Paul the Deacon

Well aware of the cultural, political and military superiority of the Franks, Paul the Deacon wanted to narrate the history of the Lombards and their passage from barbarity into civilisation so that the conquerors could know and accept the cultural value and the historical experience of his people.

Paul the Deacon in a codex kept at the ‘Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana’ (Florence, Plut. 65.35, f. 34r).

Paul the Deacon in a codex kept at the ‘Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana’ (Florence, Plut. 65.35, f. 34r).

Born at Cividale del Friuli between 720-730 from a Lombard family, Paul received his first education in the schools of his hometown and subsequently at the court of Pavia, where according German traditions the youth of noble or notable families of the reign received their best education. The reasons that induced Paul to approach Charlemagne were merely personal, and precisely they were due to the fate of his brother Arichis, who had been caught prisoner following the failed rebellion led by the Duke Hrodgaud of Friuli in 776, and more generally to the fates of his family. The Frankish king’s invitation to hold Paul at his court, on the contrary, fell within a wider political program according to which other intellectuals had already come there, such as Peter of Pisa, whom Paul had probably known since his stay at Pavia, and Paulinus of Aquileia. Paul’s stay at the Carolingian court ended around the years 786-787. Surely he was at Montecassino after 26 August 787, date of duke Arichis’ death, to whom he composed a heartfelt epitaph. The composition of the work for which Paul is better known has to be dated to the last part of his life at Montecassino: the Historia Langobardorum. In six books the history of the Lombard people is narrated from their mythical Scandinavian origins to the death of Liutprand (744). Only the day of Paul’s death is known, 13 April, as it is reported in the Necrologium Casinense; about the year, different hypotheses oscillate between 797 and 799, the latter being given more credit according to a tradition that has Paul already dead when Charlemagne was crowned as an emperor.

For further information see the entry Paolo Diacono written by Laura Pani in Nuovo Liruti. Dizionario biografico dei Friulani, 1, Il Medioevo, edited by C. Scalon, Udine, Forum, 2006, 655-665.

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