A man named Ferdulf was the Lombard duke of the Friuli region at the turn of the 7th and 8th centuries. While he was duke, Ferdulf’s realm was said to have been ravaged by raids from Slavic warbands. Unfortunately for the Friulan population under his care, Duke Ferdulf proved to be an abysmal military leader. Perhaps due the duke’s insufficient leadership and protection, local magistrates felt the need to raise their own militias in order to defend themselves. Of these borderland militias, one of the most prominent groups was led by a magistrate named Argait. Nevertheless, to the detriment of the Friuli region, even Argait turned out to be a terrible strategist when he actually led his followers into battle.
Duke Ferdulf and Magistrate Argait naturally began working together to combat the threat of the Slavic raids. Yet, the combination of these two ineffective and egotistical leaders unfortunately resulted in a particularly toxic military environment. They became bitter and unfriendly rivals, and as an odd result of their abrasive partnership, the two eventually began to angrily challenge each other to attempt bolder and more dangerous feats in their ongoing struggle against the raiders. Such competition sometimes provides beneficial results, but it was regrettably not so for this peculiar pair. As neither the duke nor the magistrate performed well in battle, their wordy bravado could never be re-created on the battlefield. Regardless of this disconnect between talk and action, Ferdulf and Argait kept on unhealthily pushing each other toward catastrophe.
During one fateful campaign season in the time of the unfruitful partnership between Duke Ferdulf and Magistrate Argait, the Friulan forces evidently cornered a notably large army of Slavic marauders on a steep slope of a mountainside. At this point, one might expect the duke and the magistrate to implement some sort of siege or blockade; or, perhaps, they would try to lure the raiders away to a better battleground. Such ideas, however, were not bold or brazen enough for the dysfunctional Lombard duo. Instead, either Ferdulf or Argait decided to toss basic strategy to the wayside and alternatively chose to charge straight up the mountainside against the sizable entrenched force. The other leader, not willing to let his rival look braver than himself, also committed his troops to the fool’s errand of marching up the mountain. As one might easily imagine, the battle did not end well for them. A Lombard historian and Friuli native, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), lamentingly described the battle:
“There all the nobility of the Friulans perished. There duke Ferdulf fell and there too he [Argait] who had provoked him was killed. And there so great a number of brave men were vanquished by the wickedness and thoughtlessness of dissension as could, with unity and wholesome counsel, overthrow many thousands of their enemies…We put these things into this history especially for this purpose, that nothing further of a like character may happen through the evil of dissension” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 6.24).
After Duke Ferdulf and his army was slaughtered in their ill-planned uphill charge, a man named Corvolus became the next duke of Friuli. Perhaps, he was somehow held accountable for his predecessor’s failings. Whatever the case, Duke Corvolus almost immediately fell afoul of the Lombard king, Aripert II (r. 701-712), who ordered that Corvolus be blinded and removed from power.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (14th-century illustration included in a manuscript for the Book of the Maccabees, [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.