Every culture has a barbaric past. Some are just more stylish than others. [Warning: gory details to come!]
For instance Italy–the land of the Renaissance, homeland of Verdi and Marconi, was once home to the Lombards.
These nasty long-bearded types had a penchant for cruelty. As one story goes, a Lombard ruler, having conquered his enemy, made a mug out of his skull, then married his daughter and forced her to drink out of the cup at their wedding!
This reminds me of Shakespeare’s bloodiest play Titus Andronicus, in which Titus feeds a Goth woman a pie made from the body of her sons–themselves rapists, whose victim Titus kills at dinner to relieve her shame!
Europeans definitely have a certain flair for life-hatred. But if you’re looking for real commitment, for a barbaric ancient culture that went the extra mile, It’s hard to imagine anyone topping the Aztecs.
The Aztecs themselves claimed to have sacrificed 80,000 victims to consecrate the pyramid of Tenochtitlan over the course of four days. As one writer has remarked, this outstrips the rate of eradication of the Jews by the Nazis at Auschwitz! And the Aztecs did it by hand! Modern writers are pretty convinced the Aztecs were bragging, however, so I suppose that gives Germany the “edge.”
Speaking of edges, how about the edge of guillotine blade? The French were definitely stylish in their barbarism, if nothing else. But when the guillotine proved too slow at lopping off heads in the French Revolution, the French put their inventive minds to work, tied hundreds to barges, and sunk them in the middle of the river. I’m not sure if this got them to barbarism’s “magic number,” which seems to be the slaughter of 20,000 by hand.
This honor goes to Agha Mohammed Khan the first of the Qajars, the dynasty that would rule Iran from 1794 to 1925. When he finally captured the city of Kerman, which had supported his adversary Lotf Ali Khan, Agha Mohammed ordered all the male inhabitants killed, and had a pyramid made out of their 20,000 eyeballs!
Apparently, in a letter (now lost), Agha Mohammed then wrote to Robespierre, which note he received just before having his lead lopped off. It read, “Your barbarians owe my barbarians twenty bucks!”