Ariets Research Blog

March 28, 2015

The Egyptian Classification of the Races of Man

Filed under: -Egypt, Africa, Physical anthropology — Ariets @ 1:40 pm

source: Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain …, Volume 16
By Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, JSTOR

The Egyptian Classification of the Races of Man
By Reginald Stuart Poole, Esq., LL.D.

[with Plates VII And VIII.]
[An address given before the Anthropological Institute on May 25, 1886.]

I Shall attempt to state in a short space as much as may be considered certain as to the Egyptian classification of the races of man.

The Egyptian information on this subject is extremely valuable as it takes one back at least three thousand years, while the evidence of other nations is very slight. In the Roman evidence, the latest, there is very little of value, if we except such subjects as the reliefs of Trajan’s column, and these, from the inferiority of their art, lack due weight. The Greeks present many precious memorials of the races with whom they came in contact, in the portraits of the kings or leading men, but we must remember that the type of the mass of a people can hardly be represented by these personages, whose type must have been raised by their intermarriages with the most beautiful women of their time, not necessarily of their own race ; and we have also to take into consideration the sense of beauty which pervaded all the Greeks did, and their leaning towards elimination, the necessary corollary

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of measure and form, which caused them, even when making a portrait, to reject, when possible, anything which appeared to them ungraceful, or jarred on their sense of beauty; so we can get little direct evidence from them except the heads of the Bactrian kings on their coins, and some of those of the kings of Bosporus. In the Assyrian and cognate representations where we might have expected to find abundant evidence we are somewhat at a loss. The Assyrians themselves are shown to have been of a very pure type of Semites, but in the Babylonians there is a sign of Cushite blood, so slight, however, that we should probably pass it over unperceived, unless we knew it was to be looked for. There is one portrait of an Elamite (Cushite) king on a vase found at Susa; he is painted black and thus belongs to the Cushite race. The Ethiopian type can be clearly seen in the reliefs depicting the Assyrian wars with the kings of Ethiopia, but it is hard to discriminate Arabs or Jews from Assyrians; in fact it is only in the time of good art that distinctions %are traceable. On the Egyptian monuments, however, we not only find very typical portraits but also an attempt at classification, for the Egyptians were a scientific people with a knowledge of medicine, and also skilled mathematicians; therefore their primitive anthropology is; not unexpected.

In the first place the quality of Egyptian art is to be considered, and in looking at the plates we must first master its peculiarities. In dealing with the reliefs and fresco paintings we must remember that the eye was always represented as seen full face. We must mentally obliterate it and substitute a correct eye to give the face its proper value. In spite of this, the Egyptians had a wonderful way of representing in their portraits different types of race and in giving the character of the person. This is exemplified in the statues of Nefert and Rahotep, the husband and wife seated together, found in their tomb by M. Maspero near the pyramid of Meydum: each face has the characteristics of its sex, and both are full of strength and repose. Still more charming is the statue of husband and wife of the Eamesside period in the British Museum. They have the same distinctive characters as the Meydum group, and even greater refinement. The delicacy of execution is specially seen in the woman’s feet. They have a true sympathy, sitting hand clasped in hand looking steadfastly forward into ” God’s Underworld,” as they did from their ancient tomb. So beautiful are they that a high authority has said that our art students could not do better than make serious studies from these lifelike heads. Men who could work thus would never fail to catch some of the characteristics of those they were depicting. Even though in every king’s face we can trace the same dignified calmness and repose peculiar to the royal ideal, yet the unrolling of the mummies of Seti I and Rameses II has verified the difference in their portraits, and thus we may have faith in the representations, although we must make allowance for the type of royalty. Another characteristic of the Egyptian artists was their fondness for caricature. Perhaps we may account for this: their art was most employed in depicting solemn scenes, and now and then they found relief in an outburst of merriment which they could not repress; thus we see in a painting where the mummy is shown rowed across the river in the stately funeral procession, that one of the boats has suddenly capsized and its occupants are seen struggling in wild and ludicrous confusion. It is a strange, curious thing to find such a ” painter’s license ” permitted in so serious a scene. Then we should remember that the Egyptians, in common with the Greeks and Romans (and may I not add we English also), had a great contempt for all other nations, and would much rather depict them worse and not better than they really were; and as all the foreign types shown on the wall paintings are.of enemies, and generally captives, they have a certain woe-begone look natural to men who were being led with ropes round their necks in the processions of their victors. But even making full allowance for all these things we need not be afraid of trusting the Egyptian artist.

The date of the evidence we have extends generally from 1500 to 1200 b.c. The first type of Semites is, indeed, found in the older tombs of Beni Hasan a thousand years earlier, and we mark the peculiar type of the Hyksos or Shepherd Kings about 1700 B.c. The main documents, however, belong to the period between 1500 and 1200 b.c.

I shall carefully avoid the use of technical terms, for I wish what I have to state to be as clear as possible and intelligible to the layman. I am also most desirous to eliminate all disturbing elements, and therefore I will not raise any doubtful questions which might be disputed, as to the exact position on the map of all these races, for such debates often lead to an entire rejection of a truth although it may be quite indisputable, because it fails to convince, as all the minor details cannot be settled satisfactorily. An instance of this mistrust is found in the identification of peoples of the Libyan type with the Sicilians and Sardinians. The great majority of scholars accept this as a fact, but there are some few who deny the truth altogether, because they are not able to localise these Sicilians and Sardinians to any exact spot. They will not be satisfied with the general fact that they came undoubtedly from the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. All such disputes should be carefully avoided in an elementary statement, as they do but disturb what is certain—the great invasion of Egypt by these islanders and coastlanders, which is an important factor in the classification of the different races.

The heads on Plate VII, 1, 2, 4, 5, are taken from the Tomb of King Seti; they are from a mythological scene, and are types representing the four races of man. Two other subjects, Nos. 3 and 6, are representations from other frescoes in the Tombs of the Kings. No. 1 is the Egyptian race, Nos. 2 and 3 Semitic, No. 4 Negro, Nos. 5 and 6 Northerners. In Plate VIII are representations from historical scenes of divisions of these races. The Egyptians class the four races thus, according to colour: 1st, the Egyptians or redskins; 2nd, the Semites or yellow-skins; 3rd, the Negroes or black men; and 4th, the Northerners or white men.

We are only entitled to say four races by allowing the Egyptians to call themselves a distinct race, which they did, as they considered themselves to be the race of man. (I). They were marked by their small beard and mustache, and their abundant crisp black hair; they are identical with the Copts. Two other nations come under the Egyptian type: First, the old Cushite inhabitants of South Arabia and the opposite coast of Africa, who traded with the Egyptians. Plate VIII, No. 8, is a representation of one of these, date 1600 Bc. This subject is taken from the famous reliefs of the expedition of Queen Hatshepu iip the Red Sea and beyond to the Somali coast. The character of face is similar to the Egyptian, but less refined. Secondly, the Phoenicians, who are almost identical with the Egyptians in colour, and can only be distinguished from them by details of costume, such as the wearing of boots; some are lighter in colour than the Egyptians, being a northern variety of the race. We have, therefore, these two families allied to the Egyptian type, the inhabitants of the coasts of Arabia and Africa on the Red Sea, and the Phoenicians; but no other nation can safely be classed in this race. (II). No. 2 on Plate VII represents the usual Semite type on the Egyptian monuments. There is a strong likeness to the Assyrians, as shown in their own sculptures, quite sufficient to enable us to recognize the same race in both. No. 3 is a curious head resembling the Egyptian type in the beardless chin and long side lock, but it represents and really belongs to the Semitic type. (III). No. 5 is most interesting, he is a very typical Libyan northerner, wearing two ostrich feathers for his head dress, the curious side lock, and with crisp hair, and small beard and mustache. This type is the mythological one, and markedly differs from another of the same class to be next noticed, as well as from the historical representations of different sub-races. No. 6 is another Northerner. He is drawn in the plate too much like a Semite, the lower lip being made too projecting, for it should be parallel with the upper one. The features remind one of the Persian type. Although most of the types of other nations are represented as savage, the Egyptians did not look on all beside themselves as such, for this Northerner is richly clothed in what seems some beautiful Persian shawl robe. Under the Libyan stock, the Egyptians classed a variety of subraces that came from the west and north. Plate VIII, No. 9 is a typical Libyan from the country to the west of Egypt. His harsh features are especially marked by the extremely strong supraorbital ridges, forming a prominence above the nose. An islander, No. 10, exaggerates these peculiarities, and may be of an even purer type. Both are very strongly accentuated forms of the mythological type, No. 5. In the islander or coastlander, No. 11, we see a less harsh variety, entirely without the supraorbital ridges. Our difficulty with these types, except only No. 9, is in the endeavour to localize them. The Egyptians were at war with the Libyans and their allies from b.C. 1400 to 1200, when Egypt suffered five invasions from the west, and one from the east. M. de Kouge identified the invading nations with the Sards, No. 10, and Sikels, 11 (1), the primitive inhabitants of Sardinia and Sicily, who he supposed crossed to Africa, near Carthage, and joined in the invasions of Egypt. There was no more difficulty in reaching Carthage frdm Sicily then than there was later in Homer’s time, and as we know the invading races usually came from the west and are distinctly stated by the Egyptians to have been inhabitants of the islands of the Great Sea or Mediterranean, we have no other alternative unless we bring them from the Grecian Archipelago. There is no question about the presence in the Mediterranean of these islanders and coastlanders, as we may call them, though we may not be able to localize them to any particular coast or island. The remarkable type, No. 11, is that of a nation represented by three varieties with similar features, and a remarkable head dress, who invaded Egypt from the east, and one of which undoubtedly came from the Mediterranean Islands. These last, M. de Rouge has identified with the Danai. (IV). No. 4 is not a pure negro type, rather a Nubian, but we have a negro shown in the captive, No 12, who is as good a representation as could well be made, except, perhaps by the Greeks or best modern artists. This race was sub-divided into Negro and Nubian varieties as just shown.

There are two other most interesting races which lie outside all these classifications, the so-called Hyksos, oij Shepherd Kings, and the Hittites. The Hyksos type is best represented by one of the sphinxes discovered at Zoan, or Tanis, by Ml. Mariette to whom we owe the recovery of the Hyksos monuments. (A lithograph of the sphinx was here exhibited ” Rev. Archeologique, 1861,” pp. 4, 5). They conquered Egypt before 2000 B.c., and were expelled 1600 B.C., the date of the conquest being doubtful, but that of the expulsion nearly certain. These kings were the Pharaohs of Joseph’s day, and the sphinx’s head may be a portrait of Joseph’s master. We do not know how they conquered Egypt or whence they came; they began their rule by destroying the monuments, but soon they adopted Egyptian manners and language, and organised the country, retaining much of the old system. They gave many towns new Shemite names, in addition to their old Egyptian ones ; and they divided the country into two parts, ruling themselves in Lower Egypt but allowing subordinate kings to rule in Upper Egypt. One of these under-kings rebelled, and this rebellion led to the final expulsion of the Hyksos, who fled to Palestine where the whole race disappears from history. They had a remarkable type marked by an aquiline profile, enormous supraorbital ridges forming a great prominence above the nose, very high cheek bones, and flat mouth; we can find no type under which to class them. Some think they were Cushites, others identify them with the Hittites, but these Hittites are almost as obscure and perplexing; perhaps some day among fresh excavations we shall discover an Egyptian sculpture which will throw light on this enigma or perhaps a fortunate find of skulls may help us to a solution. The type is certainly not Egyptian ; for this face so full of energy, firmness, and resolution, forms the greatest contrast with the air of calm repose and placid dignity peculiar to the old Egyptian kings.

The Egyptians never called these shepherd kings by the name of Hyksos; sometimes they use a term which may mean shepherds, but is vaguely employed for easterns generally; they looked on them with the utmost abhorrence, and when obliged to mention them on the monuments they sometimes called them ” the plague.” No. 7 is a Hittite, a name one almost fears to use, so much has been written on the Hittites which is extremely hypothetical. We know there was a great nation west of Assyria, called Kheta by the Egyptians, Khatti by the Assyrians; their capital in the age of Rameses II was Kadesh, on the River Orontes, and they are identical in name with the Hittites of the Bible. No doubt they were the Hittites with whom Solomon traded. The Hittites fought with the Egyptians, forming the head of a great confederacy, consisting of several other tribes, and in their great mixed army represented on the monuments of Rameses II, we find distinct types of Semites and Tartars.

The head given is that of a Hittite king, but being an old man and rather stout it is difficult to assign him to a particular race: possibly we might associate him with the Northerner, No. 6. Another Hittite king whose daughter Rameses II married, is sculptured as of quite a different type, very like an Egyptian.

When we attempt to understand primitive representation and look at the nations of three thousand years ago to study their aspect, their dress, their language, and their art, we perceive a wonderful revelation of remote times, in an area extending over a vast expanse including the islands of the Mediterranean, and reaching from Carthage on the west as far as the source of the Tigris on the east. Surely it is worth while to obtain some trustworthy records of this amazing and deeply interesting piece of the world’s history before all the precious remains are destroyed, which it seems they inevitably will be, and that very soon. Might we not succeed in securing the services of some able man combining the knowledge of an archaeologist and man of science with the skill of a photographer, such as Mr. Flinders Petrie, who has already done such good work in Egypt ? Could we not enlist the public sympathy sufficiently to provide the means necessary to enable us to send out such an explorer to obtain for us correct photographs of the portraiture of different races still remaining on the walls of the monuments before these most valuable records shall be lost to us for ever ?1

Explanation of Plates VII and VIII.

Fig. 1. Rosellini, Monumenti Storici. Plate CLV, Tomb of Seti^I. Ratu, Mankind.

2. Id. Aamu, Semites.

3. Id. Plate CLVIII. Aamu.

4. Id. Plate CLX, cf. Plate CLVI, Tomb of Seti I. Nehsiu, Negroes.

5. Id. Plate CLX, cf. Plate CLVI, Tomb of Seti I. Tamhu, Northerners.

6. Id. Plate CLVIII. Tamhu.

7. Id. Plate CXLIII, 7, Palace of Rameses III. Chief of Kheta.

8. Diimichen, Flotte einer aegvptischen Konigin. Plate XVI. A man of Punt.

9. Rosellini, op. cit. Plate CXLII, 3, Palace of Rameses III. Chief of Lebu.

P Since the lecture was given, Mr. Galton has obtained a grant from the British Association, and Mr. Petrie has been entrusted with this importaut mission.]

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Fig. 10. Id. Plate CXLIIT, 10, Id. Shairdana of sea.

., 11. Id. Plate CLXI, Medinet Habu, cf. Plate CXLIV.
„ 12. Id. Plate CXLI, Palace of Rameses III.


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