Barbarians is The History Channel’s box set of a series of four interesting documentaries. Each chronicles the rise and fall of one or another of history’s famous “Barbarian” tribes – from their generally agrarian origins, to their bloody warlike height and eventual gradual decline or precipitous fall. Four groups are covered in this box set, on two discs:
- The Vikings: Who knew these fierce red-bearded horn-wearing savages ran a sophisticated trade empire extending all of the wa… to Baghdad?
- The Goths: Not cigarette smoking black clad teens. These Goths are a displaced agricultural people that Imperial Rome betrayed for entertainment, and sold into slavery. The Goths decided to get even by sacking Rome, destroying the empire, and taking over Spain, where they remained until defeated in turn by the Moors.
- The Mongols: Genghis Khan in all of his glory! I didn’t actually watch this one, so I can’t tell you much about them.
- The Huns: Attila the Hun! Brutal? Yes. Politically astute and gentlemanly when necessary? Also yes. This is an interesting story, more of Attila than of the wider Hunnic population. The story describes how Attila founded an almost-empire, based in modern day Hungary. Interesting note – Attila came close to wedding a daughter of the Roman emperor in a Helen-of-Troy type story that ended in Rome almost getting sacked yet again.
What makes each of these stories great are (a) special effects and (b) good narration. These documentaries are intended for the general public, not the studied academic, so the screen dominated by action (including occasional quality gore), and excellent reconstructions of historical battles and venues. You’ll note that some scenery is recycled between episodes – definitely more noticeable watching the episodes in serial than it would’ve been on TV over a month or two, but it doesn’t detract from the experience. Narration is fast and light, and sticks to interesting and relevant facts without getting bogged down in lists of dates.
Good quality video captures the high production values of these documentaries perfectly. I would note that on the discs I received, however, it was marred by errors in transitions between the DVD menu’s and footage, and also by minor white line distortion along the top of the screen. If my memory serves me right, this was a symptom of disc one (Vikings and Goths) only. Our copies are pre-release and with any luck this issue was identified and addressed before the box went to market.
Nothing notable here. A competent TV 2.0 mix.
To some degree I think this was a missed opportunity. The extras are limited to a Making-of documentary (not bad, not great) and the A&E Biography episode for Genghis Khan. Given the nature of these discs and their probable classroom use by many teachers, it would’ve been neat to see more in the way of supplementary features like PDF documents (tests, notes, etc.) that could be printed and used in classroom, or even just more historical background documentaries. Perhaps these are available in a different product category that I’m not aware of – this is a consumer-branded product after all. At any rate, not a whole lot to say about extras, other than don’t expect too much from a documentary disc.
All told, an excellent set of DVD’s interesting content, good video and audio, marred only by some minor video glitches. Recommended for history buffs, teachers, or any party interested in rounding out there knowledge of the world.
Special Features List
- A&E Biography: Genghis Kahn
- Making-of Documentary