I am interested in sources (reference author, work, paragraph/fragment) describing the view ancient Greeks held about people of African descent.

By that I mean those whom they called Αιθίοπες (Aithíopes), not the Egyptians or other North-Africans.

Are there attestations of racism (strictly because of skin color) or admiration in ancient Greek works?

Regarding admiration we have one account from Herodotos (3.20) who states the following:

These Ethiopians, to whom Cambyses sent them, are said to be the tallest and most handsome of all men. Their way of choosing kings is different from that of all others, as (it is said) are all their laws; they consider that man worthy to be their king whom they judge to be tallest and to have strength proportional to his stature.


  • 1
    This would be a list question which might be too broad. How many sources would satisfy your needs? Also generally people do add citations to their answers. If you are requesting for books recommendation, that would be off-topic. See Which topics are on-topic
    – NSNoob
    Jul 14, 2016 at 6:38
  • @NSNoob 3-5 sources would be fair :) . I am not looking for books. I want the primary sources so I can have a read myself.
    – Midas
    Jul 14, 2016 at 7:06
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    In these discussions I stated that there was no traces of racism in the ancient time, and skin color is hardly ever mentioned in the ancient literature. Some people disagreed but no one was able to present an example.
    – Alex
    Jul 14, 2016 at 8:55
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    @user13494: I disagree that the Greeks "hated Persians". I see no evidence of this, neither in Herodotus, nor in Xenophon, nor in Alexander's policies.
    – Alex
    Jul 15, 2016 at 7:35
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    Indeed, there was rivalry during the times of conflict. That doesn't mean that Greeks hated the Persians. Some of them actually took their side. Even if there was such a thing, Persians are not of African origin, therefore irrelevant to the question.
    – Midas
    Jul 15, 2016 at 11:28

2 Answers 2


See http://department.monm.edu/classics/Courses/CLAS240/Africa/homeronethiopians.htm for a collection of quotations from Homer about the Aethiopians [which basically meant black, sub-Saharan Africans], who are referred to respectfully e.g.:

"Iliad 1.423-4 (Thetis is speaking to Achilles.) Only yesterday Zeus went off to the Ocean River to feast with the Aethiopians, loyal, lordly men, and all of the gods went with him."

Another Example: While Ovid was a Roman, his collection of stories the 'Metamorpheses' was written based on the Greek myths and shows the considerable influence from Greek culture normal among educated Romans. In the story of Phaeton, Ovid says that the Aethiopians became the colour they are because the sun once veered dangerously close to the Earth and permanently charred them black. This suggests he and his audience regarded being black-skinned as something sufficiently different from what they knew as the norm to potentially require explaining, but he does not suggest that blacks were intrinsically inferior to whites.


Aristotle mentions some descriptions in Physiognomonica (look for Ethiopian. I'm not going to quote it... wow.)

Otherwise, I don't recall any mention of physical description of Africans (non-Northern Africans, i.e., Libyans, Egyptians, Cathaginians, etc.) in Thucydides, Xenophon or Plato, and only the reference from Herodotus you had. I don't see any reference to descriptions of physical attributes, but Herodotus also dicusses the Persian invasian of Kush (Sudan).

  • The text to which you included a link is a little long and on a quick look through I could not immediately see a passage about Ethiopians. If you do not feel about to quote it can you give any clue as to how to find it quickly?
    – Timothy
    Nov 20, 2016 at 13:29
  • @Timothy Just Ctrl+F it. Nov 20, 2016 at 13:54

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