Terry Jones challenges the received Roman and Roman Catholic notion of the 'barbarian'.
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2006  

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Cast

Series cast summary:
...  Himself - Presenter 4 episodes, 2006
Peter Heather ...  Himself - University of Oxford 2 episodes, 2006
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Terry Jones challenges the received Roman and Roman Catholic notion of the 'barbarian'.

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26 May 2006 (UK)  »

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Terry Jones' Barbarians  »

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Fighting bias with bias
24 July 2013 | by See all my reviews

What is Terry Jones' beef with the Romans? What is the purpose of making this kind of pseudo-documentary? The guy says he's irritated by the unfair classical portrayal of Romans and barbarians he was taught at school as a young boy. But that's so 60 years ago - and many balanced scientific revisions and popular documentaries have been published on the issue since then. I think it's, in fact, a botched attempt to do a humorous historical review - much in the way his Python colleague Palin does travel documentaries.

So the Romans in classical history have been portrayed as beacon of civilization while the barbarians were regarded as wild hordes that deserved to be conquered and pacified. It's because historians of the past relied too heavily on the work of Roman writers of the era. History has advanced and nowadays anyone with iota of historical knowledge knows that many so-called barbarians were, in fact, far more civilized than the likes of Suetonius, Tacitus, Plutarch or Caesar were ready to acknowledge and that the term "barbarians" can hardly apply to any sedentary civilization at all.

Jones must have slept for 60 years and missed the latest historiographical achievements and woke up bent on proving that the Romans were "baaad" and barbarians "goood". He goes to great lengths in cheap theatrics to hammer the message home. Whatever valuable content this series contains - and incredibly, it does - it's been polluted by his fan-boy point of view. Jones, in fact, deliberately idealizes the barbarians and vilifies Romans, and to that end sometimes uses anecdotal facts and even outright fabrications and misconceptions. For instance, he praises the Parthians for having the code of honor and loyalty to their ruler, and misses the fact that they still weren't strangers to disloyalty and overthrowing rulers whenever an opportunity arose. Similarly, the Gauls were praised as great carers for women, children and elderly, yet the fact that they were also keen to use them as a strategic leverage (as demonstrated in Battle of Alesia), went misconceived.

Production values suffer the same damage as the writing and presentation. Majority of material is shot on location, actors and lavish graphics are being used for reenactment of historical events mentioned and experts are recruited to talk about various topics covered. However those good features interchange with cheap cinematography, odd directorial solutions (for instance when there was a mention of cavalry attacks, people on scooters on streets (!) have been shown) and Jones putting himself in sometimes bizarre surroundings and growling into camera.

It perfectly possible that the whole charade was to mimic Roman propaganda from the era, with roles of Romans and barbarians inversed. If it was, it's completely lost on me. As I said, Jones probably tried to do "Palin". But Jones is not Palin. He doesn't have that charisma, or a knack to write a lighthearted story. He can't even shake off his socialist point of view. His sarcasm is way out of place and 2000 years late. The Romans are gone but no one told Jones. Furthermore, he's a bad actor and his mannerisms make him look like an upset poof too many times. All the humor that I was able to extract from this was purely unintentional as I was laughing *at* Jones, not *with* him.

The show is good to watch for its camp-value and some useful and fresh historical data, for instance, rehabilitation of the Vandals. But the way the material is being presented is of use to no one.


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