One of the fundamental events in the formation of the medieval European continent was the transition to more complex organisational structures, even for the inhabitants of the territories beyond the Roman limes. The historical-social transformation movement of the western European world and the new multiethnic composition of the new Roman-Germanic societies were only two of the consequences of the collapse of the division between the highly-developed Mediterranean world and the areas not directly controlled by Rome where, however, stable socio-economic organisational forms had still developed, involving both the steppe and the Germanic populations. Even if it never was an insuperable boundary for all those who lived in the areas not under Roman control, the limes forever lost that ideological concept of barrier and border between two diverse and opposing worlds. The mechanism that caused such consequences involved very complex processes that, as they occurred, affected the environmental geographic conditions as well as the local traditions and ethnic affinities. The populations that continued to live in the areas beyond the Pannonian border introduced themselves into the stream of cultural transformations that arose in that part of the post-Roman European territories between Late Antiquity and the early medieval centuries. It would still be several centuries before this change would complete its natural cycle. In the end, the tribal societies disappeared and new social and cultural structures arose. This helped to spread new ways of using nature, new standards for social co-existence and a new vision of the world.
In recent years the ideological premises and practices of early medieval funerary rituals, which are extremely complex and largely still unexplored, have become a highly topical subject in the field of European historiography. Indeed, from Late Antiquity onwards the presence and integration of different cultural traditions, and the rapid establishment and spread of Christianity led to the development of new social models of behaviour, which are not always easy to decipher, in terms of both settlements and the relationship with death and the forms in which it was represented. While archaeological research allows us to make contact with the material results of these new models of behaviour, it is not always straightforward — particularly for funerary practices — to identify the ensuing system of values and cultural models. In some cases we may suppose that material forms of apparently similar rituals are actually the fruit of different motivations and mental universes. Consequently, there is a strong need to acquire a better understanding of the process of reciprocal acculturation that occurred in the Roman-Byzantine and Germanic worlds between the 5th and 7th centuries in the sphere of funerary rituals and, in particular, the relationship between burials and places of worship, which appears to be the area able to offer the most useful clues regarding the methods and dating of the acquisition of Roman customs — at least on an outward level — by the Langobard elite.
The most reliable accounts of the oldest part of Longobard history are provided by authors from both the classic (Strabo, Tacitus, Velleius Paterculus) and the Byzantine school of thought (Iordanes, Procopius of Caesariensis) even if a detailed analysis of such works reveals an extensive time gap between the early stages of the imperial period and the end of the 5
, written only in the second half of the 8
century by Paul the Deacon, provides the most important written evidence. Its complex narration, which is based however on a unified and ordered sequential logic, explains the origins behind the process of formation and detachment that differentiated the Longobard population from the other Germanic demographic units with which it shared a common history in the continental European areas for at least five centuries. Its author points out that most of the Germanic peoples (Vandals, Rugians, Heruls, Thuringians and Goths) shared a common homeland represented by the Scandinavian region from where they began a long period of migration toward the southern European areas. A summary of the oldest events is contained in the
Origo Gentis Langobardorum
, the preamble of the text recognised as Rotari’s Edict, although it was never attributed to any official author. A continuation of the
Origo Gentis Langobardorum
, known as
Historia Langobardorum Codicis Gothani
, further chronicles the history of the Longobard population up to the 8
century. In light of such considerations, the extended period of time between the presumed Scandinavian origins and this population’s appearance in northern Germany — during which the early medieval sources describe the very important changes in the social and cultural structure — is of fundamental importance in understanding how the subsequent events unfolded. As a result, the opportunity of studying the beginnings of Longobard history, and thus of analysing the formation of the process of ethnogenesis during its initial phases, can help identify the original socio-economic characteristics of this population, what social transformations took place and the reasons that affected or led to such changes. This might also help to understand the characteristics of the extensive Longobard migratory phase that from the first settlement along the lower course of the Elba River continued relentlessly toward the Balkan areas up to the Carpathian Basin, and from there into the Italian territories. Finally, it might also be possible to improve our understanding of how the multiethnic communities of peaceful farmers became conquerors and dominators of all the peoples they came in contact with, and how they were even able to impose themselves on the Roman-Byzantine society in Italy from which they were first attracted and then subjected to its charm and influence.
The inhabitants of the steppes around the Black Sea and the nearby areas of the wooded steppe must be recognised as having played a special role in the events that occurred during the transition from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages. These populations were known not only by their peculiar living conditions but also various cultural models, even though the pastoral nature of their economy and the continuous movements related to it were of fundamental importance. The steppe was also an extensive link that facilitated contacts with the nomads present beyond the southern course of the Volga and Ural rivers, in the vast territories of the Central Asian zones up to the border with China. Toward the end of Late Antiquity, the ethnic make-up of the inhabitants of those territories changed. The Indo-European nomads were replaced by the groups of Turks-Mongols that arrived in subsequent waves from the Asian steppes. These included the Huns, who in 375 had destroyed the state of the Goths on the Black Sea and, having settled after 420 in the woods and plains crossed by the river Tisza, continued to go beyond the Pannonian
to strike the areas closer to the border. The intensity of these incursions increased after 434 whenAttila unified the nomadic tribes under his command, creating a vast empire of the steppe whose centre was located between the Tisza and the middle region of the Danube. The Huns also cooperated with the subjugated communities, first and foremost the rest of the Goths, Gepids and other Germans who had remained in their residential areas, but also theAlani and the Jazigs. It was only after the defeat of 451 on the Catalaunian Plains, the failed Italian expedition of 452 and the sudden death of Attila in 453 that the Hun Empire completely fell apart. The final blow was struck on the Nedao River in southern Pannonia by the forces united under the command of the Gepids in 454 or 455. What triggered a new shift of Germanic populations, considered the final phase of the period of the “Great Migrations” of peoples, was the ingress of the Langobards into Italy in 568. This alliance of Germanic tribes had appeared at the beginning of the 6
century on the shores of the Danube and, taking full advantage of the collapse of that sector of the
in 526, began to occupy Pannonia. In the face of the danger represented by the Avars, and the new nomads who began to occupy the entire plain crossed by the Tisza, the Langobards decided to abandon Pannonia, leaving it to the Avars on the basis of a peace treaty.
This paper highlights several unusual aspects of the socio-political structure of Lombard society in the years following the conquest of Italy, bearing in mind that Germanic society consisted unequivocally of both men and women with complementary roles and the possibility of action, including intervention in the economic sphere, which could be expressed in various ways. As well as the capacity of foreigners to integrate with the local community, traditionally recognised in the two cemeteries of Nocera Umbra and Castel Trosino, the archaeological evidence shows a second form of integration with a process that took place exclusively within individual Germanic communities. The Collegno cemetery reveals the presence of women belonging to the Merovingian culture, probably from Transalpine territories and of high social status, who integrated with the Germanic community without losing the prerogatives of their rank during the transitional period. Lastly, the case of the Spilamberto cemetery shows how the formation of grave goods, and thus the investment capacity of individual families, corresponded to requirements that exceeded any other necessity including the state of health of female individuals. By placing all these elements on an ideal hypothetical level of reflection, it can be suggested that a funeral, at least until the mid-seventh century, was not just a religious ceremony but the moment when the family of the deceased displayed their economic capacity to absorb the roles, prerogatives and property of the dead person through the permanent loss of material goods, sometimes of significant value, when they were placed in the burial.