The Lombards were a Germanic tribe from Scandinavia, which latter migrated to the region of Pannonia as part of “The Wondering of the Nations”. The Lombards’ first mention is in 9 AD in Roman sources by the historian Velleius Paterculus, in 20 AD by Strabo and in 98 AD by Tacitus. The most comprehensive early account of their origins is, however, “The history of the Lombards” written by Paul the Deacon in the late 8th century. Although historians consider this source to be full of problems, it still remains the main source for providing information about the early history of the Lombards.
Paul the Deacon writes that the original name of tribe is Winnili. Leaders of a sub-group of this tribe Ibor and Aio left the tribe and migrated south, settling in the region Paul refers to as Scoringa, near the Elba River. Paul writes that the Vandals in the area demanded from the Winnili to pay a tribute. Ibor and Aio refused to pay. Paul here tells an interesting story of how the Lombards (latin Langobardus) got their name. As war was inevitable, bout of the tribes appealed to their chief god, Odin asking for a victory. Odin told them that he will give the victory to those whom he saw first at sunrise. Gambara, the mother of the two leaders, then went to Freia, to meet with Odin’s wife, and to ask her to give the victory to her sons. Freia told Gambara that the woman of the Winnili should put their hair on the face, so it would look like beard and that in the early morning they should be present with their husbands. The women arranged themselves in ranks with their hairs tied to look like beards. The next morning when Odin saw them in the field asked “Who are those long-beards?” Freia answered “Since you have given their tribe a name, you should also give them a victory.” Odin did give them a victory. The Winnili now became “Longbeards” and in time Lombards. Of course, even Paul himself tells that this is silly and continues to explain that the name “Langobards” comes from the length of the men’s beard which they refuse to cut or trim.
After defeating the Vandals, the Lombards didn’t have enough food or resources, so they decided to move on. They settle in the land east of the river Elba, known to Paul the Deacon as Mauringa. Here they became powerful under their king Agelmund, son of Aio, and lived as an autonomous people for the next 30 years. At this time Paul puts another interesting story about a prostitute who gives birth to seven unwanted children and throws them in to a fishpond to drown. King Agelmund stops at the pond to give his horse water and finds one of the children still living, so he draws him out and raises him as his own son. The kid he saved is Lamissio, who rose to power after the death of Agelmund, but was killed by the Bulgarians. In this period they came to notice the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine). The Romans asked them to Pannonia to defend the region against the Gepid tribe. This is the period of the first historical king of the Lombards, Wacho.
Under the king Wacho and later Audion (546-560 AD), the Lombards prospered in Pannonia. Audion established a new Lombard royal dynasty, and at this time Lombards began to adapt to imperial military system. After he died, his son Alboin (560-572) inherited the throne. He was one of the greatest Lombard kings. Alboin made an alliance with king Bayan I (562/565-602) of the Avars against the Gepids. They defeated them in 567 and killed the Gepid king Cunimund. Alboin took his head as a trophy which he later turned into his wine cup. Bayan I insisted that after the fall of the Gepids, all their land will revert to the Avars. This made the Avars more powerful then the Lombards. Alboin even married Rosamund, the doughter of Cunimund, in order to tie the Lombards with the Gepids in alliance against the Avars, but the Avars had grown too powerful, so Alboin felt it more prudent to leave the region.
The fact that a large number of Lombards troops had served in the imperial forces under the general Narses in Italy (especially in the battle of Taginae in 552, where Narses defeated the Ostrogothic king Totila), meant that many Lombard soldiers remembered Italy as green and fertile land, so they suggested a migration to Alboin. In the spring of 568 they crossed Julian Alps. Their invasion of northern Italy was almost unopposed, taking city after city, and by late 569 they had conquered all the principal cities north of the Po River. Only exception is the city of Pavia which took a siege of three years and finally fell in 572. At this time Alboin had conquered most of Italy, making Verona his capital. He divided his country in to 36 territories know as duchies.
In 572, Alboin was assassinated by conspirators led by his wife Rosamund, which made the Lombard kingdom very vulnerable. After this the territories of the Lombard kingdom became even less unified, fighting with each other until they were threatened by the outside forces of the Franks and the eastern empire. These threats made the Lombard dukes to stop fighting and choose a king in 586. The new king was Authari. He defeated the Byzantine, but lost to them the next year. He died in 590 and was succeeded by his nephew Agilulf (590-616). He managed to secure a peace with the Franks; strengthen his borders and reorganize the structure of the government in attempt to weaken the power of the Lombard dukes. After his death, his wife Theodelinda reigned until 628, when her son Adaloald came of age and took the throne, but was later deposed by Arioald, his brother-in-law, who was staunch Arian, and objected to the king’s Catholicism. Arioald was succeeded in 636 by Rothari. In his time the Lombards expanded their holdings in Italy whereas the Byzantine Empire held only Rome and few small provinces. He issued the first written law of the Lombards, the Edictum Rothari, in 643, which codified the laws in Latin. He was succeeded by his son Rodoald, who was quickly assassinated by political enemies.
After this the Lombard kingdom split in two rulers, one at Milano and the other at Pavia. This situation ended in 712 when Liutprand came to the throne and reigned until 744. He increased the Lombard kingdom and made a strong alliance with the Franks. After his death his successors were generally weak. The last king Desiderius succeeded in taking Rome, but when he threatened Pope Hadrian I, Charlemagne (Charles the Great) of the Franks broke the alliance and defeated him in battle in 774. With this ended the Lombard rule in Italy. With this their culture and people were absorbed into the kingdom of the Franks.