goddess-bound asked: Hi, i don't know if this is too early for you, but is there any record of free black people in Roman times, specifically pre-empire? My father was saying that it was "very unlikely" for it to have been, but i think otherwise.
This is just another example of the overwhelmingly pervasive idea in our culture that no matter where or when you go in history, anyone who wasn’t Black and who SAW a Black person immediately thought, “Hey! Thisperson and everyone on earth who looks anything like them would make great slaves!” So…before we play remedial education, can we all take a moment to think about how horrible that is? That the idea of Black people=slaves is SO dominant that we project it into ancient history???
Okay, first of all, slavery in the Ancient Mediterranean was not the same as American chattel slavery. It was not race-based slavery. Your race had nothing to do with whether or not you were enslaved.
Basically, what you’re asking about (roughly) is the Hellenistic Era.
After Alexander the Great’s ventures in the Persian Empire, Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout south-west Asia (Seleucid Empire, Kingdom of Pergamon) and north-east Africa (Ptolemaic Kingdom).
This resulted in the export of Greek culture and language to these new realms, and moreover Greek colonists themselves.
Equally, however, these new kingdoms were influenced by the indigenous cultures, adopting local practices where beneficial, necessary, or convenient. Hellenistic culture thus represents a fusion of the Ancient Greek world with that of the Near East, Middle East, and Southwest Asia, and a departure from earlier Greek attitudes towards “barbarian” cultures.
The Hellenistic period was characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization (as distinguished from that occurring in the 8th–6th centuries BC) which established Greek cities and kingdoms in Asia and Africa. Those new cities were composed of Greek colonists who came from different parts of the Greek world, and not, as before, from a specific “mother city”.
As explained above, what you would have had is a “melting pot” of many different languages, “races”, cultures, schools of art, ethnicities, et cetera.
The art of this period reflects that.
Greek architects and sculptors were highly valued throughout the Hellenistic world. Shown on the left is a terra-cotta statuette of a draped young woman, made as a tomb offering near Thebes, probably around 300 BCE. The incursion of Alexander into the western part of India resulted in some Greek cultural influences there, especially during the Hellenistic era. During the first century BCE., Indian sculptors in Gandhara, which today is part of Pakistan, began to create statues of the Buddha. The Buddhist Gandharan style combined Indian and Hellenistic artistic traditions, which is evident in the stone sculpture of the Buddha on the right. Note the wavy hair topped by a bun tied with a ribbon, also a feature of earlier statues of Greek deities. This Buddha is also wearing a Greek-style toga.
-Essential World History by Duiker, Spielvogel, p. 101
As for trade routed in the Ancient World, well. The Silk Road has existed for pretty much as long as the continents have been in their current configuration and populated by humanity. I’m not exaggerating-the prehistoric version of what became known as the Silk Road is known as The Steppe Road. The Silk Road ITSELF was established for trading purposes at least 2,000 years ago. Here’s a mockup of the Silk Road as it existed during the era you’re asking about:
Here are some Hellenistic Era Greek artworks that feature Black people. There is NO correlation in this era between a person being Black and a person being enslaved.
In general, Greek attitudes towards anyone with Black or dark brown skin were sort of ethnocentric, but not negative OR associated with slavery. After all, the idea of “white people” wouldn’t exist for another 1,500 years at LEAST.
Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks by Frank M. Snowden contains many, MANY invaluable interpretations and translations of primary sources that help to really explore attitudes and philosophies that the people in the time had about appearance, human difference, and personality traits. From page 86:
If you want something a bit more definitive, The Image of the Black in Western Art Vol. 1:From the Pharaohs to the Roman Empire explores the Greek and Roman preoccupation with physical type+personality traits as a form of PROTO-racism, but please note that nothing in their writing or art indicated the association of Blackness or Black skin with slaves or enslavement/enslavability:
"Race" as we have this concept today did not exist then. the "races" they are talking about have to do with ethnicity and culture, NOT skin color by necessity. In addition, the "proto-racist" writing is describing geographical origin and climate to correlate with personality type, with the “perfect balance” being conveniently, Greeks.
As for the beginnings of the Roman Empire, the above is wehre you’re pretty much starting from, and then you have EVEN MORE intermixing between peoples. Including the Emperor born in the Roman Province of “Africa”, Septimius Severus, who led a campaign of additional conquering there around 200 C.E.
He then of course sent tens of thousands of Roman soldiers up directly into Britain and Scotland, and there are extensive records of Black military legions at Hadrian’s Wall in the 3rd century. Incidentally, leading to a rather multicultural population in Roman York (England), which is also extensively documented (Ivory Bangle Lady, one of the richest women in that area at that time, was definitely of African descent).
This would have been the Roman Empire about 100-200 years before the time of Ivory Bangle Lady. Excavations in the area combined with the cutting edge of academia and science combined have this to say:
"We’re looking at a population mix which is much closer to contemporary Britain than previous historians had suspected," Hella Eckhardt, senior lecturer at the department of archaeology at Reading University, said. "In the case of York, the Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now.”
Isotope evidence suggests that up to 20% were probably long distance migrants. Some were African or had African ancestors, including the woman dubbed “the ivory bangle lady”, whose bone analysis shows she was brought up in a warmer climate, and whose skull shape suggests mixed ancestry including black features.
"We can’t tell if she was independently wealthy, or the wife or daughter of a wealthy man — but the bones show that she was young, between 18 and 23, and healthy with no obvious sign of disease or cause of death."
The authors comment: "The case of the ‘ivory bangle lady’ contradicts assumptions that may derive from more recent historical experience, namely that immigrants are low status and male, and that African individuals are likely to have been slaves. Instead, it is clear that both women and children moved across the Empire, often associated with the military."
Feel free to go tell your dad he’s full of it.
Angela Davis on violence
- when she was in the California State Prison - 1972
- Interviewer: a year ago the black panthers were much more active. We heard much more about that type of struggle. Is the time of the black panthers past?
- Angela davis: the black panthers still exist, and the black panthers are still extremely active in the Oakland community and communities all over the country. I’m not sure whether or not you are aware of what is now happening in the black panther party and the kinds of things that the members of that party are doing now.
- Interviewer: no but tell me.
- Angela davis: first of all, if you’re gonna talk about a revolutionary situation, you have to have people who are physically able to wage revolution, who are physically able to organize and physically able to do all that is done.
- Interviewer: but the question is more, how do you get there? Do you get there by confrontation, violence?
- Angela davis: oh, is that the question you were asking? yeah see, that’s another thing. When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and the goals that you’re striving for, not in the way you reach them. On the other hand, because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you are a black person and live in the black community all your life and walk out on the street everyday seeing white policemen surrounding you… when I was living in Los Angeles, for instance, long before the situation in L.A ever occurred, I was constantly stopped. No, the police didn’t know who I was. But I was a black women and I had a natural and they, I suppose thought I might be “militant.” And when you live under a situation like that constantly, and then you ask me, you know, whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all. Whether I approve of guns. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. Some very, very good friends of mine were killed by bombs, bombs that were planted by racists. I remember, form the time I was very small, I remember the sounds of bombs exploding across the street. Our house shaking. I remember my father having to have guns at his disposal at all times, because of the fact that, at any moment, we might expect to be attacked. The man who was, at that time, in complete control of the city government, his name was Bull Connor, would often get on the radio and make statements like, “niggers have moved into a white neighborhood. We better expect some bloodshed tonight.” And sure enough, there would be bloodshed. After the four young girls who lived, one of them lived next door to me…I was very good friends with the sister of another one. My sister was very good friends with all three of them. My mother taught one of them in her class. My mother—in fact, when the bombing occurred, one of the mothers of one of the young girls called my mother and said, “can you take me down to the church to pick up Carol? We heard about the bombing and I don’t have my car.” And they went down and what did they find? They found limbs and heads strewn all over the place. And then, after that, in my neighborhood, all the men organized themselves into an armed patrol. They had to take their guns and patrol our community every night because they did not want that to happen again. That’s why, when someone asks me about violence, I just, I just find it incredible. Because what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.
Author Scott Lynch responds to a critic of the character Zamira Drakasha, a black woman pirate in his fantasy book Red Seas Under Red Skies, the second novel of the Gentleman Bastard series.
The bolded sections represent quotes from the criticism he received. All the z-snaps are in order.
Your characters are unrealistic stereotpyes of political correctness. Is it really necessary for the sake of popular sensibilities to have in a fantasy what we have in the real world? I read fantasy to get away from politically correct cliches.
God, yes! If there’s one thing fantasy is just crawling with these days it’s widowed black middle-aged pirate moms.
Real sea pirates could not be controlled by women, they were vicous rapits and murderers and I am sorry to say it was a man’s world. It is unrealistic wish fulfilment for you and your readers to have so many female pirates, especially if you want to be politically correct about it!
First, I will pretend that your last sentence makes sense because it will save us all time. Second, now you’re pissing me off.
You know what? Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I realized this as she was evolving on the page, and you know what? I fucking embrace it.
Why shouldn’t middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? Everyone else does. H.L. Mencken once wrote that “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” I can’t think of anyone to whom that applies more than my own mom, and the mothers on my friends list, with the incredible demands on time and spirit they face in their efforts to raise their kids, preserve their families, and save their own identity/sanity into the bargain.
Shit yes, Zamira Drakasha, leaping across the gap between burning ships with twin sabers in hand to kick in some fucking heads and sail off into the sunset with her toddlers in her arms and a hold full of plundered goods, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy from hell. I offer her up on a silver platter with a fucking bow on top; I hope she amuses and delights. In my fictional world, opportunities for butt-kicking do not cease merely because one isn’t a beautiful teenager or a muscle-wrapped font of testosterone. In my fictional universe, the main characters are a fat ugly guy and a skinny forgettable guy, with a supporting cast that includes “SBF, 41, nonsmoker, 2 children, buccaneer of no fixed abode, seeks unescorted merchant for light boarding, heavy plunder.”
You don’t like it? Don’t buy my books. Get your own fictional universe. Your cabbage-water vision of worldbuilding bores me to tears.
As for the “man’s world” thing, religious sentiments and gender prejudices flow differently in this fictional world. Women are regarded as luckier, better sailors than men. It’s regarded as folly for a ship to put to sea without at least one female officer; there are several all-female naval military traditions dating back centuries, and Drakasha comes from one of them. As for claims to “realism,” your complaint is of a kind with those from bigoted hand-wringers who whine that women can’t possibly fly combat aircraft, command naval vessels, serve in infantry actions, work as firefighters, police officers, etc. despite the fact that they do all of those things— and are, for a certainty, doing them all somewhere at this very minute. Tell me that a fit fortyish woman with 25+ years of experience at sea and several decades of live bladefighting practice under her belt isn’t a threat when she runs across the deck toward you, and I’ll tell you something in return— you’re gonna die of stab wounds.
What you’re really complaining about isn’t the fact that my fiction violates some objective “reality,” but rather that it impinges upon your sad, dull little conception of how the world works. I’m not beholden to the confirmation of your prejudices; to be perfectly frank, the prospect of confining the female characters in my story to placid, helpless secondary places in the narrative is so goddamn boring that I would rather not write at all. I’m not writing history, I’m writing speculative fiction. Nobody’s going to force you to buy it. Conversely, you’re cracked if you think you can persuade me not to write about what amuses and excites me in deference to your vision, because your vision fucking sucks.
I do not expect to change your mind but i hope that you will at least consider that I and others will not be buying your work because of these issues. I have been reading science fiction and fantasy for years and i know that I speak for a great many people. I hope you might stop to think about the sales you will lose because you want to bring your political corectness and foul language into fantasy. if we wanted those things we could go to the movies. Think about this!
Thank you for your sentiments. I offer you in exchange this engraved invitation to go piss up a hill, suitable for framing.
Dude. I bounced off his first book in that series, but that character MIGHT just convince me to give it another try.
Also, Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Ching Shih, the Red Lady, Lai Sho Sz’en, Grace O’Malley, Sayyida al Hurra, the Lioness of Brittany, Mary Killigrew, Lo Hon-cho, and quite a few others.
LADY PIRATES REPRESENT.
an estimated 60% of the pirates during the Golden Age of Piracy c. 1720 were non-white, and were primarily actually black. the blackness, queerness, and justice-centered (read: anti-navy, anti-property, anti-trade) mindset of pirates was noted continually by writers of the time, including Cotton Mather, who preached at many pirate hangings. female pirates were not particularly rare, and a lot of pirate crews had specific rules about how women on board were not to be molested. punishment for rape, harassment and related crimes were encoded in many pirate charters. [source: Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age by Marcus Rediker]