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Author Topic: Some notes on barbarians  (Read 22347 times)


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Some notes on barbarians
« Reply #15 on: November 28, 2019, 08:32:32 AM »
I'm more interested in inspiring people to better games. If you're going for the Howard-esque flavor, consider using these basic types of barbarians:

-Living only in contact with other nomadic tribes
-On the frontiers of a settled civilization, often used as a buffer against wilder barbarians further afield
-Recent conquerors of a settled people, now semi-civilized, and set up as a ruling caste above them
-Corrupted and weakened by civilization, ready to be conquered by the next wave of barbarians on the frontier

It's important to view settled society the way nomadic peoples might see it. It's a tempting target, a prize, but the temptation of comfort and riches, in the long run, isn't that stable. It's also worth considering that a barbaric culture might be more interested in fighting for it's own sake, as a spiritual practice, rather than a way to acquire loot.

There's a two-way process here, the material seductiveness of settled society versus the martial qualities of the nomadic. Capture both, and you've got an interesting dynamic, wherever you choose to say the cycle renews. (This requires escaping a materialistic viewpoint, which is hard for moderns.) The point being the interplay between settled and nomadic societies was far richer than we often imagine.

Some other things to remember: very often the aristocratic class in a society is descended from the wandering conquerors, and many of the class distinctions they use to set themselves apart from their conquered subjects are reminders of their nomadic past, which they maintain in aristocratic habits like dueling, the hunt, and boxing, all of things, as well as secret societies, epic poetry, certain rituals, etc. They are also in the process of degenerating, and by the time they fully fall away from the nomadic past they are ready to be conquered by another wave of nomads. They can delay that process by paying off bordering tribes, but it's only a delaying action. In the end the only thing that prevents a ruling class from being conquered is maintaining a level of austerity - keeping themselves outside the culture they rule.

Quote from: Bren;1115147
it's a semantic game without substance to claim that tribe X is still in charge of anything. Tribe X as a culture and as a people has ceased to exist. Defeats don't get much more final than that.
Quote from: Bren;1115147

Bob the barbarian came over the hills, stole my land, took my stuff, raped my wife, and slit my throat. But in the end I won because he's wearing my clothes on my soil, even though it's his now, and my wife is raising his kids.

I'll let people decide for themselves if they'd rather be Bob, the wife, or the cuckold.

On a serious note: the Mongols, in Mongolia, still exist. The Jin before and after the Mongols were also pastoral peoples before they set themselves up in China, and within 200-300 years we find ourselves in early modernity which finally breaks free of these patterns, as I alluded to earlier with respects to industrialization. Don't forget the nomadic Indo-European peoples that spread themselves in the lands between Ireland and India, where their language still makes its mark today. The Turks who wandered across the steppe to eventually take down the last vestiges of the eastern roman empire, the wandering Germans who displaced the western half earlier. The Scythians who kept the Persians at bay. (The Persians also being an Indo-European vestige.) The Sea Peoples who committed the coup-de-grace on many Mediterranean societies in the end of the Bronze Age - pretty much all of them except Egypt, who had fairly recently freed themselves from the Hyksos.

Wandering peoples have had a lasting impact on history. Even though Genghis Khan's empire didn't last very long, it destroyed Islamic society at the height of its flowering and basically brought on modernity, for better or worse.

Arguing over "wins" or "upper hand" is silly. Anyone who survives history "wins" and to that we all lost to modernity. It's probably a smarter view to see settled and pastoral peoples as part of a broader Eurasian dynamic then seeing settled peoples as the important history with occasional interruptions by settled peoples that don't matter on the long run.

Conan's people were settled (implied, recent converts to agriculture) but Conan was a wanderer. And the world he constructed was all about the various migrations of peoples, particularly the Hyborians, and many instances where the ruling class come from a different racial stock then those they ruled. This is more of an issue of how to read myths.