Revista „Cercetări istorice” – XLII – 2023

Perspectives of ancient historiography on barbarians


The image of the barbarian in the Greco-Roman world was complex and often pejorative. Greeks and Romans used the term ”barbarian” to describe those who did not share their cultural and linguistic characteristics. The Greeks initially referred to non-Greek speakers as ”barbaroi”, emphasizing linguistic differences. Over time, the concept evolved to include cultural and social distinctions.

Barbarians were often depicted as uncivilized, lacking in refinement, and living on the fringes of the known world. These stereotypes served to reinforce the cultural superiority of the Greeks and later the Romans. However, it is crucial to note that the perception of barbarians was not uniform, and there were instances of admiration or recognition of certain positive qualities among non-Greek or non-Roman peoples.

Trade, conquests, and cultural exchanges gradually challenged and modified these stereotypes, leading to a more nuanced understanding of different societies. Nonetheless, the image of the barbarian persisted as a cultural construct, shaping the self-perception of the Greeks and Romans as advanced and civilized in contrast to the perceived “otherness” of those outside their cultural sphere.