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What Is The Meaning Of 'Barbarians At The Gate?'

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Christopher Adam Profile
The expression "barbarians at the gate" is often used in contemporary English within a sarcastic, or ironic context, when speaking about a perceived threat from a rival group of people, often deemed to be less capable, or somehow "primitive". For example, within the university context, many historians harbour a secret (or not so secret) disdain for the field of political science, as its methodology can be very different than that of history and because some historians feel that the often larger political science departments pose a threat to them. Within such a context, one may say, somewhat sarcastically, that the "barbarians are at the gate."

The term "barbarian" was used by the Romans to denote anyone who was different, or who lived outside of the Roman Empire. The expression "barbarians at the gate" was also used by the Romans to describe foreign attacks against their empire. Many Roman cities were surrounded by walls and gates during the fifth century and as such, this expression was also used in a literal sense.
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Bil Nutt
Bil Nutt commented
BARBARIANS AT THE GATE is also the title of a non fiction book by the journalists Bryan Burrough and John Helyar. The book tells the story of the bidding way that erupted over the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco in the 1980s. Economic and business issues usually make my eyes glaze over, but this book was fascinating - well-researched and lucidly presented. I recommend it. It was also made into a TV movie with James Garner as H, Ross Johnson, whose unsuccessful attempt to buy RJR Nabisco started the bidding war.

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