The Barbarians four hour set covers the nice guys of history, the Vikings, the Goths, the Mongols and of course the Huns

During the time that each group ruled with fear and terror Europe shook and blood ran in The Barbarians

I am a real history junkie. I am frequently on the History channel, watching their greatly improved programming. Part of that new programming is the four part series, The Barbarians. This four hour set covers the nice guys of history, the Vikings, the Goths, the Mongols and of course the Huns. During the time that each group ruled with fear and terror Europe shook and blood ran. Of course, since this is basic cable you don’t actually see the gore and blood shed but you more than get the picture.

In The Barbarians, the section of the Vikings goes into how small, clan oriented groups found the sparse land they inhabited unable to support their growing population. What began as fighting between the clans soon moved to near by countries. The success of the Vikings was based on the wonder of technology, the Viking long boat. Flat, extremely fast and able to navigate very shallow waters this boat could speed along the multitude of rivers that crisscross Europe bringing the ravaging Vikings to almost anywhere on the continent. Men that used to build simple barns could complete one of these vessels in just over a month and then they where on their way. The fact that the Vikings never had a centralized government actually worked in their favor. Each clan had a specific style of combat; tribute to protect a nation from one group did not deter the others, at the turn of the first millennium they where the Y1K crisis.

The Goths where a people forged by the oppression of the Roman army, conscripted for use as the first line of defense, that is to waste the arrows and spears of the enemy, the Goths soon began to see a way out. They rose up against the Romans, unified by the bitter hatred they felt. Since they where all too well acquainted with the tactical secrets of the Romans they fell upon the ultimate prize, the city of Rome. Backed into a position where life was cheap they had little to lose and everything to gain.

When it came to the tactic of divide and conquer few did it as well as the Huns. Seizing upon dissention between the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire they created a wedge between the rival factions of the government. The Barbarians story is actually intertwined with that of the Goths. As the Huns, lead by the military genius Attila acted externally to divide the Goths could rise up from within to crush Rome.

Last there are the Mongols. Almost everyone today, so many centuries after the events, knows the name of Genghis Khan, ruler of one of the most effective and powerful armies ever. They are called hordes by history but this is a grave underestimation of their might. They were highly organized, wrote the book on shock tactics and rode their horses through any that stood in their way. They realized the importance of maintaining communications between the directing generals and the troops, using their horses they had a communication network established that was far better than anything of its day.

What all of these groups had in common were the bitter and harsh circumstances they had to survive. Cruel lands breed cruel people. Oppression came usually in the form of land that could no longer support the people or a conquering army that crushed them into the dirt. History has shown that when people are backed into circumstances where life is cheap violence is nothing to them. All of these groups did not so much choose lives as barbarians; this life was thrust upon them.

They History channel succeeds because they keep their promise, they bring history to life. Each segment in The Barbarians is rich in accurate details but does not come off as dry and uninteresting. For those out there that hated the endless names and dates from high school history take a chance with this series. The Barbarians is far from dry, it is alive. With a plethora of reenactments you see the history unfold with real people. Some may feel that these staged battles are cheesy, there is no gore explicitly displayed but the content is there. The actors are meticulously dressed in authentic wardrobe and wield period weapons. Accuracy is the point here not sensationalism. This is actually something the whole family can watch and enjoy together. Not only that, you get to learn something without the pain many felt in history class.

To help explain the action of the screen there are segments with the typical talking head, experts in the field that explain and help in understanding the complex factors involved with these people. Even this discourse is not dry; the History channel took some time to recruit experts that are well versed in explaining things to the general public without sounding flat. These are people that are excited about their chosen profession and know how to transmit that excitement to others. The many animated maps are also used to give the viewer an understanding of the scope these Barbarians controlled. It is one thing to say The Barbarians took Europe but to see a map that slowly is taken over by blood red brings home the fact that in their day these simple groups ruled the known world.

The production of The Barbarians was excellent. The pacing was such that I never got tired or bored, it was down right interesting. There was a balance between exposition and live action. Although the programs where not in true historical order each segment nicely showed the rise and fall of the selected group with attention to detail and most ancillary factors. They showed that these were desperate people trying to survive and expand what they held.

Visually the programs are stunning. The picture is crisp and clean without defect that seems to plague many recent television presentations. The audio is only two channel surround but it more than does the job. The Barbarians is something that can be watched repeatedly, each time you and your family will take away just a little more understanding of what shaped these people and how they in turn shaped the world.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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