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Bill Thayer

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Note B

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon 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.
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Chapter 9

Vol. VII
Note C

On the date of Pippin's First Invasion of Italy

In assigning 755 rather than 754 as the date of Pippin's first Italian campaign I find myself in opposition to the greater number of modern historians, though there are not wanting advocates​1 for the date which I have adopted.

The question is not an easy one, and while contending for my view of the case I shall hope to indicate fairly the arguments for the earlier date.

Our only legal authorities for these central years of the eighth century are: —

(1) The Liber Pontificalis.

(2) The Codex Carolinus.

(3) The Continuation of the chronicle of the so‑called 'Fredegarius.'

(4) The Frankish Annals, described in pp85‑92.

On this special question the Codex Carolinus throws no light, since, as Pope Stephen was in France, there was no occasion for the interchange of letters between him and the king of the Franks. We are therefore check: shut up to the Liber Pontificalis, the Annals, and the Continuer of 'Fredegarius.'

I. The author of the biography of Pope Stephen II, though not a very brilliant or impartial writer, has the advantage of being very near the facts narrated.​2 It is probable that he was a member of the Papal Curia, and that though he did not himself make the toilsome journey across the Alps he conversed with his brother ecclesiastics who formed part of the Papal train, and founded his Life on their narratives. Unfortunately he gives us very scanty information as to dates. He tells us, however, that the 15th of November in the 7th Indiction (753) was the day when the Pope moved away from Pavia and commenced his journey into Francia. He then describes the meeting of king  p230 and pontiff at Ponthion on the 6th of January (754), the interview in the royal chapel, the consignment of the Pope on account of the wintry weather to the shelter of the monastery of S. Denis near Paris. 'After some days'​3 the Pope crowns Pippin and his two sons kings of the Franks. He falls dangerously ill as the result of the hardships of the journey and the severity of the climate, but suddenly and unexpectedly recovers. King Pippin goes to Carisiacum, meets there the nobles of the realm, and imbues them with his determination to assist the Pope. Then follows the ineffectual mission of Carloman to plead the cause of the Lombard king. The King and Pope shut him up in a monastery in Francia, where after some days​4 he departs this life.

Then follow three abortive embassies from Pippin to Aistulf to endeavour to persuade him quietly to yield to the Pope's demands.

Then the invasion, with one last embassy to Aistulf, as ineffectual as all that had preceded it.

This is all that we can collect from the Papal biographer. It will be noticed that he only speaks of one winter, and taken by itself his narrative does perhaps point to an invasion of Italy undertaken in the course of the year 754. The repeated embassies to Aistulf, however, would occupy at least many months, and as we know from other sources that the Frankish nobles were not favourable to the proposed intervention in Italian affairs, a good deal of time might be occupied in smoothing the way for the great assembly at Carisiacum at which their consent was obtained.

And here we are met by the question as to the date of Pippin's coronation by the Pope. That date is not given by any contemporary authority, but Hilduin, Abbot of S. Denis (who died in 814), gives the 28th of July as the date both of the hallowing of an altar to SS. Peter and Paul in the monastery of S. Denis and of the coronation of Pippin and his sons by the Pope;​5 and this date is generally accepted as correct. But if the coronation  p231 did not take place till the end of July, very little time is left for the assembly at Carisiacum, for the three missions to Aistulf which according to the biographer must all have intervened between the coronation and the campaign, and that campaign is driven desperately late into the autumn of 754.

II. I now turn to the Continuation of 'Fredegarius,' which it must be remembered is written not only by a contemporary, but under the direct supervision of Count Nibelung, first cousin of Pippin. His words are very noteworthy. After describing Pope Stephen's journey into Francia, his appeal for help against Aistulf, and his wintering at Paris in the monastery of S. Denis, he mentions an embassy (only one it is true) to the Lombard king from Pippin, and then continues: —

'Cumque praedictus rex Pippinus quod per legatos suos petierat non impetrasset, et Aistulfus hoc facere contempsit, evoluto anno praefatus rex ad Kal. Martias omnes Francos sicut mos Francorum est, Bernaco villâ publicâ ad se venire praecepit. Initoque consilio cum proceribus suis, eo tempore quo solent reges ad bella procedere cum Stephano papa vel reliquas nationes . . . per Lugduno Galliae et Vienna pergentes usque Maurienne pervenerunt.'

('And when King Pippin could not obtain what he wanted by his ambassadors, and Aistulf scorned to comply with his request, after a year had elapsed he ordered all the Franks to come to him according to their custom on the 1st of March at the palace of Brennacum [Braisne-sur‑Aisne]. And having taken counsel with his nobles, at the time when the kings are wont to proceed to war, he started with Pope Stephen and all the nations that were accustomed to serve under his banner and went by way of Lyons and Vienne to Maurienne.')

Surely this passage is very strong in favour of the date of 755 for the campaign. Is not the natural meaning of evoluto anno that a year was consumed in these negotiations, rather than simply that the year 1 March 753 to 1 March 754 had run its course, which is the other interpretation of the passage? And see how the chronicler insists on the fact that the final muster at Brennacum took place on the Kalends of March, and that the king made his expedition 'at the time which was usual with Frankish kings,' the spring. How entirely inconsistent is the  p232 language of this chronicler with the theory of a late (and very late) autumn campaign, which has been invented in order to reconcile the accepted date of Pippin's coronation (28th of July) with an invasion of Italy in the same year. It certainly seems to me that if we attach any weight to the statements of the Continuer of 'Fredegarius' we must allow an interval of more than twelve months between the Pope's arrival in France and the commencement of Pippin's campaign. Doubtless this seems to us, who know how the affair was to end, a long interval, but it may be probably accounted for by the Pope's sickness, by the repeated negotiations with Aistulf, by possible bargainings between Stephen and Pippin before the Pope consented to perform the coronation ceremony (but this is only a conjecture), by Carloman's visit, and by the undoubted reluctance of the Frankish nobles to take part in the Italian enterprise, a reluctance which may easily have lasted for the greater part of a year until it was overcome by Pippin's diplomacy.

III. We pass on to the Annals, and first to those which are our main source for the history of this time, the so‑called Annales Laurissenses Majores, which most scholars are now inclined to consider as not the work of a mere monkish chronicler, but as in fact the official annals of the Frankish kingdom.

Now this important work gives the following dates:

753. The Pope's arrival in Francia. (There is no contradiction here, though the Popes did not actually meet King Pippin till the 6th of January, 754, for the annalist's years run from March to March.) Carloman comes also to oppose the Pope's petition.

754. The Pope anoints Pippin and his two sons kings of the Franks. (In the so‑called Annales Einhardi there are added the words 'mansitque hiberno tempore in Franciâ.')

755. Pippin invades Italy, conquers Aistulf at the passes, besieges Aistulf in Pavia, receives the submission of Aistulf, takes hostages, and returns to France. Carloman remains at Vienne with queen Bertha, languishes for many days, and dies in peace.

756. As Aistulf does not keep the promises which he had made, Pippin makes a second journey into Italy and again shuts up Aistulf in Pavia, takes singular securities for the fulfilment of  p233 his promises to St. Peter, restores Ravenna and Pentapolis and all the Exarchate to the Pope, and returns to Gaul.

Death of Aistulf while meditating renewed violation of his promises.

This is the course of events which I have described in my narrative, and which is I think fairly to be deduced from the Papal biographer and the Continuer of 'Fredegarius.' According to this statement the two Italian campaigns of Pippin took place in two successive years, 755 and 756.

But it must be stated that a number of smaller and less trustworthy annals give a different account of the matter.

The Annales Sancti Amandi give

754 for the Pope's arrival in Francia;

755 for Pippin's first campaign and the death of Carloman;

757 for the siege of Pavia, i.e. for Pippin's second Italian campaign. This is adverse testimony, inasmuch as it interposes a year between the two campaigns. No one suggests that 757 is the true date of the second campaign. The Annales Laureshamenses put the two invasions in 754 and 756 respectively, the Annales Alamannici in 753 and 755, and the Annales Guelferbytani and Nazariani agree with them, and state expressly for 755 'Franci absque bello quieverunt.' On the other hand, the Annales Laurissenses Minores give us in

756 Stephen's journey to Francia;

757 his anointing of Pippin and his sons;

759 Pippin's first Italian campaign;

760 Stephen's return to Rome and the death of Carloman;

761 Pippin's second Italian campaign and the surrender of Ravenna and the Pentapolis to St. Peter;

762 death of Aistulf.

But these dates are wildly wrong. It is quite certain that Aistulf died in the year 756 and Pope Stephen II in 757.

It will be seen that accuracy with respect to dates is not a strong point with most of these chroniclers. Still it must be admitted that the majority of them support the view of a year's interval between the two campaigns. This fact and the absence of any express allusion to two winters passed by the Pope in Francia constitute the strength of the case for the date 754. But it seems to me that, on a review of all the evidence, the arguments in favour of 755 are the most powerful.

 p234  (The controversy will be found well set forth on one side by Abel in the Anhang to his monograph on the fall of the Lombard power in Italy, already referred to, and on the other side by Oelsner in Excurs I ('Zur Chronologie der Italienischen Ereignisse') to his Jahrbücher des Fränkischen Reiches unter König Pippin. The latter bring forward certain documentary evidence in favour of the date 754, but I think he would himself admit that this evidence by no means amounts to demonstration.)

The Author's Notes:

1 Notably Dr. Sigurd Abel, author of 'Der Untergang des Langobardenreiches in Italien' (Göttingen, 1859). See his 'Anhang,' pp122‑127.

2 Duchesne says (p. ccxliv), 'Les biographes de Zacharie, d'Étienne II et d'Étienne III sont de véritables narrateurs, et qui racontent au lendemain même des évènements.'

3 'Post aliquantos dies,' a vague expression which may mean weeks or months, according to the writer's habit of mind.

4 Again 'post aliquantos dies.' We know that in this case the words denote an interval of a year.

5 See Oelsner (p154), who quotes from Surius, Vitae Sanctorum, Oct. 9, p130.

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