The Greco-Roman Concept of the Barbarian

European Origins

‘Barbarian’ and ‘barbaric’ are nowadays commonly used to describe somebody or something behaving in a particularly uncivilized or – to the observer – foreign way, and in this regards differs surprisingly little from it’s ancient counterpart.

In Ancient Greece the term ‘barbaros’ simply described someone who couldn’t speak the Greek language and hence wasn’t Greek. In other words, what was coming out of the mouths of such people simply sounded like “bar-bar-bar” to the Greeks. Originally the term included everybody who did not speak Greek but this changed when the Romans appeared on the European stage. Always had the inhabitants of Latium, the region of Italy where Rome was founded and where the Latin language (probably) developed, been fascinated by cultures, which they regarded as cultivated and civilized – perhaps even more so than their own. Perhaps the first of these cultures which the early Romans/Latins encountered on their…

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