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The life of the Longobards



Male dress
The way the Longobards dressed was the result of manifold influences derived from various Roman-Germanic peoples and from nomads encountered during their long period of migration, but also from the Roman tradition itself.
Clothing type depended upon an individual’s social class. Paul the Deacon gives a description of Longobard dress at the time of Queen Theodelinda: “They shaved the neck, and left it bare up to the back of the head, having their hair hanging down on the face as far as the mouth and parting it on either side by a part in the forehead. Their garments were loose and mostly linen, such as the Anglo-Saxons are wont to wear, ornamented with broad borders woven in various colours. Their shoes, indeed, were open almost up to the tip of the great toe, and were held on by shoe latchets interlacing alternately. But later they began to wear trousers, over which they put leggings of shaggy woollen cloth when they rode. But they had taken that from a custom of the Romans." (Historia Langobardorum, IV, 22, trans. W.D.Foulke).
Archaeological evidence and iconographic sources supplement the framework provided by literature; it seems that the Longobard noble dressed in a jacket decorated at the neck, shoulders and wrists with gold brocade, and secured at the waist by a belt that supported – by means of a complex suspension system – weapons and other items such as leather bags, small knives and bone combs.
The typical equipment of a high ranking warrior in the early period of settlement in Italy included armour complete with spurs, saddle and stirrups, shield, spear, double-sided sword (spatha), and dagger (sax); the weaponry supplied to foot soldiers consisted of a shield, sword or sax, bow and arrows.
The belt was a very important component, because through its decoration it reflected the social status of the wearer; it was generally in leather and adorned with fittings, tabs, buttons and other appliques in damascened metal or gold.

Female dress
The information we have with regard to female attire is almost exclusively derived from high-ranking burials of the 6th and 7th centuries; very little is known about women of lower social class.
The Longobard nobility wore garments of brocade, decorated with metal brooches, and earrings and necklaces. Hair was held back by nets of gold thread or metal hairpins. Settlement in Italy and the rapid process of integration with the Roman-Byzantine world influenced tastes in dress. In addition to objects such as typical Pannonian S-shaped and stirrup brooches and everyday items such as combs, small knives and bags, jewellery copied from the costume of indigenous women made ​​its appearance: pendant earrings, necklaces in gold and semi-precious stones, and disc brooches.
Lastly, the presence among grave-goods of refined artistic products, such as folding stools with damascened decorations, bronze and silver bowls and glass drinking horns, documents the circulation of prestigious objects required by the ruling elite as an expression of its social rank.

Craft production

Numerous grave-goods demonstrate that Longobard craftsmen excelled above all at metalworking, in particular in the production of weapons and precious metalwork.
Characteristic features of the Longobard goldsmith’s art are the use of gold foil, embossing and decoration with precious and semiprecious stones. Among the many items produced were brooches, earrings, book covers, reliquaries, and fittings for scramasax (daggers) and saddles. Particularly distinctive were parade shields, adorned with plaques in bronze sheeting decorated with animal and plant (trellis and leaf) motifs, and small crosses in gold foil for funerary use.
The decorative motifs show a clear development: in the 6th and early 7th centuries elements of Germanic tradition predominate, especially ferocious, threatening beasts; in the mid-7th century symbolic designs influenced by Mediterranean art (plant motifs and birds) take over; from the late 7th century onwards the characteristic distinctions between the Longobard and Roman-Christian art fade to the point that a new, unified style of artistic expression emerges.
The metalworking techniques most used by the Longobards were: die casting, cloisonné, punched decoration, filigree, inlay, damascening and niello (see glossary).

Combs were typical objects in both male and female burials. They were made of bone (ox, horse or pig), horn or ivory, and were generally decorated with patterns of incised circles with or without additional lines.
In Germanic culture, the comb had a ‘magical’ value related to the ability of hair to continue to grow after death; it was also a sign of social distinction because its manufacture required a lengthy procedure conducted by a highly skilled craftsman. The comb was furthermore a personal possession of practical use, as demonstrated by visible signs of wear due to repeated passage through the hair and/or beard.

The Longobard pottery found in Italy comes from both funerary and residential contexts. In its distinctive shapes and modes of decoration it resembles that known from Pannonia, where contact with Gepid populations led to radical innovations, some technical in nature, on the part of Longobard potters.
This pottery was made on the wheel and decorated with geometrical stamps, imprinted on the unfired clay using punches made from horn, terracotta or metal (stamped ware), or by burnishing, with trellis, triangle or herringbone patterns (burnished ware). The forms found are mostly containers for liquids (jugs, cups and flasks) and were produced from the mid-6th until about the mid-7th century.
These vessels are easily distinguishable from the other ceramic products that circulated in Italy at the time and are therefore most useful for dating purposes.

Ancient fabrics were made ​​with fibres of vegetable or animal origin, using looms that interlaced horizontal threads (weft) between vertical threads (warp). They were often embellished with raised decorations, obtained by inserting into the weft threads of gold or silver of different length and thickness; such fabrics are called brocades.
Although over the centuries the threads of the cloth interwoven with the metal strands have disappeared, traces of them remain from which it is possible to reconstruct the decorative motifs. One particular procedure employed rectangular plates perforated at the corners, with which decorative bands that were applied to garments were created.
Certain aspects concerning the production of clothes in brocade remain unknown; it is not clear whether a single workshop produced both the clothing and the metal decoration, or whether the two phases of work were conducted separately by weaver and goldsmith.
In burials variously-sized patches of cloth may be found, for example preserved by the corrosion products of metal objects.

Gold crosses
The small gold crosses that were placed in both male and female graves were one of the innovations made by the Longobards under the influence of Christian, Mediterranean and Byzantine traditions. They were fabricated, following intricate procedures, from gold sheeting. Some crosses have punched geometric decorations, while in other cases templates were repeatedly pressed into the foil from which a cross was then cut out, not always taking the pattern into account; occasionally coins were also used.
Variable numbers of crosses were sewn onto the shroud which covered the face and chest of the deceased.

After they took up permanent residence in Italy, agriculture became the basis of the Longobards’ economy. The Longobard aristocracy imposed on the subjugated local peasants the payment of the tertia, a tax equal to one-third of the harvest. Estates were confiscated and redistributed among the nobles and arimanni, who changed from warriors into farmers.
The fara was an agricultural property; several such properties formed a curtis, which with time also became the administrative centre of the territory. The curtes could be state-owned, ducal or royal; the latter were administered by Gastaldi and Exercitales, representatives of the king.

In the curtes animals (horses, pigs and sheep) were reared for meat, leather and wool. The Edict of Rothari also mentions cows, domesticated deer, bees, sparrowhawks, nightingales and cranes, as well as falcons which were used for hunting.
The horse had a special role and was considered a sacred animal; the Longobards learnt of it and its use in war from the steppe nomads and eastern Germanic tribes. The Edict of Rothari devotes five paragraphs to the tutelage of the horse, including standards regarding equine aesthetics.

The fundamental role of hunting is also evident from Rothari’s Edict, which mentions it forty-two times. The Longobards hunted not only to procure food, but also as a way to exorcise war, and as such it was taught to boys from a young age.
In wooded areas it was common to hunt with falcons, both high and low-flying; deer, aurochs, roe deer and wild boar were hunted on horseback with the help of dogs. The Longobards were also expert archers and trappers.

Small-scale commerce took place in town markets and rural markets set up around churches. Goods, in particular livestock and agricultural and craft products, were sold by merchants (mercatores), who were often also the producers. The traders (negotiatores) that operated between the duchies of the Kingdom and the countries north of the Alps were generally Roman freedmen who were well acquainted with North European and Mediterranean trade routes.
Barter was probably the most commonly used system of exchange.

The Longobard diet included agricultural produce such as wheat, broad beans, millet, rye and – especially – pulses and other vegetables, fruit (chestnuts, apples and walnuts), as well as the vine and the olive.
Game and the collection of wild fruit must have had a primary role, together with pastoralism, which yielded meat, fat, butter and milk.

The Longobards originally practiced paganism, worshipping female divinities associated with fertility and the land. After coming into contact with other Germanic peoples, they adopted the worship of warrior-inspired male gods such as Woden (Odin).
Later, during their stay in Noricum and Pannonia, the Longobards began the process of conversion to Christianity. Adherence to the new religion was initially superficial and expedient, motivated by an alliance with Byzantium; the population continued to favour paganism. That the official 6th-century creed of the Longobards was determined by political rather than spiritual considerations is demonstrated by the choice made by Alboin: when planning the invasion of Italy, he abandoned Catholicism and embraced the Arian heresy in order to gain the support of the Arian Goths, this time against Byzantium.
Their conquest of power in Italy and contact with Roman civilization led to the Longobards’ gradual conversion to Catholicism, which was encouraged by Queen Theodelinda (6th-7th century).
However, Christianization did not mean that the Longobards completely abandoned their cultural traditions, as is shown (for example) by the spread of the cult of St. Michael, the "warrior of God" who was especially dear to the warrior class and revered as a national saint in the sanctuary of Mount Sant 'Angelo in the Gargano.

The phenomenon of pilgrimage
Pilgrimage, intended as a journey of an individual or a group of people to a sacred place, is a form of devotion and worship that is widespread among the ancient religions and still practiced today.
During the Early Middle Ages, pilgrimage to Roman shrines, especially that of Mount Sant'Angelo on the Gargano, was practiced from throughout Europe. This is demonstrated by the nearly two hundred inscriptions found inside, which bear individuals’ names of mainly German origin, but also Greek, Latin and Semitic.
The sanctuary is dedicated to the cult of St. Michael, and was a necessary port of call on the journey to the Holy Land. The names on the walls were written by professional stone engravers who, for a fee, inscribed an indelible record of the visit.

The Longobards originally spoke a Germanic language similar to Gothic. There are no written records of this language; the heritage of Longobard knowledge and customs was entrusted to oral transmission. Only occasionally in historical texts, such as Paul the Deacon’s Historia Langobardorum, or legal works, such as the Edict of Rothari, do a few Longobard words for which there is no corresponding Latin term appear.
After arrival in Italy, the use of the Longobard language fell rapidly into disuse, and official documents were written in Latin. In everyday use too, the Germanic tongue spoken by a minority was replaced by the neo-Latin vernacular of local populations, which subsequently evolved into the various dialects and indeed Italian itself. Still today, in both Italian and regional dialects, numerous linguistic traces of the Longobard language’s influence survive. Apart from personal forenames and surnames (Aldo, Folco, Guido), various currently-used terms are found in certain fields, such as wood-working (bara, scaffale, panca), weaving (federa), weaponry (strale, alabarda) and anatomy (schiena, milza, stinco).
There are also numerous toponyms which reflect diverse aspects of the Longobard world: settlements of armed groups (fara), particular building types (sala), landscape features (braida, pianura), ethnic groups numbered among the Longobards, and legal and administrative territorial organization.