The word ‘barbarian’ was used first by Greek and then by Roman historians to denote peoples whose languages they could not understand, hearing them as stammerers (“bar-bar-bar…”). The word came by association to mean groups or tribes whom the Romans viewed as primitive, uncivilized and outside their culture and control. The 5th century CE was a period of extraordinary migrations all across Europe, and as the military cohesion of the Roman empire began consequently to weaken, the ‘barbarian’ encroachments on its strongholds became steadily more damaging. The Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks, Alemanni, Suebi, Burgundians, Lombards, Angles, Jutes, Saxons and Vandals are nowadays all classified as ‘Germanic’ peoples from various regions of central and northern Europe, while the Huns were from central Asia, the Caucasus, and eastern Europe. In 378 CE an army of Goths crossed the River Danube and decisively defeated the Romans at the Battle of Adrianople. In 410 Rome itself was sacked by the Visigoths under Alaric I, who went on to control much of Gaul and Spain from their capital at Toulouse. In 447 the Huns, under Attila, won a major battle at the River Utus and began an invasion of northern Italy. In 455 Rome was again sacked, this time by the Vandals, who migrated from the region of modern-day Poland via Hispania to north Africa, which they reached in around 440.
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