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The Barbarians Speak:
How the Conquered Peoples Shaped Roman Europe
Peter S. Wells

Winner of the 1999 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Sociology and Anthropology, Association of American Publishers

Paperback | 2001 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691089782
352 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 9 halftones, 20 line illus., 2 tables, 16 maps
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The Barbarians Speak re-creates the story of Europe's indigenous people who were nearly stricken from historical memory even as they adopted and transformed aspects of Roman culture. The Celts and Germans inhabiting temperate Europe before the arrival of the Romans left no written record of their lives and were often dismissed as "barbarians" by the Romans who conquered them. Accounts by Julius Caesar and a handful of other Roman and Greek writers would lead us to think that prior to contact with the Romans, European natives had much simpler political systems, smaller settlements, no evolving social identities, and that they practiced human sacrifice. A more accurate, sophisticated picture of the indigenous people emerges, however, from the archaeological remains of the Iron Age. Here Peter Wells brings together information that has belonged to the realm of specialists and enables the general reader to share in the excitement of rediscovering a "lost people." In so doing, he is the first to marshal material evidence in a broad-scale examination of the response by the Celts and Germans to the Roman presence in their lands.

The recent discovery of large pre-Roman settlements throughout central and western Europe has only begun to show just how complex native European societies were before the conquest. Remnants of walls, bone fragments, pottery, jewelry, and coins tell much about such activities as farming, trade, and religious ritual in their communities; objects found at gravesites shed light on the richly varied lives of individuals. Wells explains that the presence--or absence--of Roman influence among these artifacts reveals a range of attitudes toward Rome at particular times, from enthusiastic acceptance among urban elites to creative resistance among rural inhabitants. In fascinating detail, Wells shows that these societies did grow more cosmopolitan under Roman occupation, but that the people were much more than passive beneficiaries; in many cases they helped determine the outcomes of Roman military and political initiatives. This book is at once a provocative, alternative reading of Roman history and a catalyst for overturning long-standing assumptions about nonliterate and indigenous societies.


"The Barbarians Speak is a book of deep scholarship and high quality. It will bring profitable reading to those interested in the ancient world, and it will prove illuminating to those interested in the complex processes of empires in general."--Arthur M. Eckstein, International History Review

"[Wells's] clear prose, excellent illustrations, and numerous maps will give his readers a nuanced picture of the Roman frontiers and the peoples who lived there. And all of this is done without falling back on either Tacitus's or Rousseau's 'no savage,' no mean feat. Wells's barbarians are refreshingly matter of fact."--Steven Muhlberger, American Historical Review


"The Barbarians Speak is an important book. It is the first to address the question of Roman-native interaction in Europe from the perspective of anthropological archaeology rather than a historical form of archaeology, which privileges the Roman side of the story."--Peter Bogucki, Princeton University

"This book by Peter Wells has the potential to change the way we look at Europe during the years of the Roman Empire. All historians of the period should read it."--Colin M. Wells, Trinity University

Table of Contents:

List of Figures and Tables vii
Preface ix
Acknowledgments xi
CHAPTER 1 Natives and Romans 3
CHAPTER 2 Europe before the Roman Conquests 28
CHAPTER 3 Iron Age Urbanization 48
CHAPTER 4 The Roman Conquests 64
CHAPTER 5 Identities and Perceptions 99
CHAPTER 6 Development of the Frontier Zone 122
CHAPTER 7 Persistence of Tradition 148
CHAPTER 8 Town, Country, and Change 171
CHAPTER 9 Transformation into New Societies 187
CHAPTER 10 Impact across die Frontier 224
CHAPTER 11 Conclusion 259
Glossary 267
Greek and Roman Authors 269
Bibliographic Essay 271
Bibliography of Works Cited 287
Index 331

This book has been translated into:

  • Italian
  • German

Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Peter S. Wells:

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File created: 7/11/2017

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