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Bill Thayer

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Book VII
Chapter 2, cont.
(III: Benevento)

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book VII
Note A

Book VII (continued)

Vol. VI
Chapter II (end)

The Four Great Duchies

IV. The Duchy of Spoleto


Sources: —


Guides: —

'I Duchi di Spoleto,' by Achille Sansi, and articles by Prof. Sordini of Florence, a native of Spoleto.

Geographical importance of duchy of Spoleto. The geographical importance of the duchy of Spoleto has been already brought before the reader's notice.​1 We have seen that it represented that struggle for the possession of the Flaminian Way which, since Rome and Ravenna were the two great foci of Imperial dominion in Italy, must have been always going on with more or less vigour for nearly two centuries.

It is true that the great Via Flaminia itself went from Narnia to Mevania,​2 and so passed about twenty miles west of Spoletium; but the road which branched off from Narnia to the east, and led through Interamnia, Spoletium and Fulginium northward, and so on through Petra Pertusa to Ariminum,​3 was also a great highway, and we have seen reason in the course of the previous history​4 to believe that it was looked upon, at any rate so long as the tunnel of the Petra Pertusa was open, as the great highway between Rome and Ravenna.

Evidently the object of the Lombard dukes who placed their capital at Spoleto was to keep their hands on the throttle-valve of the Empire, and they probably  p84   p85 always nourished the hope of being able to close all the three roads across the Apennines​5 which lay in their immediate neighbourhood, and so to conquer Rome.

Position of Spoleto. Spoleto itself, a city rich in historical associations of widely-parted centuries, and standing in the midst of one of the loveliest landscapes of Italy, was well worthy of the high place which it held in the early Middle Ages, and deserves far more careful study than it has yet received either from the artist or the historian. It stands upon a high hill, half encircled by the little stream of the Tessino. Faintly seen on the northern horizon are the long terraces of Assisi and the high rock-citadel of Perugia. Round it on all sides rise the beautiful hills of Umbria, all that charm of outline and of colour which assuredly helped to train the eyes of Raffaele and Perugino to discern the Beautiful. The traveller winds his way under the city walls, whose Cyclopean masonry tells of races that fought and built in the peninsula while the hills of Rome were still a sheep-walk. He climbs under many an intersecting archway up the steep lanes which lead him to the heart of the city. Bright-eyed little children and gaily-kerchiefed women come out to look at the forestiere: a little tired, he reaches the top, and suddenly, between two picturesque street-lines, he sees a bit of the beautiful amphitheatre of plain, a bit of the deep purple of the mountains of Umbria.

Early history of Spoleto. Yet, as so often in Italy, the visitor to Spoleto finds the historic interest even more power­ful to attract him than the beauty of landscape with which Nature woos his regards. Here, near the bottom of the city wall, stands an arch bearing the name of the Porta Fuga,  p86 and commemorating the memorable repulse of Hannibal on that day when, flushed with his victory by Lake Trasymene, he marched up to its walls, expecting an immediate surrender; but, beaten back with heavy loss, began to understand, from the resistance of that one brave colony, how great a task he had taken in hand when he set himself to war down Rome.6

We mount higher to the crest of the hill, and find ourselves under an arch erected probably twenty‑one years after the birth of Christ, bearing an inscription on its front, which states that it is dedicated to Germanicus and Drusus, the adopted and the real sons of Tiberius. The palace of the Municipality, which stands on the highest ground of the city, is erected over the remains of a spacious Roman house which is believed, apparently on sufficient evidence, to have belonged to the mother of Vespasian.

The citadel of La Rocca. We leave the city by one of its eastern gateways, and we find ourselves under the splendid mass of the citadel (fitly called by the townspeople La Rocca),​a which, standing on its great promontory of cliff, towers above us on our left. Round the base of the cliff far below us circles the tiny torrent of the Tessino. But another, an artificial river, calls away our attention  p87 from the natural streamlet. The aqueduct. For before us rise the ten lofty and narrow arches of a noble aqueduct, which, at a height of nearly 300 feet​b, spans the valley and bridges the stream, carrying the pure water from the mountains into the heart of the city. It is called the Ponte delle Torri, and it carries a roadway at a little lower level than the channel of the aqueduct.

Both these two splendid structures speak to us of the Teutonic invaders of Italy. The citadel is undoubtedly on the site of the fortress raised by Theodoric, though there may be none of the actual work of the great Ostrogoth in the present building, which was reared in the fourteenth century by Cardinal Albernoz.c A very strong local tradition connects the aqueduct with Theudelap, who, as we shall see, was the Lombard duke of Spoleto during the greater part of the seventh century. The pointed character of the arches makes it scarcely possible that they at least, are of so early a period, and probably much of the grand structure which we now behold dates from the thirteenth century or even later; but cautious and accurate enquirers are inclined to admit that there is some value in the tradition which I have mentioned, and that at least in the great stone piers which support the brick arches, we may see the actual work of the subjects of Duke Theudelap.7

Other objects of interest in Spoleto. This is not the place for anything like a complete  p88 enumeration of the monuments of mediaeval antiquity at Spoleto; and I must leave undescribed the Doric columns of some Pagan temple which now form part of the church of the Crucified One, the joyously grotesque bas‑reliefs on the exterior of S. Pietro, and the gigantic stones — surely of pre‑Roman workman­ship — which form the base of the tower of S. Gregorio. But as illustrating what was said above as to the wealth of various memories that is stored up in these Italian cities, I may observe that the cathedral — not in itself extremely interesting, having suffered much transformation at the hands of Renaissance architects — is connected with the tragic story of Fra Filippo Lippi. His half-faded frescoes telling the story of the Virgin, line the choir of the church. His sepulchral monument, erected by Lorenzo dei Medici with an inscription in Politian's finest Latinity, is to be seen in a chapel on the north side of the choir. In this city it was that the artist monk won the love of a nobly-born lady, Lucrezia Buti, and here it was — so men said — that her indignant relatives mixed for him the fatal cup which ended his stormy life.

Modern history. If we descend to our own times we learn that in 1860 the fortress of Theodoric and Albernoz was one of the last positions that held out for the Pope-King when all Italy was rallying round the standard of Victor Emmanuel. The garrison, chiefly composed of Irishmen, bravely resisted the besiegers, but was at last forced to capitulate by a cannonade from the surrounding heights.

At present Spoleto, which contains about 11,000 inhabitants,​d has suffered some diminution of its importance, owing to having lost its position as capo luogo  p89 of the province, and this has led to a decay of interest in its antiquities. But, as I before said, there are probably few cities in Italy which would better reward the spade of the excavator or the brush of the artist.

Isaac the hermit. At the time when the savage hordes of the Lombards swarmed through the gateways of Spoleto, the minds of the citizens were still filled with the memory of a certain holy hermit named Isaac, who many years before came from Syria, and suddenly appearing in Spoleto, craved from the guardians of the great church permission to remain there as long as he might desire, in order to offer up his prayers. So small a request was readily granted; but when the holy man had remained standing for three days and nights in the attitude of prayer, one of the attendants, deeming him an impostor, slapped him on the cheek, and ordered him out of the church. At once a foul spirit seized the too hasty custodian, and caused him to fall prostrate at the feet of the unknown hermit, crying out, 'Isaac is casting me forth.' The holy man — whose name the unclean spirit alone knew — delivered his assailant from the evil one, and at once the news of his spiritual victory spread through the city. Men and women, noble and ignoble, flocked into the church to behold him, besought him to take up his abode with them, offered him houses and lands for the erection of a monastery. But Isaac, who feared peril to his poverty as the miser fears peril to his wealth, refused all their offers, saying continually, 'The monk who seeks for possessions in this world is no monk,' and built himself a humble cell in a desert place not far from the city. Here he abode for many years, performing many wonder­ful works, the recital of which may be read in the Dialogues  p90 of Gregory the Great,​8 from which the preceding narrative is taken. As we are told that he continued almost to the very end of the Gothic domination, the fame of his sanctity must still have been fresh when Spoletium was severed from the Empire, and when her churches were profaned by the tread of the 'unspeakable Lombard.'

Boundaries of the duchy. Such then was the city which became the capital of the Lombard domination in Central Italy. Its dukes ruled over a territory bounded by the Adriatic on the east, and by the Tiber valley (or the hills which enclosed it) on the west. On the south, a line drawn across from Subiaco by the Fucine Lake, and along the river Pescara, may roughly represent the boundary between Spoleto and Benevento. On the north the little river Musone was perhaps the boundary which separated the Spoletine dukes from hostile Ancona, while the Imperial garrison along the Flaminian Way probably disputed with varying success the possession of all the territory northward of Tadino. Thus, stated in the terms of classical geography, the dukes of Spoleto ruled the southern wedge of Umbria, the greater part of Picenum, and almost the whole of the territory which upon the maps is usually allotted to the Sabines.

Duke Farwald, 571 (?)‑591 (?). The first duke of Spoleto was Farwald, who, if it be true that Zotto was ruling in Beneventum in 571, had probably established himself at least as early in his more northern capital.

Capture of Classis. The chief exploit of Farwald's reign was the capture of Classis, which occurred probably about 579 or 5809  p91 while the inefficient Longinus was still the Imperial governor of Italy. A great achievement truly this must have been, and one which, had the Lombards possessed the same fertility of resource which was shown by their Vandal kinfolk, might have turned Classis into a second Carthage, and given them the empire of the Mediterranean. As it was, it seems difficult to suppose that they ever seriously interrupted the communications even of Ravenna, and Constantinople; for Exarchs came and went, and letters seem to have been freely interchanged between the Emperor and his representatives. It was therefore probably only the town, not the whole even of the harbour of Classis, of which the Lombards kept possession; but even so, it must have been a galling thing for the 'Romans' of Ravenna to feel that the invaders had established themselves in that place, which with Caesarea was joined by one continuous line of houses to their own city, that the domes and towers from which in its pictured semblance on the walls of S. Apollinare, the procession of Virgin martyrs set forth to adore the Holy Child​10 were now in the hands of heretics and idolaters.

Classis retaken by Droctulf. Classis seems to have been held by the Lombards of Spoleto for eight or nine years, and was finally reconquered for the Empire (perhaps in the year 588), by that Romanized Teuton Droctulf, on whose tomb, as we have seen, this military operation was recorded as one of the proudest of his triumphs.11


Rome threatened. Against the older and more venerable capital by the Tiber, it is possible that Farwald also urged his savage soldiery. When we hear that before the consecration of Pope Benedict I, July 13, 574–June 2, 575. there was an interval of more than ten months and three days,​12 during which the Papal throne remained unoccupied; we may reasonably conjecture that Lombard pressure, either from the side of Tuscany, or from that of Spoleto, was the cause of this long delay. July 30 to Nov. 26, 579 At the next vacancy, when, after an interval of nearly four months, Pelagius II was chosen without the leave of the Emperor, we are expressly told that this was done because Rome was being besieged by the Lombards, and they were making great ravages in Italy.​13 And this besieger of Rome is more likely to have been Farwald than any other of the Lombard dukes.

Duke Ariulf, 591‑601. Farwald died about the year 591,​14 possibly of the pestilence which was then ravaging Italy. He was succeeded by Ariulf, apparently not a relation; certainly not a son. Possibly in this case the theoretical right of the king to nominate all the dukes was successfully claimed by the new sovereign Agilulf.

Thanks to the letters of Pope Gregory, this duke of  p93 Spoleto is to us something more than a mere name. We saw him, in the summer of 592, addressing that boastful letter to Gregory about the promised surrender of Suana which caused the Pope such strange searchings of heart, whether he should advise the Suanese citizens to keep or to break their promise. Soon after, negociations for peace followed with Gregory himself; but Ariulf still kept up his somewhat swaggering tone, and insisted that the gratuities for his allies (or subordinates), Auctarit and Nordulf, should be handed over to him before he would say one word about peace.

While Ariulf appears to make war and peace with sublime independence of his nominal over-lord at Pavia, he throughout co‑operates loyally with his brother duke Arichis of Benevento, and whenever the latter attacks Naples he helps him to the utmost of his power by a demonstration against Rome, or against one of the outposts on the Flaminian Way.

But Ariulf's campaign of 592, including, as it probably did, a virtual siege of Rome, ended in a partial peace concluded by Gregory with the Lombard duke; and this concession on Ariulf's part seems to have been due to the feelings of veneration aroused in his heart by a personal interview with the pontiff. And though the peace itself was disavowed at Ravenna, and exposed the Pope to bitter reproaches at Constantinople for his 'fatuity' in lessening to the promises of such an one as Ariulf, the good understanding thus established between Pope and Duke seems never to have been entirely destroyed; and in a dangerous sickness the Lombard chief asked for and obtained the prayers of Gregory for his recovery.

 p94  In the final negociations, however, which at last resulted in the great peace of 599, the Pope complained with some bitterness of the hindrances which came from the side of Ariulf. To Gregory the duke of Spoleto's stipulations that there should be no act of violence committed against himself, and no movement against the army of Arichis, seemed altogether unfair and deceit­ful,​15 and the fact that a certain Warnilfrida, by whose counsel Ariulf was ruled in all things, refused to swear to the peace, confirmed his suspicions. It is, of course, impossible for us to apportion the precise share of praise and blame due to each of the parties to these obscure negociations; and, as I before remarked,​16 the change of Gregory's tone with regard to Ariulf between 592 and 599 is an important feature in the case. But, on the other hand, it may fairly be urged on Ariulf's behalf, (1) that his previous dealings with the Imperial court had taught him caution, since he had seen a treaty which had been concluded by him with Rome torn up at Ravenna, and followed by an aggressive movement on the part of the Exarch; and (2) that his stipulations on behalf of Arichis showed his steadfast truth to the duke of Benevento, and his determination not to make himself safe by the sacrifice of that faithful ally.

Ariulf at Camerinum. The only other incident in the life of Ariulf that has been recorded is that curious story which has been already extracted from the pages of Paulus,​17 and which seems like a barbaric version of the share taken by the Great Twin Brethren in the battle of the Lake Regillus. Appearance of St. Sabinus. It was when he was warring against  p95 Camerinum that Ariulf saw a champion, unseen by others, fighting bravely by his side, and it was soon after the battle that he identified his ghostly defender with St. Sabinus, whose figure he saw depicted on the walls of his basilica. Paulus assigns no date to this story, which is connected with his obituary notice of Ariulf. Seeing how near Camerinum is to Spoletium, we should feel inclined to put the campaign against the former city early in the victorious reign of Ariulf: indeed, it is difficult to understand why his predecessor should have penetrated as far north as Classis, leaving such a stronghold as Camerinum in his immediate neighbourhood untaken.

Ariulf's reign, though a memorable, was not a long one. He died in 601, about ten years after his accession; and on his death a contest arose between the two sons of his predecessor Farwald, which should succeed to the vacant dignity. The dispute was decided by the sword — we have again to note how little voice King Agilulf seems to have had in regulating the succession to these great duchies — and Theudelap, the victor in the fight, was crowned duke on the field of battle.​18 We know neither the name nor the fate of his unsuccessful rival.

Duke Theudelap, 601‑653. Theudelap wore for more than half a century (601‑653) the ducal crown of Spoleto. This long reign, which during the greater part of its course coincided with that of Arichis at Benevento (591‑641), had doubtless an important influence in rendering both of the southern duchies more independent of the northern kingdom. At Pavia during this half  p96 century four kings​19 bore sway; two of whom​20 were able and success­ful rulers, but the other two​21 were an infant and an usurper. It cannot be doubted that, during this long period, that part of Lombard Italy which lay south and east of the Flaminian Way would be growing less and less disposed to respond to any effectual control on the part of the kings who dwelt north of the Apennines.

Of the events of the long reign of Theudelap we are absolutely ignorant. It is generally supposed to have been peaceful; but this may be only because record fails us of the wars in which he may have been engaged. Some of the early mediaeval buildings of Spoleto are traditionally attributed to his reign; but of this also there appears to be no clear proof; though (as I have already said) there is some reason to think that popular tradition is not altogether wrong in assigning to Theudelap some share at least in the construction of that noble aqueduct which is the great glory of the city of Spoleto.

Duke Atto, 653‑663. There has been, to use a geological term, a complete denudation of all this part of the history of Lombard Italy; and if we know little of Theudelap himself, we know still less of his successor Atto (653‑663), who is to us a mere name in the pages of Paulus Diaconus.​22 The story of the later dukes will be told chiefly in connection with that of the Lombard kings, against whom they were frequently found in rebellion.

The Author's Notes:

1 Vol. V chapter VIII.

2 Narni to Bevagna. I do not think the letters of Gregory, I.81 and III.64, make it probable that at any rate up to 593 Mevania had been captured by the Lombards.

3 Antonine Itinerary, pp125‑126.

4 See vol. IV chap. X.

5 By Perugia, Bevagna, and Foligno.

6 'Hannibal recto itinere per Umbriam usque ad Spoletum venit. Inde quum perpopulato agro urbem oppugnare adortus esset cum magnâ caede suorum repulsus conjectans ex unius coloniae haud nimis prospere tentatae viribus quanta moles Romanae urbis esset in agrum Picenum avertit iter' (Livy, XXII.10). It should be mentioned that there is some doubt as to the derivation of Porta Fuga given above. Sansi thinks that its real name was Porta Furia, and that the gate, though undoubtedly Roman, is at any rate in its present form of a date considerably later than the Punic wars.

7 This, I think, represents the opinion of Prof. Sordini as communicated to me verbally in 1894. He does not think that the Lombard dukes greatly enlarged the circuit of Spoletium, but holds that, with the exception of some churches, and perhaps the aqueduct, they left the city very much as they took it over at this time of the conquest.

8 III.14.

9 The indications of time in Paulus (H. L. III.13) are as usual vague, but he connects the capture of Classis with the mission of Gregory as apocrisiarius to Constantinople, which we have seen reason to date about 579.

10 See vol. III p336.º

11 'Inde etiam retinet dum Classem fraude Faroaldus, Vindicet ut classem classibus arma parat.' (See vol. V p246.) A. Sansi (p14) put the recapture of Classis about 584‑5: Weise (p47) in 588. We have really only conjecture for either date.

12 'Et cessavit episcopatus menses x dies iii' (sic) (Lib. Pont.). The interval was really ten months and twenty days.

13 'Hic ordinatur absque jussione Principis, eo quod Langobardi obsiderent civitatem Romanam et multa vastatio ab illis in Italia fieret' (Liber Pontificalis: Vita Pelagii II).

14 Not before 590, because he was for a time contemporary with the papacy of Gregory I (Life of S. Cetheus ap. Bollandist. 13 June). Not long after 591, for in July 592, Ariulf is duke of Spoleto (Greg. Ep. II.32).º

15 'Omnino iniquum et dolosum' (Greg. Ep. IX.44)º.

16 Vol. V p418.

17 H. L. IV.16 (see vol. V p365).

18 'Qui cum victoriam (sic) coronatus est' (Paulus, H. L. IV.16).

19 Strictly speaking five, but Rodwald's accession took place a very short time before the death of Theudelap.

20 Agilulf and Rothari.

21 Adalwald and Ariwald.

22 H. L. IV.50; V.16.

Thayer's Notes:

a Rocca is a standard Italian word for an imposing fortress, usually in a city; the term is not in any way specific to Spoleto. It is, however, as Hodgkin implies, a cognate of rock.

b One would think the height of the aqueduct, in this age of the Internet, would be easy to ascertain. It is not: online we find figures ranging from 76 m to "about 90 m". The 76 m figure (249 feet) seems to me the most trustworthy, since it is the one given in the meticulously researched and written L'Umbria, Manuali per il Territorio (Rome, 1978; the Spoleto volume, p433); where it is explicitly stated to include the extra meter or so of the parapet. Great heights given for the aqueduct may include the tower at its SE end, properly not part of the structure.

c Hodgkin's spelling, repeated once a bit later, is possible, but very much a minority spelling. He is almost always referred to — in Spanish, Italian, and English — as Cardinal Albornoz. Good biographical information is given by the entry in the Nuova Enciclopedia Italiana (with a further link there to the entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica); and for his connection to Spoleto, in rather great detail if laudatory and partisan, see chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Bandini, La Rocca di Spoleto.

d The population of Spoleto as of 1/1/2018 was 37,964.

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