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Ethnicity And Race In Ancient Rome

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Some biases about ‘blacks’ in largely ‘white’ communities. Others have biased modern apparitions of the way Aethiopes were depicted in the Roman community, ensuing in a lot of misconceptions of the pertinent texts. Apparently, both Romans and Greeks owned specific words to term ethnicity or race. Such words, for example, ethnos, genos, and natio. Mentioned words are not very different from nowadays terms for what we would call culture or society (Joshel, 2009). In Roman insights groups black Africans, white, 'paleface' and swarthy were neither groups nor were they socially termed as ‘races’ with recognized group ranks (Demirel, 2005). In fact, labeling was decided based on a person’s behavior and not by the paternity of blood and skin color.

People who were involved in the slave trade had to state the “natio”, which is the origin of the traded slave, of every slave they sold in Rome. The natio of the slave normally persuaded or put off a possible slave buyer and therefore it was important and beneficial to know the natio of the slave (Joshel, 2009). In addition, there existed a notion that various slaves were better since they came from a tribe that had a good repute and other slaves were simply bad since they originate from tribes that were quite untrustworthy.

Unrestricted Africans arrived in the Roman Empire as merchants, voyagers as well as workmen. In such scenarios, though, factors away from race might as well signify a slave; his modest tunic and the container they carry for various errands. Most of the Native servants were frequently taken for slaves, and portrayals of helpers, donned in modest uniform, usually signified slaves.

Some people referred to slaves as “servi” since they were used to trade those seized in battles. Just like war prisoners, kids were born into captivity. More slaves who were brought to Rome from far lands as a result of the long-distance slave trade were forced to lose not only their natural cultures but were also termed as outsiders and their inferiority as goods vended in the marketplace. They compared them to the form of subjugated rivalries who, just like goods turned into spoils (Joshel, 2009).

“If all differences of ethnicity and origin were reduced to the category of defeated captive in the crucible of conquest, sale in the marketplace reinscribed natio not as a social, ethnic, or racial identity but as a set of personal characteristics”. The documentation of origin recommended by the Roman decree the slave trade, happened amongst indeed belonged to activities which degraded the human beings to a simple product of trade and which based on a Roman point of view greatly humiliated individuals who experienced them. (Joshel, 2009)

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Romans and the Greeks were known to treat outsiders in bad manners. The impression of the ‘barbarian’ is a commonly known Greek creation. The cultural individuality of both the Romans and the Greeks was more persistently based on what we would now view as an unhealthy mistrust of anyone unique from themselves. Xenophobia is the right term to describe it.

The ancient societies among them Rome, have always been accused of racism. For instance, the Roman architect Vitruvius is blamed for arguing that the southern residents who lived in the relatively hot climate were intelligent but cowards. On the contrary, the northern residents were comparatively sowed mentally but they are brave to the point of acting foolishly. This was a clear indication that Rome was a racist society. At the same time, it is documented of a Greek doctor who claimed that the Asian men although have a “fine physique, tall, differing little from one another, but courage, endurance, industry, and high spirits are impossible to find among the natives and immigrants’ (Jones, 2016). The use of the term immigrants showed that the natives were different racially. While their heredity differed, they were made the same by living together.

In ancient Rome, the race was not defined by heredity and blood type. However, the race was defined on the basis of their culture (Bond, 2017). Culture in this regard is with respect to behavior, customs, habits, lifestyle, associations, etc. Ideally, an individual that lived the same as the original inhabitants was considered the same regardless of race. Hence the phrase “live like a Roman and you become a Roman” (Jones, 2016). This has been agreed upon by the Roman emperors from North Africa, Spain, and the Balkans. These and individuals who spoke in Latin would agree that race in Rome was defined by one’s behavior and not skin color and blood type.

Another aspect that determined how one was treated in ancient Rome is one’s beliefs. A person’s belief was considered part of his or her behavior and culture. Ideally what one did and said was a direct implication of the individual’s power to make decisions and this is further influenced by one’s belief (Jones, 2016). This is a personal choice and if one chose to believe in what was against the romans’ belief he was considered not one of them. Ideally, the choice to do what the Romans did not do attracted the attention of the Romans. This would be followed by either criticism, depreciation, and/or insults. This is obviously an unpleasant act but cannot be defined as discrimination due to ethnicity and race. It might even be justifiable to condemn an act that does not augur well with what the Romans believed in.

In brief, slavery was real in ancient Rome and the Romans were intrinsically concerned about how the immigrants behaved. Any behavior and culture that did not match what the Romans believed in was considered unusual. While arguments term this as racism, the paper concludes that in comparison with cases of racism in other places such as America, ancient Rome defined people not based on their skin color and heredity but entirely on their behavior.

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Ethnicity And Race In Ancient Rome. (2022, February 26). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from
“Ethnicity And Race In Ancient Rome.” Edubirdie, 26 Feb. 2022,
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Ethnicity And Race In Ancient Rome [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 26 [cited 2023 Dec 9]. Available from:
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