Item description for The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe. by Peter S. Wells...
"The Barbarians Speak" re-creates the story of Europe's indigenous people who were nearly stricken from historical memory even as they adopted and transformed aspects of Roman culture. The Celts and Germans inhabiting temperate Europe before the arrival of the Romans left no written record of their lives and were often dismissed as "barbarians" by the Romans who conquered them. Accounts by Julius Caesar and a handful of other Roman and Greek writers would lead us to think that prior to contact with the Romans, European natives had much simpler political systems, smaller settlements, no evolving social identities, and that they practiced human sacrifice. A more accurate, sophisticated picture of the indigenous people emerges, however, from the archaeological remains of the Iron Age. Here Peter Wells brings together information that has belonged to the realm of specialists and enables the general reader to share in the excitement of rediscovering a "lost people." In so doing, he is the first to marshal material evidence in a broad-scale examination of the response by the Celts and Germans to the Roman presence in their lands.
The recent discovery of large pre-Roman settlements throughout central and western Europe has only begun to show just how complex native European societies were before the conquest. Remnants of walls, bone fragments, pottery, jewelry, and coins tell much about such activities as farming, trade, and religious ritual in their communities; objects found at gravesites shed light on the richly varied lives of individuals. Wells explains that the presence--or absence--of Roman influence among these artifacts reveals a range of attitudes toward Rome at particular times, from enthusiastic acceptance among urban elites to creative resistance among rural inhabitants. In fascinating detail, Wells shows that these societies did grow more cosmopolitan under Roman occupation, but that the people were much more than passive beneficiaries; in many cases they helped determine the outcomes of Roman military and political initiatives. This book is at once a provocative, alternative reading of Roman history and a catalyst for overturning long-standing assumptions about nonliterate and indigenous societies.
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Studio: Princeton University Press
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.18" Width: 6.08" Height: 0.82" Weight: 1.06 lbs.
Release Date Aug 5, 2001
Publisher Princeton University Press
ISBN 0691089787 ISBN13 9780691089782
Availability 0 units.
More About Peter S. Wells
Peter S. Wells is professor of archaeology at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of The Battle That Stopped Rome and The Barbarians Speak. He lives in St. Paul.
Peter S. Wells currently resides in the state of Minnesota. Peter S. Wells has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Minnesota.
Reviews - What do customers think about The Barbarians Speak: How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe.?
This Barbarian Speaks Mar 5, 2007
I love this book! I actually bought it at Tower books based on the title alone. Anyone who has experienced the frustration of every history of the Celts simply parroting Julius Caesar (like listening to George Custer explain Native American culture), and ignoring the extant evidence from the Celtic world itself will understand the allure of this title. I refer to Peter wells as part of the "New Celtic Scholarship" and I use this book as a reference often. It's a bit academic to read, but for any serious lover of Celtic history and culture, this is a must have for your library! I only hope more archeologists will have the integrity and courage to follow in his footsteps and get real about Celtic research.
Michael R. Gorman
Thorough professional writes for informed popular audience Nov 6, 2006
For much of my adult life, I have wondered who these peoples were who ultimately overwhelmed the Western Roman Empire and created the nations of Europe that we know today. I have been repeatedly frustrated by histories that (1) buried me in details of one archeological site after another without recovering much but the material objects themselves from the sites, (2) buried me in the details of one Germanic leader after another marching his or her people through Roman territory in search of security or a better life, whatever that meant at the time, or (3) spoke broadly of tribes in motion, without specific names, pushing each other around Europe like balls on a crowded pool table. Yikes, I have better things to do!
I recently stumbled upon Terry Jones and Alan Eriera's companion book to their BBC series on barbarians. It portrays the history of non-Romans--barbarians--in western Europe in a set of vivid stories that bring the barbarians to life as substantially more than noble savages. Anyone seeking a truly postmodern deconstruction of Gibbon's Rise and Fall need go no further. Jones and Eriera savage the Romans and remind us of how advanced Europeans beyond the Alps were before the Romans wrote them out of history. But how much can I trust a pair actively looking for opportunities to poke the old wisdom in the eye? Their outrageous efforts to turn European history on its head often raise more questions than they answer. The good news for me, then, is that Jones and Eriera reawakened my old questions--who were those guys anyway?--and sent me in search of someone like Prof. Wells.
Prof. Wells had actually been on a shelf in my den, waiting patiently for me to get back to him. And when I reopened the book, he patiently walked me through his vision of history north of the Alps, a vision that apparently stands a good distance from the consensus of specialists on history north of the Alps. Wells is not flashy. He is patient and thorough and quietly firm in his resolve. He brings to bear a coherent and fairly transparent, sophisticated theory of the links between social structures and the material items that they leave in the archeological record. As he applied this theory to one complex dataset after another, I felt a bit hammered upon. I've got your point, sir--thank you! But this hammering slowly revealed two important points to me.
First, the data available to talk about pre-history north of the Alps are limited in the extreme. There are good reasons why historians wave their hands as they speak of vague tribes passing through dark forests in the night. I came to appreciate much better the nature of the challenge we face in trying to reconstruct what happened 2000 years ago in modern-day eastern France and southern Germany.
Second, the data available can tell us nothing without some kind of theory that allows us to extract social meaning from physical objects. Past efforts used very crude theories; the scholars applying them appear often not even to have been aware of the theories they were applying. Wells is self-aware and careful. He brings a powerful theory stage-center and wields it with great skill but without any fuss. Slowly but surely, without any special effects or flourishes, his method does something unexpected.
The frontier around the Rhine and Danube Rivers comes to life! Not in the primary colors and action figures that Jones and Eriera use to beat Roman culture about the head and shoulders. But in a palpable heartbeat that arises from the social images he constructs from grave and trade goods, burial practices, building foundations, industrial shop detritus, .... These images float up from his data, despite the scattershot nature of these data, and show us how life probably differed from town to villa to village; from one region to another; and from one period to the next. These images allow us to see the consensus view of life on the frontier in fairly clear terms and contrast it with Wells's view. The frontier becomes a fuzzy place--seemingly akin to other frontiers we know, like that between Texas and Mexico--full of vivid, human life that defies black and white categories like "Roman" and "barbarian." Wells is never pushy or showy. But he is persistent and determined; he can wait for us to see the light, just as he waited so patiently for me to come back to him on the shelf.
Jones and Eriera rekindled my interest; Wells kindled the flame that finally threw a clear light on answers to my questions. He can do the same for you.
Essential reading to understand the period Jan 5, 2006
The previous reviewer really didn't like this book. It looks more like a personal beef to me. The book is, in fact, well written and very well researched. I hate to break it to the previois reviewer but the tribal peoples of Europe were in fact conquered by imperialists. If the Roman Empire cannot be categorized as "imperial" then I don't know what can. However, I do not understand what he means by "third world nations."
The period covered by this book is essential for understanding the Middle Ages and even, indirectly, the Renaissance. Most importantly, it is essential for understanding the period in a non -eurocentric way. If you've read Gibbon's "Decline and Fall", you should read this to balance it out.
Snobbish and academic Mar 18, 2002
Wells is one of these post-modern deconstructionist types who thinks everything and anything Western is by very definition decadent and wrong. Rather than helping the reader understand the German and Celtic peoples who lived north of the Roman empire, he basically recasts them as Third World nations subjugated by the imperialists - the noble savage as perpetual victim. Worst of all, he can't write to save his life.
Archaeology For the Rest of Us Mar 14, 2000
Peter Wells has done a nice job of taking his years of scholarly field research to create a book that is palatable, understandable and readable for the lay person interested in Pre-Roman culture in late Iron Age Europe and the effects and evidence of subsequent Romanization. Was it Napoleon that said "History is written by the victors"? In the case of the Roman interactions and subjugations of European tribes, the Romans were the only ones that could write! It is a painstaking task to recover the bits and pieces of those pre-existing and obviously vigorous cultures. To do so one must use a trowel instead of a library card. Thanks to Peter Wells for his fieldwork, his organizational sense and his enthusiasm for his subject. Us armchair archaeologists appreciate being presented with his fascinating body of knowledge.