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"Barbarian" is a perjorative term for an uncivilized, uncultured 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, insensitive person whose behaviour is unacceptable in the purportedly civilized society of the speaker. While the latter sense is always pejorative, the former one has not invariably been so, as described below.

[edit] Origin of the term

The word "Barbarian" comes into English from Medieval Latin barbarinus, from Latin barbaria, from Latin barbarus, from the ancient Greek word βάρβαρος (barbaros) which meant a non-Greek, someone whose (first) language was not Greek. The word is imitative, the bar-bar representing the impression of random hubbub produced by hearing spoken a language that one cannot understand, similar to blah blah, babble or rhubarb in modern English. Related imitative forms are found in other Indo-European languages, such as Sanskrit barbara-, "stammering" or "one with curly hair" (This term was mainly used by Romans to refer to the Germanic tribes), and the forms are connected to a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European *baba-, "to stammer".<ref>An alternative etymology of "barbarian" from the Latin barba, meaning beard is spurious. This term was mainly used by Romans to refer to the Germanic tribes.[1].</ref>

Originally the term was empty of content beyond 'not Greek'. The Greeks encountered scores of different foreign cultures, including the Egyptians, Persians, Celts, Germanics, Phoenicians, Etruscans, Romans, Carthaginians, and Basques, none of which had any characteristics in common. It was not the case that Greeks automatically despised all alien cultures; in fact, they were aware of the greater antiquity of the much more developed civilizations of Egypt, Persia, Phoenicia and Mesopotamia, from whom they borrowed extensively. 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 Carians fighting for Troy during the Trojan War. Notably the Trojans themselves, who despite bearing Hellenized names in the Homeric telling were emphatically not Greek, were not called barbaroi. In general the concept of barbaros did not figure largely in archaic literature before the 5th century BC.

A change occurred in the connotations of the word after the Greco-Persian Wars in 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. In the wake of this victory they began to see themselves as superior militarily and politically. 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 "orientalism".

A parallel factor was the growth of chattel slavery especially at Athens. Although enslavement of Greeks for non-payment of debt continued in most Greek states, it was banned at Athens under Solon in the early 6th century BC. Under the Athenian democracy established 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 origin, drawn especially from lands around the Black Sea such as Thrace and Taurica (Crimea), while from Asia Minor came above all Lydians, Phrygians and 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 ancient Greeks.

An alternative theory to the word barbarian stems from the Latin barba, meaning beard (see barber). According to this theory, these individuals were termed by the clean-shaven Romans as bearded tribes, or barbarians [2]. But this theory is often deprecated [3].

[edit] Marxism

In Marxism, barbarity, along with wildness and civilization, is considered one of states of society. It is superior to wildness and inferior to civilzation. It is characterized by domestication of animals, metal working and simple religious cults.

[edit] Hellenic stereotype

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 Isocrates in the 4th century BC who called for a war of conquest against Persia as a panacea for Greek problems. Ironically, many of the former attributes were later ascribed to the Greeks, especially the Seleucid kingdom, by the Romans.

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 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.

The renowned orator Demosthenes made 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".

[edit] 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 Anacharsis as 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 all.

The Chinese (Han Chinese) of the Chinese Empire regarded the Japanese, Koreans, Xiongnu, Tatars, Turks, Mongols, Jurchen, Manchu, 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 use of the translation 'barbarian' may have been a deliberate attempt by European powers to justify their policies against China.

The Japanese adopted the Chinese usage. When Europeans came to Japan, they were called nanban (南蛮), literally Barbarians from the South, because the Portuguese ships appeared to sail from the South and the Dutch were called Kōmō", 紅毛, literally meaning "Red Hair".

Converted barbarians have historically proved sometimes the staunchest supporters of the more developed culture they have recently subverted. Historic examples are the Lombards and 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 Renaissance often called anyone who lived outside of their country a barbarian. 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 barbaria, 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 Gibbon used 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 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.

[edit] A functional definition

A non-pejorative, simply functional concept of "barbarian", as sociologists have redefined the term, depends upon a carefully-defined use of "civilization", denoting a settled, urban way of life that is organized on principles broader than the extended family or tribe, in which surpluses of necessities can be stored and redistributed, and division of labor produces some luxury goods (even if only for gods and kings). The barbarian is technically a social parasite on civilization, who depends on settlements as a source of slaves, surpluses and portable luxuries: booty, loot and plunder. In this limited sense, without cities there can be no barbarians.

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 nomad is not to be confused with the barbarian. "Culture" should not simply connote "civilization": rich, deep authentic human culture exists 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-Strauss says: "The barbarian is the one who believes in barbary"<ref>Le barbare, c'est d'abord celui qui croit à la barbarie</ref>, 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 neccessity, being entirely dependant on and hooked to their surrounding geography and circumstances of birth.

[edit] Romantic and post-Romantic barbarians

Main article: Noble savage

The modern sympathetic admiration for such fantasy barbarians as Conan the Barbarian is a direct descendant of the Enlightenment idealization of the "noble savage". The German Romantics 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" the noble barbarian countering evil Rome provided a prototype from the 16th century onwards.

These fantasy Barbarians are often represented as lone warriors, very different from the vibrant cultures on which they are based. Several Characteristics are commonly shared:

  • Extreme physical prowess
  • Unmatched fighting skill
  • An appetite for, and the ability to attract, women (Or men in the case of female characters)
  • 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 large amounts of alcohol
  • A blending of British, Germanic, and Slavic cultures
  • A strong sorcery element that is almost never used by the barbarian character
  • A violent temper
  • A robust tolerance for pain

In fantasy novels and role-playing games, barbarians (or berserkers) are still depicted as brave uncivilized warriors, often able to attack with a crazed fury. Conan is simply best known of the type.

Among the oddest of these fantasy barbarians is Cerebus. Originally presented as a spoof of Conan, the character meets all the necessary elements of the fantasy barbarian save the fact he is a 3 foot tall aardvark. Cerebus ran 300 issues and moved away from, but never completely abandoned his barbarian roots.

[edit] Notes


[edit] See also

[edit] Compare

  • Oriental, of or pertaining to the Orient, East Asia, now also with pejorative connotations.

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

bg:Варвари cs:Barbar de:Barbar el:Βάρβαροι es:Bárbaro fr:Barbare hr:Barbari it:Barbaro he:ברברים (קבוצת עמים) lv:Barbari lt:Barbarai nl:Barbaar ja:野蛮 no:Barbar pl:Barbarzyńca pt:Povo bárbaro ru:Варвары fi:Barbaari sv:Barbar



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