Aio was the troubled son of the Lombard Duke Arichis of Benevento (r. 591-641). Arichis was a powerful and long-ruling duke who lived during the reigns of several Lombard kings, including King Agilulf (r. 590-616), King Adaloald (r. 616-626/628), King Arioald (626/628-636) and King Rothari (r. 636-652). As Duke Arichis was growing old during the reign of the last monarch, Rothari, the duke decided to send his son, Aio, to meet with the new king. Perhaps, this trip was meant to ingratiate young Aio into the new regime and to build comradery between the new king and the future duke. These hopes, however, were not realized. Instead of stability and security, Aio’s journey away from home instead brought about rumor and chaos.
Little explanation besides hearsay, rumor and legend was preserved about what happened to Aio during his trip to see King Rothari. A folkloric and accusatory account was preserved by the Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), who wrote: “To this king [Rothari], Arichis, the duke of Beneventum sent his son Aio. And when the latter had come to Ravenna on his way to Ticinum, such a drink was there given him by the malice of the Romans [of Constantinople] that it made him lose his reason, and from that time he was never of full and sound mind” (History of the Lombards, 4.42).
Around the time when Aio allegedly lost his wits, Duke Arichis had two young exiled nobles living under his protection in Benevento. These men were Radoald and Grimoald, sons of the late Lombard Duke Gisulf of Friuli (d. 611). They had received shelter from Duke Arichis in Benevento after their birthright in Friuli was usurped by their uncle, Grasulf. As the story goes, Duke Arichis tried to encourage a friendship between the two wards and his troubled son, positioning Radoald and Grimoald as companions and advisors to Aio.
When Duke Arichis died in 641, his son Aio—despite the rumors about his mental health—was deemed competent to become the next duke of Benevento. Radoald and Grimoald remained in the dukedom to aid and advise, but their lives would soon drastically change. Unfortunately for Duke Aio, his reign turned out to be incredibly short; he reportedly died in battle during the second year of his rule while skirmishing against a force of Slavic warriors. Paul the Deacon described the suspicious incident:
“When this Aio had already governed the dukedom of Beneventum for a year and five months, the Slavs came with a great number of ships and set up their camp not far from the city of Sipontum (Siponto). They made hidden pit-falls around their camp and when Aio came upon them in absence of Raduald and Grimoald and attempted to conquer them, his horse fell into one of these pit-falls, the Slavs rushed upon him and he was killed with a number of others. When this was announced to Raduald he came quickly and talked familiarly with these Slavs in their own language…” (History of the Lombards, 4.44).
Radoald and Grimoald, as the quote divulges, could speak with the Slavic warriors, likely due to the education that the brothers received in their homeland of Friuli, which bordered Slavic regions. According to the account of Paul the Deacon, Radoald used his communication skills to make the Slavic warriors lower their guard, only to subsequently annihilate them with a Lombard army. Yet, a pessimistic skeptic might wonder if something nefarious had been concocted by the two opportunist nobles who had the ability to correspond with Slavic warbands. Whatever the case, Duke Aio—in the absence of Radoald, Grimoald and other reinforcements—died during his skirmish against the Slavic force in 642. Following Aio’s death, Radoald and Grimoald became the new leaders of Benevento. Grimoald would later usurp the power over the whole Lombard kingdom in 662, by violently overthrowing two co-king brothers, Godepert and Pectarit (r. 661-662). King Grimoald would continue to rule over the Lombards until 671.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Print scene of knights, created c. 19th century by Antonie Johannes Groeneveldt, Willem Pieter Hoevenaar, and Pieter Wilhelmus van de Weijer, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum.jpg).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.