Between the years 662 and 663, Emperor Constans II of Constantinople (r. 641-668) personally sailed off from his base of power in Greece and crossed over to Italy, where he could better focus on Roman and Lombard affairs. While he was in the region, border tensions skyrocketed between the emperor’s own territory and that of the Lombard people, who had occupied much of Italy during the last century. In particular, the emperor’s forces and those of the Lombards were reported to have clashed in the Benevento region, where a Lombard duke named Romuald was ruling. This duke, however, turned out to be a tougher target than the imperial forces had expected.
Duke Romuald, according to Lombard sources, was a bastard son of the then reigning King Grimoald of the Lombards (r. 662-671). Although the duke was not in line to inherit the kingdom, Grimoald still cared for him. As a result, when Benevento was threatened by Emperor Constans’ forces, the king promptly offered Romuald enough troops and supplies to turn the tide of the conflict. Duke Romuald, emboldened by his reinforcements from the Lombard king, decided to go on the offensive. In particular, he targeted an imperial army that was camped at a place called Forinus or Forino, which was not too far from Constantinople-controlled Naples. As told by the Lombard sources, Duke Romuald estimated that the camped force consisted of around twenty thousand men, led by a general named Saburrus. No record was made of the size of the army that Romuald led, but it was large enough for him to not be intimidated by the troops in the opposing encampment.
Among the warriors that King Grimoald lent to Duke Romuald was a spearman named Amalong. He was a tough and experienced fighter who favored a pike as his preferred polearm. Duke Romuald’s army was well-served having this loaned champion in their midst. Indeed, Amalong would distinguish himself in the fighting that was to come, and his actions were said to have been pivotal in the outcome of the battle.
Duke Romuald led Amalong and the rest of the Lombard forces to the vicinity of Forino, where they confronted the imperial army. At the beginning of the battle, Romuald and Saburrus were balanced in the moves and counter-moves of their deadly game. Lombard and imperial battle lines pressed and ground with no advantage yet showing on either side. Saburrus, hoping to break the deadlock, finally ordered a reserve of cavalrymen to rush into the mix. Nevertheless, the horsemen or their general chose the wrong section of the Lombard army to attack—as the story goes, they charged straight for Amalong’s position, and he was ready for them. What allegedly happened next was recorded by a Lombard historian named Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799). He wrote:
“And while both lines were fighting with great obstinacy, a man from the [Lombard] king’s army named Amalong, who had been accustomed to carry the royal pike, taking this pike in both hands struck violently with it a certain little Greek and lifted him from the saddle on which he was riding and raised him in the air over his head. When the army of the Greeks saw this, it was terrified by boundless fear and at once betook itself to flight…” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 5.10).
Based upon Paul the Deacon’s account above, it seems that Amalong held his ground against Saburrus’ cavalry charge, skewering with his pike the unfortunate man who happened to be out front in the formation. Then, by lifting the pierced body high into the sky like a flag, Amalong was able to turn the curious incident into a psychological weapon against the imperial army. Ironically, the cavalry charge which was meant to shock and scatter the Lombards was instead hijacked by Amalong, who shocked and frightened the imperial army with his conspicuous feat of strength. According to the legend, this peculiar event caused Saburrus’ army to crumble. The flight of the imperial forces from the battlefield was reportedly not orderly. One way or another, Saburrus was said to have lost much of his manpower by the time that he contacted Emperor Constans II after the battle. According to Paul the Deacon, Saburrus “returned to him with a few men only and came off with disgrace” (History of the Lombards, 5.10). In contrast, Duke Romuald’s prestige was on the rise. By the time of his death around 677, he had greatly expanded the territory and influence of Benevento into southern Italy.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Battle between Cavalry and Infantry, by Antonio Tempesta (c. 1555 – 1630), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the National Gallery of Art)
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.