ANTH1145 Fall16 S01 Barbarians and Bandits: Exploring Subaltern Resilience and State Power

ANTH1145 Fall16 S01 Barbarians and Bandits: Exploring Subaltern Resilience and State Power

Bandits and Barbarians. Exploring Subaltern Resilience and State Power

In the imaginations of ancient Greeks and Romans, the urban centers of ‘civilization’ were surrounded by wild lands where barbarians roamed. Even now, mountains, marshes, forests, and deserts are the realms of bandits, primitive tribes, warlords, and terrorists. From ‘shepherd-bandits’ in highland Sardinia and ‘red-faced Gauls’ in Roman France to ‘marginal tribes’ in the Kabyle mountains and the ‘wild people’ of the Ethiopian borderlands, this course explores peripheral lands through time and across the globe. We will critically examine such stereotypical representations, to understand how their inhabitants carved out their own spaces in the interstices of ancient and modern states.

Hold up of bandits in Orani, Sardinia

Bronzetto_principe(Uta).jpgMural of a bandit in Orgosolo


In this course, we will read and discuss anthropological, historical and archaeological literature to consider and compare societies and communities, who have been marginalized by state and/or colonial power, and who invariably have been labeled as bandits, rebels, terrorists or outlaws by those same authorities. The historian Eric Hobsbawm, whose work we will study in some detail, first drew systematic attention to these attempts to resist expanding states and empires: "banditry of the Robin Hood type, rural secret societies, various peasant revolutionary movements of the millenarian sort, pre-industrial urban 'mobs' and their riots, some labour religious sects" are but some of the instances of resistance and resilience that he termed "Primitive Rebels" (Hobsbawm 1959).

Rebellion, terrorism and banditry are not just early modern or contemporary phenomena, however, and they can be readily traced back in the deep past as well. Classical authors seem to discuss similar situations when they describe barbarians, who were conquered or displaced by expanding ancient empires. The comparative approach taken to explore subaltern resilience and state power in this course is thus not only global but also long-term diachronic; case studies to be considered will include the Samnites of first millennium BC Central Italy, the Sicilian mafia, the 19th century southwest Asian Highlands and Ethiopian lowlands

For reading, see Bibliography

Practical Information


Course Organization

The course is built up of three main parts, each of which will be assessed in a different way. In the first one (weeks 1-4), fundamental theoretical concepts and key historical contexts of social banditry and ancient barbarians will be introduced and discussed. The second part (weeks 5-9) examine in-depth five key themes in combination with specific regions where the theme is especially prominent and pertinent. A course blog for students to discuss readings will help to tie together concepts and events. The third part is mostly dedicated to substantial student presentations (weeks 11-13) that are thematically organized, and in which students are encouraged to combine theoretical notions with specific historical, ethnographic or archaeological evidence. The course is wrapped up with a concluding discussion session (week 14).

For details, including weekly course readings, see 

The course will be assessed through two short written assignments and blog posts during the first two parts of the course as well as a substantial final paper due by the end of the course. Students are also required to lead some class discussion and to make a substantial presentation in class. Overall course participation will be monitored and assessed through contributions to class discussion, presentations and a course blog.


Download the syllabus in pdf: Syllabus_Bandits.pdf


Course Summary:

Date Details Due