Paul the Deacon

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Paul the Deacon (c. 720 – 13 April probably 799), also known as Paulus Diaconus, Warnefred, Barnefridus and Cassinensis, (i.e. "of Monte Cassino"), was a Benedictine monk and historian of the Lombards.

Contents

Life

An ancestor named Leupichis entered Italy in the train of Alboin and received lands at or near Forum Julii (Cividale del Friuli). During an invasion the Avars swept off the five sons of this warrior into Pannonia, but one, his namesake, returned to Italy and restored the ruined fortunes of his house. The grandson of the younger Leupichis was Warnefrid, who by his wife Theodelinda became the father of Paul.

Born between 720 and 735 in Friuli in Italy to this possibly noble Lombard family, Paul received an exceptionally good education, probably at the court of the Lombard king Ratchis in Pavia, learning from a teacher named Flavian the rudiments of Greek. It is probable that he was secretary to the Lombard king Desiderius, a successor of Ratchis; it is certain that this king's daughter Adelperga was his pupil. After Adelperga had married Arichis II, duke of Benevento, Paul at her request wrote his continuation of Eutropius.

It is certain that he lived at the court of Benevento, possibly taking refuge when Pavia was taken by Charlemagne in 774; but his residence there may be much more probably dated to several years before that event. Soon he entered a monastery on Lake Como, and before 782 he had become a resident at the great Benedictine house of Monte Cassino, where he made the acquaintance of Charlemagne. About 776 his brother Arichis had been carried as a prisoner to Francia, and when five years later the Frankish king visited Rome, Paul successfully wrote to him on behalf of the captive.

His literary attainments attracted the notice of Charlemagne, and Paul became a potent factor in the Carolingian renaissance. In 787 he returned to Italy and to Monte Cassino, where he died on April 13 in one of the years between 796 and 799. His surname Diaconus, shows that he took orders as a deacon; and some think he was a monk before the fall of the Lombard kingdom.

Works

The chief work of Paul is his Historia Langobardorum. This incomplete history in six books was written after 787 and at any rate no later than 795/96, maybe at Montecassino. It covers the story of the Lombards from their legendary origins in the north in 'Scadinavia' and their subsequent migrations, notably to Italy in 568/9 to the death of King Liutprand in 744, and contains much information about the Byzantine empire, the Franks, and others. The story is told from the point of view of a Lombard and is especially valuable for the relations between the Franks and the Lombards. It begins:

The region of the north, in proportion as it is removed from the heat of the sun and is chilled with snow and frost, is so much the more healthful to the bodies of men and fitted for the propagation of nations, just as, on the other hand, every southern region, the nearer it is to the heat of the sun, the more it abounds in diseases and is less fitted for the bringing up of the human race.

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