Blacks in Antiquity

I just finished reading ‘Blacks in Antiquity’ by Frank M. Snowden (will blog more specifics bout it later).

 The main focus of the book is to document the Ancient Greek and Roman views of blacks (Ethiopians) living among them. The number of artifacts, namely sculptures and paintings, made it clear the Greeks and Romans were well-acquainted with blacks–Aethiopes/Ethiopians–the term of choice for blacks.

 Snowden does a lot to stress the point that the view held of blacks did not place them in a position of inferiority. That is, much of the references to blacks in the Greco-Roman world were not so much done to indicate racial inferiority or superiority, but rather, done for simple contrast; namely, done to show the difference between Ethiopians and Scythians/Thracian(Germanic peoples). The Greeks viewed themselves as somewhere between the Ethiopian and the Scythian, another point many Germanic writers of the 18th century onward have overlooked. To the Greeks, the Scythians were  pale-skinned Barbarians, not of the same race as they.

What Snowden does show is that, a) the Greco-Roman people had plenty of contact with Africans in all parts of Africa, going back as early as the 8th century BCE, and b) The Greco-Roman people associated blacks with many noble qualities, such as brave warriors, good musicians, actors and overall, noble and just people.

Snowden also shows that miscegenation, the ultimate test of acceptance, was not an issue in the Greco-Roman world, arguing that the blood of Ethiopians intermingled seamlessly with that of the Greeks and Romans.

Of course, Snowden, like many non-black scholars, divide blacks into the so-called “true Negro” type (flat/snub-nosed, thick lips, prognathism, etc) and sub-Negro  (mixed race or East African types). But, really, this was done objectively.

Blacks in Antiquity is an honest look, without bias, on the role of blacks in the Greco-Roman world. It did not hand down the opinion that all blacks were slaves, or viewed as primitive or subhuman, which is often the case of later, Germanic white writers. Snowden stresses that there were many black types in the Greco-Roman world, and many rose to prominence, and many were revered, and respected.

Among specific blacks mentioned are :
 Eurybates, the herald of Odyseus
Memnon, an Ethiopian king and son of Tithonus and Eos., who fought Achilles in Troy
Circe (the witch/enchantress of The Odyssey)
Cypasses, the rival of Corinna in Ovid’s Amores
Andromeda, occasionally portrayed as white despite being born to Ethiopian parents


About TCDH

Blogger with an opinion.
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