1-3 of 3 Results

  • Keywords: barbarian x
Clear all



Emma Dench

The English term “barbarian” is derived from the Greek barbaros, Latinized as barbarus. Barbarians are most familiar as the antithesis of Hellenes, but the terms do different work in different cultural contexts throughout and beyond classical antiquity. In some contexts, a single “barbarian race” is envisaged in distinction from “us,” while in others plural “barbarian” groups are differentiated. In the latter case, the societal structures, customs, and behaviour of these “barbarian” groups are often patterned both geographically and temporally, with “us” typically in the middle, peoples to the north and west imagined to be more primitive, and those to the east and south imagined to be more ancient and/or further along than us in their hyper-civilization. Barbarian groups are frequently “tagged” with epithets, ascribing for example typical appearance or behaviour, or typical products, or may be subject to more comprehensive ethnographical scrutiny. In still other contexts, groups and individuals may invoke barbarian identity in their self-fashioning. To call other people barbarians”is inevitably ethnocentric, even when positive characteristics are assigned to barbarians. However, in individual ancient contexts, power dynamics may be quite different, resulting in a more or less charged exploration and characterization of the relative placement of “us” and other peoples. The term was a social designation rather than a legal status, but could inform institutions and actions and, within certain contexts, the differential treatment of groups, in which case it can be appropriately described as racial thinking.



Kelly L. Wrenhaven

In ancient Greece and Rome, masturbation was viewed with good-humored disdain. Although it was not apparently subject to the same kinds of scathing attacks that Greek comedy makes on male same-sex activity, it was certainly connected with a lack of sophistication. In line with sexual subjects in general, references are found primarily in Greek comedy and sympotic art of the Archaic and Classical periods, where it is typically associated with barbarians, slaves, and satyrs, all of whom fall into the category of the “Other,” or the anti-ideal. All were deemed lacking in sophrosyne (“moderation”) and enkratia (“self-control”) and were associated with uncivilized behavior. The Greeks had a varied terminology for masturbation. The most commonly found verb is dephesthai (“to soften”), but several other words and euphemisms were used (e.g. cheirourgon, “self-stimulation”).1The comedies of Aristophanes (1) provide the majority of references to masturbation and largely associate it with slaves. The lengthiest reference is a joke that occurs near the beginning of Knights, when Slave B tells Slave A to masturbate in order to give himself courage.



Denise Eileen McCoskey

Contrary to the assumptions of previous eras, since the late 20th century, race has been widely regarded as a form of identity based in social construction rather than biology. The concept of race has experienced a corresponding return to classical studies, although this approach gives it significant overlap with terminology like ethnicity and cultural identity. The ancient Greeks and Romans did not consider human biology or skin color the source of racial identity, although the belief that human variation was determined by the environment or climate persisted throughout antiquity. Ancient ethnographic writing provides insight into ancient racial thought and stereotypes in both the Greek and Roman periods. Race in the Greek world centered in large part around the emergence of the category of Greek alongside that of barbarian, but there were other important racial frameworks in operation, including a form of racialized citizenship in Athens. Modes for expressing racial identity changed in the aftermath of the campaigns of Alexander the Great, a figure whose own racial identity has been the subject of debate. In the Roman period, Roman citizenship became a major factor in determining one’s identity, but racial thought nonetheless persisted. Ideas about race were closely correlated with the Roman practice of empire, and representations of diverse racial groups are especially prominent in conquest narratives. Hellenistic and Roman Egypt provide an opportunity for looking at race in everyday life in antiquity, while Greek and Roman attitudes towards Jews suggest that they were perceived as a distinct group. Reception studies play a critical role in analyzing the continuing connections between race and classics.