true meaning of the word "Barbarian"
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 peoples 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.
|Even the Vandals, whose
name literally means "the brave ones," did not
The exception was the incredibly cruel Vandal leader Gaiseric, whose actions equated the name "Vandals" with what we use it for now, people who destroy things mindlessly and needlessly.
|The Northern Barbarians|
|The Northern Barbarians
were the various Germanic tribes: the Vandals,
Langobards, Alamanni, Marcomanni, Cherusci, Suevi,
Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Ingles, and Burgundians; all which
helped to form the present day Germans, Scandinavians,
Swiss, Austrians, French, and British.
To the East and Northeast were the nomadic Gothic races (Visigoths and Ostrogoths), which were the most active in helping bring the fall of the Roman Empire.
History has shown the Barbarians to be civilized and far from the uncultured stereotype with which they have been saddled. History has also shown them to be strong family folk, who mated and remained faithful to their mates for life. So how did they get such a bad reputation?
First of all, very few of the Barbarians could read or write. Only the studious mages, skalds, bards, and loremasters among them knew their alphabetic system, the runes (Germanic) or oghams (Celtic). Therefore, their histories were largely passed by word of mouth, from generation to generation. The Greeks and Romans, however, being very adept at the written record, are the ones who have given us much of the recorded history of the Iron Age. Obviously, they would not have spoken very well of those who helped bring about the fall of their empire
It was, actually, Rome who drew "first blood" against the Germanic tribes. Rome wished to claim the lands north of the Rhine river for its own. Up to that point in time, the Germanic people had been content to "live and let live", with a few border skirmishes and forays. When Rome crossed the line and entered the Teutonic lands with intent to conquer, the Germanic tribesmen rose up in fury. After several failings, the Teutons managed to defeat the Roman invasion at the battle of Teutoberg Forest (circa AD 9) to such a great extent that Rome never again tried to conquer the Barbarian Germans.
It was after this time that the Germans now took a page out of Rome's book. Beseiging the empire for 4 centuries, they finally managed, during the 5th century AD, to sack Rome and bring the once mighty empire to its knees; albeit gaining themselves reputations as bloody, subhuman, demonic warriors from the ones who kept the history books.
|Contributions of Barbarians to Modern Culture|
|There are many things
that we owe Barbarians for our culture today. Many things
that we take for granted we would not have if it had not
been for their influence. Here are just a few of them:
Ever wonder where the hanging of
mistletoe arose as a Christmas tradition?
Guess what - all of these traditions stem from the Barbarian festival of Jul (Yule); the festival of the Winter Solstice. This festival lasted for 12 nights, beginning on the night of December 20 (Solstice Eve), and culminating on the Night of December 31 (New Year's Eve, which is why Pope Gregory chose this as the beginning of the New Year.) When Christianity sought to incorporate the Barbarian festival of the return of the Light with the festival of the birth of their Savior, they chose December 24 as the Solstice Eve because by that time, the Julian Calendar was 4 days off from the actual Solstice. (By the time Pope Gregory corrected it in the 16th century, it was over 11 days off from the actual Solstice.) The putting up of a Christmas Tree was to appease the landwights, or nature spirits, of the area, to guarantee a bountiful harvest for the coming year. Mistletoe was the plant that had slain Balder, the god of Love, and it was believed that through its power he would be restored (the rebirth of the God.) Santa Claus is the modern derivative of the Norse God Odhinn; the "Wild Hunt" took place during the winter months and was at its peak during the festival of Jul. During this time, Odhinn and his retinue would ride through the sky, carried by his eight-legged steed, Sleipnir. It was the custom of Barbarian children to place straw and sugar in their shoes for Sleipnir for his journey. In return, the Allfather would give them gifts (or so they were told by their parents!) Nicholas, a Christian Saint, also embodied this tradition in giving to the poor, especially the children, at Christmas time, which is why Santa Claus is also known as "St. Nick." Holly and Ivy were considered to be representative of the masculine and feminine force by the ancient Celts, and these had to be in right balance with each other at the time of Yule for fortune to enter within the house. Finally, the sacred animal that both German and Celtic Barbarians associated with the holiday was the Boar, both the symbol of Lugh and of Fro Ingwe (Freyr). The tradition of bringing the Boar's Head in was in tribute to this God of Fertility and Love. It was traditional that the hero that had performed the greatest deed in the past year would be given the "Hero's Cut," the finest cut of the ham. To this day, ham is still associated with the festival of Yule.
|Mention, too, must be
made of the Barbarian holiday of Ostara, occurring at the
Vernal Equinox (around March 20-21). The Old English word
for the holiday, Eostre, developed into the word for the
Christian holiday of Easter. Ostara, or Eostre, was the
Goddess of Spring and beauty. During the Christianisation
of Europe, the Christian monks made all the elder gods
into demonic forms to turn the people away from their
worship. They were unable to do this with the blissful
Eostre, however, as she espoused the virtues of purity,
innocence, and youth. Instead, her holiday was adopted
into the holiday of the death and rebirth of the
Christian god, Jesus.
Many of our Easter customs derive from the heathen practices during Ostara. The coloring of eggs was a powerful ritual of fertility; many games involving eggs such as "first crack" and "lobbing" were actually methods of divination for determining whether the new year and the harvest would be prosperous. The rabbit was venerated by the Germans and Celts as a symbol of fertility, obviously because of its reproductive fecundity.