When we call someone a barbarian, it has some definite tones of insult going on. But was it always that way? I remember reading in school about how really, the word was just from Barber, a foreign land to the Greeks and Romans.

And that’s true…but.

But even in the days of Ancient Greece, there was still a note of insult in barbarian–it not only meant “foreign,” it meant “foreign, incomprehensible, ignorant.” Even the Greeks considered those who didn’t speak their language or understand their ways to be inferior. Less so in truly ancient days, but after the Greco-Persian war–Persians being the ultimate barbarians to them–there was DEFINITELY negative connotations

Interestingly, Romans were considered barbarians to the Greeks as well…but then when Rome conquered Greece, adopted the word, and began to apply it to other areas. It’s traveled down through the centuries from there, arriving in English in the 1400s. It was used throughout the Middle Ages for pagans, foreigners, and especially those from the Barbary Coast. By 1610 it was used for any “rude, wild person,” but was still considered a step closer to civilized than savage.

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