SO the barbarians weren't barbarian?

Recently one of my teachers mentioned that the “barbarians” that sacked Rome (Visgoths, right?) weren’t actually barbarians as we think of them. She said that they weren’t dirty and gruesome, but rather well-educated, multi-lingual, and calculated strategists.

What’s the word?

Barbarism is a relative thing. I’m sure to some of the "barbarian’ tribes, the Romans seemed kind of barbarous.

First, let’s set up a sacking timeline.

376 The Visigoths crossed the Roman borders.

378 Roman legions were resoundingly defeated at Adrianople by the Ostrogoths.

410 Alaric the Visigoth entered Rome and sacked it.

451 Goths and Romans team to vanquish the Huns under Attila. Odoacer ally of Attila.

455 Genseric, leading his vicious Vandals, plundered Rome.

476 Fall of Rome under Germanic chieftain Odoacer. Ostrogoths settle in Rome. Visigoths take southern Spain and northern Africa.

The European situation was about as complicated as Europe was before WWI. There wasn’t “a” barbarian tribe. There wasn’t “a” sacking of Rome. There were border disputes and series of battles and common enemies and internal infighting and alliances breaking up and reforming.

Look at what happened after the “fall” of Rome. Odoacer wasn’t trusted because of his alliance with Attila. In 493 Ostrogoths under Theodoric the Great invaded his kingdom and put him to death.

And in 496 the Frankish King Clovis, who was Theodoric’s brother-in-law, converted to Christianity, and soon the other kings did as well and that’s why European history proceeded as it did.

Barbarians came in all sorts and flavors. They weren’t technically “civilized” because they didn’t live in great cities like Rome. But they were rulers over large areas of land and great numbers of people. They could raise large armies. They traded with everybody in Europe, including the Romans. They had sophisticated political strategies and intrigues. Of course they were multilingual. Everybody was in those days because everybody dealt with everybody, borders were fluid, armies comprised peoples from all over, and traders went everywhere.

That the leaders were illiterate savages is lunacy, even for Attila. Actually, especially Attila.

It wouldn’t surprise me if most of the soldiers were illiterate, but so were most Roman peasants.

The only real difference between the Roman rulers and the “barbarian” rulers by the 5th century is that Rome had far more experience in decadence.

Why do we think otherwise? Generations of chauvinistic historians, who ascribed everything good to an imaginary utopian past of the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome. This has nothing to do with real history, but people like myths, whether secular or religious, and like them even better if you can combine the two. Simplified history will always win out over nuanced reality.

Now, I’m just a dabbler in that time period. I’m sure the real experts will fill in the gaps between my generalities.

I’ve often heard the phrase “history is written by the victors”. It doesn’t sound quite as heroic to write “we conquered a nation of gentlemen and scholars.”

Many of the barbarians had served in the Roman army and thus could speak Latin. The barbarian nobility learned Roman strategy and tactics. I would not go so far as to say they were “well-educated” since their education did not go beyond the science of war. To be truly educated at that time would have required a knowlege of Greek, which few if any bothered to learn. Greek was the language of literature, history, science, art, etc. Loss of Greek knowledge was what led to the Dark Ages. Only a few Greek texts were translated into Latin. The common barbarian was illiterate. Heck, even Charlemagne was illiterate.

Some notable barbarians of the Late Roman Empire:

Stilicho the Vandal general of the western Roman army

Alaric king of the Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410.

Geiseric king of the Vandals who sacked Rome in 455, has been called “the ablest general of his age”.

Theodoric the Great king of the Ostrogoths who conquered Italy, oversaw a short-lived cultural revival.

FWIW, back in Western Civ 101 or 102 my professor told us the word barbarian came from the Greeks making fun of “barbarian’s” speech, which sounded to them like “bar bar bar bar…” etc.

While it is true that barbarianism is a relative thing, it is also true that the arts and sciences of the Western world went into a period of steep decline after the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the encroaching Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Alans, Vandals, etc.

It took may centuries, and a little help from Byzantine and Arab learning, before the West could catch up again.

Hmmm, cite for the Arab part?

I had never realized the Beach Boys were quite that old! :eek:

Actually, a fair measure of what plunged Italy into the Dark Ages (insofar as that term has meaning) was actually Justinian. His attempt to reconquer Italy from “the barbarians” – and Theodoric arguably was honoring his treaty with Emperor Anastasius and attempting a meshing of Roman and Ostrogothic culture, which was continued by Amalaswintha his successor – led to the destruction of the Ostrogothic state along with the surviving Romans it ruled, the invasion by the Langobardi (Lombards) and the division of the peninsula between Byzantium and the Lombard Kingdom. The “Ostrogothic renaissance” actually produced a significant body of original and influential work that greatly influenced later scholarship, notably Boethius’s Consolatio Philosophiae.

Glad to oblige, (although I’m slightly surprised you should ask for one.)

Many classical texts were preserved only by Arab learning, and the Arabs themselves were at the forefront of scientific research while the West struggled with the aftermath of the Fall of Rome.

Here’s a good page.

* Ibn Sina, philosopher and physician
  Produced a standard medical text in the 10th century that was still in use in the 17th century.
* Al-Tusi, astronomer
  His mathematical models were essential to the work of Copernicus in proving that Earth travelled around the Sun.
* Abu Jafar Muhammad, mathematician
  Gave us algebra and algorithms that were central to the development of modern computing.
* Ibn al-Haytham
  His work on vision and light helped Newton formulate his theories on optics.

Goodness, not asking for a cite for that, but for your assertion that the Arabs gave the west “a little help”, what form that “help” take, etc.?

In other words, how did the West absorb your cited materials, literally?
Again, not saying the West didn’t, not at all, but am wondering how it literally did, can conceive Byz input np

From what I recall, it was mostly through trade (manuscripts are light and can often be sold for good prices, if one happens to find the right buyer) and through travellers’ bringing back old texts to add to their (or their monasteries’) libraries.

Not to forget Vitalstatistix who bravely held out against the romans in Gaul

I suspect he was speaking metaphorically. The Byzantines didn’t necessarily supply deliberate “help” either.

  • Tamerlane

I think it was a case of certain Arab states preserving and utlizing Greek and Roman achievements. They also certainly improved and developed them. I think the confusion sometimes lies in the notion that Arabs “invented” things such as Algebra when they were smply carrying on/developing from the works of babylonians, Indians and Greek scholars.

Yes, ‘a little help’ was simply a figure of speech. I thought the meaning was clear. Obviously not.

Oh yahh, have heard this for some time, but didn’t get past West Civ 102, and am just interested in how the West was able to get ahold of this stuff, literally. I guess trade might explain it, but have never heard any specifics other than that it did.

Ummm, obviously it was, was simply asking if you knew of any cites explaining how literally it happened, cripes. Have always heard this tidbit, how the Arabs preserved this and that that enabled Europe to flower, was just wondering how Europe in turn got ahold of same.

Litteraly? Well, for instance, european scholars would go to Spain to obtain copies of arab’s authors famous texts. Or they would learn greek (which had become an extremely rare skill) and get copies of greek authors in the Byzantine empire…