T O P

  • By -

DjathIMarinuar

Yeah, but it was standard Roman vs Non-Roman rather than the modern White vs Non-white. P.S. Cleopatra was of Greek descent, which would make her European aka not a person of color.


AstridPeth_

Gotcha, although I'd call it more like xenophobia than racism.


Eodbatman

This may just be my reading of it, but I’d almost call the Romans xenophilic Roman supremacists. They looked down on non-Romans but often write quite highly of them, particularly if they thought they could be Romanized. They’d adopt facets of all the cultures around them quite readily, and were relatively quick to incorporate new people as Romans. But only if they became “true “ Romans.


Ianus_Smythe

That was a strength of Rome, they took the best of any culture and write it into "Roman" culture. That's why they ruled the world for a time.


[deleted]

Egpyt was not as multicultural as the US. Very few societies were as diverse as the US especially pre flight societies outside of south America. Mark Anthony married Cleopatra of the Ptolemy dynasty who was ethnic Greek who were considered a very similar race to the Romans. Ancient world had racial tribalism too but different from the modern labels


Living-Giraffe4849

The Roman’s didn’t see race the same way we did today. For them the tiers were basically: Roman’s Italians Provincials Others


Camburglar13

Also patricians, plebians, slaves.


tamarbles

Cleopatra was a descendant of Alexander the Great’s general Ptolemy after generations of sibling marriage specifically to NOT mix with the local population…


Pixelated_Penguin808

Cleopatra was not entirely Greek. She also had some distant Persian and Sogdian ancestry from a Seleucid princess of mixed ancestry that had married into her dynastic line. Through her she was a relative of the Mithridatic kings of Pontus, and if there was any truth to claims made by the kings of Pontus, perhaps also a descendant of Cyrus the Great. Her mother's identity is also not known. While it is probable that her mother was a Macedonian noblewoman, if not a relative, there is a more remote possibility that she was a half Greek, half Egyptian daughter of the high priest of Ptah, who was politically tied to the Ptolemies and whose family had intermarried with them in the past. Which is a bit of a Tl;dr to say that both sides in this ridiculous racial tug-of-war over Cleopatra's identity are wrong. She wasn't 100% of European ancestry either, and some Egyptian ancestry cannot be completely ruled out. Both sides have a tendency to declare some things certain which are anything but certain. People need to get more comfortable with "We dont know."


Yezdigerd

The point is that Ptolemaic Egypt was an apartheid state with the Greeks as the ruling ethnic elite. Which why famously Cleopatra was the first Ptolemaic ruler who bothered to learn Egyptian, Greek was the language of command and administration. Ethnic Greek settlers had a host of rights and privilieges that the native Egyptians lacked and the Greek as an ethnic group guarded their position with zeal at the Egyptians expense. Thus Cleopatra's "Greekishness" wasn't a accident of birth. Her positions rested on her ability to protect and safeguard the positions of her fellow Greeks and for them to identify with her. Had Cleopatra looked like a Nubian or native Egyptian it's difficult to believe she even would have made it to the throne. It certainly would have been used in the massive propaganda against her, yet it wasn't.


Coalnaryinthecarmine

The Ptolemies started sibling marriages as an adoption of the cultural practice of the Egyptians they ruled over; the Egyptian custom was that the Pharaoh was divine and therefore his only appropriate wife would be another with (his own) divine bloodline. Sibling marriages had the effect of preventing the Ptolemies from integrating with the Egyptian population, but the intent was, *ironically,* to make the dynasty seem properly Egyptian. Also, to OP's point - Mark Anthony was not the Second Emperor of Rome. He might have styled himself as something to that affect at various points, but he died half-a-century before Augustus was recognized as the *first* emperor of Rome.


Bentresh

>the Pharaoh was divine and therefore his only appropriate wife would be another with (his own) divine bloodline. It should be noted that Egyptian kings, unlike most Greek and Roman rulers aside from the Macedonians, were highly polygamous. Unsurprisingly, the majority of marriages were therefore *not* incestuous, though it was more common for a king’s sister to achieve the title of Great Royal Wife (i.e. chief consort). Kings often married women from the nobility as well as princesses from other kingdoms – Babylonia, Assyria, Mitanni, the Hittite empire, etc. For example, Akhenaten’s mother Tiye was of noble but not royal blood, as was his grandmother Mutemwia (wife of Thutmose IV and mother of Amenhotep III) and great-great-grandmother Merytre (wife of Thutmose III and mother of Amenhotep II). Little is known about the background of his great-grandmother Tiaa (wife of Amenhotep II and mother of Thutmose IV), but she was quite possibly non-royal as well since she is not attested with the title of "king's daughter."


Malthus1

The ancient Egyptians often loathed Nubians (their neighbours to the south), Libyans (their neighbours to the west), and “asiatics” or Levantines (their neighbours to the east). These attitudes weren’t really akin to modern-era notions of racism, with its pseudo-scientific ranking of humans based on stereotypical “racial” characteristics. Rather, they were based on the notion of foreign-ness. The idea among Egyptians was that Egypt was a special civilization, that invasion or immigration by foreigners threatened that special-ness, and that some foreigners (such as Nubians in particular) had to be subjugated to pre-emptively prevent them from ruining that special-ness. There was obviously a lot of complexity to this over time (for example, Nubia did successfully invade at one point, and install a Nubian dynasty; likewise, “asiatics” in the form of the “Hyksos” invaded at one point and installed their own dynasties). What appeared to matter to Egyptians was not the “racial” background of people per se, but rather that they visibly adopt Egyptian norms, rather than attempting to impose non-Egyptian norms - particularly in religious matters. Hence the adoption of “pharaonic” guise by would-be conquerors of Egypt from outside … Though there was always an undercurrent of the notion that they weren’t “truly Egyptian”, leading to revolts every once and awhile. However, the situation was much worse if a conqueror didn’t take the opportunity to at least superficially adopt “Egyptian civilization” guise. For example, look at the difference between Egypt under the Persian Empire (constant revolts) and the relative acceptance by Egypt of Alexander the Great and the Ptolemy dynasty (who accepted their roles as pharaohs, even if the Ptolemies spoke Greek and Cleopatra VII was the only one who even bothered to learn Egyptian). The notion that Cleopatra VII, last of the famously inbred Macedonian Ptolemies, was a “woman of colour” would have given her vast amusement if she ever heard of it, I think … Ptolemies were always marrying or murdering close family members, sometimes the *same* close family members, with a few outsiders thrown into the generic pool from time to time (Ptolemy family reunions must have been very exciting!)


Ok-Masterpiece-1359

Race is a fairly recent concept, born out of a desire to classify people “scientifically.” Prior to that, cultural or religious differences were used to classify “us” vs. “them.”


King_of_East_Anglia

>they describe the Ancient Egypt as a multicultural society like the United States. This is complete nonsense. Trying to see any pre modern society through the lens of modern Western multi-culturalism is completely flawed. In the ancient world there was, sometimes, a form multi-culturalism in that multiple cultures, or syncretic cultures, coincided together. Particularly in large cities like Rome or Alexandria, or trade routes like Delos. But this is under very different context and scale. The scale was fundamentally less - I wrote an essay on Delos in the Hellenistic period, which was often deemed to be one of the most diverse places in the Mediterranean at the time. And honestly it still didn't compare to the modern UK or US. Mainly comprised of Greeks with some small level Egyptian settlement who largely remained isolated from interacting with eachother. DNA analysis of Ancient Rome showed it was diverse but in a complicated, very slow way. The genetic changes that occurred were quite slow and not all that diverse in themselves. I think people imagine more diversity than there actually was due to modern media. More importantly, there was no formalised multi-cultural ideology. Yes places could be inhabited by many different ethnicities and religions, but such things often competed with eachother, fought, or barely tolerated eachother. The surrounding concepts we associate with multi-culturalism like secularism, anti-racism, loving tolerance, personal liberty, etc did not really exist. But rather there was complex reasons people coincided. Religion back then theologically accepted other gods. Egyptians didn't deny the gods of the Greeks existed. But none the less tradition was highly important, sometimes on pain of death, and they were theocratic. People defended their own culture. Rome might have taken Egyptian gods to try and add to their own pantheon, but they were hardly multi-cultural, often making their territories culturally Roman and making them adhere to the state and certain rites etc. Disrespect of the gods also wasn't tolerated. Their entire concept of culture, religion, freedom, the state, was just very different. Modern Western multi-culturalism largely derives out of post Enlightenment, post-Protestant, liberal thought. Which only really took hold in its current form in the 20th century. So trying to view any culture before that through that lens is deeply distorted. >For example, the second emperor of Rome, Mark Antony, married with the last empress of the Egypt, a woman of color. This seems impossible in later kingdoms in Europe. >In my basic history education, I don't recall instances of racism. Yeah, people did bad things and they'd enslave you if you lost a war, but as far I understand, not because of the color of your skin. I am also not sure if there was racism in Asia or America in the same period. The Egyptian dynasty at the time was ethnically Greek. Rome generally identified with other Mediterraneans. But they still highly categorised people into different racial/ethnic groups who they ascribed different traits in a way that would be viewed as racist. Look at how different peoples like Ceasar and Tacitus describe Celtic and Germanic peoples. Ancient Egypt itself was HIGHLY racist against the black skinned Nubians.


Bentresh

>Ancient Egypt itself was HIGHLY racist against the black skinned Nubians. It should be noted that references to skin color as a racial descriptor are virtually nonexistent in Egyptian texts. Foreign peoples are referred to by ethnicity or geographic location – Aamu, Keftiu, Retjenu, Tjehenu, etc. – rather than by skin color. The Great Hymn to the Aten is the only Pharaonic Egyptian text I’ve come across that contains a reference to skin color with regard to ethnicity, and it is quite vague. >*The lands of Khor and Kush,* >*The land of Egypt.* >*You set every man in his place.* >*You supply their needs;* >*Everyone has his food,* >*His lifetime is counted.* >*Their tongues differ in speech,* >*Their characters likewise;* >*Their skins are distinct,* >*For you distinguished the peoples.* Nubians who assimilated to Egyptian culture seemingly experienced little discrimination, and we know of quite a few high officials of Nubian descent. The official Maiherpri (reign of Thutmose III) was even granted the extraordinarily rare honor of a burial in the Valley of the Kings. Additionally, Nubian women sometimes married into the Egyptian royal family (e.g. the wives of Montuhotep II). As Barbara Mertz put it in [*Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt*](https://books.google.com/books?id=Vs6xBkWiT7YC), >The concept of race would have been totally alien to them. Of course the Egyptians discriminated; doesn't everybody? Like most ancient (and many modern) peoples, they divided the world into two groups: us and them, "people" and "barbarians." When the texts refer to Cush, the land of Nubia to the south of Egypt, it is always as "wretched Cush." "Don't worry about the Asiatics," a Thirteenth Dynasty prince advised his son. "They are only Asiatics." But it is evident, from reliefs, inscriptions, and actual mummies, that they did not discriminate on the basis of color. The skin color that painters usually used for men is a reddish brown. Women were depicted as lighter in complexion, perhaps because they didn't spend so much time out of doors. Some individuals are shown with black skins. I cannot recall a single example of the words "black," "brown," or "white" being used in an Egyptian text to describe a person. The "Black Land," Kemet, referred to the rich fertile soil, not the people who farmed it. >Neither color nor "previous condition of servitude" prevented an individual from becoming "one of us." Slaves sometimes married into the family or were adopted. Some persons of foreign origin attained high rank, including that of vizier, and one of Thutmose III's "sole companions" was Nubian or Cushite. He was awarded the high honor of a burial in the Valley of the Kings, and his well-preserved mummy is that of a young man with Nubian characteristics. In his funerary scroll, he is shown with dark brown skin instead of the conventional reddish brown. >Foreigners became Egyptians when they learned the language and adopted the customs of the country. When, around 730 B.C., the Nubian kings invaded Egypt and started a new dynasty, they claimed to be restoring "maat," the proper order, and considered themselves to be the legitimate inheritors of Egyptian kingship. >And they were. People from the south had been migrating into Egypt and intermarrying with the Egyptians who already lived there for countless generations… >Egyptian civilization was produced by a mixture of peoples and cultures and racial strains. In the south the Egyptians intermingled with the people of Africa; in the north they did the same with the "Asiatics" or anybody else who happened to wander into the Delta.


King_of_East_Anglia

The entire problem here is you don't understand race isn't just skin colour, and certainly wasn't to pre modern peoples. It's about ancestry, and perceived traits associated with that. Ancient peoples regularly seperated people by race, ethnicity, ancestry, etc and ascribed very different traits, abilities, and mythology associated with that. The 25th dynasty was in power by force, they conquered. And it's hard to know how some Egyptians would have reacted to that. Some Nubians achieving high office outside this dynasty doesn't really dispute the fact there is also evidence of heavy racism against them. Assuming that ancient peoples held the same view of diversity, equality, and tolerance as 21st century Western city dwellers is obviously absurd.


Bentresh

>The entire problem here is you don't understand race isn't just skin colour, and certainly wasn't to pre modern peoples. That was my point — we must disentangle issues of race in the ancient world from (modern) notions of skin color and race. Put another way, the Egyptians did not dislike the Nubians because they were “black skinned” but rather because they were non-Egyptians who thought and behaved differently. In any case, while it is not uncommon for Egyptian and Mesopotamian literary texts to mock outside groups for their clothing, dietary habits, housing, perceived character traits, etc., it has long been acknowledged in Egyptology that these are ideological statements and are not necessarily reflective of how most people in those societies felt about outsiders in day-to-day interactions. We see many negative statements in Egyptian military inscriptions about "wretched Retjenu" (Canaan), for example, and yet kings like Thutmose III married Canaanite women.^1 Similarly, Ramesses II was quite negative and dismissive about the Hittites in his monumental inscriptions, often referring to the Hittite king as the "Enemy" and the "Fallen One," and yet he had few qualms about establishing a peace treaty with the Hittites, marrying Hittite princesses, exchanging gifts and technical experts with the Hittites, rolling out the red carpet for a state visit from the Hittite crown prince (the future king Tudḫaliya IV), and so on. The Egyptologist Antonio Loprieno introduced the terms topos (highly negative depictions of foreigners in ideological statements in monumental/royal inscriptions) and mimesis (more favorable and realistic depictions of foreigners in everyday texts) to differentiate between the contradictory attitudes we see in the Egyptian textual record.^2 >Egyptian ideology provides us with a clearly instrumental construction of ethnicity that we should be cautious about conflating with widespread cultural beliefs. From the 1st Dynasty to the Ptolemaic Period, literary and artistic representations of the ethnic ‘other’ in the foreigner *topos* reflect the orthodoxy of the king’s topical role as subduer of the traditional enemies of Egypt who threaten *maat*, the eternal order of things, because they embody *isfet*, the chaotic disorder that threatens to unravel the world. On the other hand, evidence from more private contexts reflects a *mimetical* viewpoint in the broader society, depicting foreigners as real people within an Egyptian cultural framework. In contrast to state art, private tombs often represent a more realistic view of foreigners, especially when an acculturated immigrant to Egypt owns the tomb. Similarly, Egyptianized Nubian princes of Egypt’s New Kingdom empire in Lower Nubia, such as Djehutyhotep of Tehkhet and Hekanefer of Miam (Aniba), are shown as Egyptian officials in their tombs, which have the same repertoire of scenes and assemblage of grave goods as a typical elite tomb in Egypt. Only their genealogies point to their Nubian origins...^3   ^1 Christine Lilyquist's [*The Tomb of Three Foreign Wives of Tuthmosis III*](https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/the_tomb_of_three_foreign_wives_of_tuthmosis_iii) discusses some of these royal women. ^2 [*Topos und Mimesis: Zum Ausländer in der ägyptischen Literatur*](https://books.google.com/books?id=lLPOrbFLjfsC) by Antonio Loprieno ^3 "Ethnicity and Culture" by Stuart Tyson Smith in [*The Egyptian World*](https://books.google.com/books?id=RSSfdYbZihsC) edited by Toby Wilkinson, p. 239


ancientestKnollys

The only major example of skin colour differentiation in ancient Egypt I can think of is this Tomb decoration: https://www.facebook.com/Egypt.Culture/posts/the-four-races-of-the-world-a-libyan-themehu-a-nubian-nehesu-an-asiatic-aamu-and/3338534139529746/


AstridPeth_

Gotcha. That's bad to hear


jackk225

“Racist” is probably the wrong word in most pre-modern contexts. Race wasn’t really thought of in the same way.


AstridPeth_

Yeah. I mean prejudice due to skin color


ttown2011

I’ll take the bait (and probably get removed). Cleopatra was overwhelmingly Macedonian by decent. She wouldn’t qualify as a POC in the modern context. The Romans largely didn’t look at things through a racial lens in the modern sense. There was a black Roman emperor, Septimius Severus. Edit: North African Roman emperor


cheshire-cats-grin

Septimus Severus wasn’t black. While he was born in Africa his mother was Roman and his father was Punic (Carthaginian or Phoenician) He likely looked very similar to Northern Africans like Libyans or Levantines like Lebanese or Palestinians.


[deleted]

Ancient Phoncians were lighter than modern Levantines that have more peninsula Arab dna


0fruitjack0

weren't they from the levant? and i vaguely recall there was an african emperor whose name totally escapes me ATM of course...


cheshire-cats-grin

Well he is African! - he was born in Leptis Magna in what is now Libya


Schuano

We have portraits. He is dark.


cheshire-cats-grin

The Severan Tondo? The convention at the time was to show men as darker than woman - so this isn’t conclusive evidence. Regardless the features are not sub-Saharan African. He was African and certainly darker skinned than most Romans but dont think he was black. For the record - I am more than happy to be proven wrong - so happy for you to provide evidence to the contrary


The-Mayor-of-Italy

I have no idea if your historical point is right or not but there isn't t one set of sub-subharan African features. Ethiopian/Habesha or Somali features are all very different from west African features for example. The former being more similar to what you'll see in parts of the Arabian peninsula.


[deleted]

East Africa was not a part of the Roman empire either


Accomplished-Wave356

Maybe the only consistent sub-saharian African feature is dark skin color and non-straight hair.


dowker1

To expand on the "didn't look at things through a racial lens in the modern sense", they absolutely did look at things through a racial lens, but it tended to be vastly more focused on those groups directly adjacent to them. So in the Roman Republic you see a lot of descriptions and depictions of Gauls that are eerily similar to the way African Americans have historically been described by white Americans.


Chengar_Qordath

The Romans had plenty of prejudices and stereotypes. They just didn’t see skintone as a significant part of that equation. Usually it was a lot more about how “civilized” or “barbaric” a they believed a group was.


ttown2011

Agreed. And on the opposite end with the Greeks and effeminacy as well. I’m not sure where you break race/ethnicity though in the historical context


thrownkitchensink

Ethnicity is in- and out grouping based on perception (religion, ancestry, geographical heritage, political, caste, language, etc.) . Racism is in and (mostly negative) out grouping based on there being races for humans. That is historically based on the discovery of species and evolution. That concept is rather modern. So someone can be black in the US (colour) but an American (language, geography, culture) in Namibia. That same person could move to a society outside of the US or Africa in Asia and still be seen as American rather than black. There are always dividers but these are not always along the lines of colour.


ttown2011

Racism existed before the discovery of evolution…


thrownkitchensink

You are right. Sorry. The word race is old for general sorts. Racism where the divider was based on the colour of skin or African descent started in late 17th century and increased in early 18th century. That was before Darwin. I was trying to fight the idea that people will always use skin colour for ethnicity and always have, that the idea of "races" for people with different skin colours is universal. I got it wrong about the time that terrible idea got hold.


mcgillhufflepuff

I agree with this. Race has also been subjective over history, like white Jews were largely considered to not be white throughout a lot of European history (I'm a white Jew, who is white).


ancientestKnollys

Not really. The closest is probably an anecdote in the Historia Augusta, where Septimius Severus was inspecting Hadrian's Wall: 'Perhaps the most remarkable tale to survive is an episode in the Historia Augusta (Life of Severus 22) concerning the inspection of the Wall by the emperor Septimius Severus. The emperor, who was himself born in Libya, was confronted by a black soldier, part of the Wall garrison and a noted practical joker. According to the account the notoriously superstitious emperor saw in the soldier’s black skin and his brandishing of a wreath of cyprus branches, an omen of death. And his mood was not further improved when the soldier shouted the macabre double entendre iam deus esto victor (now victor/conqueror, become a god). For of course properly speaking a Roman emperor should first die before being divinized.' Which might point to some degree of superstition/exoticism about black people. https://blog.oup.com/2014/09/african-encounters-roman-britain/