Faroald was a nobleman of the Lombard people who followed King Alboin into Italy in 568, seizing a large portion of the Italian peninsula from the Empire of Constantinople by the time of Alboin’s death in 572 or 573. Unfortunately, little is known about what Faroald was doing during the reign of King Alboin or that of his successor, King Cleph (r. 572-574). By the time of Cleph’s death, however, Faroald had made himself into a powerful and influential Lombard lord, ruling over a sizable military force. Likely due to his skill in combat and strategy, Faroald was appointed as a duke (or dux)—one of several powerful Lombard lords, such as Zotto in Benevento and Euin in Trento, who would soon dominate Lombard politics. Faroald’s own ducal domain eventually centered on the city of Spoleto, from which he would prove to be an aggressive and expansionist leader. After the death of King Cleph in 574, the dukes suppressed the power of the monarchy, not recognizing Cleph’s son, Authari, as the new king until as late as 584. During that kingless intermission from 574 to 584, the Lombard dukes ran wild, working together and alone to expand their personal realms. Faroald proved himself to be one of the more successful of these self-serving dukes.
Although knowledge about Faroald’s reign as a duke is of short supply, some battles and dates can be attached to his résumé. For one, Faroald is presumed, along with his fellow duke, Zotto, to have been involved in a battle against Baduarius—a son-in-law to Emperor Justin II of Constantinople (r. 565-578). Baduarius, after setting out from the imperial stronghold of Ravenna, was defeated in battle and killed in 575 or 576 by a coalition of Lombard dukes. It has been proposed that this clash occurred while Dukes Faroald and Zotto were marching down the Italian Peninsula to establish themselves in their new realms of Spoleto and Benevento. Once Faroald did indeed entrench himself in Spoleto, he once more looked northward at Ravenna, the seat of power for Constantinople’s governors in Italy. Around the year 579, Duke Faroald marched an army toward Ravenna and seized the city’s strategic port town, which was then called Classis. A Lombard historian named Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799) recorded this feat, writing, “Faroald, first duke of the Spoletans, invaded Classis with an army of Longobards and left the rich city stripped, plundered of all its wealth” (History of the Lombards, 3.13). Yet, Faroald’s occupation of Classis, and the kingless nature of the Lombards in general, was only temporary.
In 584, Emperor Maurice of Constantinople (r. 582-602) and the Frankish king, Childebert II (r. 575-595), negotiated a military alliance against the Lombards. Emperor Maurice reportedly paid 50,000 pieces of gold to King Childebert II in order to entice the Franks to launch a major invasion into the Lombard-controlled section of Italy. In order to face this incoming onslaught of Frankish and imperial attacks, the Lombard dukes decided to put their divided lands once more under a central monarchal government. A majority of the dukes elected Authari, the son of the last king, as the new leader of the Lombard state, and they reportedly agreed to relinquish half of their possessions to the new king, for the upkeep of the monarch, his court, and the protection of the realm. Of course, there were dissidents—most notable of which was Duke Droctulft, who defected to the forces of Constantinople, and, much to Faroald’s annoyance, retook the port of Classis in 584 for Ravenna.
King Childebert II of the Franks was true to his word, invading Lombard territory in 584, 588, and 590. Fortunately for the Lombards, King Authari proved himself to be a capable leader, successfully minimizing and fending off the coordinated attacks from the Frankish and imperial armies. After beating back the Frankish invasion of 590, King Authari died during ongoing peace negotiations with King Childebert. Duke Faroald died not long after, in the year 591, and Ariulf succeeded him as the new duke of Spoleto.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Apparition of Saint George Appearing Before An Army, created by Gustave Dore and Héliodore Joseph Pisan (c. 19th century), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.