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“The Barbarians Speak“ by Peter S. Wells


The book The Barbarians Speak proposes readers a unique understanding history and historical development of Europe. In contrast to traditional views of Roman Empire and its relations with barbarian tribes, Peter S. Wells defends the Celts and Germanic tribes proving that they had developed culture and economy, social and political structure. The book consists of 11 chapters devoted to different historical periods and covered the time between 2nd-4th centuries and the 10th century.

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The first three chapters characterize and describe the barbarians and their life style, their civilizations and impact on the Roman world. Wells proves that Germanic tribes and the Celts had developed social and political organizations based on century-old traditions and values. “During the first half of the fifth century $.c., a new style of ornament appeared in temperate Europe” (Wells 42). They have their unique culture and traditions which allow researchers to say that their stage of development was the same as the historical development of the Roman Empire. The next three chapters (4,5,6) depict the invasion of Romans and their competition with native tribes. “These conflicts were surely in part stimulated by the Roman military and political activity in southern Gaul, though it is quite possible that the writers were unaware of the fact” (Wells 72). Wells underlines that the narrative sources were compiled by roman and Greek authors who exaggerated the role of Romans in this struggle and diminish the role of native tribes in historical developments. The main problem is that all tribes and nations outside the frontiers of the Roman empire were seen as barbarians and wild.

The chapter 7 depicts the strong impact of traditions and values of the native tribes on their life style and cultural development. Wells describes that considering the continued two-way traffic across the Alps, beginning in at least the early fourth century and culminating in the Gaulish seizure of Rome in 390 B.C.; recalling the generations of intermittent warfare between Rome and either the Celts in Italy and/or those who had come into Italy to aid their kin, it is feasible that the Celts of Cisalpine Gaul (that part of northern Italy recognized by Rome as Celtic territory until its incorporation as a Roman/city province about 81 B.C.) would have a culture so different from that of their Transalpine counterparts.

The chapters 8.9 and 10 depict that the Roman rules and laws transformed the societies and created a new social structure thus they could not eliminate cultural and policies values and principles. “Rural settlement can inform us about the degree to which different groups in indigenous society adopted aspects of Roman culture. As noted above, the new urban centers were showplaces for the display of Roman power and of native elites” (wells 179). Indeed, given the evident antiquity of the social structure into which the Germanic tribes fit, and analogous phenomena among other Indo-European groups would it seem reasonable for whole segments of a people whose culture, although covering a vast geographic expanse, is unmistakably one, to abandon.

The book presents a lot of interesting ideas but the most important one is assimilation process and absorption of cultural traditions by the “barbarian” tribes and the Roman Empire “Cattle became progressively more important in the local economy during the early Roman Period. Farmhouses became longer during this time, to accommodate more cattle, and the size of the animals increased” (Wells 180). The modern rendering of these terms is bound to be semantically misleading. Neither in Diodorus’ time was as technical or academic as they are today. Both had a more personal content, implying a search for knowledge as vocation rather than career. Most important for our understanding, they are, in the context of antiquity, to be taken as markedly closer in meaning to their etymologies. n fact, some vocabulary items deriving from Celtic and significant for our interests do appear in the early texts, and oddly, it would seem, just when Greek forms and fashions were in vogue.


The book helps to understand the history of civilization and place the barbarians tribes in European history. As the most important, it shows that Germanic tribes and the Celts played a crucial role in development of civilization and establishment of its main values and cultural traditions. This seems to be the basis for many of the scholarly problems in evaluating our classical sources: one becomes suspicious of generalizations, given the dearth of specific information about Celtic areas outside of Gaul. If, however, we recall the foreboding nature the barbarian world had for the Greeks and Romans, the natural geographic expansion of Rome into Gaul first settled by Roman colonists just before 100 B.C. and conquered by Caesar from 58 to 51 B.C.), and the concomitant extirpation of Gallic customs in Italy and parts north, it really could not have been otherwise. Rome’s way was to give fullest attention to the task at hand. One of Rome’s chief tasks (concluded by Caesar) was the reduction of Gaul. As the most important, this book shows that interpretation and understanding of history and hysterical events depends upon the primary sources used by the ancient author and his country of origin. Archeological excavations allow historical to prove or reject facts and information’s contained in ancient narratives.

Works Cited

Wells, P. S. The Barbarians Speak. Princeton University Press, 2001.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 15). “The Barbarians Speak“ by Peter S. Wells.

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"“The Barbarians Speak“ by Peter S. Wells." StudyCorgi, 15 Oct. 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "“The Barbarians Speak“ by Peter S. Wells." October 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "“The Barbarians Speak“ by Peter S. Wells." October 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "“The Barbarians Speak“ by Peter S. Wells." October 15, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '“The Barbarians Speak“ by Peter S. Wells'. 15 October.

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