Where does the word ‘barbarian’ come from?
People in ancient Greece called everyone who didn’t speak Greek a barbarian (barbaros). They said that people speaking other languages sounded like they were just going “bar, bar, bar, bar….” So that is why they called those people barbarians.
Barbarians weren’t all barbarians!
Don’t let this fool you into thinking that these “barbarians” were all living in the Stone Age. The Greeks called Persians, Romans, Phoenicians, Scythians, and Egyptians barbarians. All of these people were barbarians because they didn’t speak Greek. But they were plenty civilized! Many of these people had more technology than the Greeks. They had better doctors, and better universities. “Barbarian” just meant that they did not speak Greek.
Reason and emotion
The Greeks believed that Greek people (or at least Greek men) were more rational than these barbarians. The Greeks thought that barbarians were ruled by their emotions instead of by reason.
Working for barbarians
That didn’t stop the Greeks from working for foreigners, or having foreigners work for them though. In the Classical and Hellenistic periods, most of the Athenian police force was made up of enslaved Scythian. And all through Greek history, many Greek men worked as mercenary soldiers or as artists in Egypt and Persia.
Eyewitness: Ancient Greece , by Anne Pearson.
Greeks and Barbarians, by Thomas Harrison (2001).
Greeks, Romans and Barbarians: Spheres of Interaction, by Barry Cunliffe.