The Lombards or Langobards were a Germanic tribe who ruled Italy from 568 to 774. They may have been descended from a small tribe called the Winnili who dwelt in southern Scandinavia (Scadanan) before migrating to seek new lands. In the 1st century AD, they formed part of the Suebi, in northwestern Germany. By the end of the 5th century, they had moved into the area roughly coinciding with modern Austria north of the Danube river, where they subdued the Heruls and later fought frequent wars with the Gepids. The Lombard king Alboin eventually destroyed the Gepids at the Battle of Asfeld in 567.
Following this victory, Alboin led his people to Italy, which had become severely devastated after the long Gothic War (535–554) between the Byzantine Empire and the Ostrogothic Kingdom there. The Lombards were joined by numerous Saxons, Heruls, Gepids, Bulgars, Thuringians, and Ostrogoths, and their invasion of Italy was almost unopposed. By late 569 they had conquered all the principal cities north of the Po River except Pavia, which fell in 572. At the same time, they occupied areas in central and southern Italy. They established a Lombard Kingdom in Italy, later named Regnum Italicum ("Kingdom of Italy"), which reached its zenith under the 8th-century ruler Liutprand. In 774, the Kingdom was conquered by the Frankish King Charlemagne and integrated into his Empire. However, Lombard nobles continued to rule southern parts of the Italian peninsula, through the Duchy of Benevento, well into the 11th century when they were conquered by the Normans and added to their County of Sicily.
The Duchy of Benevento (after 774, Principality of Benevento) was the southernmost Lombard duchy in the Italian peninsula, centred on Benevento, a city in Southern Italy. Being cut off from the rest of the Lombard possessions by the papal Duchy of Rome, Benevento was from the first practically independent.
The first duke was Zotto, a leader of a band of soldiers who descended the coast of Campania. The date is disputed but may have been 571 or 590. Though at first independent, Zotto was eventually made to submit to the royal authority of the north. His successor was Arechis, his nephew, and the principle of hereditary succession guided the Beneventan duchy to the end.
Under Zotto's successors, the duchy was expanded against the Byzantine Empire. Arechis, himself from the duchy of Friuli, captured Capua and Crotone, sacked Byzantine Amalfi, but was unable to capture Naples. After his reign, the Byzantines had left in southern Italy only Naples, Amalfi, Gaeta, Sorrento, Calabria, and the maritime cities of Apulia (Bari, Brindisi, Otranto, etc.).
A peace between the Duchy and the Eastern Empire was signed in 680. In the following decades, Benevento conquered some territories from the Byzantines, but the main enemy of the duchy was now the northern Lombard kingdom itself. King Liutprand intervened several times to impose a candidate of his own on the ducal throne. His successor, Ratchis, declared the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento foreign countries where it was forbidden to travel without a royal permission.
In 758, king Desiderius briefly captured Spoleto and Benevento, but with Charlemagne's conquest of the Lombard kingdom in 774, Arechis II tried to claim the kingship and make Benevento a second Pavia (the old Lombard capital). Seeing that this was impractical and would draw Frankish attention to himself, he opted instead for the title of princeps (prince). In 787, he was forced by Charlemagne's siege of Salerno to submit to Frankish suzerainty. Arechis expanded the Roman city, with new walled enclosures extending onto the level ground southwest of the old city.
In 788, the principality was invaded by Byzantine troops led by Desiderius's son, Adelchis, who had taken refuge at Constantinople. However, his attempts were thwarted by Arechis' son, Grimoald III, who had, however, partially submitted to the Franks. The Franks assisted in the repulsion of Adelchis, but, in turn, attacked Benevento's territories several times, obtaining small gains, notably the annexation of Chieti to the duchy of Spoleto. In 814, Grimoald IV made vague promises of tribute and submission to Louis the Pious, which were renewed by his successor Sico. None of these pledges were followed up, and the decreased power and influence of the individual Carolingian monarchs allowed the duchy to increase its autonomy.
In spite of the unceasing hostility of the Frankish sovereigns, in the following century Benevento reached its apex, imposing a tribute on Naples and capturing Amalfi under Duke Sicard. When the latter was killed by a plot, a civil war broke out. Sicard's relative, Siconulf, was proclaimed prince in Salerno while the assassin Radelchis was acclaimed in Benevento itself. This ended with the division of the duchy, by order of the Emperor Louis II, into two distinct principates: Benevento (with Molise and Apulia north to Taranto) and the Principality of Salerno.
The crisis was aggravated by the beginning of Saracen ravages, the first Saracens having been called in by Radelchis and subsequently Siconulf in their decade-long war. Often spurred by rival Christian rulers, Saracens sacked Naples, Salerno, and Benevento itself. The Saracen colony in southern Lazio was eliminated only in 915, after the Battle of Garigliano. At the same time, however, the Byzantine Empire reconquered a great part of southern Italy, beginning at Bari, which they retook from the Saracens in 876, further reducing the already declining Beneventan power.