Paul the Deacon

From Academic Kids

Paul the Deacon (c. 72013 April 800), also known as Paulus Diaconus, Warnefred and Cassinensis, (i.e. "of Monte Cassino"), was a Benedictine monk and historian of the Lombards.

An ancestor named Leupichis entered Italy in the train of Alboin and received lands at or near Forum Julii (Friuli). During an invasion the Avars swept off the five sons of this warrior into Illyria, 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 Paulus.

Born between 720 and 725 at Friuli in Italy to this noble Lombard family. Paul received an exceptionally good education, probably at the court of the Lombard king Rachis in Pavia, learning from a teacher named Flavian the rudiments of Greek. It is probable that he was secretary to the Lombard king Desiderius, the successor of Rachis; it is certain that this king's daughter Adelperga was his pupil. After Adelperga had married Arichis, duke of Benevento, Paulus 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 France, 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 794 and 800. His surname Diaconus, or Levita, shows that he took orders as a deacon; and some think he was a monk before the fall of the Lombard kingdom.

The chief work of Paul is his Historia gentis 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 568 to the death of King Liutprand in 747, and contains much information about the Byzantine empire, the Franks, and others. The story is told from the point of view of a Lombard patriot and is especially valuable for the relations between the Franks and the Lombards. Paul used the document called the Origo gentis Langobardorum, the Liber pontificalis, the lost history of Secundus of Trent, and the lost annals of Benevento; he made a free use of Bede, Gregory of Tours and Isidore of Seville.

In some respects he suggests a comparison with Jordanes, but in learning and literary honesty is greatly the superior of the Goth. Of the Historia there are about a hundred manuscripts extant. It was largely used by subsequent writers, was often continued, and was first printed in Paris in 1514. It has been translated into English, German, French and Italian, the English translation being by WD Foulke (Philadelphia, 1807), and the German by O Abel and R Jacobi (Leipzig, 1878). Among the editions of the Latin the best is that edited by L Bethmann and G Waitz, in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Scriptores rerum langobardicarum (Hanover, 1878).

Cognate with this work is Paul's Historia Romana, a continuation of the Breviarium of Eutropius. This was compiled between 766 and 771, at Benevento. The story runs that Paul advised Adelperga to read Eutropius. She did so, but complained that this heathen writer said nothing about ecclesiastical affairs and stopped with the accession of the emperor Valens in 364; consequently Paul interwove extracts from the Scriptures, from the ecclesiastical historians and from other sources with Eutropius, and added six books, thus bringing the history down to 553. This work has little value, although it was very popular during the middle ages. It has been edited by H Droysen and published in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Auctores antiquissimi, Band ii. (1879) as well as by A. Crivellucci, in FOnti per la storia d' Italia, n. 51 (1914).

Paul wrote at the request of Angilram, bishop of Metz (d. 791), a history of the bishops of Metz to 766, the first work of its kind north of the Alps. This Gesta episcoporum Mettensium is published in Band ii. of the Monumenta Germaniae historica Scriptores, and has been translated into German (Leipzig, 1880). He also wrote many letters, verses and epitaphs, including those of Duke Arichis and of many members of the Carolingian family. Some of the letters are published with the Historia Langobardorum in the Monumenta; the poems and epitaphs edited by Ernst Dümmler will be found in the Poetae latini aevi carolini, Band i. (Berlin, 188f). Fresh material having come to light, a new edition of the poems (Die Geschichte des Paulus Diaconus) has been edited by Karl Neff (Munich, 1908), who denies, however, the attribution to Paul of the most famous poem in the collection, the Ut queant laxis, a hymn to St. John from the initial syllables of the first verses of which Guido d'Arezzo took the names of the first notes of the musical scale. Paul also wrote an epitome, which has survived, of Festus' De significatu verborum.

While in France Paulus was requested by Charlemagne to compile a collection of homilies. He executed this after his return to Monte Cassino, and it was largely used in the Frankish churches. A life of Pope Gregory the Great has also been attributed to him.


Translations of the Historia Langobardorum

The work has been translated into a number of languages.

Into Italian

  • A. Viviani, Dell' origine e de' fatti de' Longobardi, 2 vols., Udine (1826‑28)
  • G. S. Uberti, De' fatti de' Longobardi, Cividale (1899) reprinted in the Biblioteca Popolare Sonzogno, Milan (1915)
  • M. Felisatti, Storia dei Longobardi, Milan (1967)
  • F. Roncoroni, Storia dei Longobardi, Milan (1971)
  • E. Bartolini, Historia Langobardorum, with Latin text, and translation by A. Giacomini, Udine (nd)
  • A. Zanella, Storia dei Longobardi, Milan (1991)
  • L. Capo (ed.), Storia dei Longobardi, Milan (1992).


  • C. Cipolla, Note bibliografiche circa l'odierna condizione degli studi critici sul testo delle opere di Paolo Diacono (Venice, 1901)
  • Atti e memorie del congresso storico tenuto in Cividale (Udine, 1900)
  • F Dahn, Langobardische Studien, Bd. i. (Leipzig, 1876)
  • W Wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen, Bd. i. (Berlin, 1904)
  • A Hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, Bd. ii. (Leipzig, 1898)
  • P del Giudice, Studi di storia e diritto (Milan, 1889)
  • U Balzani, Le Cronache italiane nel medio evo (Milan, 1884)

External Link

nl:Paulus Diaconus it:Paolo Diacono


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