King Grimoald, who usurped power over the Lombards in 662, faced an early crisis when Emperor Constans II of Constantinople (r. 641-668) personally departed from Greece and moved to Italy in 663. While residing in Italy, the emperor had three main objectives—to build power in Sicily, to dominate the Roman popes, and to wage war against the Lombards, who had wrested much of Italy from Constantinople’s control during the last century. While King Grimoald did not care much about Sicily or the pope, he did take seriously the increased pressure that Emperor Constans was putting on the Lombard kingdom’s southern territories.
In particular, the Lombard dukedom of Benevento—ruled by Grimoald’s bastard son, Duke Romuald—was potentially in danger of being overrun by Emperor Constans’ armies. King Grimoald saved Benevento, however, by personally moving south with troops and supplies, driving off the imperial armies and allowing Duke Romuald and the Beneventines to instead go on the offensive. Yet, although most of the fighting at that time was occurring in southern Italy, the Empire of Constantinople still controlled land in northern Italy, too. Notably, the imperial stronghold of Ravenna was a major thorn in the side of the Lombard kingdom. But, curiously, another imperially-aligned city in the same northern area proved even more annoying than Ravenna for the Lombards while Grimoald and Emperor Constans II were at war. The name of this second city was Forlimpopoli.
Located just south of Ravenna, the city of Forlimpopoli curiously became aware of a path that Lombard messengers and couriers were using during the war between King Grimoald and Emperor Constans II. With this intelligence in their possession, Forlimpopoli decided to help the imperial cause by sabotaging and harassing the Lombard supply lines and communications network. King Grimoald took bitter notice of the city’s enthusiastic actions against the Lombards. According to the Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), Grimoald quickly filled with rage against this “Forum Populi (Forlimpopoli), a certain city of the Romans, whose citizens had inflicted certain injuries upon him when he was setting out for Beneventum and had often annoyed his couriers going from Beneventum and returning” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 5.27). To King Grimoald, such harassment could not go unanswered. And answer it he would.
Unfortunately for Forlimopopoli, the Lombard king already had an inflated hate of all things related to the Empire of Constantinople. This hatred formed in the king’s youth, when imperial officials reportedly assassinated two of his brothers. Therefore, when King Grimoald was masterminding his revenge, his plans did not include mercy. To have his vengeance, the Lombard king also allegedly did not mind a little sacrilege, for he scheduled his military operation to occur on the Easter holiday. An account of what reportedly happened next was recorded by the aforementioned historian, Paul the Deacon:
“[W]ithout any knowledge of the Romans, he rushed unexpectedly upon that city on the holy day Sabbath of Easter itself in the hour when the baptism was occurring and made so great a carnage of men slain that he killed in the sacred font itself even those deacons who were baptizing little infants. And so he overthrew that city and very few inhabitants remain in it up to the present time” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 5.27).
Such was the fate that the city of Forlimpopoli reportedly experienced after stoking the wrath of King Grimoald. In the same state of mind, the king also personally was said to have eradicated the Constantinople-aligned city of Opitergium or Oderzo. Unlike at Forlimpopoli, Grimoald resettled the second destroyed city with Lombards.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Siege of Jerusalem from BL Royal 20 C IV, f. 263v, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons, Europeana, and The British Library).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.