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on October 22, 2014
Very enlightening book. I wish I could have thanked Snowden.
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on August 4, 2017
This is Frank Snowden's classical “Blacks in Antiquity”, first published in 1970. The book argues that color prejudice in the modern sense didn't exist in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds. It discusses Greek and Roman descriptions of “Ethiopians” in both literature and art. It also discusses some lesser known (to the layman) episodes in Roman history involving African peoples at the Nubian border. While the book is somewhat dragging due to its scholarly style (it seems Snowden wanted to be exhaustive in his treatment of the subject), it's also very interesting.

Snowden's book played a somewhat peculiar role in the famed Black Athena controversy. On the one hand, Snowden is seen as a scholarly trailblazer for his efforts to make classical studies more color-sensitive. On the other hand, Snowden denied that the ancient Egyptians were Black Africans (the main point of Afro-centrism). Thus, his book makes a sharp distinction between Egyptian and Ethiopian, only dealing with the latter. As far as I can tell, he doesn't discuss Herodotus' claim (or purported claim) that the Egyptians were “black” and “wooly-haired”. Snowden also distinguishes between two racial types of “Negro”, a no-no in today's anti-racist climate (despite Snowden's own anti-racism). There is the “True Negro”, presumably the West African type or perhaps a generic Negroid type. Then, there is the “Nilote”, a type found in Sudan and Ethiopia, which has a pitch black skin, while being closer in facial characteristics to the Hamites (to which I assume Snowden count the Egyptians). The book doesn't discuss the issue at length, so it's not clear if Snowden regarded these types as co-mingling on the same territory, or living apart. For instance, where the Nubians “Nilotes”? In passing, Snowden also mentions “red” tribes in Africa. The ancient Greeks and Romans also knew about Pygmies and “Macrobians”, the latter said to be the tallest of men. Massai?

As already indicated, “Blacks in Antiquity” is an interesting book on many levels. For instance, it points out that there were both light-skinned and dark-skinned peoples in North Africa already during ancient times. The ancient sources aren't always sure about the exact racial character of a given culture. Thus, the Garamantes were sometimes described as Black, sometimes as White. Even sub-Saharan Blacks were present in Northwest Africa from the earliest times. They are said to have invaded the area and penetrated as far north as the Atlas Mountains. It was also interesting to read about the Blemmyes and their protection of the Isis temple at Philae. Other topics of interest include Busiris, Memnon, Andromeda (so *that's* where George R R Martin got the idea of a White woman becoming ruler over Blacks, cough cough) and Achilles' Black companion. On the more historical side, Carthaginian general Hannibal recruited Blacks to fight in his military expedition in Italy.

One problem with the book is that Snowden insists on using the term “Ethiopian” throughout, making it unclear to the general reader whether he is referring to Nubia, Africa in general or the territory of modern Ethiopia. You probably need to know a thing or two about the ancient world before approaching this work. Another problem is that the author mentions slavery mostly in passing, while admitting that most Blacks reached the ancient world precisely through that route. Perhaps he feared that Black slavery would undermine his thesis of no racism in the ancient world? It doesn't, of course, but in the minds of many readers, slavery = Blackness would have been a standard trope. Most Blacks in the Roman world had ordinary occupations, such as workers, farmers and soldiers. Others worked in entertainment. A few were merchants, diplomats or advisers to Roman emperors. But then, this doesn't mark them out from the rest of the imperial population.

In fact, it makes Blacks in antiquity look rather regular.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 16, 2010
Frank M. Snowden, Jr. (1911-2007) was an American Professor Emeritus of Classics at Howard University, and one of the foremost authorities on blacks in classical antiquity. He also wrote books such as Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks.

He writes in the Preface to this 1970 book, "I have attempted to set forth the facts as precisely as possible on the basis of the ancient evidence---literary, epigraphical, papyrological, numismatic, and archaeological. The material has been presented topically, each topic chronologically as far as practicable when such an arrangement was necessary for the most effective presentation of my findings."

Here are some quotations from the book:

"Long ago E. Babelon observed that a comparison of different classical monuments depicting the Negro would demonstrate that the ancients were portraying no uniform type. He believed that a comparative study would be interesting from an anthropological view and would result in an identification of different groups of Ethiopians and subdivision of these groups." (Pg. 23)
"Unfortunately the plays involving Ethiopian themes or topics have been lost and are known only through fragments, titles, and the depictions of vase painters. The fragmentary evidence is sufficient, however, to indicate that as early as Aeschylus Ethiopians were presented as black, and speaking a different tongue, and as living in Africa." (Pg. 156)
"In the modern world the crucial test of the white man's acceptance of the Negro is the attitude toward miscegenation. Greek and Roman accounts of race mixture between Ethiopians and Mediterranean whites reveal no repugnance at the idea of racial crossings between whites and non-whites." (Pg. 192)
"The Ethiopian was the blackest and most remote of men. Yet his blackness gave rise neither to a theory of racial superiority not to an inferior treatment." (Pg. 196)
"There is nothing in the evidence, however, to suggest that the ancient Greek or Roman established color as an obstacle to integration into society." (Pg. 217-218)
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on October 29, 2017
Very enlightening book. I am definitely going to read this again, and more thoroughly... I may come back with a more in depth analysis of this book. But what I can say here as I write this is that black people then, like they still do today, have always had and still have a major influence in the people they have interactions with. And, yes, we have much to offer, teach and benefit the world.
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on February 26, 2017
Excellent book, good read, very rich in content.
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on March 19, 2016
Excellent history
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on September 20, 2000
Snowden is not an Afro-centric writer, he is a well qualified professor of classics, an accredited expert in his field.
"Blacks in Antiquity" presents a comprehensive history and analysis of ancient Ethiopian "black" culture. In the 18th and 19th centuries, some American anthropologists and theologians have attempted to rewrite Ethiopian history to show this advanced culture as one not truly black. The roots of that go into the very heart of the origin of western racism in Colonial America and can be found to affect our implicit views of race even today.
Snowden shows from historical, textual and archaeological evidence that the Ethiopians were indeed a "black" race. He also establishes their position of respect and complete equal acceptance with other ancient cultures of the time. In essence, it shows, while perhaps not explicitly stating it, that racism is a much more recent invention than many have supposed-- especially those hold to a "Black curse" or "inferiority" theory in physiology or theology.
If you want a volume that presents evidence in a straight foward and empirically supportable manner, this is an excellent choice.
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on December 22, 2014
A must read
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on June 25, 2016
Very good condition
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on March 16, 2016
Excellent book with artifacts to support the books main theses !
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