Arnefrit was from a noble family that owed its rise and its fall to the influence of King Grimoald of the Lombards (r. 662-671). At first, the king evidently put a lot of trust in Arnefrit’s family. A marital bond was formed between the families, with Arnefrit’s sister, Theuderada, marrying the king’s prestigious son, Duke Romuald of Benevento. But in addition to friendship and access, King Grimoald gave his daughter-in-law’s family power and responsibility. Arnefrit’s father, Lupus, was assigned by the king to become the regional commander, or perhaps an official duke, of the Friuli region of Lombard Italy around the year 663. Specifics of Lupus’ original title (commander vs. duke) do not really matter—he assumed himself to be a duke, and he and his son, Arnefrit, intended for their dukedom to have hereditary succession.
Unfortunately for Arnefrit, his own father was a bit too greedy, corrupt and careless for the family’s own good. It all began when Emperor Constans II of Constantinople (r. 641-668) personally reached Italy in 663, where the emperor split his attention between building power in Sicily, reducing the power of Rome, and waging war against the Lombards. For King Grimoald, the emperor’s renewed aggression at the borders was manageable, but it was still challenging enough for the king to feel the need to personally lead troops down toward southern Italy, where his son, Duke Romuald of Benevento, was experiencing the brunt of the empire’s attacks. During this time when the king was overseeing the war effort in the south, Grimoald decided to appoint Duke Lupus to a stewardship position, tasking him with watching over the north of Italy while the king was away. Nevertheless, due to Lupus’ aforementioned lack virtue and ethics, his term as the appointed steward did not go well. As the story goes, Lupus oversaw the north so poorly that, when the king eventually returned, the duke fled back to his dukedom and believed his only chance to escape execution was to gamble on rebellion. The revolt, however, never came to full fruition, for a horde of Avars poured into Lupus’ domain in Fruili and attacked the prospective rebel duke. According to Lombard folklore, it was cold and calculating King Grimoald who had invited the Avars to attack Lupus. Whatever the case, the Lombard king did not force the Avars out of Lombard territory until after they defeated and killed Duke Lupus.
Arnefrit survived his father’s unsuccessful war with the Avars, but his safety was still in question. The sins of the father, it seems, had, by then, passed to the son, and King Grimoald wanted nothing to do with Arnefrit. From the downfallen family, only Theuderada remained in good standing, due to the continued support she received from her husband, Duke Romuald of Benevento. Perhaps, Arnefrit could have journeyed to Benevento and put himself at the mercy and protection of Theuderada and her husband. Regardless—he did not choose this option. Arnefrit instead decided to gather up his movable treasure and exile himself into the lands of the Slavs. There, he bided his time, hoping to find a way to reclaim the dukedom of Friuli, which he believed was rightfully his.
King Grimoald, meanwhile, was forcing the Avars out of Lombard territory. When Friuli was secured and the king’s authority there was once more enforced, King Grimoald began the chore of selecting a new duke for the region. He was understandably more thorough in making his choice this time—the dukedom was placed in the safe hands of a loyalist named Wechtari. Yet, the king’s will would soon be challenged by Arnefrit, who was putting his treasures to good use while in exile.
Ambitious Arnefrit evidently used whatever wealth he had to buy a mercenary army of Slavic warriors. As reported by the Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), Arnefrit had been recruiting warriors in “the nation of the Slavs, and afterwards coming with the Slavs as if about to resume the dukedom by their means, he was killed when the Friulans attacked him at the fortress of Nemae (Nimis), which is not far from Forum Julii [Cividale]” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 5.10). If Duke Wechtari had not yet been present in the region at the time of this battle, then news of his rival’s quick defeat at the hands of local Friulans must have been a pleasant surprise. Whatever the case, Duke Wechtari assumed control of the region without any difficulty from the local populace. He did, however, need to defeat the remnants of Arnefrit’s Slavic army, which lingered in the Friuli region.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Battle Scene, painted by an unidentified 18th-century European artist, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and Webumenia).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.