Exhibition in Venice rehabilitates Vandals, Goths and Huns

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HISTORY has been unkind to the Barbarians. Some 1,600 years have passed since they began to redraw the boundaries of Europe, yet their names are best remembered for the anti-social and savage behaviour always associated with Vandals, Goths and Huns. Now an exhibition in Venice seeks to help rehabilitate them. The Vandals? They took Carthage when the locals were watching a circus. Huns? Attila was not always as bad as he is painted; he forbore, after all, to sack Rome. As for the Goths, they were not without their redeeming features, either.

This show is the latest sign of a growing interest—visible in fiction, film, television and even computer games—in the hordes that felled Rome. The chief curator is Jean-Jacques Aillagon, a French former culture minister, who dramatises the traditional view of the Barbarians by exhibiting a scattering of 19th-century paintings that depict them in the worst possible light. In one, two near-naked hooligans are destroying an elegant marble statue of a Roman nobleman. Mr Aillagon's historical method is to look for similarities between today's Europe and Europe during the decline and fall of the Roman empire.

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