this is probably a strange question but do you know if racism was prevalent in ancient rome and greece? i've been looking online and there are just so many mixed answers and i was hoping that you had some more reliable information. thank you! x
i mean, isn’t racism prevalent EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME, including now?
there are probably people more suited to talking about this than me, eg. argonauticae, but the bulk of what’s kind of evident in the HUGELY eurocentric and chronologically specific reading i’ve done (alexander. alexander. god someone should punch me everytime i say the word alexander) it’s almost like the greek sense of homophobia, in that it’s very similar to our own brand but with its specific cultural nuances, which is par for course
like i mean, every ancient culture - every CULTURE, you could argue - is based on some level of othering, some sense of nationalism, because in a pre-city state or pre-bureaucratic government era you need something to unify people, to give them a sense of self, and the easiest and fastest way to do that is identify the one that Does Not Belong. the egyptians wrote some very rude things about their eastern neighbours, and the persians actually, beginning with cyrus (though it probably goes far beyond that, i’m just woefully unread on anything predating the achaemenids) established a kind of imperial doctrine that stated it was their royal duty to bring those people who were far from the centre of Truth (persia) into the empire, and that the further you were from persia the more susceptible you were to the Lie
which is probably, you know, where the alexandria brotherhood of man shit came from
(SERIOUSLY. PUNCH ME.)
so the greeks, because in no way were the greeks morally superior, obviously, had their own version of this. plato advocated for eugenics, aristotle famously told alexander to treat the greeks as men and the persians as animals and also more famously wrote that it was the greek destiny to rule and other men’s to be ruled. interestingly enough, it seems that this kind of belief is based less in colour - like modern racism - and more in who is or isn’t greek. and within that, because the idea of being greek didn’t really exist until long after alexander, probably not until the roman annexation, some greeks regarded other greeks as barbarians. macedonians thought the epirates were barbarians, and the athenians+thebes+sparta+everyone and their mom thought the macedonians were barbarians. although the idea of greeks being slaves were uncomfortable for a lot of free greeks, it never really STOPPED anyone from making a quick buck. philip did it, alexander did it, nicias did it. (interestingly enough, achaemenid law specifically forbade slavery) like the romans, greek slaves could buy their freedom as well, and if we move forward in history to the romans, you get north african soldiers in britain, you get philip the arabian who became a mover and shaker during the age of empire. this is significant, but it’s not a blanket statement saying that racism doesn’t exist, because it’s like saying ‘we don’t have segregation anymore! america has a black president! we are Post Racism'
what it does show us is that while the idea of civilization in greek/roman culture is very eurocentric, civilization is attainable (but at the same time, that also sounds like assimilation in a modern sense). a lot of acceptance of different cultures is based in self interest and political pragmatism than it is in actual acceptance - the greeks accepted fringe cults and different gods (alexander, famously though probably not entirely true, paid respects to the high priest of the temple at jerusalem in 333; what’s more likely is that he didn’t want to attack jerusalem because it took too long, so made a diplomatic overture) so long as it doesn’t threaten the stability of the existing order. the romans, similarly, was tolerant towards jews, christians, arabs, persians with all their different gods, until it threatened roman power. theres also old superstitions about how you don’t want to offend any gods just in case they were real, but religion for the greeks and romans was usually a matter of state and civic duty - the word religio in latin actually means bond or contract - and unless that power of state is breached, they were usually pretty tolerant. there’s a reason why when christians came under attack, the ban was actually against roman citizens becoming christians. in pretty much every single invasion of jerusalem by rome - and there were PLENTY, most of which ended up pretty fucking bloody re: trajan - it was because rome saw uprisings and religious messiahs in jerusalem, including jesus, as being insurrectionists against the state of rome, rather than against the gods of rome, which became kind of religious sounding in the aftermath, but in the context of the time was because rome feared losing foreign interest against people who were against the military occupation of jerusalem.
so this seems like a loooong winded deviation, and you’re right, it is, but i just want to bring it back to the greeks in the sense that -
solon in writing the laws of athens forbade slaves from practicing pederasty, a social institution among citizens in athens. similarly, athenian law also forbade penetration of athenian citizens, and created pretty heavy punitive measures against men who made sexual advances on athenian boys. in the prosecution of timarchos by aeschines, timarchos an athenian citizen was forbidden from taking party in civic duty because he allegedly prostituted himself to other men as a boy. no such law exists for slaves, most of whom were foreign, with regards to penetration or prostitution - and that kind of gives you a good idea of what their stance is on these measures. while a lot of rhetoric in this time period and of this nature have a racial slant, the main offense and deviation from the norm wasn’t so much based in race as it was in citizenship, in duty to the state. that’s the difference between a greek and a barbarian - in that a greek is free, and a greek is equal to other greeks and no man, and that a barbarian (def. of which includes some weird shit about being Feminine) is a man who is ruled by a king or an emperor, so slavery - intertwined with Us and Them - is something that you disgard as you become More Greek.
so like, long story short, yes racism did exist, yes racism was prevalent, but it was subject to a series of cultural nuances that makes it different from what is modern racism where you know, white people are expatriates and not white people are immigrants and forever immigrants, and it’s important to highlight those differences.