The word "barbarian" comes into English from Medieval Latin barbarinus, from Latin barbaria, from Latin barbarus, from the ancient Greek word. The word is onomatopeic, the bar-bar representing the impression of random hubbub produced by hearing a spoken language that one cannot understand, similar to blah blah, babble or rhubarb in modern English. Related imitative forms are found in other Indo-European languages, such as Sanskrit barbara-, "stammering" or "curly-haired."

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.

The Greeks encountered scores of different foreign cultures, including the Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, Etruscans, Romans, Carthaginians, Kurdish, Basques, which had no characteristics in common. It is not the case that Greeks automatically despised all alien cultures. They were aware of the greater antiquity of the much more developed civilisations of Egypt, the Levant and Mesopotamia, from whom they borrowed extensively. Plato Statesman 262 rejects the Greek-barbarian dichotomy as a logical absurdity on just such grounds: dividing the world into Greeks and non-Greeks tells one nothing about the second group. In Homer the term appears only once (Iliad 2.867), in the form 'barbarophonos' ("of incomprehensible speech"), used of the Carians fighting for the Trojans. Notably the Trojans themselves, who despite bearing Hellenized names in the Homeric telling are emphatically not Greek, yet are not called 'barbaroi.' In general the concept of 'barbaro's does not figure largely in archaic literature (before 5th cenury BC).

A change occurred in the connotations of the word after the Greco-Persian Wars in the first half of the 5th century BC. Here a hasty coalition of Greeks defeated a vast empire. Indeed in the Greek of this period 'barbarian' is often used expressly to mean Persian. In the wake of this victory they began to see themselves as superior militarily and politically. A stereotype developed in which hardy Greeks live as free men in city-states where politics are a communal possession, whereas among the womanish barbarians everyone beneath the Great King is no better than his slave. This marks the birth of the cultural view termed "orientalism".

Overwhelmingly, the slaves of Athens were "barbarian" in origin, drawn especially from lands around the Black Sea such as Thrace and the Tauric Chersonese (Crimea), while from Asia Minor came above all Lydians, Phrygians and Carians. It is hard not to despise the people you are keeping as your slaves, even essential: in the intellectual justification of slavery (Aristotle Politics 1.2-7; 3.14), barbarians are slaves by nature. From this period words like barbarophonos cited above from Homer began to be used not only of the sound of a foreign language but of foreigners speaking Greek improperly. In Greek the notions of language and reason are easily confused in the word logos, so speaking poorly was easily conflated with being stupid-an association not of course limited to ancient Greeks.

Barbarians 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 behavior earned them the name.

Barbarians Wikipedia


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.

Barbarian Leaders


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.

Attila the Hun

Attila (406-453), also known as Attila the Hun, was ruler of the Huns from 434 until his death in 453. He was leader of the Hunnic Empire which stretched from Germany to the Ural River and from the River Danube to the Baltic Sea (see map below). During his rule, he was one of the most fearsome of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires' enemies: he invaded the Balkans twice and marched through Gaul (modern France) as far as Orleans before being defeated at the Battle of Chalons. He refrained from attacking either Constantinople or Rome. His story that the Sword of Attila had come to his hand by miraculous means, was reported by the Roman Priscus.

In much of Western Europe, he is remembered as the epitome of cruelty and rapacity. In contrast, some histories and chronicles lionize him as a great and noble king, and he plays major roles in three Norse sagas.

Boadicea (Boudicca)

Boudica (also spelled Boudicca, formerly known as Boadicea, and known in Welsh as "Buddug") (d. AD 60 or 61) was a queen of the Iceni tribe of what is now known as East Anglia in England, who led an uprising of the tribes against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.

Boudica's husband, Prasutagus, an Icenian king who had ruled as a nominally independent ally of Rome, left his kingdom jointly to his daughters and the Roman Emperor in his will. However, when he died his will was ignored. The kingdom was annexed as if conquered, Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped, and Roman financiers called in their loans.

In AD 60 or 61, while the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, was leading a campaign on the island of Anglesey in north Wales, Boudica led the Iceni, along with the Trinovantes and others, in revolt. They destroyed Camulodunum (Colchester), formerly the capital of the Trinovantes, but now a colonia (a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers) and the site of a temple to the former emperor Claudius, built and maintained at local expense, and routed a Roman legion, the IX Hispana, sent to relieve the settlement.

On hearing the news of the revolt, Suetonius hurried to Londinium (London), the twenty-year-old commercial settlement which was the rebels' next target, but concluding he did not have the numbers to defend it, evacuated and abandoned it. It was burnt to the ground, as was Verulamium (St Albans). An estimated 70,000-80,000 people were killed in the three cities. Suetonius, meanwhile, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands, and despite being heavily outnumbered, defeated Boudica in the Battle of Watling Street. The crisis had led the emperor Nero to consider withdrawing all Roman forces from the island, but Suetonius's eventual victory over Boudica secured Roman control of the province.

The history of these events, as recorded by Tacitus and Cassius Dio, were rediscovered during the Renaissance and led to a resurgence of Boudica's legendary fame during the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria was portrayed as her "namesake". Boudica has since remained an important cultural symbol in the United Kingdom. The absence of native British literature during the early part of the first millennium means that Britain owes its knowledge of Boudica's rebellion to the writings of the Romans.

Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne)

Charlemagne (2 April 742 - 28 January 814) was King of the Franks from 768 to his death. He expanded the Frankish kingdoms into a Frankish Empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800 as a rival of the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople. His rule is also associated with the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the Middle Ages. He is numbered as Charles I in the regnal lists of France, Germany, and the Holy Roman Empire.

The son of King Pippin the Short and Bertrada of Laon, he succeeded his father and co-ruled with his brother Carloman I. The latter got on badly with Charlemagne, but war was prevented by the sudden death of Carloman in 771. Charlemagne continued the policy of his father towards the papacy and became its protector, removing the Lombards from power in Italy, and waging war on the Saracens, who menaced his realm from Spain. It was during one of these campaigns that Charlemagne experienced the worst defeat of his life, at the Battle of Roncesvalles (778) memorialised in the Song of Roland. He also campaigned against the peoples to his east, especially the Saxons, and after a protracted war subjected them to his rule. By forcibly converting them to Christianity, he integrated them into his realm and thus paved the way for the later Ottonian dynasty.

Today he is regarded not only as the founding father of both French and German monarchies, but also as the father of Europe: his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Romans, and the Carolingian renaissance encouraged the formation of a common European identity.

Charles Martel

Charles "The Hammer" Martel (Latin: Carolus Martellus, English: Charles "the Hammer") (ca. 688 - 22 October 741) was proclaimed Mayor of the Palace and ruled the Franks in the name of a titular King. Late in his reign he proclaimed himself Duke of the Franks (the last four years of his reign he did not even bother with the facade of a King) and by any name was de facto ruler of the Frankish Realms. In 739 he was offered an office of Roman consul by the Pope, which he rejected. He expanded his rule over all three of the Frankish kingdoms: Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy.

Martel was born in Herstal, in present-day Belgium, the illegitimate son of Pippin the Middle and his concubine Alpaida (or Chalpaida). He was described by Gustave Louis Maurice Strauss in his book "Moslem and Frank; or, Charles Martel and the rescue of Europe" as a tall, powerfully built man, who was more agile than his size would lead men to believe.

He is best remembered for winning the Battle of Tours (also known as the Battle of Poitiers) in 732, which has traditionally been characterized as an event that halted the Islamic expansionism in Europe that had conquered Iberia.[8] "Charles's victory has often been regarded as decisive for world history, since it preserved western Europe from Muslim conquest and Islamization."

In addition to being the leader of the army that prevailed at Tours, Charles Martel was a truly giant figure of the Middle Ages. A brilliant general, he is considered the forefather of western heavy cavalry, chivalry, founder of the Carolingian Empire (which was NOT named after him, but after Charlemagne), and a catalyst for the feudal system, which would see Europe through the Middle Ages. Although some recent scholars have suggested he was more of a beneficiary of the feudal system than a knowing agent for social change, others continue to see him as the primary catalyst for the feudal system

Genseric (Gaiseric)

Genseric (c. 389 - January 25, 477), also spelled as Gaiseric or Geiseric, was the King of the Vandals and Alans (428-477) and was one of the key players in the troubles of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. During his nearly 50 years of rule, he raised a relatively insignificant Germanic tribe to the status of a major Mediterranean power - which, after he died, entered a swift decline and eventual collapse.

Gaiseric, whose name means "spear-king", was an illegitimate son of King Godigisel; he is assumed to have been born near Lake Balaton around 389. After his father's death, Gaiseric was the second most powerful man among the Vandals, after the new king, his half-brother Gunderic.

After Gunderic's death in 428, Gaiseric was elected king. He immediately began to seek ways of increasing the power and wealth of his people, who then resided in the Roman province of Hispania Baetica in southern Spain. The Vandals had suffered greatly from attacks from the more numerous Visigoths, and not long after taking power, Gaiseric decided to leave Spain to this rival Germanic tribe. In fact, he seems to have started building a Vandal fleet even before he became king.

Africa - Taking advantage of a dispute between Boniface, Roman governor of North Africa, and the Roman government, Geiseric ferried all 80,000 of his people across to Africa in 429. Once there, he won many battles over the weak and divided Roman defenders and quickly overran the territory now comprising modern Morocco and northern Algeria. His Vandal army laid siege to the city of Hippo Regius (where Augustine had recently been bishop - he died during the siege), taking it after 14 months of bitter fighting. The next year, Roman Emperor Valentinian III recognized Geiseric as king of the lands he and his men had conquered.

In 439, after casting a covetous eye on the great city of Carthage for a decade, he took the city, apparently without any fighting. The Romans were caught unaware, and Geiseric captured a large part of the western Roman navy docked in the port of Carthage. The Catholic bishop of the city, Quodvultdeus, was exiled to Naples, since Geiseric demanded that all his close advisors follow the Arian form of Christianity. Nevertheless, Geiseric gave freedom of religion to the Catholics, while insisting that the regime's elite follow Arianism. The common folk had low taxes under his reign, as most of the tax pressure was on the rich Roman families and the Catholic clergy.

Added to his own burgeoning fleet, the Kingdom of the Vandals now threatened the Empire for mastery of the western Mediterranean Sea. Carthage, meanwhile, became the new Vandal capital and an enemy of Rome for the first time since the Punic Wars.

With the help of their fleet, the Vandals soon subdued Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands. Geiseric strengthened the Vandal defenses and fleet, and regulated the positions of Arians and Catholics. In 442, the Romans acknowledged the Carthaginian conquests, and recognised the Vandal kingdom as an independent country rather than subsidiary to Roman rule. The area in Algeria that had remained for the larger part independent of the Vandals turned from a Roman province into an ally.

For the next 30 years, Geiseric and his soldiers sailed up and down the Mediterranean, living as pirates and raiders. One legend has it that Geiseric was unable to vault upon a horse because of a fall he had taken as a young man; so he assuaged his desire for military glory on the sea.

In 455, Roman emperor Valentinian III was murdered on orders of Petronius Maximus, who usurped the throne. Geiseric was of the opinion that these acts voided his 442 peace treaty with Valentinian, and on May 31, he and his men landed on Italian soil and marched on Rome, where Pope Leo I implored him not to destroy the ancient city or murder its inhabitants. Geiseric agreed and the gates of Rome were thrown open to him and his men.

Maximus, who fled rather than fight the Vandal warlord, was killed by a Roman mob outside the city. Although history remembers the Vandal sack of Rome as extremely brutal - making the word vandalism a term for any wantonly destructive act - in actuality the Vandals did not wreak great destruction in the city; they did, however, take gold, silver and many other things of value. He also took with him Empress Licinia Eudoxia, Valentinian's widow, and her daughters, Eudocia and Placidia. Many important people were taken hostage for even more riches. Eudocia married Geiseric's son Huneric after arriving in Carthage.

In 468, Geiseric's kingdom was the target of the last concerted effort by the two halves of the Roman Empire. They wished to subdue the Vandals and end their pirate raids. Geiseric, against long odds, defeated the eastern Roman fleet commanded by Basiliscus off Cap Bon. It has been reported that the total invasion force on the fleet of 1,100 ships, counted 100,000 soldiers. Geiseric sent a fleet of 500 Vandal ships against the Romans, losing 340 ships in the first engagement, but succeeded in destroying 600 Roman ships in the second. The Romans abandoned the campaign and Geiseric remained master of the western Mediterranean until his death, ruling from the Strait of Gibraltar all the way to Tripolitania.

Following up the Byzantine defeat, the Vandals tried to invade the Peloponnese but were driven back by the Maniots at Kenipolis with heavy losses. In retaliation, the Vandals took 500 hostages at Zakynthos, hacked them to pieces, and threw the pieces over board on the way to Carthage.

In 474, Geiseric made peace with the Eastern Roman Empire. Finally, on January 25, 477, Geiseric died at Carthage.

Gundahar (Gunther)

The Burgundian king Gundahar actually existed, although his legendary account is more famous, thanks to Wagner. He reigned in the court of Worms in what is now southwestern Germany, along the Rhine. In the legends of the Volsung saga and the Nibelungenleid, he is the brother of Gudrun, wife of Sigurd (Sigifried) the Dragon-slayer; and husband of Brunhildde. Because of the treachery in which he and his half-brother Hagan slayed Sigurd, he was doomed to defeat at the hands of Attila in 436. Whether or not the legend is fully true, King Gundahar did die at the hands of Attila and his forces, along with 20,000 of his Burgundian warriors. His descendents became part of the French nation; Bourgogne is one of the main divisions of France to this day.

Historical information

The Burgundian king Gundahar actually existed, although his legendary account is more famous, thanks to Wagner. He reigned in the court of Worms in what is now southwestern Germany, along the Rhine. In the legends of the Volsung saga and the Nibelungenleid, he is the brother of Gudrun, wife of Sigurd (Sigifried) the Dragon-slayer; and husband of Brunhildde. Because of the treachery in which he and his half-brother Hagan slayed Sigurd, he was doomed to defeat at the hands of Attila in 436. Whether or not the legend is fully true, King Gundahar did die at the hands of Attila and his forces, along with 20,000 of his Burgundian warriors. His descendents became part of the French nation; Bourgogne is one of the main divisions of France to this day.

Despite their new status as foederati, Burgundian raids into Roman upper Gallia Belgica became intolerable and were ruthlessly brought to an end in 436, when the Roman general Flavius Aetius called in Hun mercenaries who overwhelmed the Rhineland kingdom (with its capital at the old Celtic Roman settlement of Borbetomagus, now called Worms) in 437. Gundahar was killed in the fighting, reportedly along with the majority of the Burgundian tribe. (Prosper; Chronica Gallica 452; Hydatius; and Sidonius Apollinaris)

In Legend

The destruction of Worms and the Burgundian kingdom by the Huns became the subject of heroic legends that were afterwards incorporated into many works of medieval literature such as the Middle High German epic poem, the Nibelungenlied, where King Gunther and Queen Brunhild hold their court at Worms, and Siegfried comes to woo Gunther's sister Kriemhild. (In Old Norse sources the names are Gunnar, Brynhild, Sigurd and Gudrun as normally rendered in English.)

In the Waltharius, Gibicho and his son Guntharius are kings of the Franks, whereas the king of the Burgundians is named Heriricus who is father to Hiltgunt, the heroine of the story. Hagen appears here as a kinsman of Gibicho and Guntharius, but the relationship is not made explicit. In their combats with Waltharius, Guntharius loses a leg, Hagen loses half his face and one eye, and Waltharius loses a hand. But there is no hint in later tales that Gunther is in any way maimed. Another version of the story of Waltharius and Hiltgunt appears in the Norse Thidreks saga, but in this account Gunther plays no part at all.

Gunther otherwise only appears in tales relating to Siegfried and the fall of the Niflungs. In most texts, such as the Nibelungenlied, Gunther/Gunnar seeks to make Brunhild his wife, but can win her and master her only because the hero Siegfried/Sigurd aids him and takes his place. Siegfried marries Gunther's sister Kriemhild/Gudrun. An impassioned debate between Brunhild and Kriemhild about their respective status leads to the secret that Siegfried had taken Gunther's place being revealed. Gunther then agrees to assist in Siegfried's murder. After Siegfried is murdered, Gunther and his brothers, despite deep suspicions of treachery, accept an invitation from Etzel, or Atli in Old Norse (i.e. Attila the Hun), to visit his court. There Gunther and his brothers were betrayed. In some versions of the story, they were thrown in a snake pit to die, while in others they were killed fighting the Huns and their allies. According to the Atlamol Gunnar remarried after Brynhild's death to a woman named Glaumvor.

According to the Atlamol Gunnar remarried after Brynhild's death to a woman named Glaumvor.

Hermann (Arminius)

Arminius, also known as Armin or Hermann (18 BC/17 BC - AD 21) was a chieftain of the Cherusci who defeated a Roman army in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. His tribal coalition against the Roman Empire successfully blocked the efforts of Germanicus, nephew of Emperor Tiberius, to reconquer the Germanic territories east of the Rhine, although there is debate among historians about the outcome of several inconclusive battles.

Although Arminius was ultimately unsuccessful in forging unity among the Germanic tribes, his upset victory had a far-reaching effect on the subsequent history of both the ancient Germanic tribes, of the Roman Empire, and ultimately, of Europe.

Born in 18 or 17 BC as son of the Cheruscan war chief Segimerus, Arminius was trained as a Roman military commander and attained Roman citizenship and the status of equestrian (petty noble) before returning to Germania and driving the Romans out.

"Arminius" is probably a Latinized variant of the Germanic name Irmin meaning "great" (cf. Herminones). During the Reformation but especially during 19th century German nationalism, Arminius was used as a symbol of the "German" people and their fight against Rome. It is during this period that the name "Hermann" (meaning "army man" or "warrior") came into use as the German equivalent of Arminius; the religious reformer Martin Luther is thought to have been the first to equate the two names.


The Herulian Odoacer is credited with being the barbarian who brought about the end of the Roman Empire. In 476 C.E., he forced the last of the Western emperors to abdicate. Odoacer was a rash and arrogant fellow, though, with little concern for others. It was no one's grief when he was slain by Theoderic in 489 C.E., although the manner of his death was fairly grisly; Theoderic clove him from the shoulder down to the groin with his sword.


The Vandal Stilicho was the arch-enemy of Alaric the Goth. The barbarian governor of the northern Roman province, he and Alaric would cross forces 4 times between 392 and 402 C.E. No one understands why, in three different instances, that Stilicho did not crush Alaric when he so easily could have. Historians have speculated counter-treaties and "back-stabbing" against Rome, but no concrete evidence was ever found to support any of these theories. It seems that Stilicho only wanted to keep Alaric at bay, not to destroy him.

Perhaps he hoped to team up with him at a later time when he felt that Rome was weak. Stilicho's most heinous attack against Alaric came on Good Friday, April 4, 402, when the Christian Goths were celebrating their mass.

The "Good Friday" massacre very nearly wiped out the Goths, but through negotiations, Alaric was able to maintain his forces. Again, Stilicho could have wiped him out, but didn't. Stilicho was executed by the Romans on August 22, 408, for suspected treason against Rome, along with thousands of barbarians who were living peacefully in Rome. It was this last crime against the barbarian people, it is believed, that gave Alaric his needed "in" for being able to sack the city of Rome in 410.

Theoderic The Great

Theoderic the Great, ruler of the Ostrogoths, was one of the last barbarians at the fall of the Roman Empire. After Rome was utterly defeated, he established treaties with all of the other Germanic tribes, and ruled over sort of a "pax gothica" until his death during the 6th century C.E. After his death the Goths fell into squabbles and inter-tribal battles, and were eventually defeated by the Byzantine empire under Narses around 555 C.E. No more is heard about the Goths after that time; supposedly they intermingled with the resident cultures.

This site maintains a text of Theodoric's (Theoderic's) Letters. They show him to be a man of wisdom and fair dealing with others.


During Julius Caesar's occupation of Gaul (now much of which is France) in the first century B.C.E., things were going fairly smoothly for the Romans until this upstart Swabian Barbarian named Ariovistus came moseying across the Rhine to see what was going on. In fury, Julius Caesar chased him and his troops back across into Germany (58 B.C.E) and proceeded to pursue the occupation of Gaul much more aggressively than before.

In anger, many of the Gallic barbarian tribes, such as the Averni, rose up in revolt against the harsh Roman treatment. A feisty young barbarian named Vercingetorix (pronounced Ver-sin-JEH-toh-ricks) was adamant that Caesar and the Romans would be driven out of Gaul. His people raised him to kingship in 52 B.C.E. Under his leadership, the Gallic tribes were very largely successful in quashing the Roman occupation, until the fateful batttle of Alesia, where Vercingetorix and his troops were forced to yield to Julius Caesar. Vercingetorix was captured as a prisoner of war, taken back to Rome by the victorius Julius Caesar, imprisoned there, and later executed by crucifixion in 45 BCE. Of course, Caesar himself was assassinated the next year by his own people, so "what goes around, comes around."


Vortigern was a warlord in Britain during the 5th century C.E. By all accounts, Vortigern appeared to be a usurper and a pretender to the rule of Britain, and was shown to be a man of low character and inclinations. He achieved his position through assassination and treachery, killing even the young king, Constans, to whom he was an advisor.

Constans' younger brother, Uther, was unknown to Vortigern and so escaped his treachery. Vortigern ruled Britain with the aid of Saxon mercenaries who kept him in power until he, too, dealt with them harshly. The Saxons eventually turned on him and Vortigern met his death in a blazing castle tower in Wales at the hands of Geoffrey of Monmouth, although some sources claim that the tower was mysteriously struck by lightning, catching it on fire. After Geoffrey's rule of Britain, Constans' brother, Uther Pendragon, became ruler of Britain, and Uther Pendragon was the father of the legendary King Arthur.

Not all of the famous barbarians were male. The warrior queen of the Celts, was one such female barbarian. In 61 C.E., she led a revolt against the Roman invaion of Britain in retaliation for the rape of her daughters by the Roman soldiers (under order from their superiors.) Her army of Celts was victorious at first and pushed the Romans back to London, which Boadicea and her forces sacked and burned to the ground, killing almost all of the Roman citizens.


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Norse Gods.

Spiritual Realms - Afterlife

Except for Asgard and Hel, which were considered to be separate from the Earth, all of the other worlds had their realms within the Physical Plane of awareness. These worlds include:

The ability to consciously travel among these worlds was much the practice of Seith (Sedhr) magic, known to us now as Shamanism. Sedhr was considered to be a feminine form of magic, and was practiced mainly by women and by a few men who had mastered the craft as well.

To the Barbarians, the Being was comprised of several parts; each interrelated, but which could be separated and sent forth away from the physical being. These parts of the entire being are:

Each of the portions of the Being was associated with one of the Nine Worlds.

The Lich was of Hela's realm; the Haminja was of Mulspelheim (Fire), the Fylgia was of Nifelheim (Ice), Orlog was of Midgard (the Earth itself), Minni was of Jotunheim (realm of Giants), Modig was of Svartalfheim (the Dwarven realm), Manig was of Alfheim (the Elven Realm), Hugr was of Vanaheim (the home of the Vanir Gods), and Hamr was of Asgard, realm of the Aesir.

A tenth attribute of the being, that of the Aldr, was the "Life-Age", and pertained mainly to the Soul's Age as measured by its experiences through its various incarnations on Earth.

Mention, too, must be made of Wyrd; that aspect of the Soul that counteracted Orlog and could rewrite it; known to us as "chance" and "Free Will."

In a largely war-based society such as the Norse, Celts, and Teutons lived, death was viewed as an inevitable, yet not calamitous, portion of Life.

In particular, the Norse (later, the Vikings), believed that to expiate yourself in death on the field of battle assured that you would have a place in Walhalla, the Norse paradise; where there would be feasting, gaming, and battle on a daily basis.

Those who died of sickness or old age were relegated to the shadowy realms of Hel, ruled by the Goddess of Death of the same name.

The concept of Valhalla and Hel tends to be a more recent one (only 1000-1100 years old) and seems to have been influenced by Christian philosophy of Heaven and Hell.

The barbarian peoples before 400 C.E. believed that after death, the intelligence and soul would be reborn back into their family's lineage, thus indicating a strong belief in reincarnation (along blood lines).

The Celtic philosophy is very similar, although some of the Celts (in particular, the Druids), believed in the ability to return as plants or animals rather than as humans and in a particular blood line.

Other barbarian tribes who did not believe in reincarnation, believed that the intelligence and "soul" continued on Earth, only in a separate but parallel dimension, accessible through their burial site, or howe.

Burial practices among the barbarians ranged from cremation to actual burial (without embalming, of which technology the barbarians were ignorant).

Cremation was an elaborate ceremony, reserved mainly for drightens (warlords), kings, and true heroes (think Sigurd, Beowulf, and Cu Chullain). The body was prepared for burial by adorning it in the richest of garments, furs, torcs, armbands, and other jewelry.

The weapons, shields, and drinking horn(s) or goblets of the hero were also placed with the body, in the belief that the hero would require them in the Otherworld; be it Walhalla or Tir Na nOg (among others).

The body would then be placed upon an outdoor bier, which would be ignited. During the funeral service, sumbels (toasting ceremonies) would be drunk in honor of the dead one; both laughter and tears were welcomed. Stories would be told of his/her battle prowess and other legends of his/her feats.

At the end, the ashes of the hero would be gathered and either scattered over the water (for a sea-faring people) or placed in an appropriate burial chamber (such as a howe).

There is no historic evidence to suggest that the Vikings or the barbarians ever engaged in sea cremations (where the bier was placed afloat on a boat and then ignited as the boat sailed into the sea).

Although such a practice could have been possible, it was highly unlikely that it was widely used; and it seems to be more of a dramatic theatrical modern supposition upon Viking culture equalling that of placing horns on their helmets. It works for Hollywood, but not for historical fact.

Other barbarians, especially the ones espousing Christianity, employed burial without cremation for the honorable disposition of the lich (corpse). Even those who were non-Christian often used this type of burial for the remains of those who were non-noble or had not died upon the field of battle or while performing a heroic feat.

The body would be adorned similarly to that of the hero; in their best and finest garments, jewelry, and possessions, and placed within a howe; a burial chamber of a mound.

The lich would pass to the Otherworld and, according to barbarian belief, continue their life and affairs within the burial mound, retaining their intelligence and even some of the personality of their former existence.

It was believed that if one visited the howe of one's ancestors, one's fate could be revealed by communing with them. This was not a form of necromancy; rather, it was similar to divination or meditation.

It was also believed that if one sat upon a burial howe for an entire night without going insane, one would be gifted with bardic talent; the ability to compose and perform sagas and poetic songs.


The settled Germanic peoples, the Norse, Gauls, Franks, Celts, and Picts, all achieved civilizations which, although never rivaling those achieved by Greece and Rome, could never be thought to be uncultured or uncivilized. Barbarians were not anarchistic.


Generally speaking, Barbarian society was hierarchically, arranged as in most cultures of that day.


The most noble of the Barbarians were the Drightens, or the class of Kings (depending upon which title was given) A drighten was, basically, a warlord, similar to that of the Japanese Shogun. The terms "drighten" and "king" were interchangable within barbarian culture, depending upon local custom and the size of the ruling area.

Society was similar to that of a monarchy, with the exception that the right of kingship was earned and proven, not inherited. If a king or drighten (warlord) became unfit to rule, it was the duty of the thanes (similar to knights) of the king or drighten to sacrifice him so that fertility would return to the land. This became known as the ritual "sacrifice of the Sacred King" enacted by most druidic-based faiths.

The progeny of a ruler did not automatically inherit the throne (this was never the case until Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne), first Holy Roman Emperor, established the precedent). Rather, the ruler's sons (or daughters, if he had no sons) had to prove themselves worthy of leadership before the thanes and people would allow them to accede to the High Seat.

Noblewomen were known as "Frowes" (the German word "Frau" for lady derives from this term), and could hold land and reign in the same stead as men, if no males of this class were present, such as the Celtic queen Boadicea (Boudicca). Generally speaking, a married Frowe was the social leader of a tribe or clan. Most historical evidence (Owen, Wulfram) points toward females having much autonomy within the Germanic clan. There is little or no evidence to indicate that the Germanic/Norse barbarians ever enslaved women, and such claims are sadly ridiculous in their blindsighted sexism in our modern times.

Thanes - Warriors

These were similar to the medieval knights; however, they were not considered "noble" in the same sense. They swore their fealty to their drighten or their king. A Thane could accede to the rank of Drighten or King by evidence of their deeds. In the story of Beowulf, the dying Beowulf yields his kingship to his young thane Wiglaf, because Wiglaf was the only one of his thanes who came to his aid in slaying the dragon.

Thanes were not necessarily chivalrous, nor were they overly couth. They did have certain standards of behavior, but were considered to be fairly rough and ferocious, being of a warrior class.

The commoner class came next. These consisted of villagers, free servant to the drighten and his thanes, and merchants (such as blacksmiths, storekeepers, innkeepers, etc., depending upon the level of sophistication and specialization of labor). These people were free men and women under the protection of the drighten or king.


The lowest class was that of the thrall, or slave. Usually battle-captives, the thralls had their heads shaved or cropped to denote that they were powerless, and iron rings placed around their neck to indicate that they were in thrall (our modern word "enthrall" means, literally, to be "enslaved" or obsessed by something).

They had few rights, although generally they were treated well by their masters (slaves were valuable commodities in barbarian society). Thralls could also rise above thralldom after several years of service, if the drighten decided to make them free servants (raising them to the commoner class). They could also marry out of the class (mainly open to female thralls).

Among the Norse and Germanic barbarians, lawmaking was a surprisingly democratic process. Every year, a general convocation would be held for the various tribes called the "Thing." This is where marriages were arranged or ratified, treaties were signed, disputes were settled, and criminals were punished.

When a child was born, there was a waiting period of nine days before the naming ceremony. This was in recognition that it would take the Soul nine days, one for each world it passed through, to pass through the Nine Worlds of the Germanic/Norse cosmology into Midgard (Earth) to claim its new form.

During those nine days, the newborn was considered to have no "Soul" and therefore to be "not a person." It was over this time period that infants who were deemed to be mentally and/or physically deficient were abandoned at a crossroads, given over to Odin and Hel (Hulda, Holle).

From an early age, children were taught how to fend for themselves within their culture. Fathers would take their sons with them to the fields or hunting; daughters would learn from their mothers the arts of cooking, spinning, weaving, and sewing. In high war-based societies, the young men would be taught the arts of smithing, weaponry, fighting, and horsemanship. Barbarians also encouraged play among their children.

Barbarian men and women were skilled craftsmen and were able to fashion delightful toys for their children, including wooden dolls, warriors, animals, and small, crude, but effective games.

Offenses against children were treated with the same importance as offenses against adults. For that reason, practices of child molestation and abuse were rare in this culture, compared to more Mediterranean cultures such as Greece which practiced, and even sanctioned, paederasty in schools and other aspects of their culture.

As children grew and matured, they began being trained for their careers. In more civilized Northern European cultures, a son could be apprenticed to a craftsman for a trade, or he could follow along in his father's profession of milling, baking, vinting, brewing, carpentry, lapidary, farming, trapping, hunting, or other trades. War-based tribes had the more heroic young men preparing to be warriors, or "thanes", under a Drighten (warlord) or king.

Young women continued to be schooled in the domestic arts, although many of them could seek outside craft-oriented trades such as tailoring, lapidary, or farming.

Contrary to popular opinion, most barbarians were not sword-swinging adventurers. There were warriors, of course, mainly in large communities headed by a drighten (warlord), but these served as guards for their tribe and in waging raids on other tribes.

The bulk of landed barbarians were agrarians (farmers) and hunters. Neither did these barbarians appear as bulky, muscle-bound heros.

While many of them (especially the Nordic Europeans) were tall and broad-shouldered, many of them were lean and even gaunt; their skin pulled taut over muscles and bone from sheer hunger.

Day-to-day survival was often the lot of these people.

Wilderness and rural barbarians wore scant clothing, even in the winter, mainly because of need.

Quite often, a barbarian would be barefoot all of his or her life, and may have only enough resources to fashion a pair of breeches or a fur wrap around their waist.

Strangely enough, most of these people were remarkably long-lived; possibly from becoming desensitized to their harsh environment.

In Germania, Tacitus notes that the Germans are a robust and hardy race, capable of enduring even the harshest of climates: "to cold and hunger their climate and their soil inure them," although he notes that they are susceptible to extremes of heat and to thirst.

The nomadic Goths were a remarkable peaceful people; moving from location to location ever in search of a better home. Eventually, some of these settled in Byzentium and became known as Ostrogoths. Having little or no recorded history or culture, they would adapt the culture of the people in whose lands they settled.

Thus, it was not uncommon to find polygamy and same-sex relationships among the Ostrogoths; these being accepted among the Greeks and Byzantines. The other Goths, who came to be known as the Visigoths, were more warlike in their nature and retained a sense of their original Scandinavian culture and heritage.

Crime and Punishment

Punishment among the barbarian peoples generally fit the "crime." For civil crimes (tort, wrongful death, etc.), barbarians established a system called "weregild" among the Teutons, and the "eric-fine" among the Celts. These were monies paid for wrongful or negligent death to the kindred of the victims by the perpetrators. The victim(s) kin decided the weregild or eric-fine, and this was approved by the council of the Thing.

(In less remote areas, it was decided by general consensus). This particular system of settling civil cases was not flawless of course, but it did much to keep the cycle of revenge and counter-vengeance from escalating out of control.

In Anglo-Saxon communities, crimes were dealt with swiftly and effectively. In the event that a person was harmed or stolen from, that person could call to his neighbors to pursue the wrongdoer. If the chase led from the village to another village, all those in pursuit would call to the members of their neighborhing village to join the chase, and so on until the culprit was captured. It was then up to the injured party to decide the penalty (which was often hanging).

This method was known as the "Hue-and-Cry", a phrase which we use to this day. It was by no means foolproof, as an unscrupulous person with a grudge against his or her neighbor could create a false hue-and cry and result in an innocent person's death or injury. This was balanced by the fact that if a hue-and-cry was found to be based upon a falsehood, the perpetrator was treated as an oathbreaker and dealt with accordingly.

For worse crimes, such as oath-breaking (considered worse than wrongful death or theft of property by the Norse and Germanics), rape, treason, and willful murder (extremely rare in this culture), the criminal was no longer considered to be human.

He was made a "warg"; meaning both wolf and outlaw, and became an outdweller, living apart from the rest of humanity since, by his action, he had set himself apart from normal humans. In the Volsung saga, both Fafnir and Reginn become "wargs" after they murder their father for the Rhinegold; Fafnir eventually tranforms himself into a dragon with the use of the Tarnhelm (Helm of Awe), while Reginn dwells among the Svartalfs (dwarves) and becomes one of them.

Reginn does eventually return to interact with humanity but, being a Svartalf, can never fully regain his humanness.

Both Sigimund and his son Sfinjolti live as "wargs" in the woods, shape-changing into wolves and preying on passing merchants and thanes of their enemy, Sigigaiar, husband of Sigimund's sister Sieglinde.

Among the Celts, especially the Tuatha de Danaan, the perpetrator of a foul or horrible crime had to become that which they most feared.

In the legend of Lir's children, their stepmother, out of sheer jealousy, curses them by turning them into swans. For her crime, the god Lugh forces her to reveal that which she most fears, which is a "Spirit of the Air" (a Bain Sidhe, or "Banshee.") As soon as she reveals this, she is immediately transformed into one, and goes shrieking off into the night, never to be seen again.

Much of this is legend and allegory, but it does show the concept of the "warg" again, the outdweller; one that, by their actions, has trespassed beyond the boundaries of humanity and cannot return.

In actuality, greater crimes among the Celts were expiated by the laying of a "geas", or the performance of a duty, that the criminal had to complete in order to clear his/her name. Gradually, the term "geas" came to mean "curse."

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.

Marriage and Family

As a race of people, the ancient Norse, Celts, and Germans espoused very strong family values. Except for very rare circumstances, the standard male-female relationship was the norm.

Depending on the sophistication of the tribal culture and the class level of the couple, marriages were either arranged by the parents (generally for political alliances, as was the custom during Iron-Age and Medieval Europe), or were decided by the bride and groom themselves.

Nomadic barbarians such as the Goths were more prone to marriage by "capture." (Celts were prone to use this method as well.)

A young barbarian male would raid a village in which his beloved lived and carry her off to be his bride. This method of "capture" was generally performed by the male, with aid from his closest friends and kin.

There were times of the year, however, when a barbarian girl, with the aid of her friends and family, could capture the male of her desire by "netting" him (generally when he was asleep or bathing). It was acceptable for women to do this during the festivals of Imbolc (Disting, around Jan 31- Feb 2), Walpurgis (April 30), and Winternights (Oct 31-Nov 2). (In later eras even into modern times, it was acceptable for women to propose to men on Leap Year or other special days as well).

In the more settled or "landed" barbarian cultures, such as those of the Alamanni, Gauls, Cherusci, Lombards, Burgundians, Saxons, Frisians, Danes (Juts), and Norse, the more common people would marry out of love, although quite often parents had a strong hand in helping arrange the marriages, often with the aid of the local druid, godhi or gydhia (priest/ess), or vikti (wizard).

To these people, courtship was not materially different from the way it is now. The couple would be given the opportunity to meet and adjust to each other.

Often the young male, especially in a war- or hunting-based tribe such as the Saxons, Cherusci, or Alomanni, would be expected to perform a feat of heroism before he would be allowed to marry.

In part, the girl would be expected to perform some task proving her worth, such as sewing her bridal dress or making a fur cloak for her beloved.

Quite often, the barbarian male would be expected to hunt and kill an animal, such as an auroch (a now-extinct form of wild European ox or buffalo) with his bare hands.

Assuming that he successfully accomplished his task (and lived to prove it) and she successfully completed hers, the marriage was honored and sanctified, often sealed with a very simple ceremony such as "jumping a broom."

Among the barbarian nobility (the Drighten / King classes), marriages were almost always arranged except in extreme circumstances (wartime, death of parents, etc.).

By the age of 13-14, the adolescent male/female was ready for his/her particular rite of passage into adulthood, and matrimony.

Marriages were less for love and more for political connections, especially in the latter part of the Iron Age (5th-8th centuries C.E.). This was an established practice in almost all European civilizations during this era, including those of Greece, Rome, and Byzantium.

Often, marriages were arranged while the parties were still children, with the bride and groom having little or no say in the matter. Quite often, the marriages would take place with the couple at mid-to-late adolescence.

Assuming that he successfully accomplished his task (and lived to prove it) and she successfully completed hers, the marriage was honored and sanctified, often sealed with a very simple ceremony such as "jumping a broom."

Among the barbarian nobility (the Drighten / King classes), marriages were almost always arranged except in extreme circumstances (wartime, death of parents, etc.).

Marriages were less for love and more for political connections, especially in the latter part of the Iron Age (5th-8th centuries C.E.). This was an established practice in almost all European civilizations during this era, including those of Greece, Rome, and Byzantium. Often, marriages were arranged while the parties were still children, with the bride and groom having little or no say in the matter. Quite often, the marriages would take place with the couple at mid-to-late adolescence.

Monogamy as a marital structure was the norm among the western barbarian people. Among the Eastern nomadic barbarians (Ostrogoths, in particular) polygamy gained popularity over time, especially with the Goths being influenced by Byzantine philosophies and standards. In a polygamous setup, one bride would be chosen as the "head wife"; with several concubines under her supervision. Even among the Ostrogoths, who were notorioius for being overly impressionable and easily influenced by the presiding culture, polygamy never caught on as a norm, and it was virtually unheard of west of the Carpathian mountains.

After the marriage was consummated, it was customary for the groom to settle a gift upon his bride; generally money or jewels. This "reverse dowry" custom actually had a grim implication; by opening his bride to the possibility of pregnancy and childbirth, the groom presented the gift in compensation to her for the risk to her own life. (Not that the gift would had helped if anything DID go wrong with childbirth, but it was a token to her that he respected and honored her for her potential sacrifice.)

Marriage for the barbarians was generally for life. Only in extreme cases were wives or husbands ever "put aside" (divorced). An example in literature is Sigimund in the Volsung Saga, who divorces his wife Borghilda after she poisons his son Svenfjotli upon learning that Svenfjotli brought about the death of one of her kinsman in a fair duel.

Rare was the barbarian who never married. Only those who worked with magic, called vitki (wizards) and spae-crafters (seers or mystics) would live solitary lives in order to better devote themselves to their magic.

Rarer yet was the practice of homosexuality in barbarian culture. Relations between members of the same sex was not looked down upon for moral reasons such as the Christians espoused, but for sheer practical ones: in a culture with very few resources, the reproduction of the race was paramount. Again, it was generally the vitki and spae-workers, if any, who engaged in such practices (mainly for magical workings), and they were both venerated and feared for their activities (both sexual and magical).

Regardless of class or level of sophistication, barbarians loved and cherished their offspring. Recognizing that children were synonymous with their future, barbarian parents did their best to raise their children to be able to survive and thrive in the harsh conditions of their society and environment. Discipline was strict, but not harsh, and tempered with mercy. It was not until many centuries later, after the introduction of Christianity and the power of the Medieval Church to these people, that they developed the concept of children being "born in sin" and "inherently evil", in which discipline became harsh and even cruel and abusive.

Although women could enter battle (and some, like Queen Boadicea, did lead troops), this practice was very rare and not at all encouraged. Young women also began being groomed for marriage, since matrimony was highly encouraged among the Northern people.


Early Barbarian homes were basically huts with the Chieftians' hut in the middle. Later stones were used to build homes.

There were people called 'skalds' or 'bards' who could obtain free room and board for the whole winter with a family in exchange for entertainment services, music, and storytelling. Skalds who excelled at this art were in high demand. Skalds who were less than talented were generally presented with a rotten cabbage and sent on their way, if they survived.


Barbarians enjoyed swimming and outdoor games in summer.

In the winter they played games such as the use of Runes. They belived that the Gods controlled the roll of the dice.

They enjoyed jewerly making, working with stones, leather, wood, and metal.

Women were involved with sewing, weaving, food preparation, brewing, spae-crafting (working magic to protect the family and tribe), and their general tasks. They were as fond of storytelling as were the men; however, many a barbarian woman was secretly thankful when the long winter months were finally over and her lively warrior husband, sons, and brothers were out from under her feet at last.


Most of the people were illiterate, therefore their folklore was passed down through oral traditions.

Some of the written works include the Kalevala, Beowulf, the legends of King Arthur, the Mabinogion, the poetic Eddas (stories of the elder Gods and heros), and many other sagas were once transmitted through song and poetry until they were written down by literate barbarians or medieval scribes.

- The Barbarian Web Site