Ancient descriptions of ancient Egyptians.

I had a go at this a few years ago, but since then I’ve got better access to the information, so this page should be more comprehensive. This was inspired by reading through the Alain Froment book from a couple of posts ago, that rather ripped Diop a new one. I’ll go and delete the older entry now.

Let me start with the endlessly repeated… ‘Herodotus said the Egyptians had black skin and woolly hair’.

The full quote from Herodotus …

“For the fact is as I soon came to realise myself, and then heard from others later, that the Colchians are obviously Egyptian. When the notion occurred to me,  I asked both the Colchians and the Egyptians about it, and found that the Colchians had better recall of the Egyptians than the Egyptians did of them. Some Egyptians said that they thought the Colchians originated with Sesostris’ army, but I myself guessed their Egyptian origin not only because the Colchians are dark-skinned and curly-haired (which does not count for much by itself , because these features are common in others too) but more importantly because Colchians, Egyptians and Ethiopians are the only peoples in the world who practise circumcision and who have always done so.

Source, The histories By Herodotus, Robin Waterfield, Carolyn Dewald

You will find translations where ‘black skinned and woolly haired’ are used, but the term melanchroes, which was translated to mean black in some versions, was used to describe any skin tone from bronzed to black, and through usage translates as ‘dark’. As is seen in this piece of text from Homer’s Odyssey.

With this, Athena touched him [Odysseus] with her golden wand. A well-washed cloak and a tunic she first of all cast about his breast, and she increased his stature and his youthful bloom. Once more he grew dark of color [melanchroiês], and his cheeks filled out, and dark grew the beard about his chin.

And the term ulotrichous  meant curly. As this Herodotus book commentary points out:

Despite the efforts of Armayor and English, there is no linguistic justification for relating this term to negores. Melanchroes could denote any colour from bronzed to black, and negroes are certainly not the only physical type to show curly hair. These characteristics found in many Egs., ancient and modern, but they are at variance with what we should expect to find amongst the inhabitants of the Caucasus area. To Hippocrates the Phasians of Colchis were sallow (ochros) whilst the complexions of the modern-day Georgian population have been described as fair, sallow or ruddy. On the other hand, Arab geographer Istakhri describes an element of the Khazar people dwelling east of the Caucasus from at least the 6th century AD ” as if they were a kind of Indians.”

The Colchians lived by the South East of the Black sea, and although there have been some attempt to claims this means there were black Africans living in the area of modern-day Georgia, believing this requires a suspension of disbelief on a par with that necessary to watch a Harry Potter film, as there’s never been any evidence a black skinned population living there. So Herodotus didn’t say Egyptians looked like black Africans, he actually said they looked like the people in Georgia.

This is occasionally backed up by the description of Colchis as being a ‘second Ethiopia’ from the fourth century, but it has to be remembered that Napoleon once referred to the Spanish as Negroes, and this was a common kind of insulting description  for any population darker than Northern Europeans. A darker, Indian-looking Khazar population would have come into this category. So far there is zero biological evidence  for any black population having lived in the Georgia area.

Herodotus is actually very specific about the Ethiopians (black Africans) getting control of the Nile at Elephantine, and differentiates between them and Egyptians.

After this man the priest enumerate to me from a papyrus the names of other Kings, three hundred and thirty in number; and in all these generations of men eighteen were Ethiopians, one was a woman and the rest were men and of Egyptian race.

Other Ancient Greek and Roman quotes.

The Ethiopians stain the world and depict a race of men steeped in darkness; less sun-burnt are the natives of India; the land of Egypt, flooded by the Nile, darkens bodies more mildly owing to the inundation of its fields: it is a country nearer to us and its moderate climate imparts a medium tone.

 Manilius, Astronomica 4.724

The appearance of the inhabitants is also not very different in India and Ethiopia: the southern Indians are rather more like Ethiopians as they are black to look on, and their hair is black; only they are not so snub-nosed or woolly-haired as the Ethiopians; the northern Indians are most like the Egyptians physically.

 Arrian, Indica 6.9

As for the people of India, those in the south are like the Aethiopians in color, although they are like the rest in respect to countenance and hair (for on account of the humidity of the air their hair does not curl), whereas those in the north are like the Egyptians.

Strabo, Geography 15.1.13

Black people resided not in the Nile valley but in a far land, by the fountain of the sun.

Xenpohanes (Hesoid, works and says, 527-8)

… the men of Egypt are mostly brown and black with a skinny desiccated look.

Ammianus Marcellinus

A little explanation required for this one, the term ‘brown’ means tanned. About 1/3 modern upper Egyptians would certainly have been called black by the Romans.

subfusucli {“somewhat dark/swarthy”)

Ammianus Marcellinus 22.16.23- from Black Athena revisited

 And finally, of lower Nubians:

 It was a market place to which the Ethiopians bring all the products of their country; and the Egyptians in their turn take them all away and bring to the same spot their own wares of equal value, so bartering what they have got for what they have not. Now the inhabitants of the marches (Nubian/Egyptians border) are not yet fully black but are half-breeds in matter of color, for they are partly not so black as the Ethiopians, yet partly more so than the Egyptians.

Flavius Philostratus: c.170 to c.247,

So the evidence suggests Egyptians looked like Georgians and the Pakistanis (formerly Northern India area). Not exactly as surprise, as the DNA and physical evidence supports very little immigration or change in appearance over the past few thousand years in Egypt.

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11 responses to “Ancient descriptions of ancient Egyptians.

  1. I’d guess that ‘Ethiopians’ mostly referred to sub-saharan people, rather than specifically coastal people of Ethiopia/Eritrea/Djibouti (who shared some traits with the KhoiSan people of the Kalahari and Andaman island women (steatopygia, as noted by Queen Hatsheput, Egyptian pharaoh that went to Punt (Djibouti))). Colchis of Jason & golden fleece was between the warm south shores of Black & Caspian sea, noted for mild (nearly sub-tropical rainforest) climate ecology, so compared to the thick-clothed montaine and steppe peoples may indeed have appeared dark skinned, but not so when compared directly to Nubians or south Indians.

    As far as hair, nappy hair- common around the equator, wavy-curly hair – common around around the sub-tropics, straight hair around temperate-sub-polar zone.

  2. you got to be kidding me, you are quoting Flavius from Roman Egypt as your evidence of ancient egypt being non black, of course. Look at all the invaders of Egypt from the arabs, the persians, greeks and romans, oh and Assyrians. Please do the right research and analyze the real Ancient KMT before the invaders. The last true dynasty was the so called Nubian dynasty who tried to restore MAAT in the land and kick out the Europeans(Assyrians).

    • Allen, the DNA of modern Egyptians makes it biologically impossible for them to be Arab or whatever invader- they have more African Y chrs than haldf of the black Ethiopian and Sudanese tribes.

      Please do the right research and analyze the real Ancient KMT before the invaders.

      I have- the crania, DNA etc are all on this blog- and your claims of a black Egypt are just ridiculous.

      And Assyrians were Asian, Europe starts the other side of Turkey.

  3. Another thing about the above, mathilda37:

    “So the evidence suggests Egyptians looked like Georgians and the Pakistanis (formerly Northern India area). [b] Not exactly as surprise, as the DNA and physical evidence supports very little immigration or change in appearance over the past few thousand years in Egypt.” [/b]

    The bold part of course, rules out the extremes of popular belief that Egypt’s population has been “blackened” over the centuries, or conversely, “whitened” (or “Arabized”, what have you).

    However, the ancient statements comparing the AE’s to “North Indians vs. South Indian/Aethiopians”, does not to me, seem to hold for Upper Egyptians of today (or the past). I can see the “Georgian/Caucasus – North Indian/Pakistan” phenotype applying to Lower Egyptians, though.

    Which makes me think that the ancient Greco-Roman accounts on the matter – from Herodotus and others – should not be taken to be ‘blanket’ statements about Egypt’s population as a whole. It makes more sense to think perhaps that both ‘types’ have existed in Egypt for quite some time.

  4. If the modern Egyptians have more African Y chrs than black Ethiopians and Sudanese, why then do you argue the notion that they are not black people?

    Again, DNA does not determine blackness or you guys are using it inconsistently.

    Why? Because there is no doubt that Ethiopians and Sudanese are and were black. So whatever DNA Y chrs are present either do not relate to their racial characteristic (their appearance) or there were black Eurasians that mixed with them.

    Either way, you can’t on one hand rely so heavily on DNA analysis to determine their “race” while abandoning it to neutralize a point that is raised against your conclusion.

    • If the modern Egyptians have more African Y chrs than black Ethiopians and Sudanese, why then do you argue the notion that they are not black people?

      Because their African Y chr are native mainly to Egypt and not Sub Saharan Africa. Anyway, we know from mummy DNA the only mass immigraiton into Egypt over the last 2,000 years was from African slaves.

      FYI, the Eurasian ancestry in East Africans certainly DOES have an effect on their appeearance.

      And my point, as always, is that modern Egyptians essentially are the same population as the ancient- proved by ancient and modern DNA studies now.

  5. you just can not accept the fact that Ethiopeans may have been the first of the predynastic Egypt can you

    Well no, since so far all the evidence proves that that was not the case. The Y dna of modern Egyptians shows that they’ve been there since the neolithic with very little male immigartion, and the maternal dna is aminly that of Caucasoid and black African groups.

    The truth is Egyptians were the same as they are now, I suggest you digest that and move on.

  6. Given that the population in Egypt today is basically the same as that in Dynastic times, would you say that the people of Egypt today look like Georgians?

    • Apparently one of the tribes from the Caucasus had more Indian skin tones and practsed circumcism like Egyptians.. but I can’t remember the name of them offhand.

  7. Makes sense to me. I’m really doubting now that there was any kind of wide-spread transformation of the gene pool in the Nubian era and beyond. Even a bust of Nectanebo I, father of course to Nectanebo II (the last Egyptian ruler of Egypt), clearly displays Caucasian features.

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