Around the year 599, Emperor Maurice of Constantinople (r. 582-602) made a peace agreement with King Agilulf of the Lombards (r. 590-616), temporarily putting the Lombard conquest of Italy on pause. Despite this peace, Maurice’s leading lieutenant in Italy, a certain Patrician Callinicus (or Kallinikos), did not get the memo to be on his best behavior. Quite the opposite, the patrician used the peace-time to plot a bizarre covert military action against the Lombard king’s family. His plan, which he presumably carried out sometime between 599 and 601, was to kidnap King Agilulf’s daughter, as well as her children. This event was mentioned by Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), in his History of the Lombards, in which he wrote, “In these days the daughter of King Agilulf was taken from the city of Parma, together with her husband named Gudescalc (Gottschalk), by the army of the patrician Gallicinus (Callinicus), and they were brought to the city of Ravenna” (History of the Lombards, IV.20). Callinicus might have been able to make something of his scheme if the kidnapped daughter had a different father, or if the plot had been carried out at a different time. Yet, King Agilulf was not the kind of man to pay ransoms, and the Empire of Constantinople would soon wish it had been befriending its neighbors instead of kidnapping their daughters.
When King Agilulf learned that his daughter had been taken captive, his immediate reaction was a desire for revenge. Instead of paying ransom for her release, Agilulf began a temporary partnership with the Avars—one of Constantinople’s several enemies at that time. King Agilulf is known to have sent shipwrights to the Avars around the time that the kidnapping incident occurred, and, more directly, he dispatched Lombard troops around the year 601 to support the Avars in Istria against the forces of Constantinople. For Emperor Maurice, however, it was not the Avars and the Lombards that he had to be watching out for in the Balkans. Instead, mutiny and rebellion would prove his undoing.
In 602, a revolt erupted among Emperor Maurice’s troops in the Balkans, who were disgruntled because of poor conditions and pay. A military officer named Phokas (or Phocas) emerged as the leader of the mutineers and he successfully usurped power in the empire. Phokas was proclaimed emperor and Maurice (along with his entire family) was executed. It was a shame, for in the grand scheme of things, Maurice was an effective emperor, not doomed by poor leadership, but by the deadly side-effects of a depleted treasury.
Back in Italy, King Agilulf of the Lombards watched with interest as the Empire of Constantinople fell into chaos. For one, not all of the regional governors and generals of the empire recognized Phokas as the new emperor of Constantinople. Callinicus, the patrician of Ravenna (overseeing the empire’s holdings in Italy), evidently did recognize Emperor Phokas, but that did not stop the emperor from replacing him with another patrician, named Smaragdus. Yet, even more troubling for Phokas was the response of Sasanian Persia’s ruler, Khosrow II (r. 590-628). Despite the rivalry between Constantinople (the Eastern Romans) and Persia, Maurice and Khosrow II had been remarkably close and coexisted with a great working relationship—Maurice even aided Khosrow in times of need. This brief period of Roman-Persian peace abruptly ended, however, when Phokas usurped the throne and executed Maurice. Khosrow II declared war on Phokas almost immediately, igniting a destructive war that would last from 602-628. Emperor Phokas took the threat seriously, diverting troops and supplies from the Avar and Lombard fronts in order to face the greater, Persian, danger.
With all the troubles and distractions faced by Constantinople, King Agilulf of the Lombards had free reign in Italy, and he was still eager to have his revenge over his still-imprisoned daughter. Starting around the year 603, King Agilulf went on a rampage against Constantinople’s territory in Italy, and the freshly-arrived and under-equipped Patrician Smaragdus could do little to stop the carnage. The Lombards captured the fortress of Monselice, and razed the city of Cremona to the ground. They battered through the walls of Mantua and similarly besieged the fortress of Valdoria into submission. King Agilulf then conquered the cities of Bagnarea and Orvieto. Such raids, assaults and conquests went on until 605, by which time Smaragdus was at his wit’s end. It was then that the patrician decided to release King Agilulf’s daughter (and her family) and begin negotiating for peace. Paul the Deacon commented on the event, writing, “When these things were accomplished, the daughter of the king was restored by Smaragdus the patrician with her husband and children and all her property. In the ninth month peace was made…” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, IV.28). Tragically, the royal family was not able to enjoy their reunion with their daughter for long. She died from complications of a difficult childbirth not long after she was released.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Scene from the Chroniques de France ou de St Denis (manuscript BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 258), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and The British Library.jpg).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.
- Theophones, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.