The term “Barbarian” is Greek in origin. The Greeks originally levied it at the peoples of Northern Europe because to them, the harsh “barking” sound of their speech sounded to them like “Bar-bar-bar.” Since these strangers from the north did not understand classic Greek, the Greeks believed them to be “illiterate.” The term also came to mean “stranger” or “wanderer,” since most of the Barbarians with which they came in contact were nomadic (the Goths, for example).
To the people of ancient Greece and Rome, a Barbarian was anyone who was not of their extraction or culture.
Because most of these “strangers” regularly practiced raids upon these civilizations, the term Barbarian gradually evolved into a perjorative term: a person who was sub-human, uncivilized, and regularly practiced the most vile and inhuman acts imaginable. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
In ancient times, people from the Near East, migrated their way across the continents of Asia and Europe. Known in later generations as the Indo-Aryan people, some of them settled in the regions of the Caucasus mountains and of Persia (present-day Iran); others in the fertile crescent of Mesopotamia, Philistia, and Sumeria; yet others in what is now known as the Balkan states of Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania, and others pouring further into the lands of Northern Europe into what is now present-day Germany, Scandinavia, France, Spain, and Britain.
They were a tall, fierce, fair- haired and fair-skinned people, in contrast to their swarthy counterparts from whence they had traveled.
They displaced or assimilated the indigenous people of the regions they entered, they never truly settled anywhere, ever-moving as their needs and resources changed. Eventually they did settle and create homes and lifestyles for themselves, yet their culture was never elaborate.
Those who they came in contact with considered them uncivilized, and yet were fascinated by their strength, stamina, force of will, charisma, and versatility. They were respected by those they befriended, and feared by those who opposed them. Even within their own society, they fought amongst themselves, seeking supremacy of power and controllership of the lands they acquired.
In Northern Europe they became known as the Teutons, Norse, Goths, and Celts, and within those tribes arose many sub-tribes. Settling deep in the regions of Northern Europe, they were forgotten by the various civilizations to the South and East such as Greece, Assyria, Persia, and Egypt. It was not until the end of the Bronze age and the onset of the Iron Age that the cultures would re-emerge, clashing with those civilizations fronting the Mediterranean Sea; Greece, and Rome.
Reviled by the Greeks, and both respected and feared by the Romans, these people would time and again engage in battles against those civilizations. Those of Teutony proved to be indomitable, and even the ones conquered by Rome did not remain under Roman rule for long. Their fierce, warlike nature and coarse behaviors earned them the name.
Invasions and Migrations
167 – Germans invade Italy and Greece.
200 – Visigoths and Ostrogoths move to Russia.
367 – Picts and Scots invade England.
370 – Huns invade Europe.
406 – Vandals, Alans and Suevis invade Gaul (France).
410 – Visigoths capture Rome, settle in Spain and southern France.
421 – Angles and Saxons invade Britain.
429 – Vandals invade north Africa. Burgundians and Franks invade France and Italy.
451 – Huns invade France, but retreat.
455 – Vandals conquer Rome.
In general, the lifestyle of the Northern European barbarians was a simple one.
Their daily routine varied from season to season and tribe to tribe, but generally included some form of work (the bulk of the day), eating, play, sex, and sleep.
There were three main types of barbarian cultures: landed, nomadic, and maritime.
The landed cultures tended to settle in what is now North Central Europe (Great Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Northern Italy, Austria, and Poland), and included the Gauls, Celts, Picts, Franks, Burgundians, Swabians, Alemanni, Marcomanni, Lombardi (Langobards), Cherusci, and Saxons (later Anglo-Saxons).
The nomadic cultures dwelt generally in the Eastern and Southern European areas, including what is now Western Russia (Byelorus and Moldavia), the Balkan States, Northern Greece and Italy, southern France, and the Iberian Peninsula, and included the Goths (Ostrogoths and Visigoths), Allans, and Huns.
Maritime barbarians settled near coastal regions of Europe and Northern Africa, consisting of the Frisians (Dutch), Juts (Danes), Norsemen (and eventually Normans), Inglings (Swedes), Vandals (Spain and Northern Africa), and Anglo-Saxons (Northern Germany and, eventually, England).
The life of most barbarians was a harsh and lonely one. Living predominantly in the cold northern climates, barbarians had to work long and hard to eke out a meager existence. Quite often, wilderness barbarians would live miles from any other human habitations.
One of the most famous barbarians, Alaric the Goth (allegedly born on the coast of the Black Sea, at the mouth of the Danube River on the isle of Peuce, on December 18, 371 C.E.), was the first barbarian to successfully capture the city Rome in 410 C.E.
Although his troops spared most of the residents and the architecture (Alaric was a known lover of beauty and literature) they pretty well looted the place. Interestingly enough, a vision of his some 15 years before had predicted that he would successfully capture Rome.
After the capture, he traveled south with the intention of crossing over into Africa, but was hindered by the storms along the Mediterranean coast.
Allegedly he took ill suddenly and died during this expedition, and is supposedly buried near the river Busento. However, legends and some historical evidence also claims that he “faked” his death to save his people from capture from the Romans and Vandals, and went “underground” so to speak, where he continued to “rule” the later Visigothic kingdoms for several decades, dying of old age finally in the year 470 C.E. (he would have been 98 years old!).
His descendants, the Visigoths, migrated to the Iberian peninsula, and eventually became the Spaniards; an indication of their heritage lies in the fair hair and blue eyes of the Northern Spaniards.