Originally, the term “barbaric”, borrowed in French in 1308 from the Latin barbarus, itself derived from the ancient Greek / (“foreign”), was used by the ancient Greeks to designate peoples not belonging to their country. civilization (defined by the Hellenic language and religion), and of which they could not understand the language. Barbarian meant then “non-Greek”: any person whose language resembled, for the Greeks, a mumbo-jumbo “bar-bar.” The term “barbarian” was then used by the Romans to name the peoples who are at the outside, in the “land of Barbarians”, that is to say out of their authority: the. For the Greeks as for the Romans, any “barbarian” can, by adopting their language, their gods and their manners, become Greek or Roman, and this was the case not only of many individuals (some of whom managed to reach the imperial function ), but also whole peoples, accepted in the Empire as. However, these terms could also reflect the fear or contempt inspired by the foreigner, the invader who does not present himself as an ally, in potential, but in conquering wanting to impose his manners and his power in the For Thucydides, “Barbarian” also has a technical meaning: that of local values ​​opposed to the universal values ​​sought by the civilized, for example those that put the interest of a clan above the detriment of the common interest, the “public good”.

Herodotus reports that “The Egyptians call barbarians all who do not speak their language. […] among the Thracians, Scythians, Persians, Lydians; in a word, because in most barbarians, those who learn the mechanical arts, and even their children, are regarded as the last of the citizens. Herodotus continues, “Almost all the names of the gods came from Egypt to Greece. It is very certain that they come from the Barbarians: I was convinced by my research. So I think we hold them mainly from the Egyptians. “Claude Yvon, in the article” Barbare (philosophy) “of the Encyclopedia of Diderot and Alembert, points out that” it is the name that the Greeks gave by contempt to all the nations that did not speak to them. language, or at least which did not speak it as well as they, to mark the extreme opposition which was between them and the other nations which had not deprived themselves of the roughness of the first centuries “. It was therefore initially a simple linguistic criterion to distinguish individuals whose language appeared to them as a babble unintelligible (“ba ba ba”), a kind of onomatopoeia, comparable to blah-blah in French, evoking the stuttering. Was therefore “barbaric” who, instead of speaking Greek, to possess the logos, made noise with his mouth. The term therefore did not designate less “civilized” peoples since it was used for Persians and Egyptians, for example. On the other hand, the Celtic, Germanic, Scythian, Slavic or Asian peoples were considered as barbarians little, if any, civilized. By extension, this linguistic difference will give a negative, distant vision of the other, the foreigner not by geography, but by culture. This will be reflected in the definition transmitted by the Greeks to the Roman world. After the conquest of Greece, the Romans adopted the Greek term and used it to designate the peoples who surrounded their own world. What was considered barbaric in Rome was that which did not belong to the Greco-Roman cultural sphere, whatever its level of civilization. Thus, the Romans considered, for example, the Huns as “two-legged animals”, according to the description made by the historian Ammian Marcellin, who describes their arrival in Europe, as a “tumbling tornado of the mountains”. to preserve Gaul, which he had just conquered from the peril represented by the Germanic peoples (which he had managed to push back beyond the Rhine) and to save from barbarism a province on the road to Romanization, Caesar, in a famous digression of the Gallic Wars portrays a very unhelpful portrait of those invaders he considers incapable even of wanting “civilization”: physical immodesty, crude food, summary religion, the cult of violence and destruction, are the main features it lends to those populations that it hopes to maintain outside the Roman area. The Romans (who were early on raids on their frontiers) perceived the barbarians as a threat. After a first warning at the approach of the (Gauls in Italy and Greece), a second serious alert takes place at the approach of (Cimbres, Teutons). From (242, 253, 276, when the Franks and Alamans devastate Gaul, Spain and northern Italy), the Romans will be subjected for five centuries to this barbaric pressure, which will finally take the western part.the empire they had formed and part of their civilization, despite the ardor of certain generals like Stilicon (of Germanic origin). In the eastern part of their empire, of Greek culture, which resists a thousand years more, the “barbaric” threats come from Avars, Slavs, Persians and Arabs, but in the end, even if the Empire of The Orient (which we call “Byzantine”) eventually sinks 977 years after that of the West, it will, well before the fall of Constantinople, transmitted his civilization and his knowledge to the Slavs, Turks, Arabs, and educated circles of the Italian peninsula. These various intermediaries, in turn, will transmit it to the rest of the West, taking up work interrupted by the death of Boethius. Afterwards, the term “barbarian invasions” is used to describe the population movements that occur from until – through the ending Western Roman Empire. These migrations of Germanic peoples having invaded the empire from 406 are considered as a wave of destructive barbarism on civilization. By extension, the age of the Vikings and its sudden and murderous raids perpetuates the fear previously inspired by the Huns, the Goths and other Vandals, while in the East the Slavs invest the Balkans while peoples crossed by the steppes from Asia create new states (Khazar Empire, Bulgaria, Hungary, Mongol Empire) whose armies sometimes advance to the walls of Constantinople. However, the peoples in question do not perceive themselves as “invaders” or as destroyers of Roman civilization, but as “successors” and continuators of this civilization: from Charlemagne to the Bulgarian or Russian Tsars and Etienne Douchan ” Emperor of the Serbs and Romans, “their rulers, as well as their aristocracy and, ultimately, their population, never ceased to” become Romans “, to the point that in 1184 the German Empire took the name of Saint – Roman Empire and that in 1589, Moscow takes the title of “Third Rome” (the second being Constantinople). The etymology of the terms Kaiser and Tsar comes from elsewhere Caesar. The schism of 1054 puts the church of Rome under the protection of the Germanic kings but isolates it from the other four patriarchies, and from then on, this church will build its legitimacy by transforming the definition of “barbarian” into one that is not Catholic. If “barbarian” peoples adopt Catholicism, they see themselves integrated into Western civilization; if they do not, they remain enemies to fight, can be reduced to slavery (the term “slave” originally designated Slavs), and all the more so with the specifically Catholic dogma of ” filioque “, a non-Christian soul is lost anyway. In the empire built by Charlemagne, another term of meaning similar to “barbarian” appeared with the “Saracen”. A variant of the term is used at this time to describe Mediterranean pirates from countries with a Muslim majority: the “Barbaresques”.

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