"When a Scythian overthrows his first enemy," Herodotus tells us, "he drinks his blood; and presents the king with the heads of the enemies he has killed in battle; for if he brings a head, he shares the booty that they take, but not if he does not bring one. He skins it in the following manner...." Well, OK, perhaps we don't need to revisit that
part of the classics just now. But if you have a hankering for ancient and early-medieval history, Chronicles of the Barbarians
will take you straight to the source. Among the other Greek and Roman authors cited in this anthology are Livy, Polybius, Tacitus, and Julius Caesar; later sections provide eyewitness glimpses of Genghis Khan ("in the subjugation of his foes his rigour and severity had the taste of poison") and Tamerlane (who "loved bold and brave soldiers, by whose aid opened the locks of terror and tore in pieces men like lions and through them and their battles overturned the heights of mountains"). One caveat: Edward Gibbon's passages on the death of Alaric and the Vandal attack on Rome are very eloquent, but they are, properly speaking, out of place in a collection of firsthand reports. --Ron Hogan
From Library Journal
Novelist and anthologist McCullough brings together firsthand accounts of barbarian invaders from Herodotus (d. 424 B.C.E.) to the fall of Constantinople (1553) for general readers. Common fears color these accounts, which stretch across a millennium and a half and span two continents. Scythians, Huns, Vandals, Mongols, Turks?all were seen through the same lenses of fear, ignorance, and bias. The Irish were lazy, the Vandals treacherous, the Tartars relentless in vengeance. The Vikings "everyday wash their faces and heads in the dirtiest and filthiest fashion possible: a girl servant brings a great basin of water to her master; he washes his hands and his face and his hair; then he blows his nose and spits into the basin. When he has finished, the servant carries the basin to the next person. Each blows his nose, spits, and washes face and hair in it." History buffs will enjoy this attractive and lively anthology.?David Keymer, California State Univ., Stanislaus
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