Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Terry Jones' Barbarians

Who were the Barbarians? According to Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, the Barbarians were, by ancient Roman definition, all the peoples of the earth who were not Romans. The Romans, as you might know, regarded other people who did not conform to their ideal culture as inferior, brutal, uncouth, unrefined, crude. Add dangerous, violent, chaotic, blood-thirsty, ravenous, and other such terms, and the Romans had good reason to strike preemptively to protect their nation and way of life. The word barbarian has survived with many negative connotations. And because the Romans were the victors and wrote the histories, their views of the ancient world have been preserved and accepted as fact.

Were the Celts, Goths, Vandals, Huns, Persians, and other ancient societies really so terrible? Terry Jones and a community of historians and archeologists now question the Roman view and have found copious evidence that the Romans have misreported many events, including the nail-hammering Sack of Rome. The Barbarian cultures were often wealthy and technologically ahead of the Romans, who were really great as soldiers, lawyers, and builders, but less known for their arts, literature, math, and science. Women in Barbarian cultures had more rights than those in Rome, and Barbarians were more accommodating to foreign cultures. Unlike Rome, most of the Barbarians did not maintain standing armies. Jones and the historians that he consults pose that the Barbarians were often less likely to rape and pillage than the Romans. So, just who was more civilized? Who was just posing to overthrow governments and steal other cultures' wealth?

Jones presents his views in a very entertaining set of BBC programs Terry Jones' Barbarians, with a companion book Terry Jones' Barbarians. I was not quite sure at first how serious he was, for he is still an excitable, highly animated performer strutting on screen, giving us a smile and a laugh. He even slips a few Python lines into the script. But he takes viewers to the battlefields, archeological sites, and museums, and he lets the experts make their case that the Barbarians deserve reconsideration. Jones even contends that many British and Americans people owe their Celtic ancestors more respect.

Terry Jones' Barbarians was shown on the BBC in 2006 and does not seem to have gotten much attention in the U.S. Only the first four episodes appear to be available via DVD. The only evidence I have found that there were more episodes is the Internet Movie Database entry for the series. I'd love to see them.

Terry Jones' Barbarians. Koch Vision : Distributed by Koch Entertainment, [2007], 2 DVDs. ISBN 9781417229932.

Jones, Terry. Terry Jones' Barbarians. BBC Books, 2006. 288p. ISBN 9780563493181.

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