Latin Paleography From Antiquity to the Renaissance [by A. M. Piazzoni]


In the second half of the 6th century , Italy was invaded by the Lombards, a Germanic population from Pannonia, where they had been settled for over a century and had partially converted to Arian Christianity. After some decades they first occupied northern Italy across the Friuli, and established their capital in Pavia. They then occupied part of peninsular Italy, leaving the Byzantines (that is, to the sovereigns of what remained of the Roman Empire) control of only some coastal areas, the Exarchate of Ravenna, the Pentapolis, Lazio and the south. The Lombards had a different conduct from that of other populations foederati within the empire, and the initial phase of the conquest was characterized by a very harsh government, which did not preserve the preexisting administrative structure, but rather dismantled it entirely. The structure of the Lombard power was founded on military leaders (dukes) who elected or submitted to a king, whose power, however, left them plenty of autonomy. During the reigns of Authari and then of Agilulf and his wife Theodelinda, between the 6th and7th centuries, the political situation became less chaotic and relations with the local population and with the Roman culture became more cooperative, favored also by a partial pacification with the papacy of Gregory the Great and from a gradual acceptance of Roman Christianity, which will come to perfection in the middle of the 7th century.

Italy was the region that the Latin tradition had penetrated the most deeply and where the graphic landscape was most diversified and the manifestations of writing the most numerous. Here the phenomenon of early medieval graphic differentiation, which produced different writings in the different “national” areas corresponding to the divisions of the Roman Empire, occasioned two very different situations.

In the regions of northern and central Italy (occupied by the Lombards), there was no “national” writing to represent the region, whereas in the regions of southern Italy (where, alongside the two Lombard duchies of Spoleto and Benevento, the Byzantine presence was of great consequence in the duchy of Naples, in Puglia, Calabria and Sicily) a new writing developed, called Beneventan.