Chroniclers are seldom objective when writing about people who are invading them. Thus Scythians, Huns, Mongols, Goths, and other “barbarians” generally have a poor reputation in history sources. But did they deserve it? Were their invasions intrinsically different from the endemic warfare that gripped so many societies? And what is a “barbarian”, anyway?
History, almost by definition, concerns itself with the tangible (literary, monumental, and archaeological) remnants of the past and ignores the past of those without (or with few of) these remains; thus many people are known only from their contacts recorded by the literate world. This course will concern itself with these people, trying to understand them on their own terms. At the same time, we will see how contact with the “greater” world affected these societies, and realize how some of our beliefs about them are actually “snapshots” of these societies after they had been in contact with the more literate civilizations. We will discuss the people of Eurasia primarily, but also bring in subjects from the New World and Africa as we try to answer these questions: how barbarian and savage were they really? And, in their own terms, how successful?