Pedo barbarians a minno
In today's usage, we tend to restrict our application of the word to imaginary uncivilized peoples or to historical peoples who invaded sedentary, civilized cultures: e.g., the Germans, the Mongols, and the Turks were all barbarians in that sense. They did not build cities of their own until they had invaded the rich civilizations with whom they were neighbors. We no longer use the word "barbarian" to refer to outsiders or foreigners (particularly those who do not live in cities).
It is a curious fact that Tolkien never created an Elvish word with the meaning of "barbarian" in the sense of "foreigner", "outsider", "non-city dweller". The closest he came was an early etymology for the word "glam" (translated in The Hobbit as "foe", from Glamdring, the foe-hammer). Originally, a "glam" was a "barbarous host" (referring to the Orcs).
Our word, "barbarian", comes ultimately from the Greek language and originally meant something like "strange, foreign". Quenya offers a word, ettelëa, meaning "foreign". We could combine it with nêr, "man", to produce a word (ettelëanêr) meaning, literally, "foreign man".
But I think it is doubtful Tolkien envisioned his Elves ever using such a word -- not in the way we use "barbarian" today. For one thing, Quenya quickly became a language of Aman, where there were no real foreigners. The Eldar were divided into three kindreds (Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri) but they did not regard each other as foreigners. They shared a common history and cultural base.
When the Noldor returned in exile to Middle-earth, they might have seemed like foreigners to the Sindar, but the Sindar welcomed the Noldor as long-lost kin and newfound allies in the war against Morgoth. The Noldor and Sindar did not express toward each other that sense of estrangement one conveys in labeling a neighbor as a foreigner or barbarian. One of the chief reasons, undoubtedly, must have been the rapid assimilation the two peoples made into an almost unified culture. While some regions of Beleriand and neighboring lands remained free of the Noldor, the Noldor became very Sindarinized, just as they tended to Noldorinize those Sindar who dwelt close to or among them.
When the Edain entered Beleriand, they would have seemed (in comparison to the Eldar) every bit as barbaric from our point of view as the ancient Germans, Scythians, and Huns seem today. The most organized group of Edain, the Marachians (better known as the Third House, or the House of Hador), maintained ordered companies, but they appear to not have built large cities. It is possible that Estolad became the first Edainic city. It is doubtful that they possessed a sophisticated culture at all.
But the Eldar did not treat the Edain like barbarians. That is, unlike the ancient Greeks and Romans -- who strove keep their barbarian neighbors at arm's length -- the Eldar largely welcomed the Edain into Beleriand, and allowed many Edain to settle in or close to their own lands. While the Edain remained mostly separate from the Eldar, they learned a great deal from the Eldar and adopted some aspects of Eldarin culture, even to the point of accepting Eldarin kings as their overlords.
So, again, when an occasion arose which might have produced a word meaning "barbarian" or "foreigner", it seems Tolkien allowed his languages to follow a different path. The assimilation of the Edain -- for whom some names already existed among the Elves anyway -- prevented the assumption of distinction which necessitates a word like "barbarian".
Which is not to say the Beleriandic Eldar did not possess that sense of "we are us and they are them". At the very least, they felt that way toward the Orcs and all of Morgoth's creatures. They probably regarded the Dwarves to be foreigners, certainly strange. But no name used of the Dwarves became a generic word for all foreigners in general.
The Numenoreans avoided the issue a number of times. For example, they named the Men dwelling near the Gwathlo river Gwathuirim, meaning "dark folk" or "shadow folk". Thousands of years later, Faramir told Frodo and Sam that the Numenoreans eventually divided Men into three groups: High Men (Numenoreans), Middle Men (their Edainic relatives in Middle-earth), and Wild Men (all other Men).
"Wild Men" conveys a strong sense of estrangement, but it goes beyond what "barbarian" or "foreigner" normally convey. Barbarians, for example, might only be simple, rustic folk living in small villages. "Wild Men" implies an untamed nature, an uncivilized, dangerous culture which threatens the culture of the High Men (and perhaps the Middle Men).
The Wild Men were almost certainly all considered to be enemies or potential enemies anyway, for the majority of them must have (in the Numenoreans' experience) been subject to Sauron's rule anyway, at least for much of the Second Age. The political realities of Middle-earth's history thus overshadowed the cultural estrangement which might have produced a word for "barbarian, foreigner". That is, such a word may have existed in Tolkien's conception, but it would not have been as important as our "barbarian" has become because other words and expressions filled that need.
In reality, what Tolkien did was romanticize the politics of distinction. He provided Middle-earth with aggressive, war-like peoples who lived outside of cities (the Wainriders being the foremost example of such folk, with their wagon culture resembling those of the Mongols and Turks). But Tolkien's nomenclature provided suitable alternatives to "barbarian": "wild men", "men of darkness", "evil men".
Whereas the Greeks may not have believed all foreigners and strangers were servants of evil, the Numenoreans (and probably the Eldar and Middle Men) almost certainly always associated the Wild Men with Sauron and evil. In fact, at least one group of Middle Men (the Gwathuirim) were wrongly placed in that category for a long time as well, according to one of Tolkien's essays.
The pervasive conflict between good (the worshippers of Iluvatar among Elves and Men) and evil (the followers of Sauron and Morgoth) imposed a stringent polarization upon cultural interactions. That is, on either side, any encounter with a foreigner was almost certainly regarded as an encounter with an enemy. Any Elf or Man who stood against Sauron would be considered a friend and ally, and therefore could not be a stranger or foreigner. Hence, the Numenoreans projected a cultural sense of isolation and superiority not by recognizing all others as foreigners, but rather by assigning themselves a higher status than other men.
In one sense, barbarism is emblematic of classical prejudice, whereas social stature is more of a medieval expression. In Classical Greek civilization, if you did not speak Greek like a native, you were a barbarian -- an outsider, a foreigner, regardless of how civilized you might be. So, the Greeks drew their distinction on the basis of language, rather than culture. A barbarian could not become a Greek because he would never speak like a Greek.
The Romans seem to have focused on culture and social organization, rather than language. If one possessed Roman citizenship, for example, one could hardly be a barbarian. The Romans thus de-emphasized the importance of language (both Greek and Latin were widely spoken throughout the empire) and focused on the association of the individual with the Roman state. Hence, a barbarian could aspire to become a Roman.
In medieval Europe, an English nobleman would have acknowledged that a Hungarian nobleman was a foreigner, but he could not be a barbaric foreigner because both noblemen were probably knights and Christians. They shared common cultural foundations, and thus were not entirely estranged from one another. On the other hand, Christian nobility regarded non-Christian peoples as savages and barbarians, regardless of how technologically advanced and culturally sophisticated they might be. Hence, the Moors, Arabs, Turks, Wends, and Mongols were all barbarians. Barbarians and civilized peoples were born into their stations and there could be no changing the way things were.
The religious distinction between Medieval European civilization and barbarism thus closely resembles the Numenorean and Eldarin distinctions between the followers of Iluvatar and the followers of Morgoth/Sauron. But whereas the Medieval Europeans had inherited a tradition of distinguishing between civilized peoples and barbarians, the Numenoreans had to forge their own tradition. And in their point of view, they had to acknowledge kinship with other peoples who lacked both the technological sophistication of Numenor was well as the special blessings of its people.
That is, the Numenorean station of "High Man" was really based upon a natural distinction between groups of Men. i.e., Numenoreans were taller, stronger, and lived longer than other Men. European nobles might live differently from the peasants, but they were still genetically no different from those peasants. The Numenoreans were more like the Eldar than they were like other Men, and that similarity to the Eldar proved to be their downfall.
In fact, it was possible for a peasant to be made noble, but though Numenoreans could intermarry with other peoples and pass on their traits to their children of mixed heritage, no one who was not born into that heritage (mixed or pure) could hope to acquire it by any means. The consequence of the Numenoreans' uniqueness was that they were forced to draw two distinctions rather than one.
Hence, the Wild Men were the equivalent of the barbarians, whereas the Middle Men were rezognized as being linguistically and culturally related to the Numenoreans -- even related by blood -- but nonetheless remained distinct. In effect, the barbarism recognized by the Numenoreans was based upon kinship, rather than language (like the Greeks), culture (like the Romans), or station (like the Medieval Europeans). But the Numenorean system did confer status or station as a secondary distinction.
Tolkien spoke of "caste" in outlining Elvish motives for remaining in Middle-earth (and creating the Rings of Power). The Eldar, he said, had the advantages of being a superior caste. Tolkien's application of the caste system to the status of the Eldar implies that they shared and recognized a sense of sharing of similar cultural values and achievements with both the Numenoreans and (at least) the Middle Men. It may even be that, from the Elvish point of view, all Men were socially or culturally tied to the Elves, for the Elves believed they were the teachers of Men.
The Eldar thus distinguished between stations or castes and did not distinguish between regions, languages, cultures, or citizenship. Their distinctions encompassed all peoples in a philosophical family of tribes -- that is, they recognized all Elves, Men, and Dwarves as the children (natural and adopted) of Iluvatar. It's just that some of the children were a bit wayward. The Eldar most likely therefore drew their distinctions of caste along both blood-lines and orientation toward the Valar.
That is, the closer a people were to the Valar, the more noble they were. The Noldor thus became the High Elves of the West, the Teleri of Beleriand were the Grey Elves, and all other Elves were East-Elves. The Elves would have positioned themselves above both Dwarves and Men, and must have distinguished among Dwarves and Men by who was oriented toward the Eldar and who was not. Among Men who were friendly toward the Eldar, the Numenorean distinctions probably worked well enough.
But the Eldarin point of view would preclude the assumption of a distinction between civilization and barbarism, or between Eldar and barbarians, because no single word could truly convey all the intricacies of the distinctions between the peoples. That is, to an Elf, there was probably such thing as a barbarian -- a foreigner or stranger who was born into a race of foreigners and strangers. The Elf would have to recognize a certain kinship with other Elves above all other foreigners and strangers, even if they spoke a completely different language and came from a much less sophisticated culture. A sense of caste would thus be more flexible.
The Numenorean point of view does seem to allow for a sense of barbarism, in that it artificialy associated all followers of evil with all unsophisticated cultures. But that artificial distinction would have been rendered useless after Sauron corrupted the majority of the Numenoreans to evil. From that point forward, their system of distinctions would have become more like the Eldarin system -- all distinctions would be a matter of caste rather than of good versus evil or technological superiority versus ignorance or even blood versus blood.
In the Third Age, after Sauron awoke, he seems to have set about to effect the mutual estrangement of all his former enemies. Hence, even the Faithful Dunedain became divided into multiple groups who did not fully trust each other, and which warred upon each other. The Eldar, fewer in number than in the Second Age, grew less and less friendly toward even the Dunedain, and they and the Dwarves gradually abandoned their ancient alliances. The Eldarin sense of caste may have become less important, for Eldarin civilization and culture had become diminished and would gradually all but vanish from Middle-earth by the end of the Third Age.
So, on the one hand, all cultures would eventually be able to distinguish between themselves and everyone else as foreigners. Eomer demonstrates the ease with which Rohan had turned its back on all other peoples by insisting on speaking to Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli in Rohirric -- a language which only Aragorn among the three can speak. Anyone who did not speak Rohirric was regarded as a foreigner not to be welcomed or trusted -- very much like the Greeks distinguished between themselves and barbarous peoples.
But Rohan's proscription against foreigners -- as well as Gondor's closure of its borders to foreigners during the War of the Ring (mentioned by Faramir when he detained Frodo, Sam, and Gollum) -- falls short of establishing a clear parameter for labeling any given people as barbarous. Rohan itself was hardly a high civilization. Gondor was only a shadow of its former high civilization. All enemies were doubtless regarded as barbarous peoples, but their barbarity was determined more by their opposition to Gondor and its allies than by language or culture.
And that is probably why Tolkien avoided the use of the word "barbarian". Any lesser author would have thrown the word onto all the primitive peoples, associating the Rohirrim with the Wainriders and Balchoth. Mythologically, there were vast differences between the primitive peoples sharing Middle-earth with the Elves, the Dwarves, and the Numenoreans. Mythologically, there were vast differences between the Black Numenoreans and the Faithful Dunedain. One cannot simply call any of these peoples "barbarians", because the word fails to convey the historical and cultural importance of the various distinctions between these peoples.
For Tolkien, the word could not be disassociated from its history. The evolution of a word's meaning and use dictated its applicability. Barbarism had not been romanticized in the way Tolkien romanticized his distinctions of caste, language, and culture. Roland, standing in the Pyrenees, sounding his last desperate horn-call as the Moors charge down upon him, is neither a barbarian nor facing barbarians: he is a warrior, a hero, facing warriors who are heroes to their own people. Beowulf, chasing Grendel across the landscape, is no barbarian to the people he has come to help. And Hector of Troy, enemy of the Achaeans, is a great and noble warrior who gives his life in defense of his people and his city.
There is no room for barbarism in the heroic epics which influenced Tolkien, for though all of them were written about barbarians by one standard or another, heroism and barbarism cannot stand side-by-side. Middle-earth is a landscape across which great heroes and monstrous men stride, and over which higher powers wage a terrible struggle for the sake of all free peoples (Elves, Men, and Dwarves). There may be primitive peoples in Middle-earth, there may be strangers and foreigners, and their may be peoples who speak unknown languages, but there is no room for barbarians.
Michael Martinez is the author of Visualizing Middle-earth (ISBN 0-7388-3408-4), Parma Endorion: Essays on Middle-earth, 3rd Edition, and Understanding Middle-earth (ISBN 1-58776-145-9).