We, the Barbarians

Now medieval Europe is one of those places where it’s not even appropriate to deploy the word “racism” because … because racism somehow denotes something less than a total dominance of thought. Everyone in medieval Europe, far’s I can tell, just knew that there were all these different peoples in the world, and that each “people” had different characteristics, and in most cases those characteristics were that they were scum. And they probably wore stupid hats. 

Wait, it’s cool. That guy’s a deer. My mistake.

And they had all kind of undesirable traits, like, I don’t know, being greedy and shallow or whatever.

For instance, here is Frankish chronicler Notker the Stammerer taking the mickey out of the benighted barbarian Danes: 

19. As I have mentioned the Northmen I will show by an incident drawn from the reign of your grandfather in what slight estimation they hold faith and baptism. Just as after the death of the warrior King David, the neighbouring peoples, whom his strong hand had subdued, for a long time paid their tribute to his peaceful son Solomon: even so the terrible race of the Northmen still loyally paid to Lewis the tribute which through terror they had paid to his father, the most august Emperor Charles. Once the most religious Emperor Lewis took pity on their envoys, and asked them if they would be willing to receive the Christian religion; and, when they answered that always and everywhere and in everything they were ready to obey him, he ordered them to be baptised in the name of Him, of whom the most learned Augustine says: “If there were no Trinity, the Truth would never have said: ‘Go and teach all peoples, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.'” The nobles of the palace adopted them almost as children, and each received from the emperor’s chamber a white robe and from their sponsors a full Frankish attire, of costly robes and arms and other decorations.


[154] This was often done and from year to year they came in increasing numbers, not for the sake of Christ but for earthly advantage. They made haste to come, not as envoys any longer but as loyal vassals, on Easter Eve to put themselves at the disposal of the emperor; and it happened that on a certain occasion they came to the number of fifty. The emperor asked them whether they wished to be baptised, and when they had confessed he bade them forthwith be sprinkled with holy water. As linen garments were not ready in sufficient numbers he ordered shirts to be cut up and sewn together into the fashion of wraps. One of these was forthwith clapped upon the shoulders of one of the elder men; and when he had looked all over it for a minute, he conceived fierce anger in his mind, and said to the emperor: “I have gone through this washing business here twenty times already, and I have been dressed in excellent clothes of perfect whiteness; but a sack like this is more fit for clodhoppers than for soldiers. If I were not afraid of my nakedness, for you have taken away my own clothes and have given me no new ones, I would soon leave your wrap and your Christ as well.”


Ah, comedy gold. Those Danes, so brutal, so greedy, so concerned with worldly things, so unlike the French. 

Alexius would have liked to accompany the expedition, but … he noted that the Roman army was hopelessly outnumbered by the enormous host of the Franks; he knew from long experience, too, how untrustworthy the Latins were. Nor was that all: the instability of these men and their treacherous nature might well sweep them again and again, like the tides of Euripus, from one extreme to the other; through love of money the were ready to sell their own wives and children … 

that’s Anna Komnena talking about the, er, French. 

Man, I like the Alexiad. It’s so filled with exciting action! So detailed! So creepily, creepily Oedipal.*

*There might be some Profiles in Toadying material in this idea — it’s not that Anna is all weird about her dad, it’s just to us, what would be a scathing denunciation to a Byzantine reader sounds cringingly servile. And actual flattery sounds like a marriage proposal. 

We, the Barbarians

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