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Terry Jones' Barbarians

by Dave Richards


"Barbarians" is the latest historical documentary series created by The Artist Formerly Known As Mr Creosote. It's on on BBC2 on Friday nights at 9.00pm and it's up against "Flash Families" and "Big Brother" which means the inevitable domestic over the telly viewing before the show even started.

Luckily, I'd watched a documentary on Troy the other week and I cunningly hid the remote inside a cuddly toy horse so she had to phone her soft mate for an hour instead. See, it's still worth studying The Classics, you Philistines.

TJ's slant is that the Barbarians are the victims of Roman bad press. Us modern types view the Barbarians as a horde of savage, unwashed, bearded, violent loons (a bit like Glaswegians, but with better clobber and fewer

tattoos) because Julius Caesar's biased accounts of his conquests against the Barbarians have formed the basis of all the historical study done up till now. TJ is here to set the record straight, and re-invent the Barbarians for the post-Millenium caring-sharing age.

Episode One concentrated on the Celts, a tribe who were located in what is now France and most of the British Isles. It turns out that they weren't very Barbaric at all. Unlike Rome, with it's highly centralised "all roads lead to Rome" world view, the Celts were a loose federation of tribes who were scattered across a number of similarly sized towns in France and England. It was not uncommon for Celtic tribes to migrate across the region, and one such migration, which was due to go across Northern Roman territory,was slaughtered by Caesar's army, who then did the business on the rest of the Celtic tribes to the tune of 1 million dead and 1 million enslaved out of a total of 10 million. Modern historical research has shown that the real reason why Caesar got stuck into the Celts was less to do with any true threat to Rome, and more to do with the fact that he was skint and needed money to pay for his campaign to run the Roman Empire. The Celts were skilled gold miners (with over 400 mines in France) and were all dripping in Tom, so Caesar basically decided to have them off.

Other revisionist nuggets popped up regularly throughout the show - the Celts gave women equal rights (the most famous was Mingland terrace icon, Queen Boudica) unlike in Rome where women were second class citizens, they had legal provision for child care - in Rome you could dump your unwanted kids on the street, they had legal provision for the old and mentally ill.

In fact, it was like the Public Sector jobs page in the Guardian at times.

What the Celts didn't have was a fighting force that was capable of taking on the ruthless Roman professional army, AKA the Region's Sole Superpower..........hmmmm. Terry also did a bit of a profile on the Druids of Anglesey and it was a bit of a disappointment. It turns out they weren't really shamanic wreckheads who were into getting blitzed on mushies and having drug fuelled orgies. Rather they were scholarly keepers of the Celtic oral traditions of learning and lore - "a class of professional intellectuals". It was while the Roman army were in Angelsey doing the Druids in that Boudica started her revolt. Once the Legions had seen off the "professional intellectuals" they went back South and sorted out the mardy cow. Terry Jones didn't mention whether that was the first time in history that a firm of geezers from the Legion had gone to Wales, caused murder and then came home to loads of grief, but I think it's obvious where the Rhyl Bank Holiday Bender has it's roots.

All in all though, the programme was well worth a nose, especially when you consider some of the garbage that's clogging up the airwaves at the moment.

But there's only so much "touchy-feely Barbarians" you can stand in one hour. I think that's the real reason they got snotted by the Romans - wickerwork, face painting, arts and crafts and self-help classes for the elderly, versus a season ticket at the Colloseum to see Bear v Tiger, Great Naval Battles and Evangelists Getting Scoffed - no contest.

Hail Caesar !









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