From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 21
The Dark Ages Cast a Pall over Gioviano
(6th to 9th Centuries A.D.)

During the Gothic wars in Italy (535 to 554 A.D.), Lucca was besieged and taken by Ostrogoth leader Totila in 550 A. D. The opposing Byzantines, fearing a loss of power and control in the East. launched a counterattack; and Lucca was once again the object of a siege, finally capitulating to the Byzantines.

In the meantime, the Longobardi, a tribe originating in the Elbe Valley, had moved to Pannonia, now modern Hungary, where they gained power and prestige. By 568 A.D., the Longobardi felt strong enough to invade Italy. There was very little organized resistance against them, and thus Tuscany came under their control, with the taking of Lucca in 570 A.D. However, great misery befell those resisting the invaders.

In all probability, the principal impact on Gioviano would have been a lack of Roman rule or law. There would have also been a serious decline in trade due to the great dangers involved in traveling along the Via Clodia. The Giovianini did not have to rely on the importation of food or wares, in that they were accustomed to being self-supporting. So, their main concern had to be how to hide their foodstuffs from marauders, Ostrogoths, and later on Longobardi seeking plunder.

The fortified villages on the hilltops and mountainsides would have been less desirable prey for pillagers than the relatively unprotected communities along the Serchio plain. Thus, the Giovianini probably had little to fear except crop failure and disease -- that is until the conquest and settlement of the Garfagnana and Serchio Valley by the Longobardi and their allies: the Gepids, Sarmatians, Bulgars, Bavarians, Saxons, and Taifali. The general economic depression from their isolation would have caused a very serious decline in the standard of living, however.

Even if Gioviano remained relatively safe during the initial invasion of the Italian peninsula by the barbarians, stories of their cruelty must have spread far and wide, creating a sense of dread amongst the populace. The cruelty extended not only to those being conquered but also affected the barbarians as well. Certainly the news of the barbarian leader being murdered on the orders of his wife because he had forced her to drink from her father’s skull, must have struck fear in the hearts of anyone who heard the story. Tales of murder, plunder, rape, and the seizing of lands would have caused further anxiety throughout the Serchio Valley.

Because of the Via Clodia, entry into and settlement of the Serchio Valley by the Longobardi was inevitable. Apparently, it took place over a long period of time during which the Longobardi were in the process of being converted to Arian Christianity, a belief system that opposed the concept of the Holy Trinity. By 700 A.D., both Arian Christians and Catholics began a frenzy of church building throughout the Garfagnana. The Arians believed that Jesus was not God incarnate and thus did not believe that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were one and the same. In addition, they felt it perfectly proper for their priests to marry and beget children, whereas the Catholics were seriously opposed to this practice and expected their priests to be celibate.

Missionaries from Lucca had already been spreading the Catholic version of Christianity into the Garfagnana as early as the first half of the fourth century. However, the worship of springs and trees as “saints” was still being practiced as late as 727 A.D., when Liutprando, King of the Longobardi, passed laws against this practice.

The Arian Longobardi built churches in honor of the warrior saints, San Michele (Saint Michael) and San Giorgio (Saint George), while the Catholics built churches honoring San Martino (Saint Martin). Over time however, the Longobardi were converted and became fervent Catholics. The power of Saint Martin over Saint Michael was consolidated under the next regime, that of Charlemagne who was to become Holy Roman Emperor.

None of the three churches directly associated with Gioviano before the year 1,000 A.D. are named for these principal Arian or Catholic saints. Instead, they are named Santa Maria Assunta in Gioviano proper, San Bartolomeo in the nearby ghost town of Sartiano, and San Quirico in Terzone. I believe that it would be fair to assume that Catholicism had taken a firm grip on the spiritual life of Gioviano by the dawn of the Carolingian era, although residual pagan practices certainly continued in association with the church. These practices persist even to this day having been assimilated into the rituals and folk traditions of the people of the Garfagnana along with beliefs in fairies, witches, and other worldly spirits.

It appears that the love of war had been somewhat subdued by the time the Longobardi settled into the rhythm of life in Gioviano. These people bore alien sounding names such as: Sisimondo, a man who had a house in Gioviano in 801 A.D. and founded a church in Ponte a Moriano; Bachiperto who sold a house in Gioviano in 828 A.D.; and Gherardo who rented a house to Teuperto in 887 A.D.

Other common names of the Longobardi included: Gunduald, Lucipert, Domnipert, Teutpertus, Pasperti, Sunuald, and Garipertus. Some of these Germanic sounding names persisted into the 17th century but seem to have disappeared altogether in the modern era.

The long and difficult centuries from the fall of the Roman Empire to the reign of Charlemagne brought periods of misery and grief to the people of Gioviano. However, their resilient nature and their history of absorbing strangers into the community made their passage through the period we call the Dark Ages less dark than that which befell richer and less tolerant communities.

Revised March 3, 2008
Copyright 2005-2006 George H. Russell
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