15 May 2006

Python Defends Barbarians

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(Amazon-US is using the wrong book picture. This correct one is from Amazon-UK.)

Former Monty Python comedy troop member Terry Jones has developed a latter-day career producing popularizing history programs for British television. Jones is trying to offer an original and witty version of history, but the result (being representative of the contemporary leftwing demotic culture of which Jones himself is a product) inevitably proves fragmentary, misleading, and vulgar.

His latest (a sequel to an earlier series on the Middle Ages) focuses on the Roman Empire. Jones proposes to tell the story of Roman history as seen by the Britons, Gauls, Germans, Hellenes, Persians and Africans. His approach consists of serving up selected anecdotal details (typically obtained from recent academic papers) designed to support arguments for barbarian cultural equality, and moral superiority, to Roman Civilization.

A Times press release associated with the impending book pubication provides the central Jones thesis:

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.

The unique feature of Rome was not its arts or its science or its philosophical culture, not its attachment to law. The unique feature of Rome was that it had the world’s first professional army. Normal societies consisted of farmers, hunters, craftsmen and traders. When they needed to fight they relied not on training or on standardised weapons, but on psyching themselves up to acts of individual heroism.

Seen through the eyes of people who possessed trained soldiers to fight for them, they were easily portrayed as simple savages. But that was far from the truth.

The fact that we still think of the Celts, the Huns, the Vandals, the Goths and so on as “barbarians” means that we have all fallen hook, line and sinker for Roman propaganda. We actually owe far more to the so-called “barbarians” than we do to the men in togas.

In the past 30 years, however, the story has begun to change.

There you have it. Rome did not triumph over the barbarians by virtue of superior civilization. It was just that same evil Western militarism, overcoming peaceful (morally superior) agrarian societies. Why, the Britons, Jones contends, had better shield, helmets, and chariots than the Romans, built roads (alas, with wooden, not stone foundations, old boy), and (assuming somebody’s interpretation of a bas relief is correct) may have developed some sort of wooden harvesting contraption.

Jones overarching thesis rests on his ability to persuade his audience that the existence of some vestigial technology, in the Celtic case, establishes the equality of illiterate wooden-road-building Celtic barbarism to the Classical Civilization which read Homer and Virgil and built in marble and concrete.

Such is contemporary trans-Atlantic culture. A state-funded national television network provides a platform for an utterly unqualified celebrity to dispense competently-assembled, but factually dubious “histories” arriving at politically correct conclusions.

One Feedback on "Python Defends Barbarians"


Terry Jones has produced a crude piece of anti-Roman propaganda. The Romans did not call all foreigners “barbarians”: this term was seldom applied to the Jews, Carthaginians or Parthians. The barbarians were typically northern tribes who were continually fighting amongst themselves and little concept of the rule of law.

His account of Trajan’s conquest of Dacia is a travesty, leaving out prior raiding of Roman provinces by King Decebal and his subsequent treachery after accepting a peace treaty.

His scorn poured on Roman historians like Tacitus is also an outrage, given that he uses them as sources for Roman misdeeds. He believes Tacitus when he tells us that Roman officials raped Boudicca’s daughters, but not when he tells us that the Druids practised human sacrifice!

Jones is an emotional neo-Druid riding an anti-imperialist hobby-horse because of his dislike of modern-day America. Those who have a serious interest in this subject should read Romans and Barbarians by Derek Williams.


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