This is Volume 6 in the Folio Society‘s edition of Hodgkin’s “Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire”. It covers the years 600-744. In the previous book, the Lombards had swept in and taken a large part of Italy, leaving only small enclaves to the Byzantine Empire along the coastline, centered primarily around Ravenna, Rome, and the southern tip of Italy. The Lombards took the northern Po Valley as the center of their kingdom – still called Lombardy to this day.
The position of the Empire in Italy continued to erode as the Lombard Kingdom chipped away at their territory, especially around Ravenna. This tended to reduce the power of the Exarch of Italy, nominally supreme, and the political power of the Popes in Rome grew to compensate. In earlier times a Pope could be called to Constantinople to account to the Emperor in a dispute. That time came to an end now, as exarchs no longer dared try to extract a Pope from Rome. The Pope soon became the de facto ruler of the enclave about Rome.
The influence of the Pope also grew when the Lombard Kingdom converted from Arianism to Catholicism. The Pope could always try to use religion to mitigate the attacks of the Lombards or reduce their effects. This was aided by the fact that the southern part of Italy was ruled by independent dukes around Spoleto and Benevento.
So there is a balance in this period between the Exarch, the Pope, and the Lombards. But the incursions of the Muslims into the East weakened the Exarch, and yet another religious controversy split Italy from the rest of the Empire – Iconoclasm.
This mystical idea, from the mideast, that images of Saints and other figures are sinful.faced great resistance in Italy, and not just because it was yet another crazy idea coming unbidden from the east. It was hard everywhere for common people and priests to see why venerable objects of religious art had to be broken up. So now a rift between the secular powers and the religious arm and the people grew, just as the Exarch was unable to provide any security against the Lombards.
This will culminate in two acts in the next book – the Pope assuming secular power in Italy for his own after the fall of Ravenna, and then looking for aid elsewhere, from the Franks, to provide a counterpoise to the Lombards.
- The Lombard Invasion – Thomas Hodgkin (kilobooks.wordpress.com)
- The Imperial Restoration – Thomas Hodgkin (kilobooks.wordpress.com)