The Odd Dethroning Of Duke Pemmo Of Friuli

Duke Pemmo was tasked with overseeing the Friuli region of the Lombard kingdom during the reign of King Aripert II (r. 701-712). Pemmo came to power after a series of chaotic events involving the preceding dukes of the region. His predecessor had been Duke Corvolus, a weak but evidently pretentious ruler of the Friulans who was installed after Duke Ferdulf of Friuli was slain while battling against a Slavic incursion at the beginning of King Aripert II’s reign. These events were described by the Friuli native and historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), who wrote, “And so duke Ferdulf having died in this way, Corvolus was appointed in his place, but he held the dukedom only a little while, and when he had offended the king, his eyes were torn out and he lived ignominiously. Afterwards indeed Pemmo acquired the dukedom” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 6.25-26). Pemmo, after seeing his predecessor be deposed and mutilated, would have known the danger that came from angering a king. Yet, the duke had a long reign, and as new Lombard kings came and went, Duke Pemmo began to lose some of his political caution and restraint.

During the reign of King Aripert II, Duke Pemmo reportedly focused on rebuilding and strengthening his region’s military capabilities, which had been weakened during the war-torn downfall of slain Duke Ferdulf of Friuli. Pemmo succeeded in whipping his local forces and courtiers back into fighting shape. After faring well in clashes against his hostile Slavic neighbors, Pemmo developed a reputation for being a competent military leader.

While Duke Pemmo was trying to defend his realm and bring Friuli’s wars with the Slavic invaders to an end, regime changes were occurring in the Lombard Kingdom. King Aripert II died during a civil war against a returned exile named Ansprand, who launched a Bavarian-backed invasion of Lombard Italy in 711 or 712. Although King Ansprand won the war and claimed the kingdom, he evidently had fallen deathly ill as the battles were waged and only lived for three months after becoming king. Ansprand was succeeded by his son, King Liutprand (r. 712-744), and it was this king that Duke Pemmo of Friuli would eventually anger.

Duke Pemmo of Friuli, like other vassals of the Lombard king, evidently had a hard time deciding how to act during King Liutprand’s reign. The king was a talented geo-political schemer, who could, in one breath, arrange peace with his regional rivals (the Roman pope and the Emperors of Constantinople), and then, in the very next breath, suddenly launch wars to reduce papal and imperial land and influence in Italy. This fluidity of policy gave Liutprand the advantage of unpredictability when he was scheming on the global stage. Yet, Liutprand’s own vassals, too, were caught off guard by their king’s quickly shifting designations of friend and foe. King Liutprand’s dukes had to time their actions cautiously and precisely, so that their machinations against institutions or nearby regions did not undermine their king’s obscured plans.

Duke Pemmo, after reigning for decades without any major incident, ultimately made a misstep by meddling in a religious rivalry in his realm. The dispute was between a certain Bishop Amator and another man known as Patriarch Calixtus. Paul the Deacon described the feud between these two figures:

“Up to that day indeed, the former patriarchs had their see, not in Forum Julii [Friuli], but in Cormones (Cormons) because they had not at all been able to dwell in Aquileia on account of the incursions of the Romans. It greatly displeased Calixtus who was eminent for his high rank that a bishop dwelt in his diocese with the duke and the Langobards [Lombards] and that he himself lived only in the society of the common people. Why say more? He worked against this same bishop Amator and expelled him from Forum Julii and established his own dwelling in his house” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 6.51).

As the quote conveyed, Duke Pemmo of Friuli had been a close acquaintance of Bishop Amator and the duke and bishop had a warm working relationship at the time when Patriarch Calixtus made his move against Amator. Although Duke Pemmo did not stop Calixtus from initially displacing the bishop and occupying Amator’s house, Pemmo later regretted not defending his friend and ultimately decided to arrest and imprison Patriarch Calixtus. As told by Paul the Deacon, “For this cause duke Pemmo took counsel with many Langobard nobles against this same patriarch, seized him and brought him to the castle of Potium, which is situated above the sea, and wanted to hurl him thence into the sea but he did not at all do this since God prohibited” (History of the Lombards, 6.51). Although Duke Pemmo thankfully did not execute the patriarch, the arrest and inhospitable imprisonment of Calixtus, as it was, still made King Liutprand irate when he heard of the incident. Unfortunately for the duke, his militant support for the ousted bishop evidently did not align with King Liutprand’s interests, causing the monarch to lash out in dramatic fashion—he deposed Duke Pemmo.

The maneuver could have been a bloody affair, but the talented king was able to entice one of Pemmo’s sons, Ratchis, into arranging for the duke to peacefully surrender to the crown. In exchange for ushering his father to face King Liuprand’s judgment, Ratchis was promised the role of being Friuli’s next duke. On this incident, Paul the Deacon wrote, “the king, sitting in judgement, pardoned for Ratchis’ sake Pemmo and his two sons, Ratchait and Aistulf, and ordered them to stand behind his chair. The king, however, in a loud voice ordered that all those who had adhered to Pemmo, naming them, should be seized…the others were for a long time tormented in bonds” (History of the Lombards, 6.51). Unbeknownst to King Liutprand, his support for Duke Ratchis would be ironic. After Liutprand died in 744, the king’s nephew and heir, King Hildeprand (r. 744), only ruled for around eight months when he was deposed and replaced by this very same Duke Ratchis of Friuli. King Ratchis (r. 744-749) was then overthrown (but kept alive) 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: (Illustration labeled Cyprian from BL YT 51, f. 16, [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.

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