The Lombards in Fiesole

The Lombards arrived to Tuscany

The Lombard civilization played a fundamental role in Italy. They were a Germanic population, who, between the II and the VI century c.e., migrated from Elbe river (actual Germany) to southern Italy. They called themselves  like this for their long beard (lang bart, in ancient German).
They also arrived to Fiesole, which, with its imposing walls overlooking the Arno and the Apennine passes, undoubtedly held a strategic position. However, historical documents confirm that the most significant city in Tuscia, serving as the main Lombard duchy in the region, was Lucca.

Likely, the Lombards of Fiesole exerted control over the territory, including what remained of Roman structures in Florence, such as the so-called “gardingus” – a fortification built on the ruins of the Roman theater. The hypothesis that Fiesole had a predominant role over Florence in Lombard times aligns with Villani’s chronicle. It mentions that after defeating the Lombards and infidels, Charlemagne received ambassadors from the ancient noble citizens of the early Florence, urging him to rebuild the city and protect them from the Fiesolani hindering its revival. According to chronicles, a resurgence of Florence with the reconstruction of defensive walls is speculated to have occurred in the Carolingian era, between the late 8th and early 9th centuries, following the Frankish military intervention in Italy.

The Lombards in Fiesole

The arrival of the Lombards in Tuscia, present-day Tuscany, in the year 570 and their gradual conquest of the region occurred during a challenging period for Tuscany. Nearly 20 years of Greco-Gothic wars had ravaged the land, causing destruction, looting, depopulation of cities, and impoverishment. Famine and epidemics further afflicted the people. In particular, Florence faced smallpox in 570 and bubonic plague in 571. The situation worsened in 589 with a significant flood hitting the city. The memory of these dreadful years remained vivid in the minds of survivors and their descendants. Chroniclers from the 14th century, starting with Villani in his famous chronicle, report near-complete destruction and the subsequent abandonment of Florence. This led to the belief that the city, reduced to ruins, had become little more than a village at the foot of the nearby and more defensible Fiesole. In Florence, there’s no certain evidence, either archaeological or documentary, of walls and monuments from the late 6th to the 10th century. Especially during the 7th century, when Lombard occupation of the Fiesole hill intensified, we know very little about the city’s history.

Lombards’ burial traditions

The most explicit evidence of Lombard occupation in the territory is still evident today through the distribution

Lombard tomb in Fiesole Archeology Museum

Lombard tomb in Fiesole Archeology Museum

of tombs, mainly located within cities and often associated with religious buildings or sacred places. In Florence, Lombard graves are very rare, with an exception being a tomb discovered in the center of Santa Reparata’s nave, yielding a glass chalice dating back to the 7th century. It is comparable to chalices found in some Lombard tombs, including those in Fiesole. Fiesole, on the other hand, presents a different scenario, where Lombard burials are part of a vast necropolis in use between the 6th and 7th centuries. This necropolis extends from the archaeological area of Garibaldi, containing tombs of men, women, and even children, some adorned with rich artifacts, indicating a stable settlement of significance.

Lombards’ tombs in Fiesole

Finding Lombards'tombs at Piazza Garibaldi in Fiesole

Finding Lombards’tombs at Piazza Garibaldi in Fiesole

The first Lombard burial in Fiesole, of which we have information, was discovered in 1809 by Baron Schellersheim during his excavations in the area of the Roman Theater. In the current area of Piazza Garibaldi in Fiesole, just above Piazza Minoda, around the 1980s, forty Lombard-era tombs were discovered. These burials were excavated in the collapse layers of Roman buildings and date back to the first half of the 7th century. The most significant find is that of a robust man, approximately six feet tall, laid on pine with accompanying objects. On the left side of the chest lies a knife.

On the basin, a semicircular object, likely a belt, made of an iron strip with disk ends covered in leather, broken into two pieces. Beneath the left leg, an axe with a handle of about 50-60 cm made of ash wood. A blue glass wine chalice. Generally, this tomb indicates a medium to high social status. Examination of the skeletal remains provides several insights. Marked and widespread arthritis, significant dental wear, and almost complete cartilage ossification suggest a relatively high age for the period, around 50 years. The pronounced wear on the left wrist could indicate continuous and strenuous activity, possibly related to the use of the axe.

Lombard’s outfit and fashion

The way the Lombards dressed was the result of multiple influences derived from Roman-Germanic populations and the nomadic groups encountered during their long migration, as well as from Roman tradition. The type of clothing varied depending on the social group to which one belonged. We know they uncovered their foreheads by shaving all around to the nape, and their hair, falling on the sides to the mouth, was divided into two bands by a parting. Their clothes were rather ample, mostly made of linen, and adorned with broader flounces and fabrics of various colors. They also wore shoes, open up to the tip of the thumb and fastened with intertwined leather laces. Later they began to wear trousers, on which, while riding, they put reddish woolen leg-warmers: a custom they had learned from the Romans.  The typical equipment of a high-ranking warrior in the early settlement period in Italy included complete armor with spurs, saddle and stirrups, shield, spear, sword (spatha) with two edges, and dagger (sax). The equipment assigned to infantry soldiers instead consisted of a shield, sword or sax, bow, and arrows. The belt was a very important element as it reflected, through its decorations, the social status of the wearer; it was generally made of leather adorned with trimmings, tabs, buttons, and other appliques in gilded metal, or gold. All of this can be better understood seeing the tombs displayed at the Archeology Museum of Fiesole…I will be happy to tell you’re about this population during my Tour of Fiesole!