The Invisible Wall of St John. On Mental Centrality in Early Medieval Italy
Scandia, Vol 58, Nr 2 (1992)
When the city of Ticinum had sustained the siege for three years and a couple of months, it surrendered to Alboin and the besieging Lombards. As Alboin entered the city by the gate of St John, in the eastern section of the city, his horse fell down in the middle of the gate, and although the rider set spurs to his horse and it was attacked with lances from all directions, the horse could not gain its legs again. One of the Lombards said to the king: “Lord and king, remember the vow you have made. Break this cruel vow, and you may enter the town, since it is in- habited by truly Christian people.” Alboin had in fact vowed to slaughter all the inhabitants, since they refused to surrender. Now that he broke his vow and prom- ised to be merciful towards the city-dwellers the horse immediately got up, and after having entered the city he kept his promise and did not harm anybody.
This is, according to the Lombard monk and chronicler Paul the Deacon, writing in the late eighth century at the abbey of Monte Cassino, an event which is supposed to have taken place at the dawn of Italo-Lombard history, when the first Lombard king on Italian soil occupied the city that was to become the capital of Italy for several centuries to follow. That the city was defeated is a fact (in the early 570s), but the statement that the king was forcefully stopped by supernatural intervention is a tale that no sane historian will give credit to today. However, it was perfectly logical to Paul the Deacon, who gives several similar examples in his own work on the history of his people, the Historia Langobardorum.