Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Was Hannibal 'Black'?

A 'classical' depiction of Hannibal

Judging from the feedback I have received in the past, this is a pretty controversial question. Most classical depictions show him as a bearded warrior - but distinctly not having what we might call 'typical black African features'. Some modern images shown Hannibal as very definitely 'black African', arguing that there has been 'historical racism''.

So what is the truth?

Hannibal certainly came from northern Africa, from a Carthaginian family living in Carthage, near modern-day Tunis. The Carthaginians were originally Phoenicians, who migrated from the Levant (Middle East).  We would conventionally describe them as a Semitic people, related to Arabs and Jews.

Compared with a Mediterranean person, someone from Germany or Ireland was noticeably white and someone from Africa was noticeably black. Generally, to depict someone we would think of as 'black African' a Roman would use the term 'Ethiopian' (describing the appearance of a sun-burned face) or 'Nubian'.

There was also a good deal of intermarriage between the lighter skinned people in northern Africa and the darker skinned people called Ethiopians or Nubians. Hannibal may have been darker skinned than a Roman, but he was never described as 'Ethiopian'.

This theme is explored in more detail in the work Racism and Anti-Racism in World Perspective, by Benjamin P. Bowser.

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