So What Happens When The Barbarians Grow Up?

Back at the cottage Tim and I would be watching one of my history programs on Satellite ( Time Team reruns from the BBC usually) and Tim would sometimes ask who pays for all this? ,or, why do they care? Cause he certainly didn’t care. I mean, to him, short of pexels-photo-243059.jpeggold and silver bobbles or weaponry, minute shards of pottery and stains in the ground had no monetary value, ie, one can’t sell them at a pawn shop.

I would send him a silent glare, as I was loath to say a word and miss a thing, cause this stuff was water to a dusty seeker longing to quench that thirst for knowledge.

Stains in the ground and pottery shards are seemingly inconsequential and far less interesting than the remains of a Roman bathhouse, say, or an opulent villa in the Cotswolds, but in fact is more important, if less glamorous.

Seriously, I had actually never even bothered to ask myself those questions, so I was somewhat taken aback that anyone would think archaeology to be of no use, and answered with the equivalent of well, because.

See, the remains of Germanic tribes or Gaulish tribes are often merely stains in the ground of the posts that once was a roundhouse or a complex of them, maybe a ditch, if one is lucky. The people were talking about had more complex social structures then they did physical structures. So, those items, like the shards of pottery, give a date, and based on where they are in the soil, called stratification, is what can date the feature (the stain).

Now, we can thank the Romans for starting this idea of “barbarians”. Basically, they ascribed that title to anyone who was not Roman, because you were either Roman or you were nothing.

Long, I pray, may foreign nations persist, if not in loving us, at least in hating one another. For destiny is drawing our empire upon its appointed path, and fortune can bestow on us no better gift than the discord among our foes.
Tacitus ~ Roman Historian – a comment on warfare between German tribes.

So watching some lecture program on the Germanic peoples a few nights ago and this quote was flashed up. Couldn’t help but think of how much it applies to current events, and it reminded me of those questions Tim asked.

What value indeed is history? Well, let us see.

Tacitus was writing in 98AD, some decades after Caesar (100BC – 44BC), who had also written in his journals of his encounters with the Germanic tribes to the North, of what was then a not quite conquered yet empire. So by Tacitus time, other Emperors having enlarged the boundary of said empire past the lands that ring the Mediterranean to eventually enfold Germania up to the river Elbe and Britannia up to Hadrian’s wall in the North, his perspective illuminates some aspects of the Germanic tribes.

At this point, Rome was continuing to feel the stings and arrows of their newest “subjects”, so basically, I guess decided to use the Germanic Tribes infighting to their own advantage.

Well, sure, some were happy, the 1%ers at the top who had previous business relationships with the Romans, and who had more or less invited them in, they were deliriously happy. There are always those who will take advantage of the opportunity to trade and advance their standing, nothing new in that, and certainly nothing wrong with it either. Unless, of course, those foreign entities want to conquer you, then I think one calls it treason, but anywho (or would so today).

In both regions, Germania and Britannia, it was the most Northern tribes that resisted the strongest, and such the Roman wall of influence (literally a wall in Britain) was drawn across the Northern reaches and labelled BARBARIANs. Sound familiar? Roman legions were stationed along its length, protecting the citizens on one side from the barbarians on the other side.

One can imagine the amount of money this would have cost Rome to maintain.

By Modification · Bearbeitung · Prilaboro: D. Bachmann – File:Romia Imperio.png, originally by Jani Niemenmaa., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Eventually, Germania and Britannia became the empires plantation slaves.

Well, some may dress it up with bows and ribbons and point out the lovely villas that dotted the rolling landscapes throughout the countryside, the ‘paved’ roads, the governmental infrastructure, and of course, the gobs of wealth that poured in, but the people themselves didn’t benefit half as much, being at the fringes of a vast and sprawling empire. And 300 years later, by the 5th century AD, Rome had started to have its own problems with infighting, had grown too big for its britches, and all the barbarian tribes that lay at those fringes began to require all their attention, so they pulled up stakes and high-tailed their legions and protection back to safer domains.

The Romans weathered a Germanic uprising in the late fourth century, but in 410 the Visigoth King Alaric successfully sacked the city of Rome. The Empire spent the next several decades under constant threat before “the Eternal City” was raided again in 455, this time by the Vandals. Finally, in 476, the Germanic leader Odoacer staged a revolt and deposed the Emperor Romulus Augustulus. From then on, no Roman emperor would ever again rule from a post in Italy, leading many to cite 476 as the year the Western Empire suffered its deathblow. [ 8 Reasons Why Rome Fell ]

Yes, to the Romans surprise, those barbarians they had written off as beneath them were stirring up a bit of a raucous for everyone. The Brits as well were fighting off swarms of Jutes, Angles and Saxons, primarily set on taking up where the Roman’s left off, interested in feeding off their bones because Rome had made Britain quite wealthy, and unprotected. Which over time left all the tribes in a state of flux and fear and thus all the old grievances bubbled up to the surface and engaged them in conflict for a few more centuries.

That’s generally what happens when you take your foot off the anthill.

So they underestimated those Germanic people’s, and eventually, it cost them; or at least the Western part of Rome.

Now I do wonder if dear Putin over there in Russia might agree with Tacitus observations? Better a foe fighting among themselves, easier to manipulate? Yet, even so, I believe perhaps he may have underestimated this particular foe. Ol’Trump though has made himself into the ideal wedge to weaken America with, and whether Putin had anything to do with him being there, he is doing a fine job as the useful idiot if little else.

No, I imagine Putin, over there basking in his last rigged up election win, has one eye poised on the North American shore, curious no doubt at what holes his minions have made in the mighty walls of Washington.

I by no means have the answer, yet I enjoy pondering on how history can sometimes shine a different light on things.

A divided nation, weakened by ‘tribal’ infighting, at the same time facing an outside menace that wants to undermine the very things that strengthen them, their institutions, does have a rather familiar ring to it.

At the very least history teaches us is to never underestimate barbarians.

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