Wechtari was a nobleman from Vicenza who was a trusted figure in the entourage of King Grimoald of the Lombards (r. 662-671). Little is known about Wechtari’s early life and career other than that he was an acclaimed warrior and that the Lombard king deemed him to be a reliable and loyal subject. Such a glowing assessment of trustworthiness and allegiance, however, could not be extended to another one of King Grimoald’s vassals—Duke Lupus of Friuli.
Around 663, Duke Lupus was tasked with overseeing the northern holdings of the Lombard kingdom while King Grimoald marched south to defend his lands against an increase in aggression from Emperor Constans II of Constantinople (r. 641-668). Lupus, however, instead of meeting the challenge with integrity and competence, was said to have contrastingly administered the realm with corruption and misrule. Duke Lupus’ stewardship of northern Italy was so bad that, when King Grimoald eventually returned, Lupus fled back to Friuli and was so fearful of punishment that he decided to rebel. The fate of Duke Lupus’ rebellion was peculiar, to say the least. A horde of Avar warriors invaded Friuli (due to opportunism or diplomacy) and crushed Duke Lupus’ fledgling rebel army. King Grimoald, who politely waited for Lupus and the rebels to be slaughtered, eventually marched his forces toward Friuli, regained control of the region, and forced the Avars to withdraw. Not long after Friuli was regained by the Lombard forces, a son of Lupus named Arnefrit suddenly appeared with an army of Slavic mercenaries, hoping to stir his father’s dukedom back into rebellion. Nevertheless, the people of Friuli had experienced their fill of Avar raids and noble rebellions for the time being. The weary locals, therefore, turned quite hostile to Arnefrit, and he ended up being killed by an army of Friulans.
Duke Lupus’ treachery and death left King Grimoald with a vacant dukedom that he needed to fill, and the aforementioned loyal, trustworthy, and battle-hardened Wechtari was the perfect man for the job. Perhaps, he even was appointed in time to lead the Friulan army that defeated and killed Lupus’ Slavic mercenary-backed son, Arnefrit. Whatever the case, either before, during, or after Arnefrit’s failed campaign, Duke Wechtari became a feared man among the dukedom of Friuli’s enemies, and he was said to have had an especially terrifying reputation among Slavic warbands. The growth of his reputation, perhaps, was aided by Duke Wechtari’s possession of a noticeable physical feature—he had a bald head.
According to a no-doubt exaggerated legend, Duke Wechtari’s had such a fearsome reputation that his famous bald head could cause armies to flee from it as soon as they saw the gleam of his scalp on a distant horizon. One such peculiar tale was recorded by the Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), who claimed that Wechtari and a handful of troops once frightened off thousands of Slavic warriors by the duke simply appearing, in all his bald glory, within the enemy’s line of sight. Paul wrote:
“When he had come near the bridge of the river Natisio, which was where the Slavs were staying, he took his helmet from his head and showed his face to them. He was bald-headed, and when the Slavs recognized him [and saw] that he was Wechtari, they were immediately alarmed and cried out that Wechtari was there, and terrified by God they thought more of flight than of battle. Then Wechtari, rushing upon them with the few men he had, overthrew them with such great slaughter that out of five thousand men a few only remained, who escaped with difficulty” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 5.23).
With tall tales such as this being remembered about him in the Friuli region (where Paul the Deacon was born), Duke Wechtari must have left a good impression on his people. Nevertheless, despite the positive light he was remembered in, little else (be it sober history or outlandish yarns) was recorded about Duke Wechtari. Besides the tale about his recognizable bald head and his prowess in battle, the only other descriptive quote that Paul the Deacon wrote about the beloved duke was that “He was born at the city of Vicentia (Vicenza), was a kind man, and one who ruled his people mildly” (History of the Lombards, 5.23). Duke Wechtari died a while before the year 688, and was succeeded by a man named Landari.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (cropped section of a painting of Vincenzo Cappello, made by the artist Titian (c. 1488/1490 – 1576), [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.