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Tales of the Barbarians: Ethnography and Empire in the Roman West

ISBN: 978-1-4443-9080-3
192 pages
December 2010, Wiley-Blackwell
Tales of the Barbarians: Ethnography and Empire in the Roman West (1444390805) cover image


Tales of the Barbarians traces the creation of new mythologies in the wake of Roman expansion westward to the Atlantic, and offers the first application of modern ethnographic theory to ancient material.
  • Investigates the connections between empire and knowledge at the turn of the millennia, and the creation of new histories in the Roman West
  • Explores how ancient geography, local histories and the stories of wandering heroes were woven together by Greek scholars and local experts
  • Offers a fresh perspective by examining  passages from ancient writers in a new light
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Table of Contents

Translations Used vii

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: Telling Tales on the Middle Ground 8

Chapter 2: Explaining the Barbarians 32

Chapter 3: Ethnography and Empire 59

Chapter 4: Enduring Fictions? 89

Notes 119

References 146

General Index 164

Index of Main Passages Discussed 168

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Author Information

Greg Woolf is Professor of Ancient History at the University of St. Andrews. He is the author of Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul (1998)  and Rome: An Empire’s Story (2012) as well as the co-editor of Literacy and Power in the Ancient World (with A. K. Bowman, 1994), Rome the Cosmopolis (with C. Edwards, 2003) and Ancient Libraries (with J.König, 2013). 

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"A work of fundamental importance for students of ancient ethnography. Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries." (Choice, 1 November 2011)

"Woolf has rendered the topic in crisp and elegant prose. This reviewer suspects that, like good ancient ethnography, Woolf's contribution will very soon take on a life of its own." (Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 25 July 2011)

“W. provides new insights into ancient texts, and stimulating new ways of looking at these ancient views of barbarians — chasing his ‘middle ground’ provides an exciting challenge for Romanists working with other fields of evidence.” (Britannia, May 2013)

"With Greg Woolf’s brief Tales of the Barbarians we are at peace, but constantly made to sit up, not only by single opinions but by the overall ways in which Woolf asks us to read the material, in particular by his convincing stress on ‘the middle ground’ where explorers and natives have met, in western Europe and America." (Greece & Rome, April 2013)

"Greg Woolf's wide-ranging and engaging study of ethnographic traditions about the "barbarian" west exposes the complex mixture of myth, stereotype, and information deriving from the interplay between inquirers and inhabitants and from the shifting circumstances that generated their creation and their transformation."
Erich Gruen, University of California, Berkeley

“Woolf dissects Greek and Roman ethnological accounts to give a voice to the otherwise silent people Rome conquered and analyses the role of myths in empire building.”
David Breeze, The University of Edinburgh

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