The Barbarians Speak

The Barbarians Speak : How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe

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The Barbarians Speak re-creates the story of Europe's indigenous people who were nearly stricken from historical memory even as they adopted and transformed aspects of Roman culture. The Celts and Germans inhabiting temperate Europe before the arrival of the Romans left no written record of their lives and were often dismissed as "barbarians" by the Romans who conquered them. Accounts by Julius Caesar and a handful of other Roman and Greek writers would lead us to think that prior to contact with the Romans, European natives had much simpler political systems, smaller settlements, no evolving social identities, and that they practiced human sacrifice. A more accurate, sophisticated picture of the indigenous people emerges, however, from the archaeological remains of the Iron Age. Here Peter Wells brings together information that has belonged to the realm of specialists and enables the general reader to share in the excitement of rediscovering a "lost people." In so doing, he is the first to marshal material evidence in a broad-scale examination of the response by the Celts and Germans to the Roman presence in their lands. The recent discovery of large pre-Roman settlements throughout central and western Europe has only begun to show just how complex native European societies were before the conquest. Remnants of walls, bone fragments, pottery, jewelry, and coins tell much about such activities as farming, trade, and religious ritual in their communities; objects found at gravesites shed light on the richly varied lives of individuals. Wells explains that the presence--or absence--of Roman influence among these artifacts reveals a range of attitudes toward Rome at particular times, from enthusiastic acceptance among urban elites to creative resistance among rural inhabitants. In fascinating detail, Wells shows that these societies did grow more cosmopolitan under Roman occupation, but that the people were much more than passive beneficiaries; in many cases they helped determine the outcomes of Roman military and political initiatives. This book is at once a provocative, alternative reading of Roman history and a catalyst for overturning long-standing assumptions about nonliterate and indigenous more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 152.4 x 231.14 x 15.24mm | 476.27g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 9 halftones, 20 line illus., 2 tables, 16 maps
  • 0691089787
  • 9780691089782
  • 575,102

Review quote

Winner of the 1999 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Sociology and Anthropology, Association of American Publishers "The Barbarians Speak is a book of deep scholarship and high quality. It will bring profitable reading to those interested in the ancient world, and it will prove illuminating to those interested in the complex processes of empires in general."--Arthur M. Eckstein, International History Review "[Wells's] clear prose, excellent illustrations, and numerous maps will give his readers a nuanced picture of the Roman frontiers and the peoples who lived there. And all of this is done without falling back on either Tacitus's or Rousseau's 'no savage,' no mean feat. Wells's barbarians are refreshingly matter of fact."--Steven Muhlberger, American Historical Reviewshow more

Back cover copy

""The Barbarians Speak" is an important book. It is the first to address the question of Roman-native interaction in Europe from the perspective of anthropological archaeology rather than a historical form of archaeology, which privileges the Roman side of the story."--Peter Bogucki, Princeton University "This book by Peter Wells has the potential to change the way we look at Europe during the years of the Roman Empire. All historians of the period should read it."--Colin M. Wells, Trinity Universityshow more

Table of contents

List of Figures and Tables vii Preface ix Acknowledgments xi CHAPTER 1 Natives and Romans 3 CHAPTER 2 Europe before the Roman Conquests 28 CHAPTER 3 Iron Age Urbanization 48 CHAPTER 4 The Roman Conquests 64 CHAPTER 5 Identities and Perceptions 99 CHAPTER 6 Development of the Frontier Zone 122 CHAPTER 7 Persistence of Tradition 148 CHAPTER 8 Town, Country, and Change 171 CHAPTER 9 Transformation into New Societies 187 CHAPTER 10 Impact across die Frontier 224 CHAPTER 11 Conclusion 259 Glossary 267 Greek and Roman Authors 269 Bibliographic Essay 271 Bibliography of Works Cited 287 Index 331show more

Review Text

I'm afraid the Barbarians aren't speaking, or at least not to me! This falls into my rare bad book category, and I couldn't even manage to read it all. I started by disagreeing with the main premise, that we don't know much about the pre-Roman people of Europe because they weren't literate, then I became annoyed by the bitty narrative which jumps about all over the place and muddles its discussion of Roman and non-Roman in a very confusing way, and finally I tested a particular passage about which I knew something, and found the discussion so facile and so limited I was amazed a 'professor' was responsible. Perhaps it is because his subject is anthropology that he wastes an abundance of archaeological evidence. There are numerous decent books about the pre-Roman and non-Roman peoples of Europe; don't bother with this one. (Kirkus UK)show more