A study done at Newcastle University in the UK revealed something about the Romans that was previously unheard of: it appears that the Romans had no qualms about Africans holding various positions within Roman society, regardless of whether that position was the Emperor of Rome or a domestic slave. Judging by the evidence… it appears that Romans were colour-blind when it came to people with differently coloured skin.
The University holds a rather substantial collection of what has been termed ‘Romano-African’ artefacts, and these objects point quite blatantly at the presence of Africans on Rome’s military frontier, especially along Hadrian’s Wall. One of the objects was a blue, mould-blown glass vessel that was shaped like the head of an African man – and while there are have only been three of these found thus far, the fact that it was made from a mould suggests that these kinds of vessel may have been popular items.
According to historical documents, out of all the people who helped to build Hadrian’s Wall, there were actually very few “Romans” involved – there were plenty of Spanish, Gallic, and Germans working on the project, while a number of auxiliary units that were stationed on garrison duty actually came from North Africa.
Aside from the privileges of thorough military training, well-known Africans in the Roman Empire included a man named Victor, who was a freed slave from Morocco, and even the Emperor Septimius Severus, who came to Rome from Lepcis Magna in Libya! Evidently, colour and country of origin were moot points when it came to social participation in the Roman Empire.
Skin colour aside, what the Romans were well known for was their deep-seated prejudices against a whole host of other kinds of people, such as those they called ‘barbarians’ – ie. anyone outside of the Roman Empire’s control – and… they weren’t particularly fond of men who wore earrings. But prejudices based on colour? The Romans were far beyond that.----
MB note: So where did the notion that negroes are inferior come from? Perhaps surprisingly, not only were the Romans not racist but neither was there any significant sign of racism in Germanic or Celtic societies (the so-called 'barbarians' that constitute the core of most modern European nations), besides simple tribal xenophobia applied to all races, even their own.
The answer is Muslims, more specifically Arabs.
Rather peculiarly the enslavement of almost all of Africa (with the exception of the area of modern-day South Africa), seems to have started during or shortly after the founding of Islam and the Mohammedan conquests between 600 AD and 760 AD. The subsequent arabic slave trade spanning the whole continent and which lasted until it was annihilated by the British Empire in the 20th century is estimated to have made from 20 to 200 million African victims, half of whom died on their way to Arabia, and was deeply rooted in racial disdain (which was also apparently applied by the Semitic Arabs to paler races, such as Europeans and Persians, also victims of their slave trade).
In the 14th Century AD the Tunisian Scholar Ibn Khaldun wrote:
"beyond [known peoples of black West Africa] to the south there is no civilization in the proper sense. There are only humans who are closer to dumb animals than to rational beings. They live in thickets and caves, and eat herbs and unprepared grain. They frequently eat each other. They cannot be considered human beings." "Therefore, the Negro nations are, as a rule, submissive to slavery, because (Negroes) have little that is (essentially) human and possess attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals, as we have stated."
Ironically some islamised negroes seem to have learned the idea of racial superiority from their arab neighbours, in the 9th century AD Al-Jahiz, an afro-arab, wrote:
"Blacks have conquered the country of the Arabs as far as Mecca and have governed them. We defeated Dhu Nowas (Jewish King of Yemen) and killed all the Himyarite princes, but you, White people, have never conquered our country. Our people, the Zenghs (Negroes) revolted forty times in the Euphrates, driving the inhabitants from their homes and making Oballah a bath of blood."
How did all this make its way into European thought? There is no clear indication of European racism until the advent of the 15th century, even though Europeans had been considerably influenced by oriental civilisations during the rise of the caliphates and the crusades.
In 1441, in what would be the first case of European involvement in the muslim slave trade (already more than 800 years in operation at the time), Portugal bought negroid slaves from slave traders in muslim Mauritania and shipped them to the town of Lagos in the southern region of Algarve, where the first European ethnic-based slave market was built. This was a major shift in the Iberian and, later, European attitude towards race and slavery. The Portuguese had adopted the idea of innate racial inferiority believed by the arab slavers.
However, in a classic case of historical backfiring, 51 years later the reconquista reached its climax and muslims and jews were driven out, followed by the declaration of 'Limpiez de Sangre', the cleanliness of blood. This was the first example of white supremacy, its purpose was to discriminate against the so called 'New Christians' the semites and moors left who were force-converted to Roman Catholicism and who were widely mistrusted. Around the same time the concept of blue-blooded aristocracy arose in Spain, stating that only a man whose skin was pale enough to clearly see the blue veins underneath could rise to nobility and kingship, possibly for the same purpose as the Limpiez de Sangre (to segregate people of non-European stock and ensure that only Spaniards would rule Spain.).
As Spain and Portugal started applying all these three (often genocidal) concepts in their new colonies in the americas, they also made their way further into Europe in the following decades and gained moderate acceptance. Although they subsequently became quite heavily involved in the slave trade, Northern European powers treated the Negroid slaves considerably better (within limits) than the Iberians exposed to Muslim influence and invasions did, as well as the natives under colonial occupation. This may, or may not, explain why the regions of the United States most infatuated with slavery and racism happen to be former Spanish colonies, most undoubtedly exposed to the Arabic disdain of the Negro race and the demographic insecurity of the Iberian Kingdoms during their infancies. While the English North rather quickly became fiercely abolitionist.
Back in Europe there was a new big player, the Ottoman turks, who had conquered the last remnant of the Roman Empire in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453 and continued to push West until they reached Austria and Algeria the other side of the Mediterranean. Though they (and therefore muslim slavery) were pushed back into the Balkans by the Hapsburgs' Empire, their North African possessions were thriving slave hubs and their Barbary Pirates constantly raided ships and the shores of Europe, as far away as the British Isles to capture and sell white European slaves on the market (so much so in fact that at one point the Mediterranean coast is said to have been deserted at some point). Prompting many governments to act, notably the new American nation in 1801 and 1815 followed by England and France. Resulting in the French conquest of Algeria in the 1830s. Russia was in a similar situation until it destroyed the muslim Crimean Khanate to its south, which kidnapped its population (as many as 20 000 a year) and sold them into slavery (though that was only a tiny fraction of all the slaves taken from their homes in Eastern Europe by mongolian and tatar raiders since they had invaded Europe in the 13th century).
Abolitionist movements started growing in Europe in the 17th and 18th century, particularly in England where it was proposed that slavery be banned across all colonies. In 1785 William Cowper wrote:
"We have no slaves at home – Then why abroad? Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free, They touch our country, and their shackles fall. That's noble, and bespeaks a nation proud. And jealous of the blessing. Spread it then, And let it circulate through every vein."
The Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was created in 1787 and 20 years later the UK banned slave trade and began using its sway over international markets, trade as well as brute force to force the nations of Europe to give up slavery throughout the period of Pax Britannica, from 1815 to the 1940s. In 1794 France banned the trade, but 8 years later Napoleon revived it to fuel his desires of expansion and it was only re-banished in 1848 by the Second French republic. By the time of the Cold War all nations, including those part of the now 1300 years old arab slave trade, had been forced to give up slavery. Now the trade is only conducted illegally in remote regions.
In: Other Items from Liveleakers, History
Tags: ancient, rome, slavery, europe, racism, arabs, negroes, blacks, england, spain, portugal, trade, atlantic, africa, africans, americas, usa
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