King Liutprand (r. 712-744) came to power by riding on a wave of chaos and twists of fate. Liutprand’s path to the kingship originated with his father, Ansprand, who had served as a tutor and regent for a boy-king named Liutpert (r. 700). Only eight months into the child king’s reign, a rebellion was started by Duke Raginpert of Turin. The duke’s war went well, but he died before fully seizing control of the Lombard kingdom. Unfortunately for young King Liutpert and his advisor, Ansprand, the war did not end with the duke’s death. Raginpert’s son, Aripert, rallied the rebel forces and resumed the war. Sadly, Aripert captured and executed the boy-king and forced the regency council to flee. With the previous king dead, the victorious rebel leader claimed the throne as King Aripert II (r. 701-712). In the aftermath of defeat, Ansprand and one of his sons (the aforementioned Liutprand) were able to escape into Bavaria, but the rest of his family fell into the hands of Aripert, who reportedly had them mutilated. Enraged, Ansprand was not idle while he lived the life of an exile. After more than a decade of making friends and obtaining owed favors from potential allies, Ansprand (accompanied by Liutprand) finally launched a Bavarian-backed invasion of Lombard Italy in 711 or 712. During the war that ensued, King Aripert II reportedly drowned while attempting a river crossing, and this was followed by victorious Ansprand surprisingly dying a mere three months later. Only then did King Liutprand take the throne.
Due to his own early experiences with conspiracies, revolts and civil wars, King Liutprand had a keen understanding of the dangers that could arise against a monarch. Not wanting to meet the same violent ends of the late Kings Liutpert and Aripert, the newly-crowned King Liutprand evidently decided to lash out quite ruthlessly to perceived threats or opponents to his rule. In particular, one of the king’s kinsmen by the name of Rothari drew Liutprand’s suspicion. This Rothari had a home in the Lombard capital of Ticinum (later called Pavia), and tensions between him and the monarch evidently skyrocketed when Rothari decided to host a banquet in his house and invited the king to attend.
As the story goes, King Liutprand suspected that Rothari and his house guards had murderous intent, and the banquet was perceived as a possible deadly trap. Whether or not there was any truth to these suspicions is unknown, and knowledge of the true motives, reasonings and circumstances of what happened next are likely obstructed by propaganda, for only the king’s side of the story was preserved. Whatever the case, King Liutprand latched on to the idea that Rothari was conspiring treason, so the monarch decided to preemptively counter the nobleman’s impending banquet by inviting Rothari to an earlier event at the royal palace. It is not known for certain if the king’s invitation to his kinsman was bait to lure Rothari into an interrogation, or worse, an assassination. But when Rothari arrived at the palace (supposedly armed), the meeting did not go well at all for the lower ranked nobleman.
Rothari’s meeting with King Liutprand ended with bloodshed and death. Lombard historians from the 8th century made sure to place all the blame on the nobleman Rothari, at least superficially. As the (possibly propagandic) tale goes, Rothari drew his sword first after entering the palace, causing Liutprand to respond by drawing his own blade, but it was ultimately the king’s guards who swarmed in and stabbed Rothari to death. While this deadly brawl in the palace might have been spontaneous and innocent, the king quickly followed up this incident by sending his agents on a series of missions that were much more cold and calculating in character—the slain nobleman’s sons were tracked down and executed on the order of King Liutprand. These violent and bloody events were recorded by the Lombard historian Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), who wrote:
“But when king Liutprand had been confirmed in the royal power, Rothari, a blood relation of his, wished to kill him. He prepared therefore a banquet for him in his home at Ticinum, in which house he hid some very strong men fully armed who were there to kill the king while he was banqueting. When this had been reported to Liutprand he ordered Rothari to be called to his palace…When Rothari found out he had been detected, he straightaway leaped backwards and unsheathed his sword to strike the king. On the other hand the king drew forth his own sword from his scabbard. Then one of the King’s attendants named Subo, seizing Rothari from behind, was wounded by him in the forehead, but others leaping upon Rothari killed him there. Four of his sons indeed who were not present were also put to death in the places where they were found” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 6.38).
Although the Lombard historian’s account proposes that it was Rothari who was conspiring, setting up ambushes, and intending murder, it instead happened that King Liutpert was the one who did the real luring, ambushing and killing. Again, whether Rothari was the main plotter, or if Liutprand was the sole conspirator, or if they were both engaging in a conspiratorial duel to the death against each other is not clear. The outcome, however, remained that King Liutprand ultimately killed Rothari and executed the man’s sons. Fortunately, such family-wide executions seemed relatively rare during the rest of King Liutprand’s long reign.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Saul killing Abimlech from BL Royal 2 B VII, f. 52 , [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.