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Invention of the Barbarian

1. When did the Greeks start calling non-Greeks 'barbarians'?

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In this module, we consider two key questions related to the invention of the barbarian: (i) when did the Greeks begin to use the term 'barbarian' to refer to non-Greeks? and (ii) what did the Greeks consider were the key distinguishing features between themselves and 'barbarians'?


In this course, Professor Edith Hall (King's College, London) explores how the Greeks saw themselves as distinct from their 'barbarian' neighbours, especially in the context of the Greco-Persian wars of the early 5th century BC. In the first module, we consider when it was that the Greeks began referring to non-Greeks as 'barbarians', as well as the key distinguishing features – to the Greeks, at least – between themselves and non-Greeks. After that, we think about the extent to which the term 'barbarian' is a useful concept for describing the whole range of non-Greeks that existed in the Classical period. In the third module, we think about the presentation of the Persians in Aeschylus' Persians, and ask what it can tell us about contemporary perceptions of 'barbarians', before moving on in the fourth module to consider to extent to which Medea's treatment in Euripides' Medea is predicated on the fact that she is a 'barbarian'.


Since being awarded the Hellenic Foundation Prize for her Oxford doctorate (1988), Edith has held posts at Cambridge, Oxford, Durham and London Universities. She has published twenty books. She is Co-Founder and Consultant Director of the Archive of Performances of Greek & Roman Drama at Oxford and Chairman of the Gilbert Murray Trust. She has won funding for research from the AHRB, the AHRC, the Leverhulme Trust, the British Academy, the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, and has just been awarded a Humboldt Research Prize. She appears regularly on BBC Radio, and has acted as consultant to professional productions of ancient drama at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, Northern Broadsides, Theaterkombinat and other professional companies.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Hall, E. (2018, August 15). Invention of the Barbarian - When did the Greeks start calling non-Greeks 'barbarians'? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Hall, E. "Invention of the Barbarian – When did the Greeks start calling non-Greeks 'barbarians'?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,

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