Cover image for The barbarians speak : how the conquered peoples shaped Roman Europe
The barbarians speak : how the conquered peoples shaped Roman Europe
Wells, Peter S.
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Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xii, 335 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
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DG59.E8 W45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 societies.

Author Notes

Peter S. Wells, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Wells incorporates archaeological findings with the classical Roman writings to discern the relations between conqueror and conquered during the centuries of the Roman imperium. He limits his subject to the regions of the Rhine and the Upper Danube, which the Romans established as their formal border following their shocking defeat by native tribes, whom they named Germans, in A.D. 9. However, the border was more a membrane than a wall, as indicated by Roman artifacts excavated beyond the frontier to the Elbe River and north to Jutland. Wells describes, too, the oppida, sizable native towns predating the Romans that have also been discovered. Integrating this evidence, Wells theorizes a complex interaction, commercial and cultural, between Romans and the Germanic tribes, in distinction to the us-them biases of Caesar or Tacitus. Because Rome exerts a timeless fascination, this work's scholarly tone and approach should take with the reader not content to scratch the surface of Roman history. --Gilbert Taylor

Library Journal Review

Traditionally, the indigenous peoples of temperate Europe with whom the Romans came in contactÄthat is, the Celts and the GermansÄhave been considered barbarians. Classical accounts of these peoples by Julius Caesar, Tacitus, and other Greek and Roman writers presented these nonliterate peoples as inhabitants of a primitive environment lacking the complexities of the Mediterranean world. Wells (anthropology, Univ. of Minnesota; Rural Economy in the Early Iron Age) draws upon current research to challenge this view. For the general reader, he presents research that has been until now largely the preserve of specialists,, revealing that the Celts and the Germans had a more complex material and social culture than previously believed. They were developing cities, for instance, and minting coins, suggesting the presence of a money economy before Roman expansion into the area. This will appeal to students and lay readers with an interest in European history; recommended for academic and larger public libraries.ÄRobert James Andrews, Duluth P.L., MN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Wells's well-written popular archaeological treatment (no notes) of "Germans" and the early Roman empire effectively covers the material culture. However, the mantra "Until recently, Greek and Roman texts were generally accepted by modern scholars at face value" is postmodernist nonsense that ignores 150 years of classical source criticism. Wells's neocolonial theory has town walls as "expressive" not military; the quondam noble savage as monogamous; human sacrifice as imperialist bias; and continuity of indigenous styles as "cultural resistance." "Romanization" is misrepresented as the city culture of Rome rather than imperial culture as a whole, while borders and frontiers are confused to press a neocolonial model. Simplistic global comparisons are misleading at best. Observations such as Caesar "had none of the objectivity ... we would expect of a modern anthropologist" illustrate the level of sophistication and parti pris of this book. Fortunately, Wells's magisterial control of the archaeology is not fatally marred by his ill-conceived flirtation with so-called "theory." General readers; undergraduates. B. S. Bachrach; University of Minnesota

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tablesp. vii
Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Chapter 1 Natives and Romansp. 3
Chapter 2 Europe before the Roman Conquestsp. 28
Chapter 3 Iron Age Urbanizationp. 48
Chapter 4 The Roman Conquestsp. 64
Chapter 5 Identities and Perceptionsp. 99
Chapter 6 Development of the Frontier Zonep. 122
Chapter 7 Persistence of Traditionp. 148
Chapter 8 Town, Country, and Changep. 171
Chapter 9 Transformation into New Societiesp. 187
Chapter 10 Impact across die Frontierp. 224
Chapter 11 Conclusionp. 259
Glossaryp. 267
Greek and Roman Authorsp. 269
Bibliographic Essayp. 271
Bibliography of Works Citedp. 287
Indexp. 331