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By Mitton



Historically inaccurate depiction of “Germanic warriors” as depicted in Philipp Clüver‘s Germania Antiqua (1616).

Barbarian and Savage are pejorative terms used to refer to a person who is perceived to be uncivilized. The word is often used either in a general reference to a member of a nation or ethnos, typically a tribal society as seen by an urban civilization either viewed as inferior, or admired as a noble savage. In idiomatic or figurative usage, a “barbarian” may also be an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person.[1]

The term originates in the ancient Greek civilization, meaning “anyone who is not Greek”, and thus was often used to refer to other civilized people, such as the people of the Persian Empire. Comparable notions are found in non-European civilizations.


Etymology and definitions

Routes taken by barbarian invaders, 5th century AD

The primary function of the word “barbarian”, and its cognates, is to differentiate members of one’s own society from people perceived as being “outside” of it, and to posit that one’s own culture is superior. The word barbaros in Ancient Greek was an antonym for civis and polis. The sound of barbaros onomatopoetically evokes the image of babbling (a person speaking a non-Greek language).[2]

The Greeks used the term as they encountered scores of different foreign cultures, including the Egyptians, Persians, Medes, Celts, Germans, Phoenicians, Etruscans and Carthaginians. It, in fact, became a common term to refer to all foreigners. However in various occasions, the term was also used by Greeks, especially the Athenians, to deride other Greek tribes and states (such as Epirotes, Eleans, Macedonians and Aeolic-speakers) in a pejorative and politically motivated manner.[3] Of course, the term also carried a cultural dimension to its dual meaning.[4][5] The verb βαρβαρίζειν (barbarízein) in ancient Greek meant 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 βάρβαροΦώνος (barbarophonos) (“of incomprehensible speech”), used of the Carians fighting for Troy during the Trojan War. In general, the concept of barbaros did not figure largely in archaic literature before the 5th century BC.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8]

Slavery in Greece

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[citation needed], 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. Aristotle (Politics 1.2-7; 3.14) even states that 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 barbari/barbaroi in Late Antiquity,[9] when bishops and catholikoi were appointed to sees connected to cities among the “civilized” gentes barbaricae such as in Armenia or Persia, whereas bishops were appointed to supervise entire peoples among the less settled.

Eventually the term found a hidden meaning by Christian Romans through the folk etymology of 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”.[10]

The female given 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 Barbara is mentioned as being the daughter of rich and respectable Roman citizens. Evidently, by her time (about 300 AD according to Christian hagiography, though some historians put the story much later) the name no longer had any specific ethnic or pejorative connotations.

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[citation needed].

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.

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).

About a hundred years after Paul’s time, Lucian – a native of Samosata, in the former kingdom of Commagene, which had been absorbed by the Roman Empire and made part of the province of Syria – used the term “barbarian” to describe himself. As he was a noted satirist, this could have been a deprecating self-irony. It might also have indicated that he was descended from Samosata’s original Semitic population – likely to have been called “barbarians” by later Hellenistic, Greek speaking settlers, and who might have eventually taken up this appellation themselves.[11][12]

The term retained its standard usage in the Greek language throughout the Middle Ages, as it was widely used by the Byzantine Greeks until the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the 15th century.

Cicero described the mountain area of inner Sardinia as “a land of barbarians”, with these inhabitants also known by the manifestly pejorative term latrones mastrucati (“thieves with a rough garment in wool”). The region is up to the present known as “Barbagia” (in Sardinian “Barbàgia” or “Barbaza”), all of which are traceable to this old “barbarian” designation – but no longer consciously associated with it, and used naturally as the name of the region by its own inhabitants.

The Dying Gaul statue

The Dying Gaul, Capitoline Museums, Rome.

Some insight about the Hellenistic perception of and attitude to “Barbarians” can be taken from the “Dying Gaul“, a statue commissioned by Attalus I of Pergamon to celebrate his victory over the Celtic Galatians in Anatolia (the bronze original is lost, but a Roman marble copy was found in the 17th Century[13]). The statue depicts with remarkable realism a dying Gallic warrior with a typically Gallic hairstyle and moustache. He lies on his fallen shield while sword and other objects lie beside him. He appears to be fighting against death, refusing to accept his fate.

The statue serves both as a reminder of the Celts’ defeat, thus demonstrating the might of the people who defeated them, and a memorial to their bravery as worthy adversaries. The message conveyed by the sculpture, as H. W. Janson comments, is that “they knew how to die, barbarians that they were.”[14]

Arabic context

The Berbers of North Africa were 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 Barbary or Barbary Coast, and the name of the Barbary pirates based on that coast (and who were not necessarily Berbers) were also derived from it.

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”.

Non-European civilizations

“Barbarians” according to ancient Chinese cosmology[vague]

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.

The Romans adapted the term to refer to anything non-Greco-Roman.

The nomadic steppe peoples north of the Black Sea, including the Pechenegs and the Kipchaks, were called barbarians by Byzantines.[15]

The Hindus referred to all alien cultures in ancient times as ‘Mlechcha’ [16] or Barbarians. In the ancient texts, Mlechchas are people who are barbaric and who have given up the Vedic beliefs.[17][18] Among the tribes termed Mlechcha were Sakas, Hunas, Yavanas, Kambojas, Pahlavas, Bahlikas and Rishikas.[17]

The Chinese (Han Chinese) of the Chinese Empire sometimes (depends on the dynasty, geographic location, and timeline) initially regarded the Xiongnu, Qiang, Yue, Nanyue, Yuezhi, Tibetans, Tatars, Turks, Mongols, Jurchens, Manchus, Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese (and later Europeans) as barbarians. However, as places such as Korean peninsula and Japan became sinicized by adopting Han culture, they were eventually regarded as a part of the ‘cultured’ Sinosphere. 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 picturesquely coarse and primitive Doitsu-bashi (“German bridge”) in Ōasahiko-jinja, Naruto, Tokushima, Japan.

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. The Dutch, who arrived later, were also called either nanban or kōmō (紅毛), literally meaning “Red Hair.”

In Mesoamerica the Aztec civilization 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”.

The Incas used the term “puruma auca” for all peoples living outside the rule of their empire (see Promaucaes).

Early Modern period

Further information: Viking revivalNoble savage, and Philistinism

Italians in the Renaissance often 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).

Spanish sea captain Francisco de Cuellar who sailed with the Spanish Armada in 1588 used the term ‘savage’ to describe the Irish people.[19]

Modern academia

A defeated Sarmatian barbarian serves as an atlas on a 16th century villa in Milan. Sculpted by Antonio Abbondio for Leone Leoni

A famous quote from anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss says: “The barbarian is the one who believes in barbary”,[20] 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.

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 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, nonpejorative term to refer to all the non-Latin and non-Greek speaking exterae gentes who dwelt around, and even eventually settled within, the Roman Empire during late antiquity”.[21]

The significance of barbarus in Late Antiquity has been specifically explored on several occasions.[22]

Examples of this modern usage can also be seen in the Dictionary of the Middle Ages, which has an article titled “Barbarians, the Invasions” and uses the term barbarian throughout its 13 volumes. A 2006 book by Yale historian Walter Goffart is 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 encyclopedias use the term barbarian throughout within the context of late antiquity.

Modern popular culture

Modern popular culture contains such fantasy barbarians as Tarzan and Conan the Barbarian.

In fantasy novels 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 animal magnetism
    • 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 alcohol and an unusual stamina to stave off its effects
    • A blending of Celtic, Germanic, Slavic, and nomadic Turco-Mongol cultures


See also

Look up barbarian in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Barbarian.



  1. ^ Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1972, pg. 149, Simon & Schuster Publishing

  2. ^ Pagden, Anthony (1986). “The image of the barbarian”. The fall of natural man: the American Indian and the origins of comparative ethnology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521337045.

  3. ^ The term barbaros, “A Greek-English Lexicon” (Liddell & Scott), at Perseus
  4. ^ 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.”

  5. ^ Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. Athens: Its Rise and Fall. Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-4191-0808-5, 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.”

  6. ^ Hall, Jonathan. Hellenicity, p. 111, ISBN 0-226-31329-8. “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.”
  7. ^ Hall, Jonathan. Hellenicity, p. 111, ISBN 0-226-31329-8. “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.”
  8. ^ Tsetskhladze, Gocha R. Ancient Greeks West and East, 1999, p. 60, ISBN 90-04-10230-2. “a barbarian from a distinguished nation which given the political circumstances of the time might well mean a Persian.”
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Arno Borst. Medieval Worlds: Barbarians, Heretics and Artists in the Middle Ages. London: Polity, 1991, p. 3.
  11. ^ Harmon, A. M. “Lucian of Samosata: Introduction and Manuscripts.” in Lucian, Works. Loeb Classical Library (1913)
  12. ^ Keith Sidwell, introduction to Lucian: Chattering Courtesans and Other Sardonic Sketches (Penguin Classics, 2005) p.xii
  13. ^ Wolfgang Helbig, Führer durch die öffenlicher Sammlungen Klassischer altertümer in Rom (Tubingen 1963-71) vol. II, pp 240-42.
  14. ^ H. W. Janson, “History of Art: A survey of the major visual arts from the dawn of history to the present day”, p. 141. H. N. Abrams, 1977. ISBN 0-13-389296-4
  15. ^ The Pechenegs, Steven Lowe and Dmitriy V. Ryaboy
  16. ^ Mudrarakshasha by Kashinath Trimbak Telang introduction p12 [1]
  17. ^ a b National geographer, 1977, p 60, Allahabad Geographical Society – History.
  18. ^ Manusamriti, X/43-44; A comparative grammar of the Dravidian or South-Indian family of languages‎, 1875, p 5,Robert Caldwell; Early Chauhān dynasties:, 1959, p 243, Dasharatha Sharma – History; The Aryans, a Modern Myth‎, 1993, p 211,Parameśa Caudhurī – History.
  19. ^ Captain Cuellar’s Adventures in Connacht and Ulster
  20. ^ Le barbare, c’est d’abord celui qui croit à la barbarie.
  21. ^ Ralph W. Mathisen “Barbarian Bishops and the Churches “in Barbaricis Gentibus” During Late Antiquity” Speculum 72.3 (July 1997), p. 665. Mathisen notes that Eusebius, in his Life of Constantine described the emperor as bishop “of those outside” (exterae gentes).
  22. ^ 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).


Jean-Yves Mitton

Name of naissanceJean-Yves Mitton
Nickname (s) Mitton, John Milton
Profession (s) cartoonist and comic strip writer
Jean-Yves Mitton, draughtsman and French comic writer, was born in 1945 in Toulouse.
1 Biography
2 Publications
2.1 Small formats
2.2 Albums
3 Biography
4 Internal link
5 External links
He arrived at Lyon in 1959, he enrolled at the fine arts after a shortened tuition. He entered the workshops of Editions Lug where it begins by retouching the foreign bands to comply with requests of the commission of censorship. Then, it creates its first planks in the humorous register embodying Popoff or Pim Pam Poum, but in realistic registry with Blek le Roc which draw 52 episodes and many blankets.
In 1980 he directed two episodes of the surfer of money with Marcel Navarro.
In 1981, he created Mikros a superhero under the pseudonym of John Milton in the pages of Mustang. Mikros will then in Titans when Mustang rechangera formula. For Lug, it will also think artist series of science fiction: Epsilon, Kronos, and Cosmo. He published also in this editor, in 1994, a collection of stories of science fiction by BD under the title tomorrow… monsters.
The buyout of Lug by Semic was will launch in the production of albums. First with François Corteggiani in 1987 with the white Archer for the newspaper of Mickey, then Noël and Marie for Pif Gadget. Always with Corteggiani, in 1990, he will resume the drawing of a dark series: silence and blood editions Glénat.
Then, he collaborates with Sun editions:
From 1991 to 2006, he animates the Vae victis series! on Simon Rocca scenarios, 15 albums.
From 1992 to 2003, he drew and wrote three albums in the series the survivors of the Atlantic and then it provides more than 6 other albums scenario, the drawing is by Félix Molinari.
From 1994 to 2000, he drew and wrote 6 albums of the barbarian Chronicles series.
From 1997 to 2008, for the editions Glénat, he wrote and drew: Quetzatcoalt, 7 volumes. In parallel, from 1998 to 2003, he wrote the series Attila my love for Designer Franck Bonnet, 6 albums.
In 2011, he produced his first album erotic hard X, for the Angel editions: Kzara or “Barbarian nights”.