Lombardic Legend in The Lost Road

"I am looking for something I can't find" – J.R.R.Tolkien

Lombardic Legend   
Historia Langobardorum   
Interrelations with other sources   
Interesting detail - the scull cup   
Annotations and Comments   
Lombardic History - Some Considerations   


In February 1968, in a Letter addressing an article, Tolkien wrote:

L. (C.S.Lewis) said to me one day: 'Tollers, there is too little of what we really like in stories. I am afraid we shall have to try and write some ourselves.' We agreed that he should try 'space-travel', and I should try 'time-travel'.
Letter #294

And so was "The Lost Road" begun.

This exciting story had never been finished, yet it had a strong resonance within the whole scope of Tolkien’s Legendarium.

However, in the existing variants of The Lost Road, there are quite a few other intriguing elements – the strong reference to the history of the Lombards being certainly one of them.

In a letter of July 1964 (Letter # 257), Tolkien gives some account of his book:

When C. S. Lewis and I tossed up, and he was to write on space-travel and I on time-travel, I began an abortive book of time-travel of which the end was to be the presence of my hero in the drowning of Atlantis.

This was to be called Numenor, the Land in the West. … It started with a father-son affinity between Edwin and Elwin of the present, and was supposed to go back into legendary time by way of an Eadwine and AElfwine of circa A.D.918, and Audoin and Alboin of Lombardic legend, and so to the traditions of the North Sea concerning the coming of corn and culture heroes, ancestors of kingly lines, in boats (and their departure in funeral ships). … In my tale we were to come at last to Amandil and Elendil leaders of the loyal party in Numenor, when it fell under the domination of Sauron. Elendil 'elf-friend' was the founder of the Exiled kingdoms in Arnor and Gondor.

In a reverse mode, Tolkien named the central characters of his “The Lost Road” Alboin (being the father) and Audoin (being the son).

Lombardic Legend    

In the main story, as far as the narrative of "The Lost Road" goes on, comes the Lombardic legend, told by Oswin Errol to his son Alboin.

...'I wondered why Alboin. Why am I called Alboin?... is a real name, isn't it?' said Alboin eagerly. 'I mean, it means something, and men have been called it? It isn't just invented?

...and Oswin told his son the tale of Alboin son of Audoin, the Lombard king; and of the great battle of the Lombards and the Gepids, remembered as terrible even in the grim sixth century; and of the kings Thurisind and Cunimund, and of Rosamunda. 'Not a good story for near bed-time,' he said, ending suddenly with Alboin's drinking from the jewelled skull of Cunimund...

Oswin Errol ended thus the story and did not tell his son how Rosamunda exacted her revenge. The outcome of her machinations was that Alboin was murdered in his bed, and his body was buried 'at the going up of the stairs which are near to the palace,' amid great lamentation of the Lombards.

The reference Tolkien makes to the Lombardic legend does not, however, end here.

Further in the course of developing the story, or rather creating its new versions, we find more on the issue - namely, in the myth of KingSheave ([1] , [2] ).

The legend of KingSheave itself is an intriguing and thrilling story. But what connects it to the Lombardic Legend is that in the Poem version, the mysterious child comes to the shores of the land of the Longobards! And it is their people that the migthy foreign king brings high up in development, for he:

Their need he healed,
 and laws renewed long forsaken. 
 Words he taught them wise and lovely - 
 their tongue ripened in the time of Sheave 
 to song and music. Secrets he opened 
 runes revealing. Riches he gave them, 
 reward of labour, wealth and comfort 
 from the earth calling, acres ploughing, 
 sowing in season seed of plenty, 
 hoarding in garner golden harvest 
 for the help of men. The hoar forests 
 in his days drew back to the dark mountains; 
 the shadow receded, and shining corn, 
 white ears of wheat, whispered in the breezes 
 where waste had been. The woods trembled. 

Halls and houses hewn of timber, strong towers of stone steep and lofty, golden-gabled, in his guarded city they raised and roofed. In his royal dwelling of wood well-carven the walls were wrought; fair-hued figures filled with silver, gold and scarlet, gleaming hung there, stories boding of strange countries, were one wise in wit the woven legends to thread with thought. At his throne men found counsel and comfort and care's healing, justice in judgement. Generous-handed his gifts he gave. Glory was uplifted. Far sprang his fame over fallow water, through Northern lands the renown echoed of the shining king, Sheave the mighty.

And it is so that the history of the people of the Longobards comes as a legend in "The Lost Road".

Historia Langobardorum    

In his notes and comments to The Lost Road (Volume V-th of the HoMe series), Christopher Tolkien himself pays special attention to the Lombardic legend, providing it in a longer variant, grounding it on the Historia Langobardorum by Paul the Deacon.

The Lombards ('Long-beards': Latin Langobardi, Old English Long- beardan) were a Germanic people renowned for their ferocity. From their ancient homes in Scandinavia they moved southwards, but very little is known of their history before the middle of the sixth century. At that time their king was Audoin …

"Historia Langobardorum" can be found in full details at [3].

Interrelations with other sources    

It is interesting to find out why Tolkien had paid so much special attention to the tales and legends about the people of the Longobards, why he would make its main characters the prototypes of characters in his own myths and tales... Why the Longobards out of all other existing peoples?!

I would explain it by the fact that since the yearly years of his life Tolkien had been strongly fascinated by the ancient legends and tales of the Old Norse Mythlogy.

In fact, his peculiar interest in creating languages of his own had taken him along a road that lead him to studying the history of those peoples of the North who once, long before his own time, must've spoken the languages that appealed to him, peoples that must've spoken the language in The Land of Heroes - the "Kalevala", the languages of those ancient peoples whose legendary heroes used to thrill the imagination of young Tolkien.

And as it is obvious from "Historia Langobardorum", from the pure historical facts and from the myths themselves, the Longobards were once a people living far in the North. This people had a long and exciting history that must have impressed Tolkien very much. For their march from the far northern regions to the Southern parts of the continent did not last for a couple of years only, and during this migration the tribe would interact with most of the peoples then living in the lands of today's Europe and left a memorable trace in the European history.

Can it be assumed which Northern people the Longobards were?

An answer to such a question is approached well in details in Book 1, Chapters 1, 2 and 3 in the "Historia Langobardorum"., the author calling them Winnili- coming from the Germanic tribes living in the far northern regions of Europe -in the what was then believed to be an island - Scandinavia. The name of the tribe is considered to mean eager for battle according to Bruckner (322); and according to Schmidt (37) it is related to the Gothic "vinja", " pasture."

On the other hand, there is a striking similarity between what we read in the Lombardic legend itself - the part about KingSheave and his deeds for the people of the Longobards and what we read in "Beowulf" :

LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped, we have heard, and what honor the athelings won! Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes, from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore, awing the earls. Since erst he lay friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him: for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve, till before him the folk, both far and near, who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate, gave him gifts: a good king he!

Therefore, could it be that those Winilli were in fact the Danes!

The Danes were residents of Denmark. Hro­gar's Heorot is likely to have been located on the island of Sjaelland near the present day city of Roskilde.

The Scylding line is known through Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon sources; the Anglo-Saxon king Cnut (1016-1042, a period coincident with the composition of the Beowulf manuscript) is known to have descended from this line.

The Danes are referred to as the Dena, Beorht-Dena? (Bright-), Gar-Dena? (Spear-), Hring-Dena? (Ring-, Corselet-), East-Dena?, Nor­-Dena? (North-), Su­-Dena? (South-), West-Dena?, Scyldings (Sons of Scyld), Ar-Scyldingas? (Honour-), Here-Scyldingas? (Army-), Sige-Scyldingas? (Victory-), Ůeod-Scyldingas? (People-), and Ingwines (Ing's Friends).

Above data taken from : [4]

If the Danes were Ingwines, let's remember the Ingwaiwar [5]

So, if we trace these interrelations, it results that the Winilli could be the same Danes who were the friends of Ing who in thweir turn were Elf - friends and that the legendary KingSheave = Scyld the Scefing had once come to their lands out from the open sea.

Interesting detail - the scull cup    

In the great battle between the Lombards and another Germanic people, the Gepids, Alboin son of Audoin slew Thurismod, son of the Gepid king Thurisind, in single combat; and when the Lombards returned home after their victory they asked Audoin to give his son the rank of a companion of his table, since it was by his valour that they had won the day. But this Audoin would not do, for, he said, 'it is not the custom among us that the king's son should sit down with his father before he has first received weapons from the king of some other people.' When Alboin heard this he went with forty young men of the Lombards to king Thurisind to ask this honour from him. Thurisind welcomed him, invited him to the feast, and seated him at his right hand, where his dead son Thurismod used to sit.

But as the feast went on Thurisind began to think of his son's death, and seeing Alboin his slayer in his very place his grief burst forth in words: 'Very pleasant to me is the seat,' he said, 'but hard is it to look upon him who sits in it.' Roused by these words the king's second son Cunimund began to revile the Lombard guests; insults were uttered on both sides, and swords were grasped. But on the very brink Thurisind leapt up from the table, thrust himself between the Gepids and the Lombards, and threatened to punish the first man who began the fight.

Thus he allayed the quarrel; and taking the arms of his dead son he gave them to Alboin, and sent him back in safety to his father's kingdom.

Audoin died some ten years after the battle, and Alboin became king of the Lombards in 565. A second battle was fought against the Gepids, in which Alboin slew their king Cunimund and took his daughter Rosamunda captive. At Easter 568 Alboin set out for the conquest of Italy; and in 572 he was murdered.

In the story told by Paul the Deacon, at a banquet in Verona Alboin gave his queen Rosamunda wine to drink in a cup made from the skull of king Cunimund, and invited her to drink merrily with her father ('and if this should seem to anyone impossible,' wrote Paul, 'I declare that I speak the truth in Christ: I have seen (Radgisl) the prince holding the very cup in his hand on a feastday and showing it to those who sat at the table with him.')

From "Historia Langobardorum"

Many battles had the people of the Longobardi fought throughtout their stormy history, but the battle between them and another ferrociuos tribe, at the time when they had already settled in the lands of present North Italy, seems to be one of the most renown in the history of whole Europe.

Paulus Diaconus speaks of the enemy of the Longobardi to be another Germanic tribe - the Gepids and describes well, as the legend itself, too, the corageous fight of the Longobards against them.

Here are, however, some facts, provided by a leading Bulgarian historian - Bojidar Dimitrov, PhD?.

Indeed, some West-European? authors mention the Bulgarians even during that epoch. These were mainly accounts of battles describing them or their participation. We could only guess as to why did the Pannonian and the Carpathian Bulgarians not come to terms with the Longobards but the frequent wars between them are a fact. It is thanks to them that we know of the battle in which the Bulgarians had cruelly defeated the Longobards, slayed their king Agelmundi and took his daughter captive. Then Lamissio, the new king of the Longobards, hit back and defeated the Bulgarians.

The Bulgarian tribes' involvement in joint operations with other peoples would eventually disperse a great many of those who inhabited Central Europe. Thus in 568-569 AD, when the Longobardic king Alboin conquered three big areas in northern Italy - Liguria, Lombardy and Etruria, the population that the king sent there did not consist of Longobardic tribes only, but also of Bulgarian allied tribes from Pannonia.

Other Bulgarian tribes in the Avar khanate also took part in the Avar campaigns against Byzantium. In 631-632 AD they launched fierce battles to take over the supreme power in the khanate, but were defeated and 9000 of them left Pannonia and withdrew to Bavaria under the Frankish king Dagobert. It is not known why Dagobert welcomed them but later gave orders for them to be killed overnight. The survivinq 700 families succeeded in escaping in battle, crossing the Alps and arriving in Longobardy, where many of their compatriots had already been living. At long last they were well received and offered their first accommodation in the region of Venice but after the year 668 AD they had to move to the deserted coast of Ravena, an exarchate in present-day Italian region of Campobasso. Two hundred years later an ancient writer, Paulus Diaconus, visited them and heard them speak Latin and Bulgarian.

Details - in : [6]

Therefore, it becomes obvious that though enemies at first, later the Panonian Bulgarians seem to have become allies to the Longobards and together they fought for their new settlements in Northern Italy.

What speaks also of the presence and influence of the Bulgarians in the affairs and the style of life of the Lombards is the detail with the cup made out of the enemy's scull, which we read about both - in the legend as it comes in "The Lost Road" and in Historia Langobardorum.

This "tradition" had been well often practiced in the war-affairs of the Bulgarians long before and after their interaction with the Longobards and the other European peoples. In 811 A.D., after one of his great victories over the Byzantine Emperors Nicephorus I, Khan Krum - ruler at that time of the already existing and strong state of Bulgaria ( the state was founded in 681), had the Emperor's skull lined with silver and drank from it at his feasts.

Annotations and Comments    

Lombardic History - Some Considerations    

I am not quite certain, whether this essay is meant as a general overview of Lombardic history or legend and Tolkien's possible connections to that, or if this is just an account of Tolkien's brief mentionings of the Lombards and an attempt to connect those with "real" legends and/or history. But I'll add my thoughts anyway:

When Tolkien wrote in his letter (#257) … Audoin and Alboin of Lombardic legend,… he was certainly aware that Paul the Deacon, the main source of most what was known thitherto about the history of the Lombards was no reliable historian whose accounts – especially of the earlier "history" of the Lombards - could be taken for "historical facts". Paul's accounts, probably, had a similar "reliability" as, for example, Geoffrey of Monmouth's accounts in his "Historia regum Britanniae'', written in the 12th century. I think this was the reason for Tolkien's wording 'Lombardic legend' rather than 'Lombardic history'.

First archeological evidence of the Lombards is from the 1st century BCE, in the region of the lower Elbe and whether or not the Lombards had their origin in Scandinavia is still subject of dispute among serious historians. It should be noted that the Lombards in their early times were passing down their "history" orally, hence only sparse written documentation exists from before their arrival in Italy. Thus it can be suspected, that Paul was relying on Jordanes' writings – or maybe also on the Origo gentis Langobardorum from the middle of the 7th century - when he ascribed a Scandinavian origin to the Lombards in his Historia Langobardorum, written late in the 8th century. Generally, it seems, it was "fashionable" among early medieval "historians" to ascribe their ancestors a Biblical, Trojan or Scandinavian origin.

Even the episode of Alboin and Rosamunde, which Tolkien only alludes to, and of which Christopher provides us with Paul the Deacon's account, can - IMO not be considered a hard historical "fact". "Fact" is, that Paul wrote some 200 years later about events that were subject of much folk-tale and folk-song, and drinking from a skull - jewelled or no - was not altogether rare, since the Huns had "introduced" this habit a few centuries earlier. People back then – as the hypothesis is amongst scholars - thought they would "inherit" the strength of the slain, if they drank from their skulls. But whether or not this "habit" was widespread among Germanic tribes is debated.

One of the possible reasons for Tolkien's interest in the Lombards was the fact, that the tribe of the Lombards from the middle of the 5th century on began to merge with that of the Saxons at the lower Elbe. Tolkien himself had Saxon ancestors, which was probably one of the reasons for his attempt to create an Anglo-Saxon mythology for England.

-- ChW

This study was aimed at providing some historical background (as much as I could find) to the "Lombardic Legend", for the history of the tribe of the Lombards comes as a legend in the events in "The Lost Road".

I found intriguing two small elements in the tale told by Oswin to his son Alboin, namely the name of the boy - Alboin and the scull cup; the first one because it revealed in its own subtle way the interaction of Tolkien's ideas in the process of creating his Legendarium, because this name leads back to the Book of Lost Tales - II and the character of Eriol, the Elf-friend; the second - because I recognized something from the history of my own people and that was a real temptation difficult to resist and not try to find out more about it from the p.o.v. of real history.

This study has also tried to track some interlacing between the "Lombardic legend" and some others tales and legends such as that of Beowulf and that of the misterious KingSheave. -- LR

I see, thanks for explaining that, I wasn't sure as what I should see it. Indeed, if there is one recurrent "motif" in Tolkien's legendarium it is that of the "Elf-friends". Eriol ('one who dreams alone') became Ălfwine ('elf-friend'), the ThreeHouses, the Elendili, Bilbo, Frodo, even Gimli, all were - or became - Elf-friends. Even outside Tolkien's mythology we can make it out, like in Smith (of Wootton Major). And in the Anglo-Saxon name Ălfwine Tolkien could actually make out a linguistic trace of his "Elf-friends". Alboin (alb ... Germanic for 'elf' is still existant in a few modern German words) was a Germanic ancestor of the name Ălfwine. Tolkien explains in his Notes on Nomenclature:

Elf-friend. Translate. It was suggested by Ălfwine, the English form of an old Germanic name (represented for instance in the Lombardic Alboin), though its analyzable meaning was probably not recognized or thought significant by the many recorded bearers of the name Aelfwine in Old English.

Thus, it seems only natural that Tolkien's interest would be immediatly drawn, should he encounter a name like Alboin.

But I do not share your point of view that the Lombards can be considered "Norse-people" at any rate. They are a Germanic people, but definitely not Norse. Norse is primarily a linguistic term referring to Old Norwegian and Old Icelandic, the latter being the language in which the biggest pieces of the old - Germanic or Northern - myths - the Eddas - had survived, in Iceland. On the European continent and in England and Ireland these old pagan myths were either Christianized or extinguished.

Neither is it likely that the Lombards can be made out as "Danes", according to recent historians the Lombards simply can not - with any certainty - be traced further back than the 1st century BCE and the region of the lower Elbe, neither archeologically nor linguistically. -- ChW

I agree with your point about the Lombards not being a "Norse" people, for they seem to be neither Norwegens nor Finns. I only said that Tolkien was strongly interested in Norse mythology and that made him study the history of that part of the continent. Ans as far as I could gather form Historia Langobardorum, the Lombards are believed to have come from the Scandianvian peninsula.

The link I make between the Lombards and the Danes comes as based upon what I read in the Historia Langobardorum, as well as upon the interesting interpretations of the name of their people, given in a quote above, one of them being "sons of Scyld" and another - Ingwines (Ing's Friends). If Scyld is (as far as I understand) the same KingSheave and if in tales the latter is said to have come to the lands of the Longobards (as in the poem of KingSheave) and to be a "good king" to the Danes (as in Beowulf), can't such link be assumed?

Besides, you have provided some additional information about the Lombards having some "affairs" with the Anglo - Saxons, this on one hand, and on the other hand the fact that Tolkien named the Anglo - Saxons Ingwaiwar (as appears in my little research Of the Seven Invasions ), then yet taking into consideration the interpretation of the name "Danes" as being "Ingwines" = "Ing's friends" '' , can't such link be assumed?

However, ancient history is not an easy matter to deal with, for all we can use are the sources from those times and they sometimes are scarce, and sometimes not even very true. Therefore I would not claim for certain that the Lombards and the Danes are one and the same people. All I am providing are some facts from different sources and my interpretation of these facts. Such "theories" , of course, cannot be taken for granted! Moreover, I am not a history-scholar.--LR

Sorry, it seems then, that I was misreading your question: Can it be determined which of the Norse peoples the Longobards were?. This wording suggests - to me - that Lombards were Norse (speaking) people, maybe a different wording could make this a little more clear. Another statement that could be easily misread is that referring to the Kalevala. Not everyone knows - as you do - that the Kalevala is a Finnish epos and as such it belongs to the Finno-Ugric? language group. But since the reference comes in the paragraph following that mentioning Norse mythology - which belongs to the Indo-European? language group - it could easily be assumed that the Kalevala would belong to Norse mythology...

On the one hand we have a suggested link between Scyld/Sheaf/Ing and the Danes, but a link to the Winnili or Lombards I fail to recognize in the informations you give above. Only if we would consider Tolkien's poem (In days of yore out of deep Ocean to the Longobards, in the land dwelling that of old they held amid the isles of the North...') as factual, historical, information, such a connection could be drawn. But in those few texts I have browsed, I have not been able to make out anything which would be able to prove - or at least suggest - such a connection [3] [7] [8], unless we assume that everyone who had possible ancestors in Scandinavia belongs to one and the same people.

But some recent historians suggest that the Winnili were not a race as Paulus assumed, rather a community of several groups or tribes, probably with different ancestors. From archeological evidence it is also assumed that the Lombards were agricultural people before they began to merge with the Saxon shepherds and breeders, the former possibly representing - at least in part - remnants of Old-European? inhabitants, whereas the latter were - again at least in part - the heirs of the Proto-Indoeuropean? nomadic Kurgan people. This seems also supported by humangenetic researches. Karin Priester in Die Geschichte der Langobarden gives a good overview of the recent state of researches about the history of the Lombards. -- ChW

I admit one should be very careful with wording.

I've changed this here and there above in order to possibly avoid any further misinterpretations. If however there's still sth. dubious, I'm ready to try to dispel it.

As for the Winilli I don't think that P.D. leaves the reader with the opinion of them being a "race", but simply a part of a larger tribe.--LR

Thank you, the essay - to me - looks already much clearer now. What led me to the opinion that Paul assumes the Winnili to be a race, was his statement in book I chapter 1: In like manner also the race of Winnili, [5] that is, of Langobards,... -- ChW

Well, I see. However in the content of the story as a whole, I did not get the impression of him considering them a "race". Perhaps it's another example of not carefully chosen wording. --LR

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