundaries of our kingdom and yield to the jurisdiction of our power ought to live according to the Lombard laws, unless through our grace they have merited another law.
Rothari, No. 367 (643 CE)
Fischer-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws, pp. 124-25
The clause then continues that the same should be true of their children. Here, then, the law is pretty clear that the applicability of the law-code is primarily territorial. Concessions can be made for people to be within the boundaries under a different law, but the impression given here is very much that this is a rare occurrence rather than normal.
Other clauses within the Edictus Rothari emphasise the frontiers and boundary as a political and territorial one, for instance Nos 3-5 on fleeing outside the country, or inviting enemies or spies into the territory, respectively. And laws by later kings add to the sense of territoriality, such as those dealing with permissions for travellers passing through as pilgrims on their way to Rome (Ratchis, No. 13, in 746 AD).
Another method of gaining – or losing – a Lombard identity is through marriage, in which a woman joins the social group of her new husband. This is referred to in Liutprand, No. 127, which was issued in 731 AD. While it could be read as a later emendation to the legal system, the clause is explicitly about re-marriage and without consent of the deceased previous husband’s heirs, and takes the change of a woman’s ethnic/legal identity as an established legal norm.
A law of the Lombard king Liutprand, issued in 727 adds some further insight here into the presence of multiple laws (Roman and Lombard), although it is less clear on the interplay between them. And, again, it doesn’t define who is a Roman or a Lombard, neatly or otherwise, because as can be seen that doesn’t fit with the way the socio-legal contexts the law is responding to and developing. The law begins:
In the case of scribes, we decree that those who prepare charters should write them either according to the law of the Lombards – which is well known to be open to all – or according to that of the Romans; they shall not do otherwise than is contained in these laws and they shall not write contrary to the law of the Lombards or of the Romans…
Liutprand, No. 91: Fischer-Drew, trans., The Lombard Laws, p. 183.
That certainly suggests legal pluralism at play. This is sometimes taken to imply that people could use one law or the other, but the two couldn’t overlap. However, the law itself doesn’t actually say that they couldn’t be mixed, just that each had to be used correctly. And there’s a strong sense that (post) Roman law – more as local customs and practice than the codified form – came in to fill the gaps that Lombard law didn’t cover, such as details on landownership. Another major place where we have Roman law being employed is in relation to the church and church property. There is already mixing of the legal systems in the eighth century (Pohl-Resl, 1998; Pohl, 2002: 24), and by the tenth century we can see deliberate and active integration of elements drawn from both Roman and Lombard law in individual documents. (There’s a chapter by Sonia Colafrancesco that goes into this in fine analytical detail in my forthcoming edited collection, Law Book Culture in the Middle Ages, that will hopefully be in print in 2021).
The laws themselves then, don’t explicitly identify who or what makes a Lombard. Legally it seems primarily to be territorial and opt in. If a person wants to live within the territory, then under normal circumstances they should adopt the Lombard legal and cultural norms and become one. The laws are one of the strategies used actively to create and reinforce a Lombard identity. Beyond the expectation that the children of a man who becomes a Lombard should also be Lombards and live by Lombard laws (Edictus Rothari, No. 367), there is no sense of it being primarily tied to some kind of ancestral heritage. Instead, being able to identify one’s ancestors as presented in the laws is only relevant for establishing social class (and the right to inherit) within the Lombard social structure itself.
Within the broader studies on ethnogenesis and identity, this socio-legal approach is again apparent: gentis [peoples, for want of a better word] are social identities, consciously built on shared experiences and decisions to work together. Rather than the Lombards being defined on a single biological ancestry, they instead seem to comprise threads drawn from multiple family and ‘tribal’ (again for want of a better word) groups. In the earlier times, becoming a Lombard then is a matter of participating in the Lombard consensus, and at some point between that group invading and settling in (northern) Italy in the sixth century, and the writing of the Edictus Rothari in the mid-seventh century, that group further extended the legal applicability into a territorial setting.
The laws, then, do not include a core definition of who counted as a Lombard, not because it was omitted, but because it made no sense in the historical contexts of the early medieval period in which they were produced and used. The evidence in the laws itself, then, supports the modern critically-informed directions that more recent academic arguments have been uncovering and establishing, and which have not only rejected the nationalist interpretations that prevailed in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, but more importantly have refuted and disproved them. This is unsurprising, of course, as the modern arguments have been derived from the primary sources, and with increased resources. Rather than needing to ‘go back to the sources’ to unravel the complexities of the modern understanding and image of the early medieval period, Likewise, the development of further technological, theoretical and methodological toolkits for analysis has allowed the continuing refinement of modern understanding. Moreover, these fit into an increasingly inter-disciplinary approaches, and have been corroborated with a much wider and more detailed range of disciplinary approaches, in particular archaeology and, more recently, through genetic studies of ancient DNA.
It’s long been known that within the Lombard regnum, there’s really no distinction between Roman and Lombards as ethnic groups by the end of the Lombard period – going back, at least, to Niccolò Machiavelli’s Istorie Fiorentine (published 1532). By then, the only thing strange about them was their name. A good point for seeing the interrelation can be found with “Paulus deaconus” [Paul the deacon], writer of the History of the Lombards, and born at some point in the 720s. As Walter Pohl notes, he was given a Roman name reflecting his ecclesiastical (and possibly also monastic) career, while his older brother, Arechi, had a ‘Lombard’ name (2002: 24). Naming as a means of creating ‘ethnic’ identification had clearly stopped by then.
Pohl’s provides a clear, informative and fair-handed analysis of the situation and state of research in the early twenty-first century (2002: 11-33). The clearest take away from the evidence is that the intermixture of both ‘groups’, as it were, occurred quickly, and that more importantly both groups were already very diverse. We also do not know what size the two groups were, but the idea of a small group of ethnically coherent Lombards and a large group of ethnic homogenous Romans has no foundations in the historical and archaeological evidence,. And ongoing aDNA studies are continuing to show how muddied that perspective already is. Considering how ethnically diverse Italy already was in the ale Roman period, this is unsurprising. And considering how ethnically diverse the various migrating/invading groups themselves were, the complexity again becomes apparent.
Quoting a large section of Pohl’s discussion that summarises the situation may be of interest and use here:
What happened to the Romans under Lombard rule? Many historians believe that Roman landowners were killed or driven into exile and that the Roman population was enslaved by the new lords. There is little evidence to support that interpretation. In the cities of the kingdom, church organization continued to function as before, and funerary inscriptions provide evidence of the survival of many well-to-do citizens and artisans. In the years after 568 the level of violence and raiding was high, but the Lombards had come to stay, and to do so they employed the existing infrastructures. Instead of a few tens of thousands of Lombards commanding millions of Roman slaves, we should think in terms of local societies that became ethnically mixed. The principal change was that the civil lay aristocracy disappeared, a change that was taking place in all western European countries. In the long run, only two models for the elite remained: that of the warrior-landowner claiming some prestigious barbarian identity, and that of the ‘Roman’ cleric. Roman landowners may also have decided to rise into the ranks of the Lombard aristocracy, although that is a process that is better documented for Frankish Gaul and Visigothic Spain. Others could seek protection by the bishop, donating their estates to the church and receiving them back as a permanent loan. roman traders and artisans continued in business and came to be protected by royal legislation (for instance the magistri commacini, the builders).
Pohl, Invasions and Ethnic Identity, 22-23 (my emphasis)
That the ‘Roman’ builders were already under Lombard law (Rothari, Nos 144 & 145, specifically focusing on responsibility for negligent deaths on the building site) by the time the Edictus was promulgated, less than a century after the Lombard migration/invasion into Italy stands as testament to how closely entwined these two groups had become. The Lombard laws may talk of Lombards and romans and Roman law, but there is clearly no direct mapping of ethnicity to law. The laws are territorial and situational, rather than personal and ethnic.
Thankfully, then, we can say that the world reflected in the Lombard laws is as multifaceted and complex as modern societies are. Within the laws it is clear that – assuming the opportunity to move into the territory or marry a Lombard – becoming a Lombard was really open to anyone, regardless of where they had first come from. Coupling that with Italy as not only on the route to Rome for travellers coming across the Alps, but also a nexus point within the Mediterranean as a whole, Lombards are probably better understood within an Afro-Eurasian context.
- Colafrancesco, Sonia, “Juridical Dualism in Medieval Southern Italy: Studies on the Codex diplomaticus Cavensis“, in Law | Book | Culture in the Middle Ages, ed. by Thom Gobbitt (Leiden, [forthcoming]).
- Fischer Drew, Katherine, The Lombard Laws (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1973)
- Pohl, Walter, “Invasions and Ethnic Identity”, in Italy in the Early Middle Ages, ed. by Cristina La Rocca, (Oxford, 2002), 11-33
- Pohl-Resl, Brigette, “Legal Practice and Ethnic Identity in Lombard Italy”, in Strategies of Distinction: The Construction of Ethnic Communities, 300-800, ed. by Walter Pohl and Helmut Reimitz (Leiden, 1998), 205-19