Barbarians: Problems and Approaches

Michael Maas

in The Oxford Handbook of Late Antiquity

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780195336931
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Barbarians: Problems and Approaches

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  • Classical Studies
  • Ancient Roman History
  • Greek and Roman Archaeology


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This article examines Roman approaches to the barbarians in terms of history writing, diplomacy, science, and law. It then describes how Christianity after Constantine influenced all of these approaches, changing the Roman understanding of their relation to barbarians. Next, it considers how historians from the eighteenth century to the present have explained the Roman-barbarian relationship in Late Antiquity. Their interpretations of barbarians were primarily influenced by the pressing issues of their own time, including Gibbons' Enlightenment concern with the social progress of humankind, the pressures of developing nationalism in nineteenth century Germany, and reactions to both of these approaches in the twentieth century, especially after the Nazi era.

Keywords: Romans; history writing; diplomacy; science; law; Christianity; Late Antiquity; Gibbons; nationalism; social progress

Article.  13901 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Ancient Roman History ; Greek and Roman Archaeology

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