In October 2010 Professor Giovanni Rocchi, the top Italian expert on the Picene tongue and their ancient writing, was contacted by an architect who works for the Municipality of Falerone, and an archeologist who wanted his opinion on the text engraved on the very beautiful 62.93 inch x 32.63 inch x 3.88 inch white marble top of a Roman sarcophagus, one that would have been reused in the Middle Ages.
Falerone, Province of Fermo, Le Marche
Nowadays this archeological find is in the museum of the little town of Falerone, Province of Fermo, Le Marche.
Falerone has existed since pre-historic times and has many Roman archeological remains scattered all over the place, including a marvellous small theater. The Lombards inhabited it before the Franks. Tradition says the epigraph was above a tomb in the San Paolino Church and was plundered during the Middle Ages and the remains scattered. There are now empty tombs along the right wall. The marble slab was used for a time as an altar and then walled into a historical building. Today it is difficult to get inside the church, since it is kept locked.
San Paolino church, Falerone
A careful analysis of this find brings various facts to light: there is a perfectly engraved Roman text on its edge. From the way the letters are arranged, one may infer that the text we are interested in was engraved on the smooth inside of the reused Roman sarcophagus’s lid.
The text is written lengthwise, indicating that it was walled in at eye level, above the tomb, which was probably in the ground.
To the left is a deep, dug up rectangular space which was containing the portrait of the deceased, underneath which appeared her name. The name, deeply engraved, is not completely effaced. The first letter is a B. Six or seven letters are missing. There is an E in the middle and the last one is an A. This is the name of a woman.
The text is written in wave-like script. That does not mean that the people who lived 1,250 years ago could not draw a straight line. The way they presented this writing was a poetic way of referring to the wind; The wind of history, how things pass.
At first glance, it looks like bad Latin that is full of errors, but it is written in a very refined Picene style.
Here is the text with Professor Giovanni Rocchi’s translation:
“ + In D(e)I NOM(ine)
In the name of God,
REGNANTE DOMINO NOSTRO DESIDERIO
our Lord Desiderius reigning,
VIRO EXCELL(entissimo) REGE
excellent man, King
ANNO PIETATIS (s)UE IN D(e)I NOM(ine)
in the year of his mercy, in the name of God,
TERZIO DECIMO GENTIS LANGU(ba)RDORUM(m)
the thirteenth of the Lombards,
IDENQUE REGNANTE DOM(i)NO NOSTRO (ad)ELCHIS FILIO EIUS
reigning together, our Lord Adelchis, his son
ANNO FELICISSIMI REGNI EIUS
in the very happy year of his reign,
/ B. . . E. . .A / XPI(sti) NOM(ine) UNDICESIMO
/ B. . . E. . .A /, in the name of Christ, the 11th,
SEO TEMPORIB(us) TASBUNI DUCI(s) CIVITATI(s) FIRMANE
that is to say, at the times of Tasbuno, duke of a town of the area of Fermo
MENSE JANUARIO INDICZIONE OCTOVA
in the month of January, eighth indiction
IN HUNC ARCA(m) VOLU(it) ET FECI(t) PRO SE SUIQUE OMNIUM
in this place wanted and made a tomb for herself, paid for by her, amongst all . . .”
Amongst all what? The text stops at this point. The empty space at the bottom looks very much like the effaced end of the text.
Giovanni Rocchi decided to use the latest techniques so he could see the portion that was possibly effaced, and then the end of the text suddenly appeared like a slap in the face:
(amongst all) the places,
LOCUM PACE ANIMI DESIDERATA
the place of peace for the soul (so) longed for,
BERTERADA DESIDERII FILIA
Berterada, daughter of Desiderius,
QAE FECE ROT PACE
these things were done in peace.
This is the tomb the Lombard princess Berterada had prepared (and paid for) for herself in January of the year 771. Now, wasn’t the daughter of Desiderius, and sister of Adelchis, Charlemagne’s first wife? If we go back to Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne, we learn that he married King Desiderius of Lombardy’s daughter, on the insistence of his own mother Bertha, and that, for an unknown reason, he disowned her after a year, in 771.
At the end, Charlemagne’s first wife, the daughter of King Desiderius of the Lombards, was not called Desiderata, nor Désirée nor Ermengarda, but Berterada. Actually, it was also the name mentioned at the end of the 9th century by Lombard historian, Andrea da Bergamo, in his Chronicon. Official history considers him as “not very credible” although he is the only one to have left us the real name of Charlemagne’s first wife. As a matter of fact, the word “desiderata” exists in the text, but it is not a noun that refers to a person. Instead, it alludes to the peace that is desired.
Generally, a queen was disowned when it was thought she was infertile. But to judge a young woman barren after a year of matrimony is a bit of a rush, except that there might have been no sexual relations between the two, and everybody may have known about it.
We have this young Lombard princess who comes to a new country and marries a 28 year-old king, since he was associated to the coronation of his father when he was 11. One of the first things she does is arrange for a tomb for herself! I wouldn’t think that this would be a favorite concern of a young queen in her early twenties. Then we have this very romantic epigraph, with text that flows like a wave.
So what happened? Either she was very ill, and realizing she was dying, prepared her own tomb (we do not know when she died), or we see before us an actual case of a broken heart. Who’s heart was it that was broken?
Maybe Berterada refused Charles because she had to leave her country and her family and, why not, for a man she loved in Lombardy. She may not have supported Charles, or she loved him, but did not get love in return. Maybe Charles refused her because of interference on the part of his in-laws, or because he longed for somebody else and, therefore, disowned Berterada to marry the woman he really loved. The following year Charles married Hildegard of Vintzgau. Did Charlemagne break Berterada’s heart, so much so that she wanted to die?
There are further considerations:
The text gives the queen’s three Lombard points of reference: her father, her brother and the local duke who could have been Tassilo of Baviera, her brother-in-law and Charlemagne’s cousin. TASBUN could very well mean “the good Tas”. The epigraph does not refer to her husband, Charlemagne. This obviously means that she did not want to hear about him any longer.
The effaced text is not the text that talks about the Lombard big shots, but the section about Berterada, especially her name, her portrait and about her grave. Somebody has tried to erase the memory, not of the Lombards being in Le Marche, but of Berterada, Charlemagne’s wife, in Le Marche.
I had always believed that the rejected, humiliated Berterada had gone back to Lombardy, but obviously that was not the case. Berterada’s tomb was found in the very area where the Franks had supplanted the Lombards and settled.
If we look at the marvelous landscape, we see several hills, one after the other, that we have already talked about, or that we will talk about: San Ginesio (Saint Denis), Sant’Angelo in Pontano (King Pepin’s residence), Falerone, where Queen Berterada had her tomb prepared, then Carassai (most likely the place where Charles Martel died, and Charlemagne was born).
The least one can say is that the pieces of the puzzle fall nicely into place.