The Langobards and the 'Vulgares' in Historia Langobardorum
(p. 127-129 from Chapter II. History. Attila’s Kingdom, The World of the Huns, Studies in Their History and Culture
J. Otto Maenchen-Helfen (University of California Press, 1973, Ed. Max Knight))

. . .
North of the Danube the Langobards successfully defended their independence from the Huns. With the help of the story of Agelmund, Lamissio, and the Vulgares, the disputes between the two peoples can be reconstructed in broad outline. The story is preserved in Paul the Deacon's Historia Langobardorum, who took it from the Origo Gentis Langobardorum, written about the middle of the seventh century. Not in spite of, but because of its gaps and inconsistencies, [589] the Origo is a historical document of the first order. To the living tradition of the Langobards it stands incomparably closer than Jordanes'-Cassiodorus' History of the Goths to the Gothic cantus maiorum. The story runs as follows: [590]

The Langobards are said to have possessed for some years Anthaib and Banthaib, and in like manner, Vurgundaib. There they made Agelmund their king. He led them over a river, defended by Amazons. After passing it, the Langobards, when they came to the lands beyond, sojourned there for some time. Meanwhile, since they suspected nothing hostile, confidence prepared for them a disaster of no mean sort. At night, when all were resting, relaxed by negligence, the Vulgares, rushing upon them, slew many, wounded more, and so raged through their camp that they killed Agelmund, the king himself, and carried in captivity his only daughter.

Nevertheless, the Langobards, having recovered their strength after these disasters, made Lamissio their king. And he turned his arms against the Vulgares. And presently, when the first battle began, the Langobards, turning their back to the enemy, fled to their camp. Then King Lamissio urged them to defend themselves. ... by arms. Inflamed by the urging of their chief, they rushed upon the foe, fought fiercely, and overthrew the adversaries with great slaughter.

Lamissio was followed by Lethu, Hildeoc, and Gudeoc, at whose time Odovacar defeated the Rugi. "Then [under Gudeoc] the Langobards, having moved out of their territory, came to Rugiland and because it was fertile in soil they remained in it a number of years." [591]

After his victory over the Rugi in the winter 487/8, Odovacar broke their last resistance in 488. Rugiland is Lower Austria, north of the Danube, west of Korneuburg. It is the first identifiable geographical name in the Historia Langobardorum, and 488 the first identifiable date. Everything before seems to be lost in impenetrable fog. Any interpretation seems to be as good as any other.

Kemp Malone dates the war between the Langobards and the Vulgares in the later half of the second century and places the story in the Baltic. He arrives at this astounding result by taking Vulgares for the Latinized form of Langobardic *Wulg(w)aras = wulg, "she-wolf", and a Germanic plural suffix. [592] It would be difficult to find a more fanciful etymology, thought up in complete disregard of the text.

Convinced that the Langobards lived in Silesia before they moved to Rugiland, some scholars located the battle at the Oder. [593] Klebel is more specific. According to him, the Langobards defeated the Vulgares in the region of Glogau or still farther to the east. [594] He thinks the Vulgares are the Bulgars of South Russia; he even derives their name from that of the Volga. [595]

The question is not the etymology of Vulgares, but what the ethnic name meant in Paul's writings. In the Historia the Vulgares are (1) the enemies of the Langobards; (2) a people living among the Langobards in Pannonia, later in Italy; [596] (3) the followers of dux Alzeco, who left his country and joined the Langobards in the reign of Grimoald (662-671); settlers in former Samnium; [597] (4) the Vulgarians at the lower Danube. [598] The Bulgars of (3) and (4) are obviously not the Vulgares of our story. The Pannonian Bulgars (2), probably a tribe, or tribes, who stayed in Hungary after the collapse of Attila's kingdom, appear under this name only in the 480's, too late for the story.

As unreliable as the Origo and Paul are when they give the names of the stations of the Langobardic migration, [599] in listing the kings, they follow a tradition in which, like in that of the Goths and Burgundians, the names of the rulers and their succession are well preserved. Lamissio reigned forty years. How long his successor Lethu reigned is not known. [600] Allowing him a reign of only one and a half years, the shortest reign of a Langobardic king known from reliable sources, and assuming that Gudeoc led his people into Rugiland in the first year of his reign, the war with Vulgares would fall in the year 446. The average reign of the Langobardic rulers was nine years. Giving Hildeoc nine years, the victory would fall in the year 439. The computations are admittedly anything but conclusive. Still, both point to the first half of the fifth century.

The powerful enemy of the Langobards must have been the Huns. This was conjectured long ago, and should never have been doubted. But why did Paul call the Huns Vulgares? Because had he spoken of the Huns, his readers might have thought he meant the Avars. In the Historia Langobardorum the Hunni are always the Avars, "who were first called Huns, but afterward from the name of their own king: Avars" (qui primum Hunni, postea de regis proprii nomine Avares appellati sunt). [601] Gregory of Tours, too, called the Avars Huns, and so did a century later the Langobard who wrote the Origo. In Byzantine historiography of the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries, the use of  for  is common. [602]

Until recently it would have been impossible to determine where the Langobards fought the Huns. Thanks to Werner's thorough study of the archaeological evidence, [603] we know by now that southern Moravia was held by the Langobards before they settled in Rugiland. Twenty-four findspots testify to their prolonged stay in this area.

[It is possible that this section is incomplete. — Ed.]


589.  "It is hopeless to get any possible scheme of Lombard chronology out of the early chapters of Paulus," Hodgkin 1898, 5, 99 (Hodgkin, Th., Italy and Her Invaders, Oxford, 1898).

590.  Hist. Lang. I, 16-17 (Historia Langobardorum (Paulus Diaconus) – 1. Waitz G., ed., Historia Langobardorum, Hannover, 1878; – 2. Foulke, W., trans. History of the Langobards by Paul the Deacon, New York, 1906).   Leaving out a few embroideries, I follow the translation in Foulke 1906.

591.  Ibid. I, 19.

592.  Malone  1959,  86-107 (Malone, K. Studies in Heroic Legend and in Current Speech, Copenhagen, 1959).

593.  Most  recently  Mitscha-Marheim   1963,   112 (Mitscha-Märheim, H. Dunkler Jahrhunderte goldene Spuren, Vienna, 1963).

594.  Klebel  1957, 28 (Klebel, E. Probleme der bayerischen Verfassungsgeschichte, Munich, 1957).

595.  Ibid.  79.

596.  Hist. Lang.  II, 26.

597.   Ibid. V, 29.   To the literature quoted by Moravcsik, BT 2, 357 (Moravcsik, Gy. Byzantoturcica 2: Sprachreste der Türkvolker in den byzantinische Quellen, Berlin 1958), add Pochettino 1930,   118 (Pocherrino, I.G. I Langobardi nell’Italia meridionale, Caserta, 1930).

598.  Hist. Lang.  VI,  31, 49 (gens,  quae super  Danubium).

599.  Their identifications with medieval or modern place names are without exception completely arbitrary.    The   "Bardengau"  in  the  Lüneburg Heath, which  is supposed to have preserved the ethnic name, is   actually named after a Count Bardo who in the ninth century had estates there; see R.  Dorgereit, Deutsches Archiv für Erforschung des Mittelallers  10,  1960,  601.

600.  The exact dates assigned to Agelmund and Lamissio in the Prosper edition of 1483 (CM I, 489-490) are without value.   The interpolated passages referring to the Langobards are taken from Paul and fitted into Prosper's chronological framework.

601.  HistLang.   I,   27.

602.  Moravcsik,  BT 2, 234.

603.  J. Werner 1962, 144-147 (Werner, J. “Die Langobarden in Pannonien”, Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Philosophisch-historische Klasse), N.F. 55a, Munich, 1962).