The Lombards (Latin Langobardi, from which the alternative name Longobards found in older English texts), were a Germanic group that entered the late Roman Empire. They were known to the Romans from as early as AD 98, however, when the historian Tacitus mentioned them in his Germania.
They were initially settled in Pannonia by the Emperor Justinian. In 568 they invaded Italy under their king Alboin, but were unsuccessful at conquering any city with walls. They broke off sieges of most cities they tried to take and settled for what they could find in the countryside. After the death of Alboin and his immediate successor, the Lombards failed to choose a king for more than 10 years, and the various regions were ruled by dukes.
When they entered Italy the Lombards were partly still pagan, partly Arian Christians, and hence got along very badly with the Roman Catholic Church. They were not converted to orthodox Christianity until after the year 600.
The last Lombard to rule as king of the Lombards was Desiderius, who ruled until 774, when Charlemagne not only conquered the Lombard kingdom, but in an utterly novel decision took the title "King of the Lombards" as well. Before then the Germanic kingdoms had frequently conquered each other, but none had adopted the title of King of another people. Charlemagne took part of the Lombard territory to create the Papal States.
Much of our knowledge of the mythological and semi-mythological early history of the Lombard people comes from Paul the Deacon's History of the Lombards (Historia Langobardorum) written in the late 8th century. By the title of this work the name of Longobards was commonly turned into Langobards. Despite a frequently supposed derivation from "long beards" effectively, the name is generally considered coming from "long halberds": apart from the fact that Romans already had named Barbarians many peoples with long beards (and that name was in fact in regular use for some peoples of those origins), the distinctive element - the one that justified the name - was the original weapon, still unknown at those times in Italy.
A Lombard law code survives from around the same period.
Historic Kings of the Lombards
(Ten year interregnum)
See Also: Irminones, The Lombard League