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"Sitibonds of human blood": the furious horde of the Langobards II

In this article, we present the second part of a series of articles dedicated to the Longobards (first article available here). As mentioned in the introduction to the previous article, the Longobards, a Germanic nation that migrated from Scandinavia through Europe to the Mediterranean, represent a symbol of Via Electri and the movement of people along this ancient trade route. In this article, the background and culture of the Longobards is unveiled even further. 

"Sitibonds of human blood": the furious horde of the Langobards II


The hairstyle and long beards

According to Kris Kershaw, in his fundamental The One Eyed God, the particular style of beards and hair would be a theme of particular initiatory relevance in the complex of "Männerbund" (or society of Indo-European men) and the story of the Norwegian King Harald I Fairhair, who vowed not to cut his hair until he had reunited Norway into a single kingdom, would fit a not dissimilar vision of the world.
With the German term "Männerbunde" those societies of men are meant, often young, from the strong ritual tints, charged to conduct a war of first line strong in their enthusiasm, or of that invasion provoked from the divinity that possessing them interiorly brings them to the total contempt of danger.

The long hair and the beards that characterize the Lombards when they appear before Godan before a battle would become the sign of the virility of the tribe's member. The tonsure and the "scalp" on the contrary constituted, not by chance, an instrument of punishment, at the Longobards, since it deprived the condemned of his virile and properly Odinic aspect.

Together with the animal skins and masks, the long uncultivated hair and long beards distinguished the warrior belonging to the ecstatic brotherhood from the normal membership of the people, as for example happened to the young ecstatic warriors Catti.
"31. It has become customary among the Catti a practice adopted, but rarely and only as a result of personal daring, by other Germanic peoples as well: they let their hair and beards grow, as soon as they enter youth, and do not change that aspect of the face, promised in a vow and consecrated to valor, except after they have killed an enemy. Above the bloody remains they uncover their foreheads and only then do they think they have paid the price of their birth and consider themselves worthy of their homeland and parents: the cowardly and incapable in battle are left with their uncultivated appearance. The strongest also wear an iron ring, a symbol of infamy for that people, like a chain, from which they are freed only by killing an enemy. Similar hairstyles are liked by most of the Catti, and they wear these distinctive marks, shown on their fingers by enemies and comrades. It is their turn to initiate battles; they always constitute the first line, frightening to behold, for not even in times of peace do they soften their faces to a less grim expression. They care not for home, camp, or anything else: always, by whomsoever they go, they are maintained, prodigal of others' goods, contemptuous of their own, until the weakness of old age makes them unequal to such hard warrior virtue." (Tacitus, De Germania)

Gambara the Priestess

The goddess Frea, connoted also as "bitch", belongs to the Vanic deities, whose denomination could have the same Indo-European root of the Latin Venus. These were the divinities of the so-called third function, the one linked to sensuality, abundance and wealth. Gambara, mother of the twins, intercedes near the Goddess of which she is probably a priestess. The trick played by Frea to the detriment of Godan, who is then in a certain sense "obliged" to give the victory and their ethnonym to the Longobards, could mark a different orientation in the religiosity of the Vinnili-Longobards: from settled farmers, devoted to the fertility cults of the Goddess Cagna Frea, to followers of the Sovereign God of Fury and Father of Victory, Godan-Wodanaz.
This origin myth tells us also the social transformation of the people that from being settled becomes a marching army so much to have to "virilize" even the women, in order to survive the dangerous existence in the Barbaricum, made of continuous clashes with other tribes and other peoples.

The legend wants moreover that Frea was the mother of the Longobard King Lamissione - even if Paolo Diacono describes her simply as a whore - who abandoned her seven children along the course of a river.

Along this river Agilmundo, son of the mythical Aio, will adopt Lamissione, after the infant will have grasped with force his spear. This is the origin of the royal lineage of the Gungingi. This lineage would derive its name from the spear of Odin, Gungnir, used by him during the war between Aesir and Vanir.
Even in this later myth the implicit argument could always be that of an alternation, a different orientation of the cult. From the feminine waters of fertility - sponsored by Frea - to the cult of Odinic victory, symbolized by the spear used by the Sovereign god only in the war between Aesir and Vanir.

The story of the abandonment of the seven twins in the river, as well as the assonance between the whore and the bitch Frea, could even recall the well-known myth of Romulus and Remus, sons of the She-wolf. It is perhaps the same Indo-European topos, then differentiated over the centuries: that of the "saved by the waters".

The name Godan and the Ostrogothic influence

To qualify the sovereign divinity with the name of Godan cannot be considered a casual element and probably refers to a Gothic cultural influence. Godan could in fact be that mythical "Gapt" remembered by Iordanes in his euhemeristic reconstruction of the History of the Goths.

Gapt is in fact the first of those heroes "through whose good fortune [The Goths] were able to win in battle" and that they considered "no longer simple men but demigods, that is 'Ansi'".

The onomastic heritage that refers explicitly to the Ansi, strongly refractory to Christianization, is also found in the Lombard anthroponyms such as Anso, Ansoaldo, Ansila etc. and resists until the last days of the kingdom, so that the last Queen, consort of King Desiderio, was called Ansa and her daughter Anselperga.
This persistence is linked to the runic *ansuz, and according to linguists E.C. Polomé and C. Watkins, such a term would qualify the deity as a "divine breath" and could be closely related to the Vedic Asura, the Avestic Ahura, the Hittite Hassu and the Germanic Aesir, hence the so-called Asi Gods.
"Now another lexical grouping related to an aspect of symbolic culture in the semantic realm of power and authority is that of words including, among others, Vedic asura - and Avestic ahura - 'lord' (usually deified), Hittite hassu - 'king', and the group of Germanic deities known in Norse as the Aesir, Germanic *ansuz. These forms are respectively reconstructed as *hans-u-ro, *ha,ns-u-, and *hao'/ans-u-." -Calvert Watkins, "How to Kill a Dragon - ASPECTS OF INDO-EUROPEAN POETICS."
Regardless of the euhemerism of late antique and early medieval Christian authors such as Iordanes - who reduced the pre-Christian Gods to a human origin - it is important to focus again on the theonym Gapt. Although Herwig Wolfram, in his monumental History of the Goths, believes that Gapt is not to be assimilated to Wotan/Odhinn, G. Dumezil and K. Kershaw are of a different and more grounded opinion.
"In fact, one of the Scandinavian appellations of Odhinn, Gautr, reveals that the Scandinavian Odhinn was instead particularly connected with the Goths: finally, it is certainly this Gautr, i.e. Odhinn, who must be recognized in Gapt who opened the mythical genealogy of the Amali, royal family of the Goths, as Odhinn in Scandinavia and Woden in England are at the origin of numerous dynasties" (G. Dumezil - The Gods of the Germans).
The Eddic source supporting the identification between Odhinn and Gapt is the famous Song of Grimnir (54), included in the so-called Poetic Edda:
Óðinn now I call,
Yggr I once named;
Þundr called even before,
Vakr and Skilfingr,
Váfuðr and Hroptatýr,
Gautr and Jálkr among the gods,
Ófnir and Sváfnir,
whose thoughts come
all from me alone!
The edict of Rotari then, compiled to bring together in written form the oldest sources of Lombard law, the so-called cawardifae, speaks of the royal lineage of the Gausi, which could always be referred to Gapt/Gautr.
Godan would therefore be a redefinition of the Germanic Wodanaz, under the influence of the Goths and related peoples such as Gepids and Eruli, with whom the Lombards certainly came into contact and almost certainly assimilated after having defeated them in battle.

In that period, however, the Longobard reigning family became related with the Ostrogoths: in fact, the sovereign Audoino married Rodelinda, of Ostrogoth origin and granddaughter of Teodorico the Great. From the union of Audoino and Rodelinda saw the light the conqueror of the Kingdom of Italy, Alboino. This last one therefore was related with the lineage of Amala, the one that made to derive its own prestige up to the mythical Ansi of the tradition.
It should also be remembered that in the Piedmont area, there are three attestations of continuity of Ostrogothic residential and funerary settlements by the Lombards: at Mombello Monferrato (AL), at Collegno (TO) and at Frascaro (AL), an Ostrogothic necropolis that could have been used by the Goths still in the Lombard period, perhaps by the few Goths who survived the devastating war of Byzantine aggression.

The archaeology of the barbarian settlements allows us to get in touch with finds and vestiges not mediated by the written culture, firmly in the hands of the Roman-Byzantine clergy. For this reason, archaeology proves to be a decisively significant means of understanding Germanic cultural identity in our country.

The Ostrogoth necropolis of Frascaro (AL) was described as follows by the archaeologists who supervised its discovery:
"In the site of Frascaro (AL) a careful excavation has brought to light, at the moment, a necropolis of 27 burials and a portion of the relative inhabited area, of the end of the V - first half of the VI century. This was composed of entirely wooden huts, one of which was rectangular, 3.80 m by more than 4 m long, partially buried, with an internal partition given by two basic beams on which some small poles rested and numerous fragments of lathing referable to the high: technical and typological characteristics of long Germanic tradition (although not necessarily exclusively). In the cemetery, located a short distance from the inhabited area and probably fenced by a palisade, several burials in earthen graves were in coffins made by digging wooden trunks: the custom - very widespread in the Germanic area - is documented during the long migration of the Goths, starting from the settlement in Poland in the first centuries of our era. In Italy, it has been recognized in the burial ground of the end of the 4th century found in Goito (MN), a nucleus of 38 burials characterized by the recurrent presence of complements of the dress referable to the Goth culture of the Černiachov - Sìntana de Mureş phase, integrated by nomadic elements. At Frascaro there is also the intentional deformation of the skull, a widespread practice in Central-Eastern Europe especially between the 5th and the middle of the 6th century among Alans, Huns and Germanic-Oriental populations. (Caterina Giostra "Goths and Lombards in Italy: the potential of archaeology with respect to ethnocultural identification," in Post-Classical Archaeologies). "

It is not excluded that a certain cultural contiguity between the two peoples allowed an active collaboration of sparse surviving Ostrogoths at the time of the Lombard conquest of Italy in 568 AD. Certainly the persistence in the attendance of such settlements makes it conceivable that at least initially both Germanic peoples preferred to keep away from Roman cities and perhaps near places of Arian worship, which probably allowed a greater continuity in tribal practices than Catholicism. Moreover, Alboino was the son of a descendant of Teodorico, therefore an Amalo.
In this framework it would be possible to frame the necropolis first Ostrogothic and then Longobard of Collegno (TO), in the locality of Varda or "place of guard"; so described by the archaeologists in charge of the excavations:
"On the outskirts of Collegno (Turin), on the plateau to the right of the Dora river, in a site not occupied in Roman times but not far from the ancient municipium, from a large Roman villa belonging to the powerful Gavii family and from the church of San Massimo ad quintum (V century), a settlement has been identified consisting of buildings in poor technique (the dating to the second half of the V century is still waiting for definitive confirmation) and of the burial ground consisting of eight tombs datable between the end of the V century and about 560. If the presence of residual Roman material (bricks, ashlars, tiles) and the finding of a canal suggest the existence of an unidentified late-antique agricultural settlement in the vicinity, the buildings of the probably Ostrogothic settlement nucleus were modest huts with a base of pebble masonry bound by clay, or with a supporting structure of poles in holes surrounded by dry-stone. A few tens of meters to the south, there was the family necropolis: in a central position, a male burial, formed by a large and deep pit, was monumentalized on the surface by a structure in pebbles and dry-stone, which designated it as belonging to the most eminent personage; around, seven other graves were found, two male, three female and two infantile.

The personage of the monumental tomb had been buried without weapons, but with two belts closed by buckles in gilded bronze and iron; two female tombs were also equipped with rich trousseaus, consisting of Ostrogothic clothing complements (stirrup fibulae and a silver dove fibula; a silver belt buckle with almandine), jewels, brocade robes and veils for the head with gold thread. Another extremely significant fact is that the skulls of the person buried in tomb 4 and of one of the child subjects showed the typical deformation according to the Hun fashion, a sign of the particular social distinction of the two burials: these practices and the objects deposited qualified these characters as members of the Ostrogoth warrior aristocracy, and further confirmation came from anthropological analysis, which revealed in the adult male individual the so-called "horseman syndrome", the result of prolonged equestrian training, according to a custom of the nomadic peoples of the steppes learned by the Goths during the decades of settlement in the Danube area. " (Marco Aimone, Romans and Ostrogoths Between Integration and Separation. The contribution of archaeology to a historiographical debate Reti Medievali Rivista, 13, 1, 2012)

The presence of an Ostrogothic military aristocracy was still recalled in decidedly more recent times, as a sign of distinction of the noble families of the Turin area.
"In a source almost a thousand years after the facts, a letter written by Erasmus of Rotterdam around 1506: being in Turin, the Dutch humanist observed with surprise that some local noble families boasted a descent from Ostrogothic warriors. After so many centuries, therefore, not the civilitas so propagated by the Amala court, but the military force of the exercitus Gothorum had left a lasting (and positive, it should be noted) memory in the land that had been one of the main bases of settlement of this people." (Marco Aimone, Romans and Ostrogoths Between Integration and Separation. The contribution of archaeology to a historiographical debate Reti Medievali Rivista, 13, 1, 2012)

As a confirmation of this scenario of cultural integration between the previous Ostrogothic domination and the subsequent Lombard settlement, we can cite an interesting examination of the so-called "Carme di Ildebrando", a very rare example of early medieval Germanic heroic poetry. The author, prof. Alessandro Zironi, believes in fact that the collaboration between the Goths who survived the war with the Byzantines and the invading Lombards is a fact; such as to form the basis for the literary formulation of the story of Ildebrando :
"In fact, not many years elapse between the fall of the Ostrogothic kingdom (553) and the conquest of the peninsula by the Lombards led by Alboin (568). The entry of the latter into Italy gave rise to frequent occasions of contact between the Goths and the new conquerors, which soon led to collaborations and meetings. Moreover, the new arrivals were also linked to the Goths by important family ties: Amalaberga, the sister of Theodoric, was the maternal great-grandmother of Alboin who, once arrived in Italy, settled in the palace of his great-uncle in Verona. In short, the Longobards found in the Ostrogoths not only allies on Italian soil, but also a close relationship with the memory of Theodoric himself. It goes without saying that the events of the Goths are perceived as tales worthy of being handed down, first as historical carols, then in increasingly legendary forms." (The Hildebrand Lied. A father, a son, a duel, edited by Alessandro Zironi, Meltemi 2019)

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