Colorlines in Classical North Africa

Last week, my Ancient Identities class discussed texts on ancient north Africa--Libya, Carthage, and Numidia. In the texts, one of the things that the students discovered is that north Africa seems to have a lot of different types of peoples living in it and that no one seemed to be all that interested in what color they were, though we know that these people were not all of the same skin tone. At one point in his description of Libya, Herodotus (4.197) tells us that the native populations of the continent were Ethiopians and Libyans (which included Marusians, aka Mauri, among others) and that the Phoenicians and Greeks were immigrants.

Typically, we read that Ethiopian is the term that the ancients used to refer to people with dark skin tones, those we would call black, and that these are often also referred to as sub-Saharan Africans. In a recent blog article, Dr. Caitlin Green sums up earlier scholarship and attempts to make sense of their arguments that the increase in 'sub-S…

Crises of Culture and the Anxiety of the Powerful

We were, you know, foreigners in our own city, wandering lost like strangers and it was your books that led us back home, as it were.  As a result we were able to recognize who and where we were.  It was you who revealed the age of our country, the historical chronology, religious and priestly rules, civil and military customs, the location of districts and regions, in sum the causes, duties, types, and names of every human and divine matter.  At the same time, you shone a bright light on the history of our poets and in general on Latin writers and Latin language (Cicero, Academica Posteriora 1.9).    Cicero, writing in the 1st century BCE, is discussing the situation that he and many other Romans found themselves in during the Late Republic and here praises the antiquarian Varro, who, seeing that much that was Rome's own history had been lost to the shadows of time, began researching his own people and culture. Cicero brings up Varro while he himself was attempting to forge a ne…

Ethnicity in Herodotus--The Honest Entry

I keep wanting to finish my post on the use of the Dorian invasion myth as a way of claiming ancient Greece for northern Europeans and (now) whiteness, but I am having a hard time getting to it since I have to write this entry for the Herodotus Encyclopedia on ethnicity and it is killing me. So, I have decided to use this blog post to write out what I would say to Herodotus if I did not have to write a neutral representation of Herodotus' writings or the 40-some years of scholarship that is expected of an encyclopedia entry. 
Damnit, Herodotus. Can you please decide what it is you think you are doing with all these ethnographic passages? If, as Hartog suggests, you are doing it in order to get your Greek readers to reflect upon their shared identity as Greeks, can't you be clearer on that and just say Greeks are Greeks because x, y, and z? Instead we get something like "Egyptians aren't like us in these ways and they are like us in these ways, so that means that …

How We Teach Matters

I've written an article over at Eidolon on "Why I Teach About Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World."  It is something of a follow-up to "We Condone It By Our Silence" and, though I wrote it over a month or so ago, addresses some of the issues that have recently surfaced in the Reed college debate (linked in the article) and also "#ClassicsSoWhite" by Hilary Lehmann over at the Classics and Social Justice blog.

At the end of her article, she stresses that the field needs to take seriously the effort to de-colonize it. And she is right. You can still love and want to study classical literature and history while recognizing and not loving or supporting the ideas of "western civilization" and the "Canon"and the other myriad uses to which the Classical past has been put in support of racism, and sexism, and classism. Teaching about race and ethnicity in Classical antiquity is one way to start.

I will leave you to read the article …

Immigrants and Cruelty

There are days when my scholarship and teaching resonate with the modern world more than others. Today is one such day. Yesterday, Pres. Trump rescinded the executive order known as DACA, passed in 2012 to protect so-called "Dreamers," non-citizen residents of the US who were brought here as children and who have lived their entire lives here. DACA created a pathway for them to get work permits, legal identification, attend college, and generally participate in everyday life without fear of deportation to places they have never known. DACA isn't perfect--they had to register and re-register every 2 years. And it was only a deferment of possible deportation.

Although there is some talk of Congress acting to pass legislation that will replace the executive order, history suggests to me that there are enough members of Congress for whom the cruelty of deporting these individuals is "just business" that no law will come. AG Jeff Sessions seemed particularly please…

Using Genetics to Prove Ancient Greeks Were "White"?

In a recent article by Prof. Denise McCoskey, she noted that our modern racial categories are socially constructed and that, technically, no Europeans are "white" since "whiteness" is not a biological reality but a socially created category that we try to place people with similar physical characteristics into. Race theories go deeper, of course, in that they also attempt to assign moral character to these biologically similar groups, and that is where racism emerges--attributing to groups of people who share inherited physical characteristics similarly inherited moral character that is then ranked in a hierarchy. One of the most consistent responses to the reality that race is social and not inherently biological is an appeal to modern genetics.

In a previous blog post, I discussed some of the communis opinio of the physical anthropology community on the ways in which forensic and genetic categories are subjective and not accurate reflections of a biological real…

The "Typical" Family in Roman Britain

There has been a lot of chatter about the BCC Roman Britain cartoon still flitting around, mostly because Taleb seems set on personally attacking anyone who disagrees with him or questions his data. It's not the most productive way to discuss the issue of diversity in Roman Britain (or the classical world, generally). But one thing has not seemed to come up and I am puzzled by it--one of the primary bones of contention is on the "typical" nature of the family represented in the cartoon. Even those who have agreed that the evidence had difficulty accepting the word "typical" (though, see now Prof. Tim Whitmarsh for a different take).

Perhaps the reason this difficulty arose was because they assumed that the "typical" referred to the skin color of the characters. Actually, the skin color is irrelevant to the "typicality" of the family. Regardless of what type of Roman this family was ethnically--Italian, Syrian, Egyptian, Algerian, Greek, Gal…

Blood and Soil from Antiquity to Charlottesville: A Short Primer

In the recent white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville, chants of "Blood and Soil" were heard coming from some members of the marchers of a tiki torch procession. This chant was interspersed with chants of "You will not replace us." When I read about this, I was stuck by the irony of a group of white supremacists--all of whose ancestors are not native to this soil--would be chanting about being autochthonous. I mean, the whole point of the two groups that most closely identify with the Blood and Soil language (in their web presences and poster/flyer campaigns), Identity Europa and Vanguard America, is the emphasis on their European (not American) descent. They aren't even trying to claim to be indigenous to the US, and yet are invoking an ideology that is explicitly about being native to one's land and thereby a part of it.

If you are confused, that's ok. It doesn't make much sense at first. But what these supremacists are appealing to when the…

Bibliography for Race and Ethnicity in the Classical World

In order to make the link to this biblio more stable, I am making a dedicated page for it where I will make updates. You can find it here: 

I have also now started a page for collecting syllabi and modules for

This is a starter bibliography of scholarship related to race/ethnicity in Greek and Roman antiquity (including some Early Christian). From this, one can see the breadth and depth of scholarship being done over the last 40 year or so. 

It is not comprehensive and I will be continually updating it.  
For edited volumes on the subject, I have started to link to the full Table of Contents instead of listing chapters individually when possible.I have turned comments on for this post so that people can leave citations for works to be added.
Apologies that the citation style is not uniform; this is pulled from multiple docs.
Please leave recommendations for good web-related materials as well.
Jonathan Hsy is c…