Ancient Egyptians - What race were they?

What race were Ancient Egyptians? Would they look the same as modern day Egyptians? Did the race the Pharohs stay the same through all dynasties?

Im pretty sure the Ptolemic Pharoahs were of non egyptian descent.

There was quite a mix of races, from the black African, Nubian, Greek and Middle-East area.

The race of the pharoahs changed to reflect this, notably cleopatra who was from mostly greek descent.

Most egyptian art is strongly stylised so wouldn’t reflect this, although the shape of statues usually reflect racial distinctions (although the colour, again, wouldn’t).

In what sense? Do you mean skin-color? Probably about the same as today - pale to dark brown.

Pretty much, I imagine. Eqypt has been well-populated for a long, long time and none of the various non-Egyptian invaders settled in great numbers. Even those that did settle tended to segregate from the population a bit ( i.e. Greeks into Alexandria, a Greek-speaking island in an Egyptian-speaking sea, Arabs into the garrison city of Fustat or in the case of later Bedouin migrants into the semi-desert fringe ).

Well, not all the dynasties were native in origin, no. Invading Libyans from the west, Hyksos from the east and Kushites from the south ( who would have probably been more or less stereotypically “black” by American standards ) all established dynasties ( of the official numbered sort, of which the Lagid or Ptolemaic was not one ) in Egypt at various points.

  • Tamerlane

The race of the Ancient Egyptians? Human, of course.

Leaving aside the questions of “what is race?” and “does race exist?”, remember that Ancient Egypt had something like 3000 years of existance (if not more), and sat between several large conglomerations of ethnic groups. To answer the last part of your question first - no, the ethinicity of the A.E.'s did not remain the same over time.

Given the handy habit the A.E.'s had of preserving their dead, we can actually answer the first part of your question. The answer is that there is a broad range of features found in A.E.'s, from folks of clearly sub-Saharan African ancestory with the broad nose, large lips, and curly hair we associate so strongly with the word “African” to folks who were apparently red-haired or blond with straight hair with the narrow nose and lips associated with “Caucasian”. Most A.E.'s, from the Pharohs to the peasantry, showed a mix of features, as one would expect given the tendency of humans to breed with each other. One dynasty of Pharohs was unquestionably Nubian (i.e. “black African”) in origin and are portrayed with Nubian ethnic features in A.E. artwork. At least one Pharoh married a foreign princess from what is now Lybia - who presumably resembled modern Lybians such as Mohammar Ghaddaffi.

So the A.E.'s were a pretty good mix of not only those indigenous to the Valley but also of folks from nearby. Records indicate they were lighter skinned than Nubians, possibly darker skinned than some of the other groups around them. Yes, modern Egyptians - which also show a range of features and skin tones - probably are strongly related to the A.E.'s and resemble them in appearance.

What race were the Ancient Egyptians? Answer: multiple, but many were what we’d term as “black”.

That’s a great link, Ice Wolf. I was thinking of that very picture when I saw the OP, and the accompanying article is very nuanced.

However, your answer isn’t. A better interpretation of that article is that the Egyptians saw the southern peoples from Nubia as a distinct ethnic group with darker skin. Because of its cosmopolitan status, Egypt undoubtedly had many Nubians visiting or living in it, especially in the south (the Upper Nile) adjacent to Nubia. Certainly in those areas much intermingling and intermarriage occurred. You have to make these qualifications. Egypt was much larger than the area around today’s Cairo, and many people seem to think that the Pharaohs were representative of the entire country. They weren’t, especially when the Greek dynasties took over.

Still, it seems safe to say that Nubians and their descendants were an ethnic enclave inside of the larger country. Yes, some Egyptians were dark-skinned, but in much the same way that Jamaicans are in London.

As the article and its pictures show, the Egyptians (the class that made most of the surviving images) pictured themselves very differently from the Nubians, and even separated themselves from other Mediterranean peoples.

It’s probably also true that the great bulk of ordinary non-royal Egyptians from the early dynastic times would look much like the great bulk of ordinary Egyptians today, allowing some variance for 5000 years of immigration and intermarriage.

In his book The Mismeasure of Man Stephen Jay Gould discusses how some racists in the 19th Century tried to use evolutionary theory to show that what were then referred to as “Negroes” were seperately created from other people.

This is because there was abundant fossil evidence showing that Nubians who worked as slaves in ancient Egypt were largely similar to modern day black people, and differed from the majority of Egyptian natives. At the time people still had the mindset that the world could only be a few thousand years old, and it was argued that there would not have been sufficient time between The Creation and the development of the ancient Egyptian culture for such striking variation among peoples to have evolved from common ancestors.

For a long time these native Egyptians were pictured as akin to white Europeans–think of Yul Brynner, Vincent Price and the like in The Ten Commandments. They weren’t.

So what were they instead? That’s hard to say, primarily becuase “race” is such an arbitrary and awkward construct. The word “race” originally referred to breeding lines in domesticated animals. Its use in relatively modern times to describe ethnic types described in general, broad scale terms coincided with the age of imperialism, and a mindset among Europeans which divided the world into conquerors and the conquered.

Possibly the best answer is the sort which several posters have already addressed: they were dark Levantine people, much as they are today. Looking to ancient paintings will provide little guidance as Egyptian art was so highly stylized; in most paintings, for instance, different colors were used to distinguish between men and women, perhaps a bit like the way in which heroes always have darker skin than heorines on the covers of romance novels.

Well, if we’re going to divide humans in multiple categories, I’d say that Ancient Egyptians well deserve to be put there as their own race. Not only because they can’t be labeled simply as black or white or Hamitic or Semitic, but also for their culture that stood for thousands of years and brought many different nationalities to Nile Valley. And Ancient Egyptians were quite similar to their more recent countrymen, see this thread that asked if modern-day Egyptians would be Arabs.

This is missing the point here a bit, as already noted. I think that most historians usually end the Ancient Egyptian period in either the first or second Persian conquest in 500s and 300s BCE respectively, or at least in the conquests of Alexander. Ptolemaic leaders following Alexander started the hellenistic period of Egypt (and Middle East as a whole to lesser extent). They may still have called themselves Pharaohs but Ptolemaic regime was an entirely different system. And although kings were foreigners, the Greek population of Alexandria was always very small, especially compared to the millions of native citizens.

IIRC the “Black Egypt” theory has been largely dismissed as misguided Afrocentricism, yet just from looking at some of the statues there must have been many black people, including some Pharaohs. I’ve always thought the famous stone sculpture of Nefertiti looked black in the overall shape of the face, but with a somewhat more Middle-Eastern or even European cast to her features, much like present day Ethiopians.