Roman Racism, Or Lack Thereof (ca. 200 AD)

By: The Scribe on Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This is one of only 3 “head flasks” found from Rome, designed in the head of an African man. Evidently, Africans were living and working at Hadrian’s Wall alongside the Romans!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 colorblind when it came to people with differently colored skin.

The University holds a rather substantial collection of what has been termed ‘Romano-African’ artifacts, 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According to historical documents, out of all the people who helped to build Hadrian’s Wall, there were actually very few “Romans” involved – there were plenty of Spanish, Gallic, and Germans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, color and country of origin were moot points when it came to social participation in the Roman Empire.

Skin color 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 color? The Romans were far beyond that.

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