The Image of Early Medieval Barbaroi in Contemporary Written Sources and Modern Scholarship: the Balkan Perspective


The Image of Early Medieval Barbaroi in Contemporary Written Sources and Modern Scholarship: the Balkan Perspective

By Jelena Jaric

Haemus Journal Vol. 1 (2012)

Abstract: The barbarians of the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages were of scholarly interest from the 19th century onwards. Though there are numerous publications on various aspects of the barbarians, most of it focuses on the role they had in the collapse of the Western and the trails of the Eastern Roman Empire. During the last two decades, an enormous scholarly contribution is given into dampening the negative representation of the Early Medieval barbarians as primitive, belligerent people who were inferior to the Romans and Byzantines in any regard. This article gives a review on the accounts of the contemporary authors held as authorities on the history of the barbarian tribes, which combined with the survey of the material evidence, retrieved with archaeological excavations, offers another perspective of the barbarians and the Romaioi as equal participants in the events that shaped their world, instead of the image of superior, civilized people of a great Empire and the savage tribes of inferior culture who threatened the same Empire.




Introduction: The barbarians of the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages were a subject of extensive research from the 19th c. onwards. The result is an extensive scholarship on the matter, yet the main focus is on the role they had in the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire and turmoil they caused for the Eastern part, later known as Byzantium. During the last two decades, an enormous contribution is given into dampening the negative representation of the Early Medieval barbarians as primitive, belligerent people who were inferior to the Romans and Byzantines in any regard; the very image which was created by the contemporary authors. If the accounts of these authors are taken by their face value, it is quite easy to construct and support such opinion. One should approach these sources warily, because it is quite possible that these authors voiced a political stance and had limited or non-existing direct contact with the barbarian tribes; the barbarians in their accounts can be possibly reconstructed by using older, now lost writings. Same as the archaeological material, the written sources need the proper context as for one to be able to extract the useful information from them.

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Sharan Newman