Emperor Constans II ascended to the throne of the Empire of Constantinople in 641. About two decades later, around the year 662/663, Constans notably left the imperial heartland of Greece behind and relocated himself to Italy. To the shock of Constantinople, the emperor would stay in Italy for the rest of his life, where he pursued three main objectives—building up imperial power in Sicily, suppressing the influence of the Roman popes, and ramping up war efforts against the Lombards. In regard to the emperor’s campaigns against the Lombards, much of the warfare was focused on southern Italy. In particular, the Benevento region was singled out for attack. Perhaps this was a convenient target due to Benevento’s close proximity to the imperial stronghold of Naples. Emperor Constans II, however, might have had alternative, familial, reasons to attack Benevento.
As it happened, King Grimoald of the Lombards had family who lived among the Beneventines. Romuald, the Lombard duke of Benevento, was reportedly an illegitimate son of King Grimoald, and, although Romuald was not in line to inherit the kingdom, King Grimoald still loved him. Indeed, King Grimoald personally led troops and supplies south as soon as he learned that Benevento was under attack. Grimoald was fast enough in his mobilization and deployment to save Duke Romuald, and flip the Beneventines from defense to offense against Emperor Constans’ armies. Yet, although he had been quick enough to rescue his son, King Grimoald unfortunately did not have an equal enthusiasm for saving his other imperiled child in the Benevento region—a daughter named Gisa.
Gisa and Duke Romuald shared the same mother, and like the duke, Gisa was also considered an illegitimate child, holding very little clout in the royal family. Gisa lived within her brother’s dukedom in Benevento, but she evidently resided on an estate that was outside of the walls of her brother’s cities and castles. While these living arrangements might have been nice in times of peace, it left Gisa vulnerable when the Benevento region found itself on the frontline of the war between the Lombards and the Empire of Constantinople. In fact, whereas Duke Romuald remained safe behind the walls of the city of Benevento, Gisa’s more remote abode was reportedly discovered and captured by Emperor Constans’ troops. Gisa was taken prisoner by the imperial army, and when the combined forces of King Grimoald and Duke Romuald later drove the forces of Emperor Constans II out of the Benevento region, the imperial troops took Gisa with them.
King Grimoald definitely showed some favoritism between his two illegitimate children in Benevento. The king had rushed south to aid his son, Duke Romuald, and relieved the dukedom of Beneveno. Yet, when the Beneventines changed from the defenders to become the aggressors in the conflict, King Grimoald’s personal leadership in the war began to wane. He let Duke Romuald lead the military operations in southern Italy, and their goals for the war focused more on territorial expansion than on obtaining Gisa’s release.
As King Grimoald and Duke Romuald seemed uninterested in negotiating for the return of Gisa, she unfortunately lived the rest of her life in the custody of the Empire of Constantinople. Emperor Constans II reportedly had her brought to Sicily, and there she remained, even after Emperor Constans II was eventually assassinated by his own people in 668. Unfortunately, Gisa’s status and living conditions in the post-Constans period are vague. The Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), merely wrote, “the daughter of the king, who we said had been carried away from Beneventum as a hostage came to Sicily and ended her last days” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 5.14). She reportedly died in 672, the same year that her father, Grimoald, also met his end.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Lachrymae, painted by Lord Leighton Frederic (c. 1830–1896), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.