Romans Barbarians Sources

Source Analysis:
Romans & Barbarians
1) Primary Source One:
[Background: adapted from James Harvey Robinson, ed., Readings in European History:
Vol. I: (Boston:: Ginn and co., 1904), 28-30]
It was inevitable that thoughtful observers should be struck with the contrast between the
habits and government of the Romans and the customs of the various barbarian peoples. Tacitus,
the first to describe the manners and institutions of the Germans with care, is frequently tempted
to compare them with those of the Empire, often to the obvious disadvantage of the latter.
Salvian, a Christian priest [from Gaul], writing about 440, undertook in his book Of God's
Government to show that the misfortunes of the time were only the divinely inflicted
punishments which the people of the Empire had brought upon themselves by their wickedness
and corruption. He contends that the Romans, who had once been virtuous and heroic, had lapsed
into a degradation which rendered them, in spite of their civilization and advantages, far inferior
to the untutored but sturdy barbarian
[Excerpts from Salvian, De gubernatione Dei (ca. 440 A.D.)]
In what respects can our customs be preferred to those of the Goths and
Vandals, or even compared with them? And first, to speak of affection and
mutual charity (which, our Lord teaches, is the chief virtue, saying, "By this shall
all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another "), almost all
barbarians, at least those who are of one race and kin, love each other, while the
Romans persecute each other. For what citizen does not envy his fellow citizen ?
What citizen shows to his neighbor full charity?
[The Romans oppress each other with exactions] nay, not each other : it would be
quite tolerable, if each suffered what he inflicted. It is worse than that ; for the
many are oppressed by the few, who regard public exactions as their own peculiar
right, who carry on private traffic under tile guise of collecting the taxes. And this
is done not only by nobles, but by men of lowest rank; not by judges only, but by
judges' subordinates. For where is the city ­ even the town or village ­ which has
not as many tyrants as it has curials ? . . . What place is there, therefore, as I have
said, where the substance of widows and orphans, nay even of the saints, is not
devoured by the chief citizens? . . .
None but the great is secure from the devastations of these plundering brigands,
except those who arm themselves robbers.
[Nay, the state has fallen upon such evil days that a man cannot be safe unless he is
wicked] Even those in a position to protest against the iniquity which they see
about them dare not speak lest they make matters worse than before. So the poor
are despoiled, the widows sigh, the orphans are oppressed, until many of them,
born of families not obscure, and liberally educated, flee to our enemies that they
may no longer suffer the oppression of public persecution. They doubtless seek
Roman humanity among the barbarians, because they cannot bear barbarian
inhumanity among the Romans. And although they differ from the people to
whom they flee in manner and in language; although they are unlike as regards the
fetid odor of the barbarians' bodies and garments, yet they would rather endure a
foreign civilization among the barbarians than cruel injustice among the Romans.
So they migrate to the Goths, or to the Bagaudes, or to some other tribe of the
barbarians who are ruling everywhere, and do not regret their exile. For they would
rather live free under an appearance of slavery than live as captives tinder an
appearance of liberty. The name of Roman citizen, once so highly esteemed and so
dearly bought, is now a thing that men repudiate and flee from. . . .
It is urged that if we Romans are wicked and corrupt, that the barbarians
commit the same sins, and are not so miserable as we. There is, however, this
difference, that the barbarians commit the same crimes as we, yet we more
grievously. . . . All the barbarians, as we have already said, are pagans or heretics.
The Saxon race is cruel, the Franks are faithless, the Gepidae are inhuman, the
Huns are unchaste, ­ in short, there is vice in the life of all the barbarian peoples.
But are their offenses as serious as ours? Is the unchastity of the Hun so criminal as
ours? Is the faithlessness of the Frank so blameworthy as ours? Is the intemperance
of the Alemanni so base as the intemperance of the Christians? Does the greed of
the Alani so merit condemnation as the greed of the Christians? If Hun or the
Gepid cheat, what is there to wonder at, since he does not know that cheating is a
crime? If a Frank perjures himself, does he do anything strange, he who regards
perjury as a way of speaking, not as a crime?
2) Primary Source Two:
[Background: From, Sidonius, The Letters of Sidonius, translated by O.M. Dalton,
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1915), two vols.]
Sidonius Apollinaris was a well-connected aristocrat from south-west Gaul, many of whose
letters survive. These two are an interesting contrast: the first describes a "civilised barbarian"
(the Visigothic king, Theodoric II, whose main residences were Toulouse and Bordeaux), and the
second a "barbarous Roman" (Seronatus).
[Excerpts from Sidonius Apollinaris, Letters, 5th century A.D.]
i. Sidonius to [his brother-in-law] Agricola (Letters I.2) (AD. 454?)
[Theodoric, the Gothic king] is a man worth knowing, even by those who
cannot enjoy his close acquaintance, so happily have Providence and Nature
joined to endow him with the perfect gifts of fortune; his way of life is such
that not even the envy which lies in wait for kings can rob him of his proper
praise. And first as to his person. He is well set up, in height above the average
man, but below the giant. His head is round, with curled hair retreating somewhat
from brow to crown. His nervous neck is free from disfiguring knots. The
eyebrows are bushy and arched; when the lids droop, the lashes reach almost halfway down the cheeks. The upper ears are buried under overlying locks, after the
fashion of his race. The nose is finely aquiline; the lips are thin and not enlarged by
undue distension of the mouth. Every day the hair springing from his nostrils is cut
back; that on the face springs thick from the hollow of the temples, but the razor
has not yet come upon his cheek, and his barber is assiduous in eradicating the rich
growth on the lower part of the face . . .
Now for the routine of his public life. Before daybreak he goes with a very
small suite to attend the service of his priests. He prays with assiduity, but, if I may
speak in confidence, one may suspect more of habit than conviction in this piety.
Administrative duties of the kingdom take up the rest of the morning. Armed
nobles stand about the royal seat; the mass of guards in their garb of skins are
admitted that they may be within call, but kept at the threshold for quiet's sake;
only a murmur of them comes in from their post at the doors, between the curtain
and the outer barrier. And now the foreign envoys are introduced. The king hears
them out, and says little; if a thing needs more discussion he puts it off, but
accelerates matters ripe for dispatch . . .
The siesta after dinner is always slight, and sometimes intermitted. When inclined
for the board-game, he [Theodoric] is quick to gather up the dice, examines them
with care, shakes the box with expert hand, throw rapidly, humorously
apostrophizes them, and patiently waits the issue. Silent at a good throw, he makes
merry over a bad, annoyed by neither fortune, and always the philosopher. He is
too proud to ask or to refuse a revenge; he disdains to avail himself of one if
offered; and if it is opposed will quietly go on playing. . . . You see the strategist
when be moves the pieces; his one thought is victory. Yet at play he puts off a little
of his kingly rigor, inciting all to good fellowship and the freedom of the game: I
think he is afraid of being feared. Vexation in the man whom he beats delights
him; he will never believe that his opponents have not let him win unless their
annoyance proves him really victor . . . .
I never promised a whole chapter on the kingdom, but a few words about the king.
I must stay my pen; you asked for nothing more than one or two facts about the
person and the tastes of Theodoric; and my own aim was to write a letter, not a
history. Farewell.
ii. Sidonius to his brother in law Ecdicius (Letters, II.1) (c.470)
Your countrymen of Auvergne suffer equally from two evils. "What are
those?" you ask. Seronatus' presence and your own absence . . . You must
know that his long-dissembled savagery comes daily further into the light . . . He
commands like a despot; no tyrant more exacting than he, no judge more
peremptory in sentence, no barbarian falser in false witness. The livelong day he
goes armed from cowardice, and starving from pure meanness. Greed makes him
formidable, and vanity cruel; he continually commits himself the very thefts he
punishes in others. To the universal amusement he will rant of war in a civilian
company, and of literature among Goths. Though he barely knows the alphabet, he
has the conceit to dictate letters in public, and the impudence to revise them under
the same conditions.
All property he covets he makes a show of buying, but he never thinks of
paying, nor does he trouble to furnish himself with deeds, knowing it hopeless to
prove a title. In the council-chamber he commands, but in counsel he is mute. He
jests in church, and preaches at table; snores on the bench, and breathes
condemnation in his bedroom. His actions are filling the woods with dangerous
fugitives from the estates, the churches with scoundrels, the prisons with holy men.
He cries the Goths up and the Romans down . . . He tramples under foot the
Theodosian Code to set in its place the laws of a Theodoric, raking up old charges
to justify new imposts. Be quick, then, to unravel the tangle of affairs that makes
you linger; cut short whatever causes you delay. Our people are at the last gasp;
freedom is almost dead. Whether there is any hope, or whether all is to be despair,
they want you in their midst to lead them. If the State is powerless to succour, if, as
rumour says, the Emperor Anthemius is without resource, our nobility is
determined to follow your lead, and give up their country or the hair of their heads.
1) What are your main impressions from these sources? Main points being
2) Why can't we simply designate someone a "barbarian" or a "Roman"?
3) What are possible benefits of examining primary sources such as these,
instead of just reading from a textbook?
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