I find myself tuning into The History Channel more and more often as
time goes by. I've always been interested in the past, and they usually
broadcast high quality shows that give a good, if brief, overview of a
subject. While the shows usually present a topic in black and white,
staying away from any ideas that may be currently debated in historical
circles, the programs are not meant to replace an in depth analysis, just
give you a taste of the subject.
That is exactly what Barbarians does. It gives a good outline
of what happened when barbarian tribes fought with civilized Europe and
Rome. This four part series looks at a different barbarian group
each episode. While there is a thread of sensationalism running through
the show, there is enough information to make up for the attempt to get
ratings. The shows on this two-disc set are:
Vikings: This show examines
the Vikings 300 year reign of terror. Known as the "Ban of the Dark
Ages," the Vikings started plundering in the late 700's. Living in
an area with little tillable land and a short growing season, there were
too many people for the land to support, so some tribes built boats and
went off in search of food and wealth. Their long boats rode high
in the water, so they could navigate rivers that brought them to the interior
of Europe. The show chronicles their major conquests, and what eventually
happened to these fierce northern warriors.
Goths: Most of the barbarians
in this series turned to war either out of necessity for food, or as a
means of increasing their power. That wasn't so for the Goths.
They attacked for vengeance.
The Goths started out as quiet simple farmers. But when the Huns
invaded their land in the later part of the 4th century, they turned to
the Roman Empire for protection. It was their hope that they could
join the empire in exchange for troops for the Roman army. Rome allowed
some of the Goths to enter, but forbade others entry as a means of showing
their authority. The Goths that were allowed to cross into Roman
territory were not treated well. They were put into camps and not
given food. When food was available, they had to sell their children
into slavery to obtain even the poorest scraps from the Roman soldiers.
Eventually they are told that if they can make the journey to Marcianople,
there will be food for them there. It is a long hard journey, and
the weak die along the way. When they finally arrive at their destination,
the gates are barred and they are denied entry. This is the last
straw. They attack. This is the start of raiding campaigns
that will eventually reach Rome itself.
Mongols: The Mongols ruled
over the largest empire the world has ever known. Spreading from
the coast of modern day China all the way to Europe, the Mongols carved
their huge empire at the end of the 12th century. This episode examines
their starts on the steeps of Mongolia and their migration westward.
It chronicles the rise of Genghis Khan, and his ruthless form of warfare.
The show also discusses another Mongol ruler, Tamerlane, who was even more
ruthless than his idol, Genghis, and expanded the Mongol empire even further.
Huns: In the fifth century,
a group of barbarians on horseback came out of the east and laid waste
to large areas of the Roman Empire. It is uncertain where the Huns
came from since they were migratory and left no written records.
But once they reached the civilized western world, they made a huge impact.
This chapter shows the rise of Hunnish power, how the Romans paid them
a yearly tribute and gave them a large amount of land in what is present
day Hungary, and the rise of Attila the Hun. It shows the extent
of their conquest, and discusses the reasons why their power waned.
This was an interesting series. The production values were high
for a made for cable series. The battle reenactments, while on a
much smaller scale than the real battles, did a good job recreating these
ancient wars. They used their budget to great effect. The village
and camp sets had a realistic feel, and looked authentic (to my untrained
eye at least.)
The show wasn't all just battles and wars; there was a good bit of analysis
in each episode. Why the barbarians started their attacks, the tactics
they used, and why they were so successful are all discussed. While
it didn't go into great detail, they only had 45 minutes for each show
after all, there was enough information to give the viewer a good overview
of the time and peoples examined. I do wish that there had been more
of a summing up at the end. There were similarities between the four
races that were examined, but these were not discussed in detail.
The major complaint I had with the series was that it was a tad sensationalistic.
There was a little too much time spent on the terror the barbarians inflicted.
There was much too much hyperbole in each show's introduction that catered
to people's baser instincts. The fact that Attila the Hun "drowned
in his own blood" is not an important part of the story, but it was prominently
mentioned. It is ironic that they resorted to this tactic, since
the people most likely to be drawn in by such tactic are probably not watching
The History Channel in the first place. If you can look past this
attempt to get ratings, the show is solid and worth a look.
The stereo mix was very nice for the show. It was clear and there
was no noticeable hiss or distortion. While the sound on the battle
scenes wasn't dynamic and forceful, the quality was sufficient to convey
the sounds of war. The sound effects, arrows whizzing by and the
like, were sometimes mixed a little higher than my tastes, but that was
a minor quibble. A solid sound track.
The widescreen video was not anamorphically enhanced, but looked nice
nonetheless. The colors were reproduced well, and details were visible
in the dark scenes. There were a few instances of aliasing, and parallel
lines would shimmer when the camera moved across them, but these digital
defects were fairly minor.
There are two extras on this set. On the first DVD, there is a
'making of' featurette, Behind the Shield. This 20-minute
short has an overview of the series, and a look at the production and some
of the problems they encountered. The second DVD has the episode
of Biography that looks at the life of Genghis Khan. This
45-minute show examines the life of the Mongol ruler in more detail.
They spend a good amount of time on his early life, before he rose
This was in interesting set of shows. I didn't know a lot about
the people and times examined before I viewed it, and learned a fair amount.
While there is a bit of sensationalism, there is also enough substance
to make this a worthy series. Recommended.