Saturday, 30 July 2016

Ancient Racism?

Was there racism in the ancient world?

There was antisemitism in the Middle Ages. Riding through a dark lane, Manse Everard nearly rides down a pedestrian and apologizes but:

"'It is nothing, sir, nothing.' The man pulled his muck-spattered gown close about him and backed meekly off. Everard made out the beard, broad cap, yellow emblem. Yes, a Jew. Frederick had decreed that Jews wear distinct dress, with no man to shave, and a long list of other restrictions."
-Poul Anderson, The Shield Of Time (New York, 1991), p. 403.

However, I think that racism of skin color began as an ideological justification for the trans-Atlantic slave trade. (Slaves escape from the Southern States in one chapter of Anderson's The Boat Of A Million Years.) In SM Stirling's Island In The Sea Of Time (New York, 1998), two black characters discuss race relations in 1250 B.C. Alston says:

"'You go to Egypt as of 1250 B.C., you're just another nigger barbarian, as far as they're concerned, and so am I.'" (p. 255)

- but she adds:

"'Anyone who isn't an Egyptian is a nigger to them.'" (ibid.)

So skin color was not the issue.

Stirling's Draka take racism and slavery to new heights. Every human being who is not a Draka is a "serf," either feral or under the yoke. Unfortunately, our species is capable even of this. The Draka have not committed genocide only because they have not seen it as in their interests to do so.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I would not call the idiotic Jew hating of the kind we see in THE SHIELD F TIME "racism." That had to wait till the late 19th century, and even more, the rise to power of the National Socialists in Germany. It was in the later 1800s, partly as an abuse of Darwin's work, that we seriously began to see arguments for believing some "races" of mankind were superior or inferior to others.

    Egypt? I was surprised to find out, while browsing the BRITANNICA. that the remote ethnic origins of the Egyptians were ARMENIAN, of all things. If my memory is correct, the BRITANNICA said a branch of the people who became the Armenians migrated to Egypt to found the civilization of the Pharaohs. I should go back to the local library sometime and look it up again.

    I recall Gwen Ingolfsson mentioning feral humans in DRAKON. I have wondered if some remnants of a movement aspiring to resist the Draka lingered in some obscure corners of Earth even after the Final War. In any case it would be interesting to know more about these "ferals."


    1. Sean,
      While the US still existed, the Draka called Americans "ferals."

    2. Kaor, Sean!

      I did a little Googling, and didn't find anything about Armenians founding Ancient Egyptian civilization. I'm not an expert, and I speak under correction, but it seems to me that since Armenian is an Indo-European language, the speakers of proto-Armenian would not have entered Eastern Anatolia until e civilization of the Pharoahs already existed. People and ideas from Asia Minor may have made some contribution to Ancient Egypt, even if the Badarians and the Nubians would have had more contact with Egypt earlier, but I'm dubious about Armenians as such. Perhaps you can do some more reading on the topic, and let us know just what you find.

      Best Regards,
      Nicholas D. Rosen

    3. Kaor, Nicholas!

      It was years ago since I came across this bit about the ethnic origins of the Egyptians. And, as you said, it does seem rather implausible that some of the ancestors of the people who became the Armenians migrated to what became Egypt. I will try to find the source of what I read!

      Regards! Sean

  2. Ethnic prejudices are ancient and ubiquitous; there's a reason nobody finds being called "Shina" or "Bakachon" pleasant.

    "Racism" in the sense we use the term developed gradually in Western culture in the Age of Exploration. Before then people had been vaguely conscious that there were regional variations in physical appearance, but they didn't attach much importance to it -- not nearly as much as they did to, say, religion, which was very important indeed.

    So there's anti-Judaic prejudice in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" but it's strictly religious. Shylock's daughter, who becomes a Christian, is instantly considered admirable (and marriageable). There's no suggestion that her blood or that of her subsequent children is 'tainted' in any manner.

    1. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Yes, that makes more sense than some of my earlier comments. One of the bad things we see beginning in the Age of Exploration was the increased trafficking in black African slaves. I can too easily imagine how that would to generalized contempt for all blacks--racism.

      Merry Christmas! Sean