Paul the Deacon Became History

Dan Graves, MSL

Paul the Deacon Became History

Historians owe a lot to Paul the Deacon. Born into a noble Lombard family, Paul was given the best possible education for that largely unschooled day. He became a monk and used his learning to record the history and myths of his people, the Lombards. His book was one of the first German histories authored by a German, although even then it was written in Latin, the language of scholarship. Since most of its sources have vanished, our knowledge would be poorer without it. It was copied and recopied into the fifteenth century.

Early in his life, Paul's skill as a writer caused a duchess to ask him to expand Eutropius' History of Rome. Paul added six books to it and this was widely copied during the Middle Ages.

Later his pen may have helped win the release of his brother, who was held captive for his part in an uprising. Paul wrote an elegy to mollify Charlemagne's anger. When this did not seem to work, he traveled North to Charlemagne's court. The great king employed Paul for four years and freed his brother.

Charlemagne made it his policy to encourage Christian learning. He saw Christianity as the glue to bind his empire together. Paul compiled a history of the bishops of Metz in which he declared Charlemagne was a relative of the popular and holy Bishop Arnulf, who had lived a century and a half earlier. This served to legitimize the king and strengthen his ties with popular Christianity.

Paul also revised a compilation of sermons of the Church Fathers. This book remained popular for centuries. So did his commentary on the rule of St. Benedict.

Paul died on this day, April 13, 799.

Many of his epitaphs, letters and poems have survived. Here is how he describes an attack on Italy: "Presently, resenting some aggressions of the exarch of Ravenna, King Agilulf straightway marched out of Pavia with a great army and attacked the city of Perugia, and there for some days he besieged Maurisio, the duke of the Lombards who had gone over to the Romans, and speedily took him and slew him. The blessed Pope Gregory was so sorely alarmed at the approach of this king that he ceased from his commentary upon the temple mentioned in Ezekiel, as he himself declares in his homilies. King Agilulf then, when matters were settled, returned to Pavia, and not long afterward, upon the special instigation of his wife, Queen Theudelinda--since the blessed Pope Gregory had frequently so admonished her in his letters--he concluded a firm peace with the same most holy Pope Gregory and with the Romans..."


  1. Goffart, Walter A. The Narrators of Barbarian History (A.D. 550-800): Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, Bede, and Paul the Deacon. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  2. Paul the Deacon (possible author). "The Lives of the Fathers of Merida" in A. T. Fear's Lives of the Visigothic Fathers.Liverpool University Press, 1997.
  3. Paul, the Deacon. History of the Lombards; translated by William Dudley Foulke; edited, with introd. by Edward Peters. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974.
  4. Paulus Diaconus (Paul the Deacon). "Pope Gregory the Great and the Lombards." Medieval Sourcebook. [quoted above].
  5. Schlager, Patricius. "Paul the Deacon." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  6. Various internet articles, mostly from encyclopedias.

Last updated May, 2007.

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