Duchy of Friuli

The Duchy of Friuli was a Lombard duchy in present-day Friuli, the first to be established after the conquest of the Italian peninsula in 568. It was one of the largest domains in Langobardia Major and an important buffer between the Lombard kingdom and the Slavs,[1] Avars, and the Byzantine Empire. The original chief city in the province was Roman Aquileia, but the Lombard capital of Friuli was Forum Julii, modern Cividale.

Along with the dukes of Spoleto, Benevento and Trent, the lords of Friuli often attempted to establish their independence from the royal authority seated at Pavia, though to no avail. After the Lombard campaign of Charlemagne and the defeat of King Desiderius in 774, the last Friulian duke Hrodgaud ruled until 776. Upon his death, Friuli was incorporated as a march of the Carolingian Empire.


The Venetian territory around Forum Iulii, still devastated by the Gothic War, was the first in former Roman Italy to be conquered by the Lombards under their king Alboin in 568. Before continuing on to penetrate Italy further southwards, Alboin left a large garrison and placed the government of the district under his nephew and attendant Gisulf as a dux, who was allowed to choose the faras or noble families with which he wished to settle the land.[2]

The original duchy was bound by the Carnic Alps and Julian Alps to the north and northeast and was hardly accessible from those directions. It was bound by the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna to the south, where it did not have a coastline until later, and by a plain that led to the Pannonian Basin in the east, a perfect access point for invaders, such as the Avars and later the Magyars. Its western border was originally undefined, until further conquests had established the Lombard duchy of Ceneda, which lay beyond the Tagliamento river, between the Livenza and the Piave Rivers.

Grisulf, a capable ruler according to the Historia Langobardorum chronicles by Paul the Deacon, suppressed the Roman population in Friuli, he gained even greater influence during the Lombard interregnum upon the death of King Cleph in 574. About 610 Avar forces invaded Friuli pillaging the Lombard settlements. While King Agilulf did not take any action, Duke Gisulf II was killed in battle when the invaders occupied his residence at Cividale, while his sons Tasso and Kakko narrowly managed to escape. Under their joint rule, the ducal territory temporarily was extended up to Matrei in present East Tyrol.

In 615, Concordia was conquered and in 642 Opitergium, as the dukes extended their authority southwards against the exarchate. In 663, Cividale was briefly captured by the Avars, but Grimoald I of Benevento retook it. After the Siege of Pavia in 774, Charlemagne allowed Hrodgaud to keep the duchy. When Hrodgaud rebelled and was killed in battle in 776, Charlemagne replaced his with Macarius. The duchy continued under Frankish rule until 828, when it was divided into counties and broken up. It would later be reformed into the March of Friuli in 846.

The Princely County of Gorizia and Gradisca later covered large parts of the Duchy of Friuli. The Habsburg monarchs continued using the historic title of "Duke of Friuli" in their grand title of the Emperor of Austria.



  1. Thomas Hodgkin, Italy and Her Invaders, vol. 5:160.
  2. Paul the Deacon, Historia Langobardorum, ii.9.65-66.


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