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Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History Paperback – July 17, 2007

4 out of 5 stars 59 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the Monty Python film Life of Brian, a member of the People's Front of Judea asks, "What have the Romans ever done for us?" (apart from, of course, the "sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health"). The director of that movie—and now popular historian—Jones (Who Murdered Chaucer?), along with Ereira (The People's England), now answer the question: a bit, but nowhere near as much as the barbarians did. Jones attempts to overturn the popular conception of the glorious Roman Empire, which he says is mostly propaganda, and claims that the barbarians—a general term describing the tribes of western and northern Europe, as well as of the Middle East—have for too long been slandered as "savages" by the allegedly more advanced and civilized Romans and their descendants. In fact, these assorted Celts, Vandals, Persians and Goths were technologically, economically and intellectually sophisticated, but were on the wrong side of history. While scholars will sniff at Jones's offhand humor, somewhat wide-eyed "revelations"—which have been revealed before—and tendency to believe the vastly exaggerated death tolls of the time (he relies on Plutarch's figure that Julius Caesar slaughtered a million Gauls, a virtually impossible feat), readers will go along for a most enjoyable ride and appreciate his fascinating tale of the barbarians' lost world. 24 pages of color photos, maps. (Sept. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"I wish all historical books written by nonhistorians were so informed, and all books by historians so well written."  —Dr. Walter Pohl, head of the Institute for Medieval History Research, Vienna Academy of Sciences


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books (November 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 056353916X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0563539162
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #397,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Terry Jones' Barbarians takes a completely fresh approach to Roman history. Not only does it offer us the chance to see the Romans from a non-Roman perspective, it also reveals that most of the people written off by the Romans as uncivilized, savage and barbaric were in fact organized, motivated and intelligent groups of people, with no intentions of overthrowing Rome and plundering its Empire.

So you think you know everything about the Romans? They gave us sophisticated road systems, chariots and the modern-day calendar. And of course they had to contend with barbarian hordes that continually threatened the peace, safety and prosperity of their Empire. Didn't they? In his new book and the accompanying four-part BBC Two television series Terry Jones argues that we have been sold a false history of Rome that has twisted our entire understanding of our own history. Terry asks what did the Romans ever do for us?

This is the story of Roman history as seen by the Britons, Gauls, Germans, Greeks, Persians and Africans. The Vandals didn't vandalize - the Romans did. The Goths didn't sack Rome - the Romans did. Attila the Hun didn't go to Constantinople to destroy it, but because the Emperor's daughter wanted to marry him. And far from civilizing the societies they conquered the Romans often destroyed much of what they found. Terry Jones travels round the geography of the Roman Empire and through 700 years of history - bringing wit, irreverence, passion and the very latest scholarship to transform our view of the legacy of the Roman Empire and the creation of the modern world. Welcome to history from a different point of view.

This is a much thicker and more scholarly work than Medieval Lives, but no less humorous (sidesplitting, in fact). I sincerely hope both the BBC2 productions of Barbarians and of Medieval Lives come available on DVD, and soon!
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Format: Paperback
Terry Jones may be one of the sharpest wits in the historians' arena, and "Barbarians" proves that Jones deserves credit as a serious historian.

That doesn't mean that "Barbarians" should be accepted as gospel. Its value rests in its willingness to examine the role of the "barbarians" in Western civilization . . . and that role is far greater than quaffing mead after a good rape-and-pillage.

Jones reminds us that "barbarians" were everyone who was not Roman - so it covered quite a bit of ground. Accordingly, the Roman concept of a Barbarian was not Conan. Jones goes to great lengths to prove that "barbarians" made several significant contributions to history, but that's not surprising considering the fact that the Greeks qualified as "barbarians" even though they were the leading scholars of the age.

Like most historians zealously pursuing a thesis, Jones clearly overplays his hand in several areas while ignoring Rome's obvious achievements. Jones argues that Rome stood as a bulwark against scientific progress and didn't achieve much of note in the fields of art, literature, or the sciences. But Jones never really gives the Romans their due - the Roman aqueducts and the Coliseum are ignored, and Jones dismisses Rome's magnificent roads because there's evidence that roads were also built in Britain. In other words, Jones ain't playing fair.

But that's fine - the Romans surely diminished the achievements of their neighbors on many levels when writing their own history. And this slant is pretty obvious, so it's easy to read Jones, enjoy him, and still learn something even if you don't take all his conclusions as gospel. This is one of the most entertaining histories of Rome you will read, and that by itself makes it worth a look.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "Barbarians," Terry Jones and Alan Ereira finally answer the question posed in "Monty Python's Life of Brian": "What did the Romans ever do for us?" "The answer," according to the authors, "is not usually very nice."

Jones and Ereira explain that while there are many books setting out the history of Rome from the Roman perspective, there is no general history in English that tells the tale from the viewpoint of the so-called "barbarians." This book is their attempt to remedy this omission, and it recounts the history of Rome as experienced by the Atlantic Celts, the Germans (including the Dacians), the Hellenes (Greeks and Persians), the Huns and others who encountered the pointy end of Roman civilization. The message is that the Romans were not so much bringers of civilization as destroyers of advanced societies, not innovators but relentless conservatives who deliberately suppressed the hard-earned knowledge of the peoples they conquered. In Tacitus' famous phrase, the Romans had a habit of making a wasteland and calling it peace--at least until they encountered the equally ruthless Parthian and Sassanian empires.

"Barbarians" is "popular history" (it accompanies a BBC TV series), and the effort to tell the story from a non-Roman point of view sometimes lapses into exaggeration--for instance, I'm skeptical that the Greeks were really on the verge of an "industrial revolution" before being rolled by the Romans. Still, Jones (of Monty Python fame) and Ereira are witty racontuers--their latest book is a highly readble and surprisingly illuminating account of the ancient world that will raise the hackles of Romanophiles everywhere.
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