Sunday, 23 October 2016

Pointless Anthropology or When is a Barbarian not a Barbarian?

Sometimes a question pops into your head that nags at you and demands that you answer it. It bugs you and niggles at you and drives you a bit potty, distract you all day long. Trouble is, I suspect that this question doesn't have an answer. I also suspect that it's not even a question!

Let me explain.....

After writing the post about Lustria a little while back I started to think about collecting a little force of adventurers that might find itself in the southern continent fighting it's way to riches and legend. I already had a couple of figures that would fit the theme and I collected some more from everyones favourite public selling website.

Surveying my new purchases I started to wonder if I done the right thing. The figures I'd bought were 'Barbarians' from ranges like these (thanks once again to Stuff of Legends, Oldhammer wouldn't be Oldhammer without it!) or look at them here






but if you look at the Lustria adventures and fluff then they tell you that it's Norse that have helped to settle the harsh Jungles of the lands to the south west. This made me think, 'Have I bought the wrong figures?'


If you look at the Norse from Kremlo the Slann then you have a bunch that are pretty analogous with the Norse from our world. i.e.



The norse come for Norsca which is to the North of the Old world and is exactly where you'd expect it to be (if you assume the old world is Europe and Norsca is Scandinavia). 

So. The Norse came from the North and are basking in the sunny climes of Lustria having a rare old time bashing in the heads of Pygmies, Amazons and Slann. If thats the case who are these bloody Barbarians and where do they come from?

Now you know the idiot question that has been running around my head.

Lets start making some suppositions and see where that gets us.

First up.

Barbarians?

The name itself was used by the Greeks to denote anybody that wasn't Greek which doesn't get us very far. Homer uses it once in the Illiad to describe a some allies of Troy as "of incomprehensible speech" meaning that they either didn't speak Greek or spoke it very badly! The Romans adopted the word to mean any people that weren't Roman or Greek helpfully narrowing down the possibilities by 1. What can be taken from this is that, if those in the Old World see themselves as the 'Civilised' people, then anybody outside could be described as 'Barbarians'.

Further to the Greco-Roman idea of Barbarians, the most common image of a Barbarian is derived from the Germanic tribes that bordered the Roman Empire. From the Celts and Gauls that had been conquered to the Vandals, Goths and related tribes who helped to bring down the Western Empire. Big, Hairy and Bearded swinging axes and swords and storming across Europe.


Even these guys were generally well armoured and fully clothed and weren't hugely different (the story of the change in armour, especially helmets over the next 500 hundred years is fascinating but subtle) than the later Norse/Vikings. If we are looking for guys in fur loin-cloths and big metal belts then we are going to have to look else where than the real world.

As a Fantasy Trope we can pretty squarely blame one guy. Conan. Or at least his creator Robert. E. Howard. Although Howard never describes him as such (he's usually described as wearing whatever clothes are relevant to the area he is in) he is usually illustrated as wearing a fur Loin-cloth and going bear chested.

I obviously had to put a Frazetta in here didn't I?
And even more famously he portrayed as such by the worlds most famous muscle man. Arnie.


This image of the Barbarian translates directly to the role-play trope. Without wandering too far Dungeons and Dragons territory (where Barbarian is more of a class than a race) we can acknowledge that that game fostered the image of the big muscly warrior caving in heads rather than thinking through problems and as Citadel started off creating miniatures for that market we can certainly see that as a reason for them having a range of Barbarians. This tradition carried on to where we can see Arnie and Frazetta in things like Heroquest and it's descendants.




Now that we have established the debt the Warhammer Barbarians owe Conan we can inspect where he comes from and extrapolate from there.

Conan is a Cimmerian which is a land on the continent of Hyboria.


If you study the map you'll notice some similarities between Hyboria and the Modern world. In fact Hyboria is supposed to be a Pre-Historic version of our world, the way it was before the continents moved apart and the new seas were formed. Howard describes Cimmerians as proto-celts or at least the ancestors of the Celts and explains that the mountains on the western border of Cimmeria were destined to become the islands that would form Britain and Ireland.

This immediately made me think of another famous Barbarian of a Celtic descent...Sláine.


Now Slaine is a bad as Celt from Ireland and is based on the legend of legend of Cú Chulainn and Irish hero who featured in Scottish and Manx legends as well. 

I think we have made a fairly solid point here. If we follow it a little we can consider Celtic jewellery, belts, bracers and torcs, and notice how often they appear in the citadel Barbarian figures. Even some of the helmets that the Barbarians wear are analogous to historical artefacts (with a fair bit of fantasy thrown in).












We now know that the route of the Fantasy Barbarian lays in the celtic nations to the west of europe. A re-imaging of the romantic savage at the edge of the civilised (romanised) continent. Wearing the skins of animals and wielding heavy axes and swords to smash the shields of the disciplined ranks of the legions.

If we transfer this knowledge to the Warhammer world then there really is only one place in the Old world that the Barbarians could come from. 



Of course none of this matters. By the time of the '91 Red Catalogue the Barbarians had been folded into the Norse range and by the later editions of Warhammer they had disappeared and the tribes of the North were all followers of the Chaos gods. The Norse had disappeared as well as well as the Slann, the pygmies, the amazons, the half-orcs etc etc. 

So now that I've answered my own question I think I can lay this one to rest and go to bed.

24 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure the barbarian in hero quest was said to come from the wastelands, so the Low Countries! But no I think the notion that the barbarians are any non civilised western humans is about right. They are Norse among others, too much history renders war hammer into a gibbering wreck. Brettonian after all ranges from Norman to powdered wigs in discription.

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    1. Anybody from Low Countries dressing up in fur loin cloths probably works in a specialist bar in Amsterdam.

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  2. C'mon Col, it began in africa. Where was babar from again ?

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    1. Or are they backing singers for the Beach Boys?

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  3. Bravo! I enjoyed every second of that.

    I think if you look at the Norse that Blanche designed for the Magnificent Sven (Karl Ustracutter, the Wizard, the Berserker, the Village Elder and Villager) there's a different story again.

    More pointless anthropology please.

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    1. Next time a confusion about the roots of fantasy race keeps me awake at night I'll make sure I do a similar choo-choo of thoughts post!

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  4. A man after my own barbaric heart. ;) lovely read.

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    1. I expect a signed picture of you plus loin cloth in the next couple of days.

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  5. Interesting thought process mate, I like it!

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    1. You have no idea what it's like in my head

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  6. Replies
    1. F.I.N.E.? Aerosmith did a song about that once.....

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  7. Good post, and a good read. And yes you did have to post that Frazetta pic :-)

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    1. I might have been lynched if I didn't.

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  8. The fur clad guys can be justified by where they are fighting, unless they have some superhuman powers then fur pants barbarians are not fighting in the frozen north, however if they are from the frozen north then when fighting in any hotter climes they may well strip down for battle. Conan spends a lot of time in "Arabian" settings so unlike the film would be unlikely to walk around half naked as he would be burnt to a crisp.

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    1. I did consider following the logical route of Barbarians in Lustria simply being the fantasy equivalent of Brits and Germans on holiday, the same kind of disregard for local custom and property and all of them painted a nice reddy pink, some of them with attractive T-shirt tans, but i decided it was silly. ;)

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    2. Oh, please paint up a warband with farmer tans...

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  9. More Warhammer anthropology please, that was a fine read and of course completely pointless.

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  10. Weirdly it only just occurred to me after seeing them it that the Advanced HQ box art actually depicts the heroes and monsters from original HQ despite having seen many times before...
    Critical fail on my observation roll...

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  11. Interesting, enjoyed this very much.

    Currently running a Barbarian setting rpg for my gaming group. We ended up having different tribes or cultures in the setting have a background that drew from many of the barbarian types you've outlined. No fun like plagiarised fun.

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  12. It sounds like it perplexed. The 'barbarian' in the modern WHQ follows the same look as the earlier edition and Heroquest too

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