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The Lombards were a West Germanic tribe. They were a warlike people, skilled horsemen, more barbaric than say the Ostrogoths. Their name derives from 'Langobard' = literally 'long beard'. They crossed the Alps in the 6th century AD into Northern Italy, which region is still named Lombardy after them. Their ruler at this time was Alboin (whose name means 'Elf-friend'), and who overthrew Cunimund, his wife Rosamund's father. He allegedly made a drinking-cup out of his father-in-law's skull, with jewels in the eye-sockets. This kind of cup was called a 'scala' ('skull') in the Langobardic language. This West Germanic language was eventually replaced by Italian in their territories as the Lombard rulers were outnumbered by the Italian-speaking populace. The Papacy was fearful of Lombard power, and saw the poewerful Franks as their means to control them, so that Lombardy was added to Charlemagne's Empire.

Several Northern Italian cities formed the 'Lombard league' in the Middle Ages, and the north of Italy is still culturally and politically different from the south.