Ancient Europe: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World


Synopsis:

This detailed encyclopedia is the first to explore the many peoples of early European civilization. Viewed as “barbarian” through the lens of ancient Greece and Rome, these civilizations were responsible for such accomplishments as the rise of farming in the Neolithic era and the building of Stonehenge. Coverage extends from prehistoric origins through the early Middle Ages (8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000) when tribal movements helped define the end of ancient culture and the rise of the modern European world. Arrange topically and chronologically Ancient Europe, 8000 B.C. to A.D. 1000 features include 200 illustrations (including the black & white images, color images, and line drawings); 70 maps; a chronology; index; two eight-page color inserts; cartographic end papers; glossary of key archaeological terms and more.

Review:

Ancient Europe: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World talks about European societies between 8000 BCE and 1000 CE. These dates are not arbitrary; 8000 BCE is the time when Europe was freed from glacial ice and modern climate conditions were established and 1000 CE is the time when Christianity spread across northern and eastern Europe and many of the current European states were established. The encyclopedia is written by a knowledgeable team of archaeologists and historians, each writing about their field of expertise.

Ancient Europe is a two volume encyclopedia edited by Peter Bogucki and Pam J. Crabtree. In the introduction they tell us why it is important to study the barbarian societies of Europe. They give us five reasons that are connected to each other. The first is that the barbarian societies provided the technological, economic, social, and cultural foundations for the late medieval and modern European societies that we know from the historical records. By studying this record we can see the precursors to many modern customs and practices, and we get to know how the ancients lived. It also gives us a counterbalance to the view that if it was not written down then it didn’t happen. The introduction also gives us a view of what the authors feel about HOW the archaeological records are used by people. I quote “In studying archeology, it is important to separate the factual evidence and sensible interpretations from the fantasies of those who see archeology as a mirror for their spiritual and political beliefs. Stonehenge is of interest not only to serious archaeologists for what it can tell them about Bronze Age society but also to impressionable and gullible people who believe that it has mystical power.” I found that a bit insulting since Stonehenge is shown to have been a burial place and a place where people may have come for healing in and after the Bronze Age (as the latest excavation into Stonehenge seem to imply). So isn’t the obvious interpretation that the ancients THOUGHT of it as a place of power? How does that make people who believe that today into gullible and impressionable? I guess now we know what the editors’ bias is. I do understand what the editors are talking about though, since most people mistakenly attribute the building of Stonehenge to the Druids or even assume that they may have used it as a place of worship but I believe that they could have made their point with a little more finesse.

Volume one of Ancient Europe covers the period between 8000 – 2000 BCE, the Mesolithic to Copper Age. This volume is further divided into smaller time periods and each one is given its own section.

Part One: Part one is all about how archeology, its development, how it works and what things help the archaeologist give us a complete picture of the pre-historic era. I loved this part because of the explanations given on how archeology developed and what methods archaeologists employ to give us their interpretations of the things they find. The authors of the essays talk about the kinds of things found on digs and how important they are and what can be inferred from them. How things can be dated by looking at how deep they were buried in the ground and how from the climate changes affected how people behaved. In some cases the authors provide case studies that illustrate their point.

Part Two: Post-glacial Foragers from 8000 – 4000 BCE, is the topic of part two. This is where the actual history begins and the authors go all over Europe. I loved the cases that the editors had after some of the articles, especially the one on Mount Sandel. I learned a few things about archeology that I didn’t know before but mostly I learned a lot about the Mesolithic period.

Part Three: Part three is about the transition from a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural society. It took place between 7000 – 4000 BCE. This part lays down the foundation for the Neolithic package, again the case studies and essays presented give so much information that will be of interest to anyone studying the history of Europe during that time period.

Part Four: This part talks about the time period between 5000 – 2000 BCE. This is the period where farming is solidified and the societies fully adopt the Neolithic Package. I learned a lot in part four when it comes to the kinds of animals and crops grown in the Neolithic period and the cultures prevalent during that time. I also learned all about the consequences of the Neolithic package.

At the end of Volume one there are pictures of some of the places mentioned in the volume.

Volume two of Ancient Europe covers the period between 3000 BCE – 1000 CE, the Bronze Age to Early Middle Ages. This volume is further divided into smaller time periods and each one is given its own section.

Part Five: Masters of Metal 3000 – 1000 BCE. This part is about the emergence of the Bronze Age and the societies that worked with Bronze. The major changes in the Bronze Age come in the form of metallurgy, burials, and power and status among society. This part is amazing in that it explains EVERYTHING. I like the way that they assume the reading is coming to them as a clean slate. I especially loved the essays on Bronze Age Britain and Ireland.

Part Six: The European Iron Age 800 BCE – 400 CE. As with every other phase the beginning and end of the Iron Age really depend on where you are in Europe. The case studies provided really give great examples of what the articles talk about. The part also talks about the different people separately, like the Celts and the Germans.

Part Seven: Early Middle Ages and the Migration period. This part covers the period between 500 CE to 1000 CE. There are three essays in this part that I really enjoyed reading (all the essays are great but these were extra special), the first is on history and archeology and the second is on state formation and the third is on gender. There are also impressive essays on the migrations which includes featured essays on Jutes, Saxons, Angles and so on; as well as Christianity in Ireland at that time period.

At the end of Volume Two, just like Volume One there are pictures of the places mentioned in the volume. At the very end also there is a glossary of terms and an index that is pretty comprehensive.

A MUST HAVE TWO VOLUMES!  These two books are a treasure trove of articles that are simple to read and informative.  Each article is written by someone famous in that field and the editors have tried successfully to give background to pre-history, and archeology in order for the reader to understand what the articles are presenting.

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2 thoughts on “Ancient Europe: Encyclopedia of the Barbarian World

  1. Spider Lily says:

    I definitely need to get this. Great review!

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