ANTH1145 Spring22 S01 Barbarians and Bandits: Exploring Subaltern Resilience and State Power

ANTH1145 Spring22 S01 Barbarians and Bandits: Exploring Subaltern Resilience and State Power

Spring 2022

Bandits and Barbarians

Exploring Subaltern Resilience and State Power

Peter van Dommelen


In the imaginations of ancient Greeks and Romans, the urban centers of ‘civilization’ were surrounded by wild lands where barbarians roamed. Likewise, mountains, marshes, forests, and deserts are today seen as 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 of Algeria and the ‘wild people’ of the Ethiopian borderlands, this course explores peripheral lands and marginalized communities 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

Mural 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 powers, and who have invariably been labeled as bandits, rebels, terrorists or outlaws by those same authorities. The historian Eric Hobsbawm, whose work we will study in 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 into 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, 20th century Indonesia and the Ethiopian lowlands.


Practical Information (Spring 2022)


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Course OrganizationIntroduction  Foundations  Key Themes  |  Investigations  Conclusions

Assessment: coursework  final paper  |  grading



download the syllabus (pdf)

(but note that these Canvas pages are by definition the ones most up-to-date)

Course Summary:

Date Details Due