Aufusus was a young Lombard nobleman who flourished during the first half of the 8th century. He had links to the royal family, for he was a nephew of the powerful King Liutprand of the Lombards (r. 712-744). While being a nephew of a king does not often correlate to a high rank in dynastic chains of succession, the circumstances were different for Aufusus. King Liutprand, as it happened, never fathered a legitimate male heir to the throne, and therefore the king’s nephews, such as Aufusus, were viewed as the predominant claimants to the throne. To Aufusus’ advantage, he evidently had earned his mighty uncle’s affection and respect, which could have swayed opinions in the Lombard court about which of the king’s nephews would make a good king in the future. Nevertheless, such status and praise could also make Aufusus many enemies, especially from opportunist dukes and rival nephews of the king.
One day, Aufusus’ life headed down a fateful track when he accepted an invitation from King Liutprand to go on a hunting trip to a place called City Forest, which was not far from the Tanaro River region. As the story goes, King Liutprand, Aufusus, and other hunters present entered City Forest and, during their hunt, they began tracking a prized stag. As they hunted their prey, the noblemen evidently began encircling the stag, carelessly putting themselves into positions where they were vulnerable to crossfire from each other’s bows. Worse came to worst, and a stray arrow was ultimately shot far off its mark. Instead of hitting the stag, the arrow skewered the king’s nephew, Aufusus.
King Liutprand, when he learned of the disaster, immediately sent messengers and agents to nearby regions adjacent to City Forest in order to gather or consult anyone with medical or holy knowledge. As the story goes, one such person that the king’s men tracked down was a local hermit holyman named Baodolinus, who had allegedly performed miracle healings in the past. Although Baodolinus was willing to help, he faltered when the injured man’s wound was described to him. Ultimately, Baodolinus decided not to go, for (based on intuition, medical knowledge, or prophecy) he believed that Aufusus was already dead, or at least that the injured man would die before help could arrive on the scene. This tale of Aufusus’ death and the consultation of Baodolinus was recorded by the Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), who wrote:
“[W]hen Liutprand had gone to hunt in the City Forest, one of his companions attempted to hit a stag with an arrow and unintentionally wounded the king’s nephew, that is, his sister’s son, Aufusus by name. When the king saw this he began with tears to lament his misfortune, for he loved that boy greatly, and straightaway sent a horseman of his followers to run to Baodolinus the man of God, and ask him to pray to Christ for the life of the boy. And while he was going to the servant of God, the boy died. And when he came to him the follower of Christ [Baodolinus] spoke to him as follows: ‘I know for what cause you are coming, but that which you have been sent to ask cannot be done since the boy is dead’” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 6.58).
Although Paul the Deacon did not insinuate any foul play was involved while writing his own account, the idea that Aufusus may have been intentionally killed is not beyond the realm of possibility. The hunting incident was not clearly pinpointed on a chronological timeline, but Paul the Deacon wove it into his commentary of events that were occurring in the last few years before King Liutprand’s death in 744. At that time, the aging king still did not have any sons, and political maneuverings between the favored nephews might have been on the rise. Indeed, the Lombard realm became quite unstable after King Liutprand’s death. One of the late king’s nephews, Hildeprand, seized the throne—only to be overthrown eight months later by Duke Ratchis of Friuli. King Ratchis (r. 744-749) was then overthrown by his brother, King Aistulf (r. 749-756), and then a civil war emerged between a resurgent Ratchis and a new contender named Duke Desiderius of Tuscia. King Desiderius (r. 757-774) was the victor, but his weakened and war-torn kingdom was soon conquered by Charlemagne.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Hare hunting from BL Eg 1146, f. 7v, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons, Europeana and The British Library.jpg).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.