Category Archives: Barbarians





For all my life I have wanted to know why.  I want the answer, to understand the big picture.  That led me to history.  I am not sure, but maybe understanding the past can give us a glimpse of the future.  At the least, history has helped me understand what is going on now.

As to history, there are a lot of mysteries.  History is told by the victors, and we know much less about the losers, but their lives were every bit as important as the winners.  Here is an example.

I have been interested in Central Eurasia for decades.  What we call western civilization has interacted with the people of the steppes for many thousands of years.  The standard view is that the barbarians of the steppes raised horses, sheep, and cattle and fought among themselves until a great leader, Chingiss Khan for example, unified them and they then invaded civilized cities on the periphery.   Scythians, Vandals, Visigoths, Goths, Mongols, Huns, Ughyurs or Turks, they all had only conquest, loot, rape and slaughter as goals.  Those invasions affected China, Persia, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Europe.

Well, yes, some of that did happen.  Much of the conflict, however, came from the peripheral societies invaded the steppes.  All the standard reasons for invasions: conquest, riches, land, slaves, and something for the army to do. Alexander, for example, invaded everywhere he could, including the steppe.  The Great Wall was built to protect territory taken from the nomads and was used to keep people in as much as protection from invasion from the nomads.

The people of the steppe had cities, vast grasslands, cattle, sheep, horses, furs, and trade goods from west and east of the steppe.  They needed trade with the periphery, and the periphery needed their livestock and trade goods.

The Silk Road was a lifeline for the nomads.  The nomadic cultures were warrior cultures, yes, but they were foremost herders and traders. Just about every culture of any size is a warrior culture.  The United States is a warrior culture.  Just ask Native Americans, Cubans, Filipinos, and Mexicans.

The difference with regard to the Eurasian steppe cultures is that the people of the west call them barbarians.  What is a barbarian?  They have different clothes, religions, languages, and values.  They are Others, so they are barbaric.  Who were the barbarians, the Moslem tribes in the Philippines trying to defend their homeland from invaders or the U. S. Army doing the invading?  Maybe Custer was the barbarian. The Lakota surely thought so.

Romans, Greeks, Celts, Persians, and Hittites saw the invading horsemen as barbaric, but they surely did their own invading.  It is prejudice, viewing others as barbaric.  One of our most enduring prejudices is calling people barbarians because they fight and kill, for whatever reason.  All cultures fight and kill, and commit atrocities.  It is only when the other guy is doing it that it is barbaric.

So, let’s not get too self righteous when various factions act out their age-old animosities in the Middle East.  Don’t call their acts barbaric unless we have never done the same.  You can check with the Modocs or the Seminoles to make sure.