Barbarians, with Terry Jones (2006) BBC

Episode 4: The End of the World

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Video Description

Around 400AD, two 'barbarian' babies were born. One would grow up to become the fiercest barbarian of them all: Attila the Hun - the scourge of God. The other, Alaric, would become the leader of the greatest wreckers in history: the Vandals. The key to the success of the Romans' anti-barbarian propaganda is intimately wrapped up in the stories of the Huns and Vandals and the fall of the Western Empire. When the Huns and the Vandals first burst across the borders of the Empire, it was profoundly different to the old pagan Empire. It was Christian. Legend has it that Attila's violent campaign against Rome was ended, not by a battle, but by the Pope. At the sight of the representative of the Christian God, we are told, the great pagan army turned away.

The Vandals, the Romans tell us, were responsible for delivering the final blow to the Western Empire when they tore out its heart: Rome. In an investigation that takes him from the great Hungarian plains to the ruins of North Africa, Terry discovers that the truth was somewhat different. The much-heralded victory of Pope Leo over Attila was in fact a humiliating surrender. The Vandals, already the architects of one of the most enlightened and artistic Empires ever seen, walked into Rome unopposed. It seems the Empire was already finished.

Yet somehow, from beyond the grave, the Roman Empire managed to turn humiliating defeat into a triumph and blacken the name of one of the most enlightened civilisations of the age. How? Terry reveals that the Empire didn't entirely disappear. One of its institutions thrived: The Catholic Church. Through the centuries, Catholic scribes have controlled the transmission of history and Roman history. Their version of history became our history and the ancestors of modern Europe became the barbarians.

Documentary Description

Welcome to the other side of Roman history. The Romans gave us sophisticated road systems, chariots and the modern-day calendar. They also had to contend with barbarian hordes who continually threatened the peace, safety and prosperity of their Empire. Right? Maybe not. In this four-part BBC series, Monty Python alum Terry Jones travels throughout the geography of the Roman Empire and 700 years of history arguing that we have been sold a prejudiced history of Rome that has twisted our entire understanding of the Britons, Gauls, Vandals and Goths. A rare blend of scholarly research (as in Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives) combined with Jones’ witty approach makes this a must for history lovers as well as Monty Python fans.

Victims of a well-oiled propaganda machine, the Celts, Huns and Goths – among others – have endured thousands of years of misrepresentation. As Terry Jones reveals, the image of brutal savages hell-bent on nothing more than slaughter, pillage and rape, handed down to us by the Romans, is little more than a monumental exercise in ancient spin.

In an epic journey from the misty bogs of southern Ireland to the arid deserts of Persia, Jones exposes the depth of this Roman deception, bringing the fabulously rich and varied ‘barbarian’ cultures back to life; exploding myths and setting records straight wherever he goes. These ‘barbarians’ were the ‘bogeymen’ who stalked the dark corners of the Roman psyche, derided as “absolutely mad about war... otherwise simple”. But were they really that different from the Romans themselves? As one of the most dominant empires the world has ever known, the Romans wrote their own history. But recent archaeological evidence has revealed a completely different story to that of Roman propaganda.

The Celts wore beautiful clothes and jewellery; their society was complex and sophisticated; they made their own roads and calendar. Human rights, female freedom and flower arranging were all part and parcel of Persian society. The Goths used their knowledge of Roman military training and tactics to inflict a series of devastating defeats on Rome. And the Dacians – the now extinct indigenous people of what is modern day Romanian – were not only teetotal but they had their own unique religion. None of theses facts fit with how the Romans have led us to perceive these ‘barbarians’. It seems Rome’s mission to civilise the ancient world was little more than a cynical and well organised looting; that the ‘Glory of Rome’ was built with barbarian wealth, blood and sweat.

Source: BBC

Review, by

So you think you know everything about the Romans?

Monty Python’s Terry Jones invites you on an entertaining expedition through Roman history from an entirely different perspective – that of the Barbarians. Far from the uncivilized savages they have been believed to be, many of these "non-Romans" were not barbaric at all. They were, in fact, highly organized and intelligent societies that had no intentions of overthrowing Rome or its Empire. A rare blend of scholarly research and archaeological evidence along with Jones’ familiar brand of irreverent humor gives this fascinating series a unique insight into the Barbarians, the Romans and the creation of the modern world.


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