"Barbarian" is a pejorative term for an uncivilized person, either in a general reference to a member of a nation or "
ethnos" perceived as having an inferior level of civilization, or in an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person whose behaviour is unacceptable in the society of the speaker. [Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1972, pg. 149, Simon & Schuster Publishing] Barbarians are considered distinct from savages in that they are perceived as being willfully ignorant, choosing to preserve their way of life despite contact with more civilized societies (e.g. the ancient Greek-speaking peoples often considered any ethnic group unwilling to accept their culture as barbarian).
Origin of the term
The word "barbarian" comes into English from
Medieval Latin" _la. barbarinus", from Latin " _la. barbaria", from Latin " _la. barbarus", from the ancient Greek word _el. βάρβαρος ("bárbaros"). The word is onomatopeic, the "bar-bar" representing the impression of random hubbub produced by hearing a spoken language that one cannot understand, similar to blah blah, babbleor rhubarb in modern English. Related imitative forms are found in other Indo-European languages, such as Sanskrit"barbara-," "stammering" or "curly-haired."
Depending on its use, the term "barbarian" either described a foreign individual or tribe whose first language was not Greek or a Greek individual or tribe speaking Greek crudely. The term is also historically used to describe the
VikingsStefan Lovgren, [http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/pf/25881077.html "Vikings' Barbaric Bad Rap Beginning to Fade"] ] and Goths; it is a common label for the "Normans" during their invasion of England and for the Goths during the Gothic revolt that put an end to the Roman Empire in 470 A.D. and began the so-called Dark Ages.
The Greeks used the term as they encountered scores of different
foreigncultures, including the Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Celts, Germans, Phoenicians, Etruscans, and Carthaginians. However in certain occasions, the term was also used by Greeks, especially Atheniansto deride other Greek tribes and states (such as Macedonians, Epirotes, Eleansand Aeolic-speakers) in a pejorative and politically motivated manner. [ [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3D%2319347 The term barbaros, "A Greek-English Lexicon" (Liddell & Scott), at Perseus] ] Of course, the term also carried a cultural dimension to its dual meaning. [ [http://www.globaled.org/nyworld/materials/greek2.html Foreigners and Barbarians (adapted from "Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks")] , The American Forum for Global Education, 2000. "The status of being a foreigner, as the Greeks understood the term does not permit any easy definition. Primarily it signified such peoples as the Persians and Egyptians, whose languages were unintelligible to the Greeks, but it could also be used of Greeks who spoke in a different dialect and with a different accent...Prejudice toward Greeks on the part of Greeks was not limited to those who lived on the fringes of the Greek world. The Boeotians, inhabitants of central Greece, whose credentials were impeccable, were routinely mocked for their stupidity and gluttony. Ethnicity is a fluid concept even at the best of times. When it suited their purposes, the Greeks also divided themselves into Ionians and Dorians. The distinction was emphasized at the time of the Peloponnesian War, when the Ionian Athenians fought against the Dorian Spartans. The Spartan general Brasidas even taxed the Athenians with cowardice on account of their Ionian lineage. In other periods of history the Ionian-Dorian divide carried much less weight."] [Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. "Athens: Its Rise and Fall". Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1419108085, pp. 9-10. "Whether the Pelasgi were anciently a foreign or Grecian tribe, has been a subject of constant and celebrated discussion. Herodotus, speaking of some settlements held to be Pelaigic, and existing in his time, terms their language "barbarous;" but Mueller, nor with argument insufficient, considers that the expression of the historian would apply only to a peculiar dialect; and the hypothesis is sustained by another passage in Herodotus, in which he applies to certain Ionian dialects the same term as that with which he stigmatizes the language of the Pelasgic settlements. In corroboration of Mueller's opinion, we may also observe, that the "barbarous-tongued" is an epithet applied by Homer to the Carians, and is rightly construed by the ancient critics as denoting a dialect mingled and unpolished, certainly not foreign. Nor when the Agamemnon of Sophocles upbraids Teucer with "his barbarous tongue," would any scholar suppose that Teucer is upbraided with not speaking Greek; he is upbraided with speaking Greek inelegantly and rudely. It is clear that they who continued with the least adulteration a language in its earliest form, would seem to utter a strange and unfamiliar jargon to ears accustomed to its more modern construction."] The verb "barbarizein" in ancient Greekmeant imitating the linguistic sounds non-Greeks made or making grammatical errors in Greek. Plato("Statesman" 262de) rejected the Greek–barbarian dichotomy as a logical absurdity on just such grounds: dividing the world into Greeks and non-Greeks told one nothing about the second group. In Homer's works, the term appeared only once (" Iliad" 2.867), in the form "barbarophonos" ("of incomprehensible speech"), used of the Cariansfighting for Troyduring the Trojan War. In general, the concept of "barbaros" did not figure largely in archaic literature before the 5th century BC. [Hall, Jonathan. "Hellenicity", p. 111, ISBN 0226313298. "There is at the elite level at least no hint during the archaic period of this sharp dichotomy between Greek and Barbarian or the derogatory and the stereotypical representation of the latter that emerged so clearly from the fifth century."] Still it has been suggested that "barbarophonoi" in the Iliad signifies not those who spoke a non-Greek language but simply those who spoke Greek badly. [Hall, Jonathan. "Hellenicity", p. 111, ISBN 0226313298. "Given the relative familiarity of the Karians to the Greeks, it has been suggested that barbarophonoi in the Iliad signifies not those who spoke a non-Greek language but simply those who spoke Greek badly."]
A change occurred in the connotations of the word after the
Greco-Persian Warsin the first half of the 5th century BC. Here a hasty coalition of Greeks defeated the vast Achaemenid Empire. Indeed in the Greek of this period 'barbarian' is often used expressly to mean Persian. [Tsetskhladze, Gocha R. "Ancient Greeks West and East", 1999, p. 60, ISBN 9004102302. "a barbarian from a distinguished nation which given the political circumstances of the time might well mean a Persian."]
In the well-known opening sentence of his account of that war,
Herodotusgives the following statements as his reason for writing:
To the end that (...) the works, great and marvellous, which have been produced some by Hellenes and some by Barbarians, may not lose their renown; and especially that the causes may be remembered for which these waged war with one another.
This clearly implies an equality: both Hellenes and barbarians are capable of producing "great and marvelous works" and both are deserving of being remembered. Nevertheless, in the wake of this victory, Greeks began to see themselves as superior militarily, politically, and culturally. A stereotype developed in which hardy Greeks live as free men in city-states where politics are a communal possession, whereas among the womanish barbarians everyone beneath the Great King is no better than his slave. This marks the birth of the cultural view termed "
lavery in Greece
A parallel factor was the growth of
chattel slaveryespecially at Athens. Although enslavement of Greeks for non-payment of debtcontinued in most Greek states, it was banned at Athens under Solonin the early 6th century BC. Under the Athenian democracyestablished ca. 508 BC slavery came to be used on a scale never before seen among the Greeks. Massive concentrations of slaves were worked under especially brutal conditions in the silver mines at Laureion—a major vein of silver-bearing ore was found there in 483 BC—while the phenomenon of skilled slave craftsmen producing manufactured goods in small factories and workshops became increasingly common.
Furthermore, slaves were no longer the preserve of the rich: all but the poorest of Athenian households came to have slaves to supplement the work of their free members. Overwhelmingly, the slaves of Athens were "barbarian" in originFact|date=April 2007, drawn especially from lands around the
Black Seasuch as Thraceand Taurica( Crimea), while from Asia Minorcame above all Lydians, Phrygiansand Carians. It is hard not to despise the people you are keeping as your slaves, even essential: in the intellectual justification of slavery ( Aristotle"Politics" 1.2-7; 3.14), barbarians are slaves by nature.
From this period words like "barbarophonos", cited above from Homer, began to be used not only of the sound of a foreign language but of foreigners speaking Greek improperly. In Greek, the notions of language and reason are easily confused in the word "
logos", so speaking poorly was easily conflated with being stupid, an association not of course limited to the ancient Greeks.
Further changes occurred in the connotations of "barbarus" in
Late Antiquity, [See in particular Ralph W. Mathison, "Roman Aristocrats in Barbarian Gaul: strategies for Survival in an Age of Transition (Austin) 1993, pp. 1-6, 39-49; Gerhart B. Ladner, "On Roman attitudes towards barbarians in late antiquity" "Viator" 77 (1976), pp. 1-25.] when bishops and "catholikoi" were appointed to sees connected to cities among the "civilized" "gentes barbaricae" such as Armeniaor Persia, while bishops were appointed to supervise entire peoples among the less settled.
Eventually the term found a hidden meaning by
ChristianRomans through the folk etymologyof Cassiodorus. He stated the word "barbarian" was "made up of "barba" (beard) and "rus" (flat land); for barbarians did not live in cities, making their abodes in the fields like wild animals". [Arno Borst. "Medieval Worlds: Barbarians, Heretics and Artists in the Middle Ages". London: Polity, 1991, p. 3.]
The female first name "Barbara" originally meant "A Barbarian woman", and as such was likely to have had a pejorative meaning - given that most such women in Graeco-Roman society were of a low social status (often being slaves). However,
Saint Barbarais mentioned as being the daughter of rich and respectable Roman citizens. Evidently, by her time (about 300 A.D according to Christian hagiography, though some historians put the story much later) the name no longer had any specific ethnic or pejorative connotations.
Berbers" of North Africawere among the many peoples called "Barbarian" by the Romans; in their case, the name remained in use, having been adopted by the Arabs (see Berber (Etymology)and is still in use as the name for the non-Arabs in North Africa (though not by themselves). The geographical term Barbaryor Barbary Coast, and the name of the Barbary piratesbased on that coast (and who were not necessarily Berbers) were also derived from it.
Out of those sources the Hellenic stereotype was elaborated: barbarians are like children, unable to speak or reason properly, cowardly, effeminate, luxurious, cruel, unable to control their appetites and desires, politically unable to govern themselves. These stereotypes were voiced with much shrillness by writers like
Isocratesin the 4th century BC who called for a war of conquest against Persia as a panaceafor Greek problems. Ironically, many of the former attributes were later ascribed to the Greeks, especially the Seleucidkingdom, by the RomansFact|date=April 2007.
However, the Hellenic stereotype of barbarians was not a universal feature of Hellenic culture.
Xenophon, for example, wrote the "Cyropaedia", a laudatory fictionalised account of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian empire, effectively a utopian text. In his " Anabasis", Xenophon's accounts of the Persians and other non-Greeks he knew or encountered hardly seem to be under the sway of these stereotypes at all.
orator Demosthenesmade derogatory comments in his speeches, using the word "barbarian."
"Barbarian" is used in its Hellenic sense by St. Paul in the
New Testament("Romans 1:14") to describe non-Greeks, and to describe one who merely speaks a different language ("1 Corinthians 14:11"). The word is not used in these scriptures in the modern sense of " savage". The term retained its standard usage in the Greek languagethroughout the Middle Ages, as it was widely used by the Byzantine Greeksuntil the fall of the Byzantine Empirein the 15th century.
Later developments, other cultures
Historically, the term "barbarian" has seen widespread use. Many peoples have dismissed alien cultures and even rival civilizations as barbarians because they were recognizably strange. The Greeks admired
Scythians and Eastern Gauls as heroic individuals— even in the case of Anacharsisas philosophers—but considered their culture to be barbaric. The Romans indiscriminately regarded the various Germanic tribes, the settled Gauls, and the raiding Huns as barbarians.
The Romans adapted the term to refer to anything non-Greco-Roman. The Persians saw the Greeks and later Romans and Arabs as inferior people with inferior and less civilized cultures and referred to them as "Soosk" or barbarians.Fact|date=April 2007
Indians referred to all alien cultures that were less civilized in ancient times as 'Mlechcha' or Barbarians. In the ancient texts, Mlechchas are people who are barbaric and who have given up the Vedic beliefs.
The Chinese (
Han Chinese) of the Chinese Empire sometimes (depends on the dynasty, geographic location, and timeline) regarded the Xiongnu, Tatars, Turks, Mongols, Jurchen, Manchu, Japanese, Koreans, and Europeans as "barbaric". The Chinese used different terms for "barbarians" from different directions of the compass. Those in the east were called Dongyi(東夷), those in the west were called Xirong(西戎), those in the south were called Nanman(南蠻), and those in the north were called Beidi(北狄). However, despite the conventional translation of such terms (especially 夷) as "barbarian", in fact it is possible to translate them simply as 'outsider' or 'stranger', with far less offensive cultural connotations.
The Japanese adopted the Chinese usage. When Europeans came to
Japan, they were called " nanban" ( _ja. 南蛮), literally "Barbarians from the South", because the Portuguese ships appeared to sail from the South. The Dutch, who arrived later, were also called either "nanban" or "kōmō" ( _ja. 紅毛), literally meaning "Red Hair."
Naruto, Tokushima, Japan.]
In Mesoamerica the
Azteccivilization used the word " Chichimeca" to denominate a group of nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes that lived in the outskirts of the Triple Alliance's Empire, in the North of Modern Mexico, which were seen for the aztec people as primitive and uncivilized. One of the meanings attributed to the word "Chichimeca" is "dog people".
Converted barbarians have historically proved sometimes the staunchest supporters of the more developed culture they have recently subverted. Historic examples are the
Lombardsand the Manchu. "The best Romans," wrote Henry James, "are often northern barbarians." A running theme in all histories of China is that of the conquering outsiders who become utterly Chinese, "sinicized": for the English-speaking world the outstandingly familiar example is Kublai Khan.
Italians in the
Renaissanceoften called anyone who lived outside of their country a barbarian.As far as the nomadic Goths went, they originally worshipped the same pantheon as did the Germanic/Norse barbarians, but because of their wanderings and their propensity for adopting the standards, beliefs, and practices of whatever culture within which they located, were the first barbarians to adopt Christianity as a faith (actually long before the Romans did). The term has also been used to refer to people from Barbary, a region encompassing most of North Africa. The name of the region, "Barbary," comes from the Arabic word "Barbar," possibly from the Latin word "barbaricum," meaning "land of the barbarians".
Even today, "barbarian" is used to mean someone violent, primitive, uncouth or uncivilized in general, in very much the same disapproving and superior sense that
Edward Gibbonused the term in " Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", which recounts how "the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians" a usage epitomized in Gibbon's [http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/gibbon-fall.html Book I, chapter 38] :
Beyond the Rhine and Danube, the northern countries of Europe and Asia were filled with innumerable tribes of hunters and shepherds, poor, voracious, and turbulent; bold in arms, and impatient to ravish the fruits of industry. The Barbarian world was agitated by the rapid impulse of war; and the peace of Gaul or Italy was shaken by the distant revolutions of China.
Compare the modern usage of "Philistine".
The nomad subsists on the products of his flocks, and follows their needs. The nomad may barter for necessities, like metalwork, but does not depend on civilization for plunder, as the barbarian does. The culture of the
nomadis not to be confused with the barbarian. "Culture" should not simply connote "civilization": rich, deep authentic human cultureexists even without civilization, as the German writers of the early Romantic generation first defined the opposing terms, though they used them as polarities in a way that a modern writer might not.
A famous quote from anthropologist
Claude Lévi-Strausssays: "The barbarian is the one who believes in barbary", [" _fr. Le barbare, c'est d'abord celui qui croit à la barbarie".] a meaning like his metaphor in "Race et histoire" ("Race and history", UNESCO, 1952), that two cultures are like two different trains crossing each other: each one believes it has chosen the good direction. A broader analysis reveals that neither party 'chooses' their direction, but that their 'brutish' behaviors have formed out of necessity, being entirely dependent on and hooked to their surrounding geography and circumstances of birth.
The term "barbarian" is commonly used by medieval historians as a non-pejorative neutral descriptor of the catalog of peoples that the Roman Empire encountered whom they considered "foreigners", such as the Goths, Gepids, Huns, Picts, Sarmatians, etc. ["Barbarian Tides" (2006), by
Walter Goffart, [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0812239393&id=Qr43XNyZh6AC&pg=PA2&lpg=PA2&ots=mhvfe4msUq&dq=barbarian+germanic+tribes&sig=bUReCkFi6WCy3O0cyx0I2lGBPe4#PPA3,M1 Page 3] ] Although some terms in academia do go out of style, such as " Dark Ages", the term Barbarian is in full common currency among all mainstream medieval scholars and is not out of style or outdated, though a disclaimer is often felt to be needed, as when Ralph W. Mathisen [Ralph W. Mathisen "Barbarian Bishops and the Churches "in Barbaricis Gentibus" During Late Antiquity" "Speculum" 72.3 (July 1997), p. 665.] prefaces a discussion of barbarian bishops in Late Antiquity, "It should also be noted that the word "barbarian" will be used here as a convenient, non-pejorative term to refer to all the non-Latin and non-Greek speaking "exterae gentes" [ Mathisen notes that Eusebius, in his "Life of Constantine" described the emperor as bishop "of those outside" ("exterae gentes").] who dwelt around, and even eventually settled within, the Roman Empire during late antiquity".
The significance of "barbarus" in Late Antiquity has been specifically explored on several occasions. [For examples, by Ralph W. Mathison, "Roman Aristocrats in Barbarian Gaul: Strategies for Survival in an Age of Transition" (Austin, Texas) 1993, and Gerhart B. Ladner, "On Roman attitudews towards barbarians in Late Antiquity" "Viator" 7 (1996:1-25).]
Examples of this modern usage can also be seen in the "
Dictionary of the Middle Ages", the largest and most respected encyclopaedia about the Middle Ages in the English language, which has an article titled "Barbarians, the Invasions" and uses the term barbarian throughout its 13 volumes. A 2006 book by Yale historian Walter Goffartis called "Barbarian Tides" and uses barbarian throughout to refer to the larger pantheon of tribes that the Roman Empire encountered. Walter Pohl, a leading pan-European expert on ethnicity and Late Antiquity, published a 1997 book titled "Kingdoms of the Empire: The Integration of Barbarians in Late Antiquity". The " Encyclopædia Britannica" and other general audience encyclopaedias use the term barbarian throughout within the context of late antiquity.
Romantic and post-Romantic barbarians
The modern sympathetic admiration for such fantasy barbarians as
Tarzanand Conan the Barbarianis a direct descendant of the Enlightenment idealization of the " noble savage"; Gaile McGregor describes the Conan character, for example, as "power incarnate, divorced from any responsibility except the responsibility to win." [Gaile McGregor, "The Noble Savage in the New World Garden: Notes Toward a Syntactics of Place", Univ. Toronto Press, 1988, 357 pp., ISBN 087972417X] The German Romantics (influenced by eighteenth century precursors such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau) recharacterized the barbarian stereotype. Now it was the civilized Roman — or that modern Romanized Gaul, the Frenchman — who was effeminate and soft, and the stout-hearted German barbarian exemplified 'manly' virtue. The reforming of Arminius as " Hermann der Cherusker" the noble barbarian countering evil Rome provided a prototype from the 16th century onwards.
fantasynovels and role-playing games, barbarians or berserkers are often represented as lone warriors, very different from the vibrant cultures on which they are based. Several characteristics are commonly shared:
*Physical prowess and fighting skill combined with a fierce temper and a tolerance for pain
*An appetite for, and the ability to attract, the opposite gender thanks to
*Meat eating (this fits several social norms. Nomadic peoples and military men often ate more meat because they were not in one place long enough to farm and harvest.)
*An appetite for
alcoholand an unusual stamina to stave off its effects
*A blending of British, Germanic, Slavic, and nomadic Turco-Mongol cultures
*A strong sorcery element, usually counteracted by the barbarian character
Amongst Barbarians", a 1989 play by Michael Wall
Conan the Barbarian
*That's Greek to me (expression)
European, of or pertaining to the Occident, Europe, now also with pejorative connotations.
*Hall, E. "Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition through Tragedy". Oxford/New York, 1989.
Terry Jonesand Alan Ereira. " Terry Jones' Barbarians". BBC Books, 2006. ISBN 0-563-49318-6
* [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2092-2168328,00.html "Decline and fall of the Roman myth"] , an excerpt from the Terry Jones' book.
* [http://www.rajuabju.com/barbarians "Official Website of Barbaric Barbarians"] , A humorous view of Barbarians
* Andrew Lang, [http://www.psychanalyse-paris.com/878-Savage-Supreme-Beings.html Savage Supreme Beings] , "The Making of Religion", Chapter XII (1900).
* [http://history-of-macedonia.com/wordpress/2007/06/11/greek-tribes-being-labeled-barbarians/ "History of Macedonia Site"] , Examples of Greek tribes being labeled Barbarians
* [http://barbarians.netfirms.com/ Chronicle of the Europe invasions and the fall of Rome]
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