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Barbarism and Civilization

Herodotus And The Barbarians

The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484–420 B.C.E.) divides the world into those who speak Greek and those who do not. Barbarians are the latter. Herodotus writes: "But the Greek stock, since ever it was, has always used the Greek language, in my judgment. But though it was weak when it split off from the Pelasgians [originary Greek tribes], it has grown from something small to be a multitude of peoples by the accretion chiefly of the Pelasgians but of many other barbarian peoples as well" (p. 57). Herodotus further punctuates the Greek language: "But before that, it seems to me, the Pelasgian people, so long as it spoke a language other than Greek, never grew great anywhere" (p. 57). The Greeks saw the barbarians as fascinating enemies whose "natural status" was that of the slave (see Harrison, p. 3). Herodotus scrutinizes two "barbarian" cultures on the opposite ends of the spectrum: the Egyptians and the Scythians. In Egypt, the sky rarely rains while the river always rises when others fall; in Scythia, the sky rains in summer but not in winter while the river never changes; in Egypt, the Nile unites the land while in Scythia, the Danube divides the land into many districts; in Egypt there is one king while in Scythia there are many; in Egypt, they believe themselves to be the oldest of peoples while the Scythians believe themselves to be the youngest; in Egypt, culture is marked by strict religious rituals that rarely change while the Scythian culture illustrates constant change and varying rituals (see Herodotus, pp. 138–290, cf. Redfield, pp. 35–37). As Herodotus claims, the Egyptians know many things while the Scythians know one great thing, "how no invader who comes against them can ever escape and how none can catch them if they do not wish to be caught. For this people has no cities or settled forts; they carry their houses with them and shoot with bows from horseback; they live off herds of cattle, not from tillage, and their dwellings are on their wagons" (p. 298). At the time of Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.E.), the Persians were the main barbarian adversaries. Fighting his way through Asia, he arrived at Maracanda (Samarkand, Uzbekistan) in Sogdiana, the first meeting point of Eastern and Western civilizations (see Arrian, pp. 351–537). Although Alexander occupied the fortified citadel, he was unable to secure it because of counterattacks by Scythian coalitions. A major city on the Silk Road, Samarkand was the site for Chinese paper mills established in the early eighth century (see Gernet, p. 288) and the center of a Turkic-Mongol empire under Tamerlane in the fourteenth century (see Nicolle). Tamerlane's grandson, Ulugh-Beg (1394–1449), was an astronomer who built Attila Burning Townships during the Invasion of Italy, woodcut, c. 19th century. Embodying the barbarian threat to Western civilization, Attila the Hun (406?–453) conquered much of Central Europe. Although tribes such as the Huns were all overthrown by stronger forces of civilization, they represented what Arnold J. Toynbee termed a barbarian "heroic age." © BETTMANN/CORBIS an observatory at Samarkand and was the first since Ptolemy to compile a star chart.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ballistic galvanometer to Big–bang theoryBarbarism and Civilization - Friedrich Engels: Barbarism And Civilization, Herodotus And The Barbarians, Toynbee's Rhythm Of History