Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Giuseppe Roma (ed.), I Longobardi del Sud. Roma: Giorgio Bretschneider editore, 2010. Pp. 491. ISBN 9788876892523. €140.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Sarah Whitten, University of Nebraska, Omaha (swhitten@ucla.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This volume contains the proceedings of a conference held in 2008 dedicated to the material culture of the southern Lombards. The goal of the scholars is to use archaeological data to transform our understanding of Lombard presence and society in southern Italy, which the contributors see as too reliant on literary sources. The essays focus on the history of southern Italy, especially regions like the Abruzzo, Apulia, and Calabria, which are underrepresented in the literary sources. In order to understand Lombard settlement in southern Italy, the authors draw upon a diverse range of material culture including grave goods, architecture, currency, ceramics, settlement patterns, and epigraphy. The scope and length of the contributions vary considerably in the book, and many chapters have subsections written by multiple authors. Beyond re-writing the history of Lombard settlement in southern Italy, the volume also engages in the debate over the changes in the post-Roman world, rebutting the narrative of decline and supporting quite strongly the idea of transformation.

The first two articles of the volume provide an overview of Lombard history and historiography. Marcello Rotili, in the longest article of the book, details the Lombard migration into Italy. Using mostly archaeological evidence, Rotili argues that Paul the Deacon's origin for the Lombards in Scandinavia is impossible and suggests that the Lombards originally came from the Elbe river in Saxony, moved south of the Danube river in 526/527 and 546/547, and then entered Italy first in 568/569. The Lombards' settlement in Italy led to transforms in both Lombard and Italian cultures. This process is most clearly reflected in the material culture of this period like the small gold crosses with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic designs, which blended traditional Lombard designs, Mediterranean Christianity, and Byzantine and Merovingian motifs. Rotili recognizes the diversity of experience under Lombard rule arguing that the southern Lombard duchy in Benevento developed independently of Lombard society in northern Italy. The centuries after the conquest of southern Italy did not mean an end to urban life but rather a transformation in settlement patterns of both small villages and large cities. Smaller urban settlements such as Montella were often built in high defensive locations surrounded by walls and were the homes of Lombard political elites. In the southern political capital of Benevento, multiple monumental churches and a palace complex were constructed at the end of the Lombard period, and the late antique center of the city was significantly altered as well. Drawing on material culture and literary sources, Rotili argues that the Lombards were not a destructive force but rather a people who integrated into Italian society as well as transforming material culture and urban structures.

Claudio Azzara provides a quick history of the Lombards in Italy and traces the depiction of the Lombards in Italian historiography. Traditionally Lombard rule has been seen as a dark period of decline with an immigrant minority ruling over a Roman majority. This narrative has often been conflated with Italy's modern political experiences of outside rulers. With the advent of modern perspectives and methodologies, especially the freedom of the historian from grand nationalistic narratives, scholars have more positively re-evaluated the Lombards. These new studies have particularly portrayed Lombard southern Italy in a much more positive light utilizing its rich material culture and literary sources.

Two articles in the volume discuss the material world of early medieval Abruzzo. "I Longobardi nell'Abruzzo interno" examines cities, roads, rural life, churches, and stone working during the Lombard period. The Lombards did not construct any monumental architecture in the region unlike in Campania and inhabited many of the cities originally built by the Romans. The interior of the Abruzzo was home to numerous religious sites many of which were first established prior to late sixth century and continued by utilized throughout the Lombard period. Major monasteries from outside of the Abruzzo such as Farfa, S. Vincenzo al Vulturno, Montecassino and S. Clemente a Causaria took over large portions of land in the Abruzzo, but did not found new religious institutions in the region. Despite the lack of monumental architecture, engraved stone decoration was produced throughout the Lombard period with significant increases in manufacture beginning in the second half of the eighth century. This stonework was produced in multiple centers in Abruzzo that were all strongly dependant on Spoleto. Because many authors wrote the sections on the interior of the Abruzzo, much of the article read more like encyclopedia entries with valuable information but with little coherence and few overall conclusions about Lombard settlement there.

In "I Longobardi nell'Abruzzo adriatico fra VI e VIII secolo," Andrea R. Staffa treats the coastal regions of the Abruzzo in a much more cohesive fashion by focusing on graves from the Lombard period. There is significant evidence of Byzantine settlement in the region after Lombard migrations with multiple places names, a Roman-Byzantine villa, and Byzantine ceramics. Lombard settlement in the region came from independent campaigns from the Duchy of Spoleto and the Duchy of Benevento. Evidence of one of these early campaigns can be founded in the tombs at Castel Trosino, an important strategic location for controlling Valle Castellana. Artifacts from 350 tombs suggest that the Lombards had rich grave goods and very healthy diets. The findings from other rural graves suggest that Byzantine influence lingered after these campaigns into the seventh century. For Staffa, the initial Lombard settlement was destructive especially to urban centers in the Abruzzo, but over time the region stabilized with cities returning in the coastal regions.

The complicated pasts of Apulia, Basilicata, and Calabria make understanding the Lombard history of these regions difficult. More than Benevento and Salerno, these regions were occupied by many different rulers in the early medieval period including the Byzantines, Lombards, Saracens, Slavs, Byzantines again, and then Normans, complicating the identification of buildings and goods. This history is further obscured by a scarcity of surviving documents. In the article on Apulia by Gioia Bertelli et al., the authors outline the roads crisscrossing Apulia, many of which were built in the Roman period and continued to be used in the medieval period for the movement of armies and pilgrims. The chapter also describes in significant detail the churches, wall paintings, and stone work from the Lombard period. The last section on the grave goods of Apulia explores how these objects reflect the diversity of the Apulian population while at the same time trying to identify how Lombard styles influenced local production.

Franca Papparella discusses the buildings and grave goods found in Basilicata. Papparella is unable to determine who produced many of the objects found in tombs but argues that Lombard cultural influence spread from Benevento to Basilicata. Giuseppe Roma, Lucia F. Ruffo, and D. De Presbiteries discuss the transformations that occurred in the border region between the duchy of Benevento and the duchy of Calabria. At the end of the Roman period, the region had undergone a significant economic re-organization shifting from an agricultural economy to a silvopastoral lifestyle. This change was devastating for the region leading to commercial and population declines as well as the abandonment of urban centers. The Lombard conquest further harmed the region by breaking up the political unity of meridional Italy. Many people retreated to small fortified settlements in strategic locations, which are described in the article along with the ceramics and grave goods found there. Paleo-nutritional analysis was performed on two bodies from fortifications at Celimarro and Calandrino indicating a primarily plant based diet. The authors attribute this poor nutrition to the collapse of the Calabrian economy beginning in the late Roman period. Lastly the article addresses Germanic place names in Calabria and Basilicata arguing that there was some administrative re-organization of the territory by the Lombards. There are many place names from the two regions with connections to Saint Michael the Archangel, a popular southern Italian saint closely associated with the Lombards.

Many of the articles focus on a single aspect of Lombard material culture. Ermanno A. Arslan describes the coins produced by the Lombard dukes and princes of Benevento, which was heavily influenced by coinage produced outside of the region. Valeria Ceglia explores the Campochiaro necropolis and a tomb of man with a horse to understand funerary culture in Molise. Paolo Peduto details urban growth in Salerno and Capua begun by Prince Arechis II and continued by later princes and counts including a fortified complex and a palace in Salerno as well as the Sicopoli complex in Capua. Rosa Fiorillo outlines the production of fictile pottery by the Lombards. Tracing changes in public inscriptions in southern Italy, Chiara Lambert asserts that the southern Lombards began producing epigraphic poems to celebrate the great deeds of leaders during the reign of Prince Arechis II (774-787). This tradition died out with the increased use of charters in the late 9th century. Lambert also provides an excellent appendix of many of the texts discussed in her article. Angela Corolla discusses roads in the region north of Salerno. Giorgio Otranto details the phases of building at the important Lombard cult site dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel in Gargano.

These contributions provide much detailed information drawn from the most recent archaeological evidence about the material culture and architectural landscape of early medieval Italy. The book is extremely well illustrated with numerous maps, photographs, and figures. Many of the conclusions drawn about the Lombard past, however, are not new, complimenting rather than challenging the work of historians. The interpretations of the newest archaeological material contribute few original ideas to the ongoing debate about the changes in early medieval life and instead suggest how southern Italian material culture was part of the transformation of the medieval West. Despite this, scholars of early medieval Italy or southern Italian history will find much of interest in the volume.

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