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Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks Paperback – March 31, 1991

ISBN-13: 978-0674063815 ISBN-10: 0674063813 Edition: Reprint
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Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks + Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience + The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Further developing the themes he so eloquently outlines in Blacks in Antiquity, Frank M. Snowden Jr. continues his investigations into attitudes towards Africans in the classical civilizations of Rome and Greece. Snowden identifies the African blacks from Egypt, Nubia (the modern Sudan), Ethiopia, and Carthage (Tunisia), discussing their interactions--including intermarriage--with the Greco-Romans. (He also notes that many of the artistic representations of these people resemble present-day African Americans.) From the trade missions of the Egyptian dynasties to their conquest of the Mediterranean and ultimate downfall at the hands of the Romans, Snowden unravels a complex history of cultural exchanges that went on for several millennia in which racial prejudice was not a factor. "There was a clear-cut respect among the Mediterranean peoples for Ethiopians and their way of life," he writes, "and above all, the ancients did not stereotype blacks as primitives defective in religion and culture." --Eugene Holley Jr.


This elegantly written book...collects evidence for artistic representations of African individuals in the ancient world from Egyptian to Roman times...[The] illustrations are well chosen and [show] how the ancient world saw the people of its southern frontiers. (P. L. Shinnie American Historical Review)

This cogent, well-written study is richly illustrated with 47 pages of plates of uniformly high quality. (Lionel Casson Archeology)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674063813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674063815
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Mark Schultz on November 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
This text is a wonderful antidote to the present-mindedness which marks much of our current discussion of race and race relations. Snowden examined the ancient Mediterranean world--a highly pluralistic, interracial world--to learn how significant the concept of race was at that time. His compelling and creative use of human representations in art, and of the stories that ancient people told about eachother show that race--while seemingly all-important today--was insignificant to them. He identifies (among others) Egyptian, Greek, Hellenistic, and Roman art in which "black" and "white" people stand side-by-side as soldiers, military officers, political rulers, spouses, athletes, guests at feasts, mythic figures, etc. While ancients recognized the physical differences which we use as racial identifiers, they did not seem to draw the same invidious distinctions or make the same social uses of race which Europeans around the world have made over the past 500 years. I regularly refer to his findings in 2-3 of my college courses to raise questions about the naturalness and inevitability of our current racial assumptions. The many photographs included in the text make it even more valuable, by allowing us to draw our own conclusions from his graphic evidence. I highly recommend this book.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Baltic Books on September 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Let's get it straight. Dr. Frank Snowden knows what he is talking about.
Snowden offers solid evidence from antiquity that does show "racism" based on skin color was in fact not a major issue of ancient times. While it is true that slavery did exist from antiquity, it was based on conquest, and not skin color or race from a biological superiority/inferiority perspective.
Dr. Snowden is not writing a piece of revisionist history or unsupported political Afro-centrism, he is presenting findings of honest and credible research.
This is an excellent book that any intelligent person who has serious questions about race and racism in history should read.
One possible conclusion you may arrive at is that racism is evidently a much more recent social (and possibly even theological) construction in history and definitely not one that originated in antiquity.
I highly recommend "Before Color Prejudice".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Toni M. Williams on September 2, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks was very imformative. African Moors occupied Spain. "It was because the conquering army in Spain was largely made up of Africans from Morocco that we hear such phrases as "the Moorish invasion of spain," and why Shakespeare's hero, Othello, is a Moor, and why the word Blackamoor" exists in the English language, a word which leaves no doubt as to the color of the army of occupation in Spain.... The organization of education throughout the Moslem world began in the eighth and by the ninth, learned men in the schools of Cordoba in Spain were corresponding with learned men in Kairowan, Cairo, Baghdad, Bokhara, and Samarkand. The Greek classics were rediscovered and Aristotle came into his own. The Museum of Alexandria, so long neglected, became the center of research and learning. Mathematics, medicine, and the physical science received fresh attention. The clumsy Roman numerals were soon ousted by the Arabic figures which we use to this day, and the zero sign first came into general usage. Arabic words like "algebra" and "chemistry" became universal words.... The term "Arabic" we intend in a cultural rather than a racial sense.... It was through Africa that the new knowledge of China, India, and Arabia reached Europe, and iit was Africa which supplied the men who protected Moslem Europe or Spain from attack, and thus made it possible for the new learning to take root and develop."
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Collin Garbarino VINE VOICE on August 19, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book investigates the relationships of blacks and whites in the Mediterranean world before color prejudice. Much of the Snowden's book focuses on the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt. Ethiopians and Egyptians did not always get along, indeed wars were fought between the two, but their struggles were not based on racial differences. Snowden claims that the skin color of northeast Africans gradually lightened as one moved down the Nile.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Snowden's brief book was his description of Nubian culture. Snowden presents a vibrant society with its own distinct civilization that affected the Egyptians as much as the Egyptians affected it. Indeed, Snowden indicates that the civilization south of the first cataract was politically stable in comparison to the turmoils that faced other areas in the Mediterranean.

The main idea of the book is that whites and blacks got along in the Greco-roman world. Of course the Greeks and other "white" peoples were interested in the "black" peoples and their customs, but the racial difference did not cause the whites to look down on the blacks. Snowden discusses the many ways in which blacks and whites worked together, especially in fighting along side each other. He also claims that mixed marriages were common, even in Greece, and that mulattoes did not hold an inferior social place. Even in the beginning of the Christian era, there did not exist racial tensions; blacks had access to the same salvation that the whites had. If anything, Snowden argues that blackness was viewed as "highly positive" (58).
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