Were Egyptians Really Black?Our world is full of different races, religions, and countries. Each country contributes its own worth towards the ever constant history that is planet earth. The rise and fall of empires over time have helped shape the modern day governments we have today.
Out of the many empires the world has come to know are the ancient Egyptians. However the ancient Egyptians have been falsely represented ever since the 18th and 19th centuries. Hollywood movies and European scholars/historians have depicted the ancient Egyptians as an empire made up of caucasians. In reality the ancient Egyptians were actually black.
The evidence that the ancient Egyptians were black has been hidden because many during the 18th and 19th century, which was a time of slavery, did not want to believe that one of the most powerful empires ever was controlled by black skinned humans and contributed to many of the European empires throughout history. The initial findings of black Egyptians occurred when Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798. During his invasion scientists explored and ancient civilizations, what they saw truly surprised them. In book titled They Came Before Columbus written by Ivan Van Sertima, talks about the discovery and response to the finding of black Egyptians. In the chapter titled Black Africa and Egypt Van Sertima states,”From what they scientists saw concluded, as the Greeks has done thousands of years before, that Egyptian civilization owed its inspiration to a black race.” ( Van Sertima 109). Van Sertima further explains what this new discovery meant for history along with the current time period that was filled with African slavery.
Van Sertima states,”This rediscovery by Europeans of ancient Egypt, and the disclosure of a powerful Negro-African element in the ancestry of a civilization to which Europe owed so much, came as an embarrassment.” (Van Sertima 109). Basically the belief that black people were inferior was wrong because of the evidence present in Egypt. An ancient civilization ran by a black race had influenced numerous European countries but this discovery happened during a time period where slavery was present. Many believed that slavery was justified based off the belief that the black race was less than the white, but this new discovery now made this belief untrue. This discovery led historians to try and cover up this information or change certain biblical beliefs in order to keep the justification of slavery. During the 18th and 19 century religion was tied in very closely with science, in this case the religion was Christianity. Through the holy bible there is a story that Christians went by to describe why the black race existed.
This theory is called the Hamitic hypothesis and was used by many higher ups in the Christian community. The hypothesis had to change though because of the new findings in Egypt with the contribution of the black race. The basic belief the hamitic hypothesis in the Bible is that Noah’s son, Ham became cursed and that all his descendants would also be cursed by being life long servants. The belief continued that’s Ham’s offspring would of had black skin, creating the black race that we have today. In a journal entry written by historian Edith R. Sanders called The Hamitic Hypothesis; its Origin and functions in Time Perspective, explains the initial beliefs of the Hamitic Hypothesis before Napoleon’s expedition. Sanders States,”.
..the descendants of Ham are cursed by being black, and depicts Ham as a sinful man and his progeny as degenerates. Thus, early tradition identified the Hamites with Negroes and endowed them with both certain physiognomical attributes and an undesirable characteristics.
” (Sanders 522). This was the original belief that the black race was cursed, but after Europeans found out that Egypt was once ruled by negros or what they called “Hamites” they had to change the Hamitic Hypothesis. In the article, The “Hamitic Hypothesis” in Indigenous West African Historical Thought written by scholar Robin Law, looks into how the Hamitic hypothesis changed based on the discovery of black Egyptians.
Though Law’s analysis of Sanders’ original work Law concluded that the theory had changed so that the ancient Egyptians would be seen as white/lighter skin. Law states,”In particular, African- American and African intellectuals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries continued to insist that the ancient Egyptians were racially Negroes….But the new perception of the ancient Egyptians as racially “white” did become dominant in European thought at both academic and popular levels. The “Hamites” were thus now conceptualized as the lighter-skinned peoples anciently settled in northern Africa….” (Law 522).
By changing the race of the ancient Egyptians to white or lighter skin it gave more validity to slavery and that slavery was still morally right. The Europeans did not want to admit that they were enslaving a race that ruled an empire which Europe based their government systems on. Before Napoleon’s invasion into Africa, Europe believed that Egypt was not part of Africa at all.
They thought that Africa only held the African/black race that had not contributed anything to the European way of life except for slavery. They saw Egypt apart from Africa because of the great civilization the Egyptians built. This separation between Africa and Egypt made it easier for the Europeans to see Africa as an inferior place that was inhabited by inferior people. Basil Davidson further explains why this inferoty thinking and the rejection of black Egyptians came to be though the process of slavery in his article, The Ancient World and Africa: Whose Roots?. Davidson states, “It’s denial, in short, that belongs to the rise of modern European imperialism, and has to be explained in terms of the “new racism”, specially and even frantically and anti-blackrascim which went together with and was consistently nourished by that imperialism.” (Davidson 40). He goes on further by talking about how the atlantic slave trade in the 1630’s sparked the wave of racism in Europe. This in turn then began more than a century of built of racism before Napoleon’s findings in Egypt.
Because of this build up with racism the idea of black Egyptians did not stand a chance of being believed. Overall it is a fact that the ancient Egyptians were black. The society they created was adopted by many different European countries. Once Europe discovered that the ancient Egyptians were black they tried to deny and cover up the evidence in light of the slavery that was presently going on. Europeans had to justify slavery by creating the belief that Africans were inferior.
By creating this inferiority they knew that ancient Egypt could not be associated with Africa. By separating Egypt from Africa and the black race the Europeans were able to create the common modern day belief that the ancient Egyptians were caucasian. This belief that Egyptians were white has been carried into modern movies, books, and photos. This blinds many of the true origin of the ancient Egyptians. BibliographySertima, Ivan Van. They Came Before Columbus. 2003.
Sanders, R. Edith. The Hamitic Hypothesis; its Origin and functions in Time Perspective. 1969.Law, Robin. The “Hamitic Hypothesis” in Indigenous West African Historical Thought.
2009. Davidson, Basil. The Ancient World and Africa: Whose Roots? 1987.