Lombard Duchy, then Principality, in southern Italy;
- A Papal possession;
- An inland province in the Campania region, named from its capital, which lies in the Apennine valley of the River Calore, a tributary of the Volturno.
The city is east of Caserta and northeast of Naples.
In ancient times the city was the capital of the Samnites and was called Maleventum. When the Romans captured it, they, as they thought, improved its name from bad to good, and called it Beneventum; there cannot be many place names that result from mistaken punning.
Benevento became a Lombard city in the later 6th century. The Lombards had entered Italy in the late 560s and conquered the north, where they established their Kingdom, but some of them advanced into central and southern Italy where they established Duchies in Spoleto and Benevento. Lombard Dukes owed allegiance to the King, but the Duke of Benevento was far distant from the Kingdom, the Apennines making access between the Po Plain and the south difficult. What is more, Byzantine power had survived in a band lying southwestwards across central Italy from Ravenna, where the Exarch had his capital, to Rome, where the Pope was more or less autonomous, so that Benevento was physically separated from the Kingdom.
The Lombard Dukes of Benevento extended their authority across much of southern Italy, particularly inland. The coastal region around the Bays of Naples and Gaeta remained in the hands of the Greeks who had long been settled there, whilst the toe and heel of Italy remained Byzantine, though at times the Byzantines barely clung on. In 758 the Duke, having witnessed first the destruction by the Lombard Kingdom of the Byzantine power based at Ravenna in 751 and then the weakening of the Lombard Kingdom when the Franks intervened at the request of the Pope, decided to opt for independence and became the Prince of Benevento.
In the next century the Principality fell apart. In 840 Salerno and Capua became separate Principalities and in 847 the Arabs seized Bari and a chunk of the Adriatic region around it. The Arab loss of Bari in 871 led to the revival, not of Lombard, but of Byzantine power. The Byzantines then dominated the affairs of the South, though the Principality of Benevento survived, weakened and reduced. In the 11th century Norman adventurers offered their fighting services to whoever made it worth their while and thereby began the redistribution of power in the region that ended in the 12th century in their virtually complete possession of southern Italy, including most of the old Principality of Benevento. The city however escaped them. Its citizens had turned out the Prince in 1050 and appealed to the Pope for protection.
The Pope’s right to the city stemmed from the forged Donation of Constantine, but the survival of the Lombards in the south had delayed the Popes from coming into what they thought was their own for nearly three centuries. They were to hold Benevento for about eight hundred years.
In 1806 Napoleon deprived the Pope of Benevento, which he then bestowed upon his minister and diplomat, Talleyrand. It doubtless amused him to replace the Holy Father with the sometime revolutionary Bishop of Autun, who had once been placed under the ban of the Church. The Papacy recovered the city in 1815, but in 1860 lost it permanently to Italy.
The present-day province is in the Apennines, mostly drained by the River Calore and its tributaries, whose waters eventually flow to the Tyrrhenian Sea, but in the east the province crosses the watershed to the valley of the Fortore, which flows to the Adriatic. It is the northeastern province in the Campania region.