Roman civilization had a colorful and exciting culture. During all periods of its history, the Romans encountered a variety of tribes later described by Greco-Roman writers. These ethnographical accounts are found catching and revealing by the readers worldwide. Modern researchers cannot give full credit to those sources as the authors writing them were to a certain extent prone to manifest their bias. Strabo and Ammianus Marcellinus composed magnificent ethnographical accounts on particular tribes encountered by the Romans; these accounts reflect Romanized prejudice of the writers and, perhaps, the whole Roman civilization of that period against the ancient tribes of Gauls, Huns, and Alans. This paper is targeted at finding out when the writers’ culture reveals itself and at detecting the similarities in the way they explain the subject.
Both Ammianus’ The Roman History of Ammianus Marcellinus or Res Gestae and Strabo’s The Geography of Strabo are entertaining sources of information about ancient tribes. Strabo’s work is devoted to the description of the Gauls and Ammianus’ one depicts the appearance and style of living of the Huns and Alans. It is important to know that the Gauls belonged to Celtic tribes inhabiting the territory that today belongs to France. As for the Huns and Alans, they, in their turn, moving in western direction, often drove out other tribes, and applied great pressure upon the boundaries of the Roman Empire.
Both ethnographical accounts are valuable sources of ancient history that reveal specific aspects of “Roman-ness”. First, Ammianus exaggerates the warfare of the Huns. According to him, these barbarian tribes were so skilled in tactics of fighting on horseback because they basically spent their whole lives mounted on a horse: “On horseback they buy and sell, they eat and drink… and yield to sleep so deep as to indulge in every variety of dream” (Ammianus 6). Moreover, Ammianus Marcellinus emphasizes the ferocity and recalcitrance of the tribes describing them as the most “active and indomitable race… went on ravaging and slaughtering all the nations in their neighborhood” (Ammianus 12). In addition, he describes the Alans as an extremely rigorous civilization that tends to flay its opponents and then wear clothes made of their skin. Similarly, Strabo accentuates the ferocious nature of the Gauls marking that they used to behead their enemies or make sacrifices with the help of druids in the temples throwing “into the colossus [of wood and straw] cattle and wild animals of all sorts and human beings and then make a burnt-offering” (Strabo 13). Both authors bring into focus the extreme importance of slaughtering. For example, Ammianus underlines shamefulness of such phenomenon as natural death in comparison with death in a war. Strabo, in his turn, writes that young men are respected when they share the joys of strife. Extreme ferocity was a common trait to all ancient nations including the Romans themselves. Therefore, such accent on the barbarous nature of the depicted tribes provides evidence of “Roman-ness” and the writers’ preconceptions concerning them.
Moreover, the traditional Roman opinion on the appearance and behavior of the tribes can be described by the adjective “excessive”. The registered Gallic look and style of conduct ignores conventional virtues of industriousness, sternness, constancy, and gravity acknowledged by the Romans. This preconception may be connected with the fact that the Gauls instilled fear into the Romans as the only enemy of the Roman Empire that ravaged Rome before its fall. The similar thing can be said about the Huns and Alans. Representatives of the above-mentioned tribes are featured as tall, strong people who tend to eat flesh. Additionally, Strabo describes how the excess of the Gauls’ appearance flows into the excess of Gallic conduct. Then, he ascribes such traits as “simplicity and high-spiritedness, witlessness and boastfulness” to the Gauls (Strabo 11). Similarly, Ammianus describes the Huns as “treacherous and inconstant, utterly ignorant of the distinction between right and wrong” (Ammianus 11). The accounts of both authors manifest their superficial attitude toward the ancient tribes considering them to be witless and deceitful.
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It is understood that Roman writers consider the traditional Roman mode of behavior and appearance to be more civilized than that of the tribes. As a result, Strabo depicts the Gauls after Romanization as no more barbarous. He reveals a condescending attitude toward them as the suppliers of sagi and salted meat. Moreover, the author admires the fact that they obey the orders of the Romans. As for Ammianus Marcellinus, he describes the Alans as noble people who do not know anything about slavery typical of Roman and Greek cultures. Consequently, the writer does not focus on the barbarous nature of the tribes only but their noble origin as well.
Hellenistic Romanized Western culture has a wonderful history. Greco-Roman authors such as Strabo and Ammianus Marcellinus made marvelous ethnographical accounts devoted to ancient tribes and their customs. Primarily, Ammianus in his work Res Gestae describes the appearance and way of living of the Huns and Alans, while Strabo writes about the Gauls in his Geography. Both writers reveal specific bias against those tribes viewing them as barbaric, using the excessive approach in describing their appearance, conduct, and stratagem. Both authors describe the tribes as extremely ferocious and ignorant paying special attention to ceremonies. However, these are the authors’ preconceptions as all ancient civilizations including the Romans and the Greeks were ruthless.