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 The Barbarian Dynamic

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Catigern
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PostSubject: The Barbarian Dynamic   Fri 03 Feb 2012, 21:33

Which phenomena that are now considered 'civilised', 'establishment' or 'posh' actually had their roots in cultures that most of us would instinctively label as 'barbaric', whether or not that has negative connotations for us? Rolling Eyes

Formal heraldry, as practised by the College of Arms, seems to me to be a prime example, in that its emergence was heavily influenced by the incomplete literacy of the early/high medieval warrior elite that first used it.

On the political front, the principal of the 'separation of the [governmental] powers', regarded by many as an essential feature of a democratic system, may have been adhered to in earlier Anglo-Saxon society. I base this thesis on an analysis of changes in Anglo-Saxon law by the great James Campbell. According to Campbell, the earliest records of A-S law suggest that, while a king might decide upon what we'd call 'policy', he could not dish out physical punishment , that power being reserved for priests of Frey. Campbell suggests (tentatively, of course, like any good early medievalist) that A-S Kings only acquired the authority to order chastisement as the result of a 'Wodenist Reformation' that took place after the establishment of A-S culture in what's now England. If Campbell's right, it seems to me that the distinction between kingly and priestly powers is comparable to our modern division of powers between the executive and the judiciary respectively.

Then there's the matter of universities study - did the Museum at Alexandria farao function in a way that's comparable to a modern university, were the first universities to be found in the early Islamic world, or did the first such institutions emerge in Christian Europe, in the period prior to the 12th century renaissance that we no longer tend to call the 'Dark Ages'...?
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Fri 03 Feb 2012, 22:02

Well, Fez, in Morocco, which was founded in the 9th century, is usually regarded as the oldest university, with 12th century Bologna the first one in a christian country.
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Fri 03 Feb 2012, 22:59

Would you consider the Anglo-Saxon period any more 'barbaric' than the early Norman period? Separation of government powers and democracy have grown slowly out of cultures which were little more than dictatorships wherever you place their beginnings.

Morris dancing? Ballroom dancing? I am not sure just how ballroom dancing evolved, though. Or Morris dancing, but that wasn't a serious suggestion.

I don't know if older Middle East countries are thought of as barbaric, but Christianity in all its guises arose from there.

Cheers, Caro.

I have found how to read your serious posts without interruptions, Catigern. Copy and paste and get rid of the smileys and away I go! That's good.
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Sat 04 Feb 2012, 06:08

There seems to be a distinction between a university and a centre for higher learning, I suppose a university would indicate a more formalised institution?

In what is today, Pakistan there was a centure for learning dating back to the 5th or 6thC BC. Persia had a scientific Academy from 6thC AD. An imperial university in China from the Han Dynasty 124BC which lasted until the Qing. Constantinople, also had an institute for higher learning from 425 and there was the Platonic Academy in Athens from 387BC but I'm not certain if that could be seen as a "university", as such.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Sat 04 Feb 2012, 10:17

Going back to the warrior elite - the full ceremonial dress worn by all those very important establishment people always reminds me of something I read years and years ago in Desmond Morris's book, "The Human Zoo". Their love of huge epaulettes, great furry hats, enormous peaked caps, fancy helmets etc. goes back further than the "barbarians" - it is all an attempt to show that you are the biggest, most powerful and most terrifying ape around:



"Man, proud man,

Drest in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he's most assured,

His glassy essence, like an angry ape,

Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,

As makes the angels weep."

(Measure for Measure Act II sc ii)



But I love Kaiser Wilhelm's big birdy helmet:

http://symonsez.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/kaiser_wilhelm_ii.jpg


Last edited by Temperance on Mon 06 Feb 2012, 11:48; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Sat 04 Feb 2012, 11:42

Wanted to read Cat's post but couldn't because of the moving things Sad me - sad you. The subject interests, too.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Sat 04 Feb 2012, 19:17

Do what I did, P. Copy it onto Word and take out the smileys and read it there. I can't manage to concentrate on a sentence that has movement in it either. Most irritating.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Sun 05 Feb 2012, 12:41

I am impressed by such diligence, Caro. But if de wrapping aint good I aint a tasting of it. Tha' don' mean dat de smart lookin stuff is all fine but it sure do help dem wot is strugglin to keep up wid de big brainboxws arown dis place wot nose a darn site morn I do. Hoo you lot callin barbarian den, anyway, huh?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Sun 05 Feb 2012, 13:22

I am reminded by Priscilla's message of the wonderful Collected Bulletins of President Idi Amin (as taken down verbatim by the blessed Alan Coren). A sample sentence from the bulletin "All O' De People, All De Time":

"Yeah, well you is an ignorant bugger, you go on like dat you is li'ble to wine up wid a spanner in de head."

My favourite line, though, is from "How Go De Empire?":

"De Commonwealf Conference, lookin' like Hamlet widout Othello."

(It a well-known lit'ry trick among us creative pussons. It is known as irony, in de trade.)
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Catigern
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Sun 05 Feb 2012, 22:07

Gilgamesh wrote:
Well, Fez, in Morocco, which was founded in the 9th century, is usually
regarded as the oldest university, with 12th century Bologna the first
one in a christian country.
There are some who claim that Oxford was founded in the 9th century, though the MSS that are supposed to prove this are kept locked away, which hardly inspires confidence Rolling Eyes . There was, however, definitely high level teaching and study study going on in Oxford by the close of the 11th century...

@Caro wrote:
Would you consider the Anglo-Saxon period any more 'barbaric' than the early Norman period?
A good case could be made for the late Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Scandinavian state being more sophisticated than its Anglo-Norman successor, eg re the regular re-minting of coinage, but that didn't stop at least one Norman chronicler (I forget which) describing Harold Oathbreak's army at Hastings as 'the barbarians'. The much earlier, Pagan , A-S society that Campbell was discussing was, however, almost entirely illiterate, and would probably be judged more 'barbaric' than much of the rest of the contemporary, post-Roman west, whatever standards are applied (though things are complicated by the possibility that there were communities of literate, Christian Romano-Britons living within Anglo-Saxon territory).

@Caro wrote:
Separation of government powers and democracy have grown slowly out of cultures which were little more than dictatorships wherever you place their beginnings.
Not true at all, I'd say No . If Campbell is right, and my suggestion in the OP stands, then earlier A-S society in England practised the separation of the powers, and we've no reason to believe that this situation was preceeded by anything resembling a 'dictatorship'. Regardless of that, I believe it is quite wrong to assume that, the further back we look, the more dictatorial societies appear. In many western countries, eg England and France, there has been a drift from 'dictatorship', in the form of early modern absolutism, towards democracy, but only over the last 4-5 centuries or so, which hardly takes us back to these societies' 'beginnings'. If we look back into the middle ages, 'true' feudalism (as distinct from the later, 'bastard', variety) seems to me to have been much less dictatorial than absolutism, and in some ways less dictatorial than most modern 'democracies'. Real power, ie military might , was much more decentralised under feudalism than it has been in recent centuries, and people much lower down the political ladder were actually able to defy their overlords, and withdraw their allegiance and resources in response to policies of which they disapproved, than is the case nowadays Cool .

Swiss democracy, which I perceive to be superior to British, is very interesting in the long term, for the Swiss seem to have gone from feudalism of a sort to modern democracy steadily and seamlessly , without ever passing through an absolutist phase.
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 01:25

@Temperance wrote:
I am reminded by Priscilla's message of the wonderful Collected Bulletins of President Idi Amin (as taken down verbatim by the blessed Alan Coren). A sample sentence from the bulletin "All O' De People, All De Time":

"Yeah, well you is an ignorant bugger, you go on like dat you is li'ble to wine up wid a spanner in de head."

My favourite line, though, is from "How Go De Empire?":

"De Commonwealf Conference, lookin' like Hamlet widout Othello."

(It a well-known lit'ry trick among us creative pussons. It is known as irony, in de trade.)

Coren, of course, seems to have had second thoughts about this stuff - he said that it was making people think of Amin as a comic figure, not the tyrant he was in reality, but alongside "Franglais" it made the subscription to Punch at that time a real bargain.
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 04:00

Similar to Kim Yong-Il in North Korea. It is very entertaining to read that he has the best golfing figures in the world and other nonsense, but it camouflaged the fact that his people lived lives unimaginable to westeners.
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 09:48

After reading Terry Jones' "Barbarians" some years ago which more or less put the nail in the coffin for me when it comes to presumption about powerful societies' enemies, I am now loath to use the term at all. While I don't necessarily look for redeeming civilised features in all societies, no matter how primitive or even nihilistic a character they may have imprinted on those around them at the time and on posterity in general, I am definitely open to tracing "civilised" behaviour back through whatever channel is open to perusal, be it one that leads back to so-called barabarism or not.

It is interesting that you mention democracy above, Catigern, since that is in particular one facet of modern society whose pedigree is, I feel, badly portrayed. We pretend, for example, that we owe the concept to ancient Greece - and it is a fact that we owe the word to them. But besides a general concept of representation by popularly chosen officials the similarity between the principles underlying the structure they devised and those which we use ends there. To modern sensibilities the "democracy" of ancient Athens, for example, approximates much more to a modern politbureau than a "free" and inclusive franchise.

However that central pillar of modern democracy, an elected house of representatives responsible to a population and not its overlord, and obliged to carry out its general wishes, we owe to the same people frequently described as the last barbarians who originated in Western Europe and who terrorised and disrupted society in the most nihilistic of manners for several centuries, the Vikings.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 11:56

@Caro wrote:
Morris dancing? Ballroom dancing? I am not sure just how ballroom dancing evolved, though. Or Morris dancing, but that wasn't a serious suggestion.

Caro's mention of dancing reminds me of a nice exchange between Mr Darcy and Sir William Lucas in "Pride and Prejudice". Sir William is trying to persuade Darcy to dance:

" 'What a charming amusement for young people this is Mr Darcy! There is nothing like dancing after all - I consider it as one of the first refinements of polished societies.'

'Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance.' "
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 12:37

As a 'mature' gentleman, of generous horizontal (but not vertical) proportions, and possessing all the lissome grace of an epileptic elephant, I have long regard dancing as one of the most barbaric forms of torture forced upon us by the female gender.
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Mon 06 Feb 2012, 16:19

@nordmann wrote:
However that central pillar of modern democracy, an elected house of representatives responsible to a population and not its overlord, and obliged to carry out its general wishes, we owe to the same people frequently described as the last barbarians who originated in Western Europe and who terrorised and disrupted society in the most nihilistic of manners for several centuries, the Vikings.
Any chance of further details study , nordmann? I've been told (though not by an historian) that the Icelandic ?Althing? is pretty old, but have no idea confused about '(anti-)democracy' in Scandinavia proper, besides the Danes' deliberate and self-conscious establishment of absolutism affraid in the 17th century, as reported by Molesworth (as any fule kno), and the Swedes' introduction of the modern world's first 'freedom of information' laws c1760.
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PostSubject: Re: The Barbarian Dynamic   Tue 07 Feb 2012, 09:19

@Catigern wrote:


Any chance of further details, nordmann? I've been told (though not by an historian) that the Icelandic ?Althing? is pretty old ...



Iceland was colonised mainly by Norwegian settlers in the 9th century. Genetic investigation reveals a fair amount of Hiberno-Scottish ancestry in the modern Icelandic indigenous population and this is generally understood to reflect that the colonisation happened in stages, a principal stage being temporary domicile in northern Scotland and Ireland - the genes revealing either that they took slaves from these places on the way or/and interbred with the locals and then moved on. Both models have historical justification. The Norse settlers themselves came primarily from Norway's western seaboard, and though opinions differ as to what motivated the exodus, it is generally accepted that the intention was never to establish a new "country" as such, or even to expand Norwegian "rule" (they may in fact have been escaping from Harald Hårfragi's attempted dominion over Norway), but simply to emulate the society they were used to at home and establish an economy based primarily on agriculture, trade and intermittent raiding of others' resources.

One thing they brought with them was the principle of the "althing" which, in its original form, was the consequence of the Norwegian western seaboard's geography. Human settlement in this area was confined by the landscape to small, isolated communities (and still is). For periods of months every year these operated in almost complete isolation followed then by a period of intense activity in which all trade, warfare, pacts and other activities involving social contact had to be conducted. This pattern lent itself to the development of mutual conventions designed to maximise the effectiveness of this window of opportunity, one of which was the althing in which community leaders met, not to enact laws as such, but to mediate in disputes, agree on common strategies and adjudicate issues, all based on a code of conduct which had also been arrived at mutually by all concerned. In the 9th century this system began to be tested in a new manner, namely as southern warlords began at first tentative and then more determined attempts to reign over these communities and which forced the althing to become a more typical council by European standards with responsibility for mustering armed forces and even electing a sort of "prime minister" in times of crisis.

When this system was initially transported to Iceland it apparently broke down. For one thing the society on the island was no longer split into hundreds of small communities as before, and more importantly the absolute requirement to convene in mutual assembly based on geography and climate was also removed. Iceland's norsemen split themselves instead into tribal groupings based on family allegiance and membership, and this deteriorated into clan feuding which persisted for quite a while. In 930 however the groups were again united in opposition to a "takeover" attempt from a strong Norwegian warlord setting himself up as a king on the European model and thus reinstituted the althing, initially as a council of war, a role in which it proved effective. Its additional benefit as a safeguard against internecine feuding was quickly realised and therefore it stuck as a concept.
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