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Journal of the XVth Annual ISHA Conference, Pula (2004), Trade and Communications, Workshop No.2, “The Meditteranean”


Since the days of Charlemagne’s conquest of the Lombards in northern Italy in 774, the so-called Kingdom of Italy had non-native kings. These kings were Charlemagne’s Frankish successors and later the kings of what was to become Germany, who, beginning with Otto I in 962, generally had to journey to Rome to receive Imperial coronation at the hands of the pope.

In the summer of 2003, the then Italian tourism minister and Lega Nord politician Stefano Stefani managed to create quite a stir in the German media by attacking my countrymen in his party newspaper, La Padania, as “stereotyped blondes with ultra-nationalist pride” whose many bad characteristics include behaving in an arrogant manner, rowdily invading Italian beaches and engaging in “noisy belching contests after gargantuan beer drinking sessions and huge helpings of fried potatoes”.While this kind of stereotypical allusion to a long tradition of Germanic invasions and barbarian behaviour is far from new, it certainly upset a significant part of the German public.

Rutger Hauer as Frederick Barbarossa in the namesake movie from 2009.

Mediaevalists may have found themselves reminded of a time in the history of Italy, when an alliance of wealthy northern Italian cities organised in the Lombard League against the German emperor Frederick I, ‘Barbarossa’, to wage a war for the liberties they had grown accustomed to during the absence of assertive German rulers on the peninsula. This military confrontation, which coincided largely with the emperor’s conflict with papacy over the papal schism of 1159, was accompanied by a bitter propaganda war in which the ancient Latin phrase furor teutonicus was readily employed to denote the German ‘national’ character of the times. The period of Barbarossa’s six Italian Expeditions is therefore a veritable goldmine of mediaeval Italian Germanophobia.