History of the Langobards
By Paul the Deacon
Published in the late 8th century AD
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
This book was a real slog. I couldn’t find any audiobooks, so read it as opposed to listening to it. I don’t recommend this book to anyone except for the most hardcore history nerds out there.
Paul the Deacon was a Lombard (aka Langobard) monk who lived around the time of Charlemagne’s conquest of Italy and subsequent destruction of the Langobard kingdoms. After Charlemagne’s conquest, Paul the Deacon decided to write a history of his people.
The history starts with the Langobards’ distant origins in Norway, then covers their slow migration into Germany. The Langobards then settle in Pannonia (modern day Croatia), where they become mercenaries for the Eastern Roman empire. They fight against the Italian Goths on behalf of emperor Justinian, eventually themselves settling in Italy.
The Langobard domination of Italy consists of roughly 200 pages of sacks, rapes, slaughters, massacres, and wanton destruction. Whatever traces of Roman civilization had survived the fall of Rome, reign of Odoacer, and Gothic wars were completely wiped out by the Langobards. This is further compounded by constant invasions of Avars (a successor state of the huns), Slavs, Bavarians, and Franks.
My comprehension of the text was quite low.
Paul the Deacon is constantly making reference to antiquated place names, making it very hard to follow where the action is going on. At first I found myself constantly consulting maps, before finally giving up, and deciding to just ignore the locations. The names of the kings, dukes, and other characters are no better; an endless succession of obscure Germanic medieval figures makes following the action incredibly difficult. Finally, the translation I was reading used really long and complex run on sentences.
By book five, I found myself skimming the text rather than reading it, which only made my comprehension worse.
As with nearly all medieval texts that I’ve read, there are many fascinating nuggets of information. Old men (aliens?) sleeping in a cave, priests smiting then healing the warriors who come to execute them, dragons leading armies of serpents to siege the city of Rome, wives poisoning their husbands, and many stories of hidden treasures. The nuggets would make for a great podcast episode, but don’t redeem the book as a whole.
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