Did people really only live to 40 in the Middle Ages? Maybe you’ve been puzzled how people survived before email, phones, cars or even proper roads?

‘Barbarians’ sets the scene by looking at what life around the year 500. This will take us deep into the day-to-day existence of our predecessors tasting the food and experiencing the horrors of a medieval dentist? Through this show we see the arrival of Christianity to an Ireland that had been a pagan outpost for centuries.

(Remastered 2016)



Below is an explanation on some terms used in Episode 1

Derbfine This was an extended family structure in early medieval Ireland. This family unit was composed of adult males who shared a common father/grandfather/great-grandfather. This could often total over a hundred people.

E-Ware pottery is an early medieval pottery type with sub groupings of E1, E2. Differentiation between these various categories is down to their differing uses.  It is the most common imported pottery from the early medieval  period. The most dominant opinion in archaeology suggests it originated in Western France in the Loire region. It dates from the years 550 -650 A.D. and is good evidence of post Roman trade between Ireland and continental Europe. It is usually found in small quantities on sites indicating it was high status ware.

Ogham (pronounced Ome) is the earliest form of Gaelic writing and is based on alphabet of the late Roman alphabet. It is preserved today on stone.

Pelagius declared a heretic of the early medieval period. He for preached against the christian notion of “original sin”. Christianity preaches that humans are born sinful – the concept of original sin. The catholic church holds to this idea still today.


Tacitus Agricola. Tacitus’ biography of his father in law and Roman general Agricola is one the best sources of Roman impressions of Ireland. It can be found at here – http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/tac/ag01020.htm
Power, Cathryn (1985). Diet and Disease  Evidence from the Human Dental Remains in Two Medieval Irish  Populations, Vol. 3 The journal of Irish Archaeology, 49-53. Wordwell

Really interesting article about medieval life and and causes of pain and death

Comber, Michelle (2001).Trade and communication Networks in early Historic Ireland, Vol. 10, The Journal of Irish archaeology  pp. 73-92 Wordwell.

Good article on trade and roads but is very technical in parts particularly in the discussion on pottery.

Edwards, Nancy(1990). The Archeology of Early Medieval Ireland.London:Batsford Ltd
Excellent book dealing with the archaeology of the period and useful to get a feel for what remains. Remember though its archaeology and not history so it deals mainly with what remains not what happened.

Lydon, James (1998).  The Making of Modern Ireland, London And New York:Routledge
Chapter one is useful. Its an introduction. It will probably provoke more questions than answers – but any book that covers 2000 years of history in 400 pages will!

Charles-Edwards, T.M. (2000) Early Christian Ireland.Cambridge: Cambridge Unversity Press
I found this heavy enough going in parts but it is very good on Gaelic societal structure which is incredibly complicated and many authors fudge.

Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí (1995) Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200. Longman History of Ireland. London.Excellent, Does exactly what is says on the tin.

Nicholls, Kenneth (2003) Gaelic and Gaelicised Ireland in the Middle Ages. Dublin: Lilliput Press
This is probably the best book on Gaelic Ireland. Although written originally in 1973, its still an amazing work. Although it deals with the late medieval period it is still useful for an overview of Gaelic society.
Gerriets, Marilyn  Money in Early Christian Ireland according to the Irish law Vol. 27, No. 2  (Apr., 1985), comparative studies in society and history,  pp. 323-339 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
This is great article on the role of money in Medieval Ireland
Ed. Greene, Miranda(1995)The Celtic World. London and New York: Routledge
The Celtic World is a collection of essays by various Academics, on strangely enough the Celtic world. It puts Celtic Ireland in a European context.

Mac Niocaill, Gearoid (1980) Ireland before the Vikings.Dublin: Gill and MacMillan

It has a comprehensive “history” of Gaelic Ireland up until 800. I use the word history in inverted commas as some of the sources as he points out are not the most reliable. This can at times be hard to follow but it gives a good impression of the main events. It is a bit dated.

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