On Roman myths and barbarians

It has been easy to underestimate Celtic technological achievements because so much has vanished or been misunderstood. Of course, it was thoughtless of the Celts not to leave us anything much in the way of written records — they should have known that the lack of books putting forward their own propaganda would weight the evidence firmly in favour of the Romans.

Western society’s enthusiasm since the renaissance for all things Roman has persuaded us to see much of the past through Roman eyes, even when contrary evidence stares us in the face. Once we turn the picture upside-down and look at history from a non-Roman point of view, things start to look very, very different.

From this vigorous debunking by Terry Jones (an ex-Python) of the Roman myth about the ‘barbarians’:

The Romans kept the Barbarians at bay for as long as they could, but finally they were engulfed and the savage hordes overran the empire, destroying the cultural achievements of centuries. The light of reason and civilisation was almost snuffed out by the Barbarians, who annihilated everything that the Romans had put in place, sacking Rome itself and consigning Europe to the Dark Ages. The Barbarians brought only chaos and ignorance, until the renaissance rekindled the fires of Roman learning and art.

It is a familiar story, and it’s codswallop.

Interestingly, there is quite a bit of stuff in the article about the ‘metal technology’ of the Celts and other northern European people. The article itself is an off-shoot of (and an advertisement for) Terry Jones book and BBC show titled “Barbarians”.

* * *

Thanks to Kerim Friedman over at Savage Minds for the pointer.

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