Andrade, Gabriel, and Maria Campo Redondo. 2019. “Rushton and Jensen’s Work Has Parallels with Some Concepts of Race Awareness in Ancient Greece.” Psych 1 (1): 391–402.
Rushton and Jensen’s “Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability” documents IQ differences in populations on the basis of race. The authors explain these data by arguing that cold winter conditions in Europe had greater pressure for the selection of higher intelligence. Critics of Rushton and Jensen, and of the very category of race, claim that race is a social construct that only came up in the 16th century, as a result of overseas voyages and the Atlantic slave trade. The goal of this article is to refute that particular claim, by documenting how, long before the 16th century, in classical antiquity race was already a meaningful concept, and how some Greek authors even developed ideas that bear some resemblance to Rushton and Jensen’s theory. The article documents how ancient Egyptians already had keen awareness of race differences amongst various populations. Likewise, the article documents passages from the Hippocratic and Aristotelian corpus, which attests that already in antiquity, there was a conception that climatic differences had an influence on intelligence, and that these differences eventually become enshrined in fixed biological traits.
One of the more bizarre theories, even by the standards of postmodern academia, is that “racialism” was an outgrowth of the Atlantic slave trade and/or an invention of the European Enlightenment. Ancients and medievals were basically colorblind. So for all we know there were Bohemia during the Hussite Wars was brimming with black people, and Warhorse Studios was very racist and intolerant not to include them.
So who do we trust: Afrocentric SJWs or your lying eyes?
Fortunately, we have two scholars – with appropriately ethnic names and UAE university affiliations – to put that question to rest. They concluded that “Greeks, Egyptians and Romans had greater awareness of racial differences than what conventional historians are prepared to admit.”
In the 1990s there was a major academic controversy over Afrocentrism. This was a movement that sought to teach a peculiar version of History. Afrocentrists made two central claims: (1) Ancient Greeks stole arts and philosophy from the Egyptians, (2) ancient Egyptians were black. Afrocentrists claimed there was a conspiracy orchestrated by whites in order to keep these facts hidden. …
Actually we have already conclusively established that Ancient Egyptians were Russians, but let’s continue.
… Lefkowitz acknowledges this, but seems unsure as to whether or not these were racial distinctions: “Egyptians made clear distinctions between themselves and other peoples, which they represented in their art. Wall paintings are not photographs, and to some extent the different colors may have been chosen as a means of marking nationality, like uniforms in a football game. The Egyptians depicted themselves with a russet color, Asiatics in a paler yellow. Southern peoples were darker, either chocolate brown or black”.
It is naïve to believe that when Egyptians chose dark colors to represent Southern peoples, they were merely a sort of football uniform. It seems more likely that dark colors were chosen because, well, Nubians (Egypt’s neighbors to the South) were very dark indeed. Further proof that these depictions were not analogous to mere football uniforms is that there are representations in which Nubians are depicted not only as having darker colors, but also having flat noses and thick lips.
It is true that the ancient world, and most especially various peoples in the Near East (including the Israelites) commonly segmented nations fundamentally in linguistic terms, but one particular Egyptian poem, the Great Hymn to Aten, praises a deity, and as part of that, along with mentioning languages as a way to distinguish nations (“their tongues are separate in speech”), also exalts: “Their skins are distinguished”.
Our two resident Afrocentric activists are not going to be happy with this.
In fact, although as previously mentioned, the Israelites were much more concerned with linguistic diff erences, one Biblical author did express a similar view to Aesop’s: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? [Implying “no”, of course]” (Jeremiah 13:23).
Some authors tried to find less mythical and more rational explanations as to why particular populations look diff erent. Again, blacks aroused some interest in this regard. For example, in Problems, Aristotle (or perhaps another author who wrote in his name) wonders: “Why are the Ethiopians and the Egyptians bandy-legged? Is it because bodies of living creatures become distressed by heat, like logs of wood when they become dry? The condition of hair too supports this theory; for it is curlier than that of other nations, and curliness is as it were crookedness of hair”. Needless to say, no modern evolutionary biologist would give credit to this theory, but for our purposes, it serves to illustrate that this particular author believed that populations differ in their physical traits according to the climate they inhabit, and this is one aspect of racial thinking. In fact, modern evolutionary biologists do take seriously Bergman and Allen’s rule which states that biogeographical conditions have great influence on the body shape of species and subspecies.
So the Greeks acknowledged race realism, and attempted to come up with explanations for it.
Aristotle believed that populations in countries that are too cold are actually less intelligent: “The peoples of cold countries generally, and particularly those of Europe, are full of spirit, but deficient in skill and intelligence; and this is why they continue to remain comparatively free, but attain no political development and show no capacity for governing others. The peoples of Asia are endowed with skill and intelligence, but are deficient in spirit; and this is the way they continue to be peoples of subjects and slaves. The Greek stock, intermediate in geographical position, unites the qualities of both sets of peoples. It possesses both spirit and intelligence: the one quality that makes it continue to be free”. …
… Herodotus, for example, says that “Greece has been given a climate more beautiful tempered (than any other country)”. … In this regard, the ethnocentrism of these Greek authors is very far removed from Rushton and Jensen, who claim that East Asians actually have higher IQ than whites (the group to which both Rushton and Jensen belong).
Admittedly, it was claimed in antiquity that populations in colder countries have lower intelligence, but at the same time, it was argued that when geographic conditions are too pleasing to populations, these populations do not thrive. For example, Herodotus mentions that “the sea and mountains of Greece, the poverty of her soil, and the isolation of her valleys, made her not only the home of liberty but the nursery of heroes” (p. 57).
So one might say that the Ancient Greeks were at the level of 20th century geographer Ellsworth Huntington, who associated what he viewed as the most accomplished civilizations with having the most intellectually propitious climates (not coincidentally, as a Yale professor, he thought New Haven, Connecticut had the world’s most stimulating climate).
Authors in classical antiquity seemed to have some intuitive notion that in some cases, particular traits (including intelligence) remain fixed and cannot be changed, very much as Aesop’s fable of the Ethiopian suggests. They were far from understanding concepts of natural selection, but they did seem to have some intuitive (if rudimentary) grasp that climates in the very long term may change a population’s genetic constitution, but not in the short term.
Not at all bad for a society with no inkling about population genetics.
Societies of the classical world were not colorblind. For them, race was a meaningful concept. Although by no means the sole category to divide the world, race was still used by the Greeks to establish differences amongst people. These categorizations did not necessarily manifest themselves in prejudices, but racial categorizations did exist.
Ancient authors may or may not have been right in using race as a meaningful concept; that debate is beyond the scope of this article. But it is certainly a fact that Greek authors did have strong intuitions towards race categorizations, although intuitions are not necessarily reliable. The fact that people in the classical world thought in terms of race does not prove that racial thinking is inherent to the human species, or that race is not a social construct. However, it does prove that those historians eager to claim that racial thinking only emerged after the 16th century due to slavery and overseas voyages, are wrong. As we have discussed in this article, long before Christopher Columbus, authors such as Aristotle, Herodotus, Hippocrates and others, had some intuitive ideas that maintain some resemblance to the theories of Rushton and Jensen, perhaps the most important theoreticians of race differences in the 21st century.