Barbarians to the Balkans

Barbarians to the Balkans

Tomaz Mastnak

Paper given at: Exclusion in and on the Borders of Europe Conference (2008)


Barbarians are always imagined peoples. When, in this paper, I ask the question of when were barbarians settled in the Balkans, I ask the question of when the Latin Christians began to imagine that barbarians lived in the Balkans. The answer I offer is that that happened in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and I bring the occurance of barbarians in the Balkans in connection with the crusades.

This paper is part of a much longer text that deals with the relation between Europe and the Balkans. We all know that in our own days the Balkans are popularly seen as the other of Europe. In Western- European political and cultural imagination, but all too often also in the minds of significant proportion of the local population, the Balkans represent all that Europe strives not to be. In fact, as I show in my longer text, the first “Europe” was a “Balkan Europe.”

The view that the Balkans are opposed to “Europe” is of recent origin. There is no basis for such a view in the sources from ancient Greece, the Roman Empire, and the early centuries of Byzantium. For more than a thousand years after the name Europe was first used as a geographical designation, there is no support for the view that a “civilized Europe” was opposed to “barbarian Balkans.” In the Ancient world, rather, the predominant geographic understanding of Europe identified Europe as part of what would later be called the Balkans. Europe existed first in the Balkans.

Click here to read this article from Exclusion in and on the Borders of Europe Conference

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