Barbarian.

This moderated forum is for discussion of Alexander the Great. Inappropriate posts will be deleted without warning. Examples of inappropriate posts are:
* The Greek/Macedonian debate
* Blatant requests for pre-written assignments by lazy students - we don't mind the subtle ones ;-)
* Foul or inappropriate language

Moderator: pothos moderators

Post Reply
User avatar
dean
Hetairos (companion)
Posts: 725
Joined: Wed May 28, 2003 2:31 pm
Location: Las Palmas, Spain

Barbarian.

Post by dean »

Hi!

Whilst reading another book regarding the post Roman Hispania, the topic of barbarians appeared with regards to some of the tribes who invaded and of course I had to run it through my Alexandrian filter and was looking at the etymology of the original word "barbarian". It clashed with my understanding of the word.

According to etymology on line and the book I am currently reading, the word barbarian was "foreign, strange, ignorant" yet there is no hint of the meaning I would normally draw that of savage.

From what I can gather the word barbarian succinctly put would be "all that are not Greek" and this is the original meaning from Greek.

There is a proto indo european root of barbar which is "echoic of unintelligible speech" and as such, onomatopoeic.

I have to confess that i am yet to blow the cobwebs off my edition of Poetics of Aristotle and believe me, it has been there on my shelf for a number of years if not decades but I am very curious to ask yourselves who may have read it if there is any reason to believe that Aristotle when using the word was meaning "savage" as opposed to the meaning mentioned here.

I always believed that Aristotle when referring to barbarians was meaning uncivilized, cruel, people without the use of reason.

Best regards,
Dean.
carpe diem
sikander
Somatophylax
Posts: 267
Joined: Wed Aug 14, 2002 7:17 pm

Re: Barbarian.

Post by sikander »

Greetings Dean,

If I recall correctly, simply put, the term originally meant someone who was not Greek, or did not speak Greek, or did not follow Greek customs.
It was the Romans who began to add more meaning to the word, but I believe the additional meaning of "savage" or what have you became popular
usage during the medieval era.

I may well be wrong; it has been some time since I studied words; perhaps someone more updated can add?

Regards,
Sikander
User avatar
Jeanne Reames
Pezhetairos (foot soldier)
Posts: 132
Joined: Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:44 am
Contact:

Re: Barbarian.

Post by Jeanne Reames »

Sikander! You got in! Yay!

As for Barbaros, the term's meaning shifted (as words do).

Initially, it meant only "Somebody who doesn't speak Greek," using the Persian tongue which, to Greeks, sounded rather like "Bar-bar-bar," so it means "the Bar-bar people." Obviously, that is insulting, and I don't want to dismiss that.

But the Greeks tended to see barbarians (=non-Greeks) in various categories. The "civilized" Barbarian, which included Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Phoenicians, etc. And the "uncivilized" Barbarian, which included Scythians, Thracians, etc. And yes, I use "civilized/uncivilized" fully cognizant of that term's problems, because we can trace those problems to these early cultures, ALL of whom were ethnocentric. Most had a "center-periphery" mentality with their culture being the "center" (the norm, what is civilized) and the periphery in increasingly distant concentric rings as increasingly Other, strange, uncivilized. The "center" could range from the Sumerians to Babylonians to Assyrians to Egyptians to Greeks to Romans (to Chinese...etc.)

Some groups of barbarians were regarded as "bad" some as "neutral" and some as "good." The Egyptians (who tended to view EVERYbody else as barbarians/Other) were "good" and mostly remained so in Greek thought. Antiquity gave a certain luster of acceptability. This is a world where "tried and proved" mattered, so the "new" was suspect, and the very old was respected (sorta) even if regarded as strange. Hence the Roman mixed-response to the Jews. Old, yes, but also sorta weird, and they keep REBELLING, how dare they! (Read Arnaldo Momigliano on this.)

Persians occupied, for Greeks, a similar problematic status. They weren't ancient, like Egypt, but they were "civilized," and inheritors of the very old Mesopotamian culture of kingship (like Assyria and Babylon before them). Yet they kept trouncing Greek cities, whether Cyrus post-Lydian wars, down to Darius and Xerxes. So post Greco-Persian Wars, the notion of "barbarian" began to change to take on increasingly negative connotations. Egypt was still exempt (mostly), but the Greeks began to see themselves as "more-equal/better-than" even the Persians, never mind Thracians and Scythians, etc. It was only when the Romans defeated them that they had to create a sort of "third" category of Greeks, Barbarians, and Romans. Because, you know, you can't let the people who beat you be "barbarians," when, by then, it's (mostly) a disparaging term.
----
Dr. Jeanne Reames
Director, Ancient Mediterranean Studies
Graduate Studies Chair
University of Nebraska, Omaha
287 ASH; 6001 Dodge Street
Omaha NE 68182
http://jeannereames.net/cv.html
sikander
Somatophylax
Posts: 267
Joined: Wed Aug 14, 2002 7:17 pm

Re: Barbarian.

Post by sikander »

Greetings Jeanne,

Yes, I can post off and on; I often seem to get logged out when I try to post a reply or new topic.

Thank you for the expanded thoughts on the meaning of "barbarian". It <is> interesting how words can change meaning over time!

Regards,
Sikander
User avatar
dean
Hetairos (companion)
Posts: 725
Joined: Wed May 28, 2003 2:31 pm
Location: Las Palmas, Spain

Re: Barbarian.

Post by dean »

Hi Sikander, Jeanne,

Thanks for your comments.

Yeah it's interesting to see how certain words don't always mean what you think they do.

I was thinking about Persepolis and other wondrous creations must have been respected, not to mention the Babylonian astronomical records thanks to which we know the precise date of Gaugamela.

As Jeanne mentions within such an empire undoubtedly there was a spectrum of different peoples who showed differing degrees of "barbaric" or civilized traits as in any other Empire.

Alexander, in Plutarch, as a child, seems to have nothing but fascination when speaking to Persians visiting Phillip's court, if memory serves me well, surprising the guests with a onslaught of questions.

Best regards, Dean
carpe diem
JHarris99
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Aug 26, 2020 11:02 am
Contact:

Re: Barbarian.

Post by JHarris99 »

In case you wondered- barbarian, a word originated from the Greek bárbaros, utilized among the early Greeks to portray all outsiders, including the Romans. The word is presumably onomatopoeic in birthplace, the "bar" sound speaking to the recognition by Greeks of dialects other than their own. Bárbaros before long expected a profoundly negative significance, turning out to be related with the indecencies and savage natures which the Greeks credited to their adversaries. The Romans embraced the word for all people groups other than those under Greco-Roman impact and mastery. The name Barbary, when used to depict North Africa, is gotten from the district's Berber occupants, not from bárbaros.
User avatar
Jeanne Reames
Pezhetairos (foot soldier)
Posts: 132
Joined: Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:44 am
Contact:

Re: Barbarian.

Post by Jeanne Reames »

JHarris ... yes, that's generally true.

But it's all rather more complicated, as issues of ethnos and genos and the borders of the oikumene changed across time (as we can imagine). Some groups of barbaroi were viewed as "more civilized" while others were less so. In general, east and south peoples were seen as more civilized--this includes not just Egypt but also Kush/Ethiopia, note. While peoples of the north and west were seen as less so. Northern peoples were "hard," while southern were "soft." All that goes into geographic determinism that sits at the heart of a lot of Hippocratic disease theory (et al.).

There are several excellent books dealing with race construction in the ancient world (not just Greece), among the more recent (2019) is Denise Eileen McCoskey's, titled Race: Antiquity and Its Legacy. I'm using it next semester (as one book) in my spring undergrad seminar, "Racism and Homophobia in Classics and Ancient History."

It's particularly good for being both easy-to-read and contextualized against the modern world, as well as summarizing various historical events, meaning the person reading it needn't be a specialist in Greek or Roman (or anything) history. It's a book you can recommend to a curious friend. Much as I like and respect Jon Hall's work, even his more recent Hellenicity isn't the easiest non-specialist read. :-D
----
Dr. Jeanne Reames
Director, Ancient Mediterranean Studies
Graduate Studies Chair
University of Nebraska, Omaha
287 ASH; 6001 Dodge Street
Omaha NE 68182
http://jeannereames.net/cv.html
Post Reply