What Is a Barbarian in Ancient Times?

In ancient times, the term ‘barbarian’ referred to people who were considered uncivilized or culturally inferior by the Greeks and Romans. The word ‘barbarian’ comes from the Greek word ‘barbaros’, which means foreigner or outsider. However, it is important to note that this term was often used as a derogatory label for those who did not conform to the dominant cultural norms of the time.

The Origin of Barbarians

The concept of barbarians dates back to ancient Greece. The Greeks believed that they were the most civilized people in the world and saw anyone who did not speak Greek as barbarians. This attitude continued into Roman times, where they viewed themselves as superior to all other cultures.

Who Were Considered Barbarians?

The term barbarian was used by Greeks and Romans to refer to various groups of people who were seen as uncivilized. This included tribes from Germany, Gaul, and Britain that lived outside the Roman Empire. People from Asia and Africa were also sometimes referred to as barbarians.

Characteristics of Barbarians

Barbarians were often seen as primitive and savage by the Greeks and Romans. They were thought to be lacking in culture, education, and refinement. Some characteristics attributed to them included:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Lack of education
  • Lack of artistic expression
  • Belligerent behavior

Barbarian Tribes

Some notable barbarian tribes include:

  • The Goths – a Germanic tribe that played a significant role in the downfall of the Western Roman Empire.
  • The Huns – a nomadic people from Central Asia who brought the Roman Empire to its knees.
  • The Vikings – a seafaring people from Scandinavia who raided and traded throughout Europe and beyond.


In conclusion, the term ‘barbarian’ is a loaded word that carries a lot of historical baggage. While it may have been used to describe certain groups of people in ancient times, it is important to recognize that it was often used as a tool of cultural superiority. Today, we should strive to use language that is inclusive and respectful of all cultures and peoples.