Greeks and Romans were avid observers in art and text of departures among foreigners (allophyloi, alienigeni) from their own somatic norms. But it is difficult to discern any lasting ascription of ...
Greeks and Romans were avid observers in art and text of departures among foreigners (allophyloi, alienigeni) from their own somatic norms. But it is difficult to discern any lasting ascription of general inferiority to any ethnic group in antiquity solely on the basis of body-type. The explanation is partly conceptual: although *Aristotle realized that pigmentation was biologically transmitted (Gen. an. 1. 18, 722a; see embryology), popular *anthropology understood cultural variation among humankind in terms, not of nature (i.e. heredity), but nurture, and specifically environment (thus the Hippocratic Air, Waters, Places 12. 17–24; see hippocrates (2)), which shaped ‘customs, appearance and colour’ (Polyb. 4. 21), the sunny south generating blackness, the north ‘glacial whiteness’ (Plin. HN 2. 80. 189); thus, as *Strabo implies, it was only their poor soil which debarred the Arians of E. Iran from the pleasures of civilization (25. 32). Although profoundly ethnocentric and, along the way, idealizing one somatic norm (Graeco-Roman) over others, this outlook none the less inhibited the emergence of ‘white’ as a privileged somatic category (with ‘black’ as its antithesis), as did the fact that both Greeks and Romans defined themselves in opposition to a cultural construct, the *barbarian, which embraced mainly peoples of similarly pale skin-tone.Less