Adapted from http://www.wizardrealm.com/barbarians/history2.html and http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/The+Huns
The term "barbarian" comes from the Greeks. The
Greeks originally used the term to describe most of the peoples
of Northern Europe because to them, the harsh "barking" sound
of their speech sounded like "bar-bar-bar.” Since
these strangers from the north did not understand the Greek
language, the Greeks believed them to be "illiterate.” The
term also came to mean "stranger" or "wanderer," since
most of the barbarians with which the Greeks came in contact
were nomadic travelers.
To the people of ancient Greece and Rome, a barbarian
was anyone who was not part of their culture. Because
most of these "strangers" regularly practiced
raids upon these civilizations, the term “barbarian” gradually
evolved into a negative term: a person who was sub-human,
uncivilized, and regularly practiced the most disgusting
and inhuman acts imaginable. Nothing could have been farther
from the truth.
Many barbarians were a tall, fierce, fair-haired, and fair-skinned
people. They kicked out or forced the people of the regions
they entered to adopt their ways. They never truly settled
anywhere, ever-moving as their needs and resources changed.
Eventually they did settle and create homes and lifestyles
for themselves, yet their culture was never elaborate.
Those who they came in contact with considered them uncivilized,
and yet were fascinated by their strength, stamina, force
of will, charisma, and versatility. They were respected by
those they made friends with, and feared by those who opposed
them. Even within their own society, they fought amongst
themselves, seeking power over, and control of, the lands
The Romans, on the other hand, saw themselves as having
a highly advanced civilization, and they looked down on the
cultures of the people who lived beyond the borders of their
empire. In 122 AD, Emperor Hadrian built a wall separating
the Roman part of Britain from the mountainous land now called
Scotland . The Romans called the Scottish people “barbarians,” possibly
because their native Celtic language sounded like the bleating
of sheep. The term was eventually used to describe anyone
who lived beyond the borders of the Roman Empire, in the barbaricum.
Major Groups of Barbarians that gave Rome the most trouble
The people who lived northeast of the Roman Empire spoke
languages similar to modern German. These “Germanic
tribes” included the Vandals, Goths, and Franks.
Most of the tribesmen did not know how to read, but unlike
the Huns, they were farmers and were not nomads.
In 376, the Huns forced the Visigoths, or “western
Goths”, to leave their homeland near the Danube River
in modern Austria . The Visigoths asked Emperor Valens permission
to settle inside the Roman Empire. Valens agreed, but charged
the Visigoths unfair prices for food and other supplies.
When the Visigoths protested, Valens ordered them to leave.
The Visigoths refused, and formed an army that defeated and
killed the emperor in 378 at the Battle of Adrianople.
Alaric was a Visigoth who joined the Roman army and rose
to a high rank. He left the army when his father died and
became king of the Visigoths. In 410, the Romans refused
to pay the customary “protection” money to the
Visigoths to keep them from attacking the Empire, so Alaric’s
soldiers formed a siege around Rome. When the city was close
to starvation, the Roman citizens opened the gates and allowed
the conquering army to enter. The Visigoths rampaged through
the streets for three days, pillaging and burning. Alaric
ordered his army not to rape women or destroy churches (pretty
civilized for a barbarian). Rome was not completely destroyed,
but for the first time in nearly 800 years, the “eternal
city” had been defeated.
Germanic tribes overran what was left of the Roman Empire.
The Ostrogoths, or “eastern Goths,” came from
land we now call the Ukraine (just west of modern-day Russia
). The Ostrogoths conquered most of Italy, Greece, and
the western Balkans. The Vandals took control of the Roman
territory in North Africa. The Franks overran France , while
the Saxons conquered the southern part of England .
The Goths left behind a great impact on art and architecture
in Europe. Gothic architecture features sharp lines and
precise angles. Gothic churches and cathedrals have tall
spires. Gothic literature refers to gloomy stories with supernatural
themes. Some teenagers use the term Gothic to refer to music
and fashion described as gloomy, dramatic, and dark.
The Huns were a nomadic people who originated
in North Central Asia and appeared in Europe in the 4th century
AD. They were organized militarily and were divided into
hordes. Their military superiority was due to their small,
rapid horses, on which they practically lived, even eating
and negotiating treaties on horseback. The Huns appear in
history in the 3rd century BC, when part of the Great Wall
of China was erected to exclude them from China .
They crossed the Danube River , penetrated deep into the
Eastern Roman Empire , and in 432 forced Emperor Theodosius
to pay them tribute money. Attila, their greatest king, had
his palace in Hungary . Most of the territories that now
constitute European Russia, Poland , and Germany were controlled
by him. When Rome refused in 450 to pay further tribute money,
the Huns invaded Italy and Gaul and were defeated in 451.
However, they continued to ravage Italy before withdrawing
after Attila's death in 453.
Notable Barbarians who made trouble for Rome
Alaric I (ăl'ərĭk), c.370–410, king
of the Visigoths from 395–410 who plundered Greece
in 395 and attacked Italy, conquering Rome in 410. He headed
the Visigothic troops serving Emperor Theodosius I. After
the emperor's death, in 395, the troops rebelled and chose
Alaric as their leader. Alaric devastated Thrace, Macedonia
, and Greece. In 401 he invaded Italy, where after some
indecisive warfare he agreed to withdraw. The Romans were
persuaded to buy Alaric's alliance, by paying tribute money
on a regular basis.
The Romans soon broke their agreement, and Alaric again
invaded Italy and laid siege to Rome in 408 and again in
409. Unable to negotiate an agreement with the Senate for
an acceptable amount of tribute money, Alaric stormed and
sacked Rome in 410 and then marched south to attack Sicily
and Africa .
A storm destroyed his fleet, and Alaric, having turned
back, died of an illness. His brother was elected his successor.
It is said that Alaric was buried in a secret burial place,
and the slaves who dug his grave were killed to protect the
Attila the Hun (406-453)
Attila (ətĭl'ə, ăt'ələ), 406?-453, king of the
Huns from 433?–453 and the most successful of the barbarian invaders of
the Roman Empire . In 434, Attila used his mounted army to force a treaty with
the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II. Through this treaty,
he obtained tribute money and vast areas of land for the
Huns. In 447 he again attacked the empire and spent the following
three years negotiating a new peace treaty.
In 450, however, the new Eastern emperor, Marcian, refused
to pay any more tribute money to the Huns. Emperor Valentinian
III of the Western Roman Empire refused to pay the Huns as
well. Valentinian's ambitious sister, Honoria, attempted
to form an alliance with Attila. Attila took her proposal
as a marriage offer and demanded half of the Western Empire
as a dowry, a demand that emperor Valentinian refused.
Leaving Hungary with an army of perhaps half a million Huns
and allies, Attila, who had by this time gained the nickname “the
scourge of God”, invaded Gaul in 451. He was defeated
by the Gallic tribes and Attila turned back and invaded Northern
Italy in 452. He abandoned his plan to take Rome itself,
however, after Pope Leo I personally asked Attila and his
army to leave. Attila did just that, much to the surprise
of the Romans. Soon afterward in Hungary, Attila died of
a nosebleed while celebrating his marriage to his recently
acquired bride Ildico.
a.k.a. Genseric (390-477)
Gaiseric (gī'sərĭk) or Genseric (gĕn'sərĭk,
c.390–477, king of the Vandals and the Alani from 428–477. In around
428 or 429, Gaiseric led approximately 80,000 Vandals from Spain to Carthage
in North Africa where he ravaged Roman cities there and established a Vandal
kingdom with Carthage as his capital. From there he crossed the Mediterranean
Sea in 455 to attack and plunder Rome. He also attacked other Roman positions
around the Mediterranean ( Egypt , Thrace and Asia Minor )--and brought Sicily,
Sardinia , and Corsica under his direct rule.
a.k.a. Odovacar (434-493)
Odoacer (ōdōā'sər) or Odovacar (ōdōvā'kər),
c.435–493, Germanic tribal leader who in 476 deposed
(removed from power) the Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus,
bringing the Western Roman Empire to an end. Odoacer, who
was rumored to be half Hun, was chieftain of several Germanic “barbarian” tribes.
He and his troops were mercenaries (professional soldiers)
in the service of Rome , but in 476 one of the Germanic tribes
revolted and proclaimed Odoacer their king.
Odoacer defeated the Roman general Orestes and deposed
Romulus Augustulus, last Roman emperor of the Western Empire,
by crowning himself king (not emperor). The date 476 is often
accepted as the end of the Western Roman Empire . However,
Odoacer's action made little difference in the status of
Western Rome , which had long been prey to the barbarian
armies; most of the Roman emperors during this time had been
mere puppets, doing the bidding of the barbarians.
Emperor Zeno of the Eastern Empire , considering himself
heir to the Western Empire, reluctantly recognized Odoacer's
authority over Italy and granted him the title of patrician.
In 488 however, as Odoacer’s power grew, Eastern emperor
Zeno sent Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths, into
Italy to expel Odoacer. Several times defeated, Odoacer gave
in to Theodoric in 493 and agreed to a treaty by which he
was to share his authority with Theodoric. Invited to a “friendly” banquet
by Theodoric, Odoacer was cleaved in two by Theodoric and
his son and chief officers were also assassinated; thus Theodoric
made himself master of Italy.
167 AD - Germans invade Italy and Greece .
367 AD - Picts
and Scots invade England .
370 AD - Huns
invade Europe .
406 AD - Vandals, Alans and
Suevis invade Gaul ( France ).
410 AD - Visigoths, led by Alaric, capture
Rome ; settle in Spain and southern France .
421 AD - Angles
and Saxons invade Britain .
429 AD - Vandals
invade North Africa . Burgundians and Franks invade France
and Italy .
451 AD - Huns, led by Attila
invade France , but retreat at the request of Pope Leo I.
455 AD - Vandals, led by Gaiseric, conquer
476 AD - Several tribes converge on and conquer Rome
; Odoacer is
proclaimed king of Rome.