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Assessing the Longobards


For centuries historians have debated the so-called “Longobard question”, which regards the effects of Longobard dominion in Italy.
Over the years, the Longobards have been evaluated in contrasting ways: for some, they were a few “barbarian” invaders who undermined Classical – the only authentically “Italian” – civilization; for others, an already Romanized people who attempted to create a new and united nation. These judgements are loaded with various meanings and rooted in attempts to explain historical circumstances and events.
Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873) in his Discorso su alcuni punti della storia longobardica in Italia, preface to the play Adelchi (1822), gives a negative assessment, accusing them of being the predecessors of the contemporary Austrian occupiers. In the 14th century the Viscontis, in support of their expansionist policy, elected them as mythical forebears, while the 18th-century followers of the Enlightenment saw in the Longobards the first real opposition to the church’s interference in secular matters. Historians today view the Longobards as part of a long “transition period” which led to the formation of European nation-states.
The Longobards were one of the "invader" (or "migrant") peoples who, against a backdrop of the social crisis of Late Antiquity, contributed to the formation of a new European culture through a long process of cultural integration. Seen in this light, the Regnum Langobardorum served as a bridge between East and West.