The history of the so-called "long beards": twelve miniatures depicting Lombard and Frankish Kings in addition to the pagan gods Odin and Freyja

999 Exemplare

Benevento (Italy) — ca. 1005

999 Exemplare

999 Exemplare

Benevento (Italy) — ca. 1005

  1. The most famous manuscript containing the legal codes of the medieval Lombards was created ca. 1005 in Benevento

  2. It features as a prologue the *Origo Gentis Langobardorum*, or “Origin of the Tribe of the Lombards”

  3. The Cava manuscript is the oldest version of the Lombard saga, probably a royal commission from the early-7th century

999 Exemplare

Codex Legum Langobardorum  – Cod. Cavense 4 – Biblioteca Statale del Monumento Nazionale della Badia (Cava de' Tirreni, Italy)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

This milestone of Lombard civilization was created in Southern Italy ca. 1005, and contains both the mythical history of the Lombards, the Origo Gentis Langobardorum and the first written Lombard legal codex, the Edictum Rothari. Both documents originate from the 7th century, when the Lombards controlled most of the Italian peninsula, but the manuscript at hand was created when all that was left was a few Lombard duchies in the south of the peninsula. It is one of only three manuscripts to contain the Origo and the version of the legal text found in the manuscript is considered to be authoritative by researchers. The text is adorned by twelve miniatures including portraits of Lombard and Frankish kings along with a unique depiction of the Lombards’ mythical background.

Codex Legum Langobardorum

Aside from containing the legal codes of the Lombard Kingdom, this fine manuscript is one of only three to contain the Origo Gentis Langobardorum or "Origin of the tribe of the Lombards") and probably the most famous. Judging by the script, it probably originated in Benevento ca. 1005 although the original texts contained in it date back to the 7th century. After tracing the origins of the Lombards from their mythological beginnings, the manuscript contains a regnal list of the Lombard and Frankish kings who ruled over northern Italy. 12 miniatures in the manuscript include portraits of the kings but also depict a famous episode from the Origo explaining the mythological origins of the Lombards.

The Lombard Legal Tradition

Codice 4 of La Trinità della Cava Abbey contains the history known as the Origo Gentis Langobardorum, completed under King Grimoald (r. 662-671), as well as the first written compilation of Lombard law, the Edictum Rothari, which was codified and promulgated on November 22nd, 643 by King Rothari (ca. 606-652). Previously passed down orally, the Germanic custom law of the Lombards was modified to strengthen the power of the king at the expense of the nobility, and written down in Latin despite its having no basis in Roman law. Rather, it specified things like inheritance, duels, wergilds, and even set specified the compensation owed for various injuries, down to each finger, toe, and tooth. Recorded by a scribe name Ansoald, the laws were passed by a gathering known as the gairethinx, where the army passed laws by banging their spears on their shields in an ancient Germanic tradition. This coveted manuscript, whose text is adorned with many fine initials, was donated to Cava Abbey in 1263 and has remained there ever since. The version of the text of Lombard laws (643-755) it contains is also considered by scholars to be one of the most reliable of the entire tradition, which in combination with its artistry makes it a monument of Lombard civilization.

Chosen by the Gods

The most famous miniature of the manuscript shows the mythological origins of the Lombards: Wotan props himself up in bed as Freya points with her left hand to a band of armed men and women. Seeing their long hair, he calls them Longobards or “long beards”, which evolved into “Lombards” in English, and prophecies that they will have a victorious future. This scene is the only pictorial representation known to date concerning the naming of the Lombards and is part of what makes the Cava manuscript so precious. Mythical origins stories were a common way for peoples and dynasties to claim both legitimacy and status among the young kingdoms of early medieval Europe and the Lombards were not different.

The History of the Lombards

According to legend, the Lombards originated from southern Scandinavia, coming to northwestern Germania in the 1st century AD before migrating to the area of modern Austria and Slovakia by the 5th century. In the 6th century, they invaded Italy, which had been devastated and depopulated by endemic wars between the Goths and Byzantines, and brought all of northern Italy under their rule by 572 before moving south, conquering everything save for some coastal cities who remained part of the Byzantine Empire. At the instigation of Pope Adrian I (d. 795), the northern part of their realm was conquered in 774 by the Emperor Charlemagne (742-814), who assumed the title “King of the Lombards” and incorporated most of the realm into the Frankish Empire, using the remainder to help form the emerging Papal States. The Lombard duchies in southern Italy, however, had always been somewhat independent and endured long after, forming buffer states between the Frankish territory to the north and the Byzantine territory to the south until they were conquered in the 11th century by the Normans, who subsequently established a kingdom in Sicily and southern Italy at the expense of both the Lombards and the Byzantines.

Codicology

Date
ca. 1005
Language
Illustrations
12 miniatures
Content
Origo gentis Langobardorum

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „999 Exemplare“

2017
Codex Legum Langobardorum  – Cod. Cavense 4 – Biblioteca Statale del Monumento Nazionale della Badia (Cava de' Tirreni, Italy)
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2017

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
CAPSA, Ars Scriptoria
Commentary
1 volume by Stefano Gasparri, Claudio Azzara, Flavia De Rubeis

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