What Ethnicity were the Ancient Egyptians?

The “Was Cleopatra Black?” article made me think: in recent years, many pharoahs and notables from Ancient Egypt are depicted as black (negroid) as opposed to white (caucasion). Is there any basis for this, or is it a case of revisionist history. Having recently reviewed the Egyptian exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the artists do seem to use dark pigments to depict the pharoahs and their wives. I realize that later dynasties were ethnically European (Greek, etc.), but what of the pyramid builders?

All I know is, I recently saw some kind of reconstructed image of King Tut, and he definitely looked caucasian to me.

I’d venture to say that the ancient Egyptians were probably a dark people, but not negro.

The general consensus, I believe, is that they were not too different from the present population of the region. They in general would mostly be considered caucausoid, similar in facial features to modern middle eastern populations, and had medium brown skin. They did not strongly resemble modern sub-Saharan black populations. However, the population of southern Egypt was darker skinned, with more “African” features. Some of the later dynasties belonged to this southern, Nubian ethnic group, and it is likely there was substantial admixture from time to time, so that some ancient Egyptians would be considered “black” today. So there is no simplistic answer. (Except for Cleopatra and the rest of her inbred Macedonian line, who were certainly not black.)

The coloration depicted in artworks is not necessarily a good guide to actual skin coloration, since it varied due to artistic conventions. In some contexts, for example, Tutankhamen was shown with black skin, and some with brown.

This site seems to have a fairly balanced discussion.

The last discussion we had on this.


Does the forum have a search function?

Yup, but it’s only available to members.

“The Southern part of Egypt” (aka High Egypt) was what’s now called Sudan.

Last I looked, “arabic-looking” mostly-Muslim Sudanese were killing off the “black” mostly-Animist-or-Christian ones; Egyptians were “arabic-looking”. This was a few months ago, last time Sudan was on the news. Amnesty International has several pieces on Sudan in their webpage.

Hispania refers to the whole Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal); Brazilians thus consider themselves Hispanics - they speak one of the Hispanic languages. The names of places change; borders change; the meanings of words change; you can’t assume that a Japanese’s priorities and motivations will be the same as for an American, and you can’t assume that lines on the map were the same 3000 years ago as they are now.

I always did think that the famous gold mask of Tut did somewhat have the features of a black man. I doubt if he was completely black, but it certainly doesn’t seem beyond the reach of possibility that he was partly black, or at least swam in the same gene pool. AFAIK it’s thought that as the Sahara started drying up around 5000 years ago, the people who lived there began to radiate out in all directions, some going south and merging with the sub-Saharan groups, and some going north and east to the Mediterranean shore. From their paintings, certain groups of these Saharan people were quite definitely black, so I don’t see why some of those couldn’t have ended up in Egypt.

Not exactly. I assume you are talking about Upper Egypt, which extended from about Cairo to the first cataracts on the Nile. South of that was Nubia, now in northeastern Sudan, which at times was part of the Egyptian kingdom. The southern part of what is now Sudan was not conquered by Egypt (together with Britain) until the 19th century.

Their ethnicity was North African. Their race is mutable. Their ancestry was not Ibo, Yoruba, Zulu. It may have been Ethiopian, Nuba or Masaai. What “race” the ancient Egyptains were depends largely on the ethnic biases of the person asking the question.

In the 1960s, they’d have been dark enough to sit on the colored part of segregated facilities in the American south. Which by many American standards makes them “black.”

I think the case of the Egyptians shows the fallacies of simplistic classifications of race. The ancient Egyptians were an intermediate population that occupied an intermediate area between more typically “caucasoid” and “negroid” populations. While according to traditional classifications their features were generally closer to “caucausoid” than “negroid,” they certainly were not “white.” None would have been able to pass as a northern European; however, there were probably many in the population that, as Askia says, would today be classified as “black.”

One of the problems in googling for information on this is that there are a lot of black-oriented sites claiming that the ancient Egyptians were black, plus white supremicist sites saying they weren’t. What is ironic is that it’s pretty certain is that the ancient Egyptians were not very closely related to either of the groups making these claims.

We aren’t, however, using standards of the antebellum south. Ethnically, the upper caste of Egyptian society were caucasoid. That is, they were not sub-saharan African or negroid. This certainly did change as Egypt expanded its empire into the nubian south (via conquest, inter-marriage etc.) but it is clear that the King Tut’s of the Egyptian world were caucasoid:


Why, they were Egyptian, of course. What made you Egyptian had nothing to do with color or ancestry and everything to do with living and acting like an Egyptian. They assimilated people from all over.

The Egyptians themselves considered themselves a unique race. They had seperate representations for Europeans, Africans and Middle Easterners. They’d probably be a bit insulted to be considered any of the above.

Lochdale. The 1960s isn’t an “antebellum” era that I’m aware of, nor should we restrict our considerations to merely the upper caste of Egyptian society. As long as the baby boomers live, “one drop of blood” standards of blackness will be very much alive.

Your link doesn’t work.

audreyayn. Largely agreed. Hence my assertion, “Their race is mutable.”

I’d like to see some consideration for Chiekh Anta Diop’s possibly flawed melanin mummy tests.

And great words like “octaroon” and “pickaninny!” Gee-willikers, I dread the day the last of us Boomers dies so racism in America will finally end.


Sorry! Hopefully that link will work. You’re right Askia but just because the Jim Crow South (that work?) was utterly racist does not mean that the ancient Egyptians suddenly become negroid. All the evidence suggests that the likes of Tut, Akhenaten and Ramesses II (he of the red hair ) were all caucasoid or Arabic if you will.

Tend to agree with prior posts that say race is not a black/white issue. I am writing this during my 5th trip to Egypt and have travelled from Cairo to Aswan. Skin color and features of native Egyptians varies widely from light skin and features to dark skin and thick features. Some with dark skin might resemble sub-Saharan Africans, but not much. Think of people from India with dark skin–you wouldn’t confuse them with Africans just because of dark skin color.

Many ancient drawings, such as the ones I saw in the tomb at Sakkara today, show laborers with dark copper-colored skin and women who worked indoors with light skin.

BTW I saw the mummy of Ramses II last week and did have straight reddish hair, rather than, say, an Afro.

As for the OP, ethnicity does not mean race. I agree with the poster who said the ancient Egyptians’ ethnicity was Egyptian.

:dubious: As a boomer with a multiracial extended family, I have to take very strong exception to this bigoted statement as well. Many boomers helped spearhead in the civil rights struggles in the 1960s and after. And there’s plenty of people born after 1964 who still adhere to the “one drop rule.”

Not to speak for Askia but I think he was using the baby boomer example to gently remind me that southern racism is a lot more recent than the antebellum south.

To be sure there has been significant inter-marriage amongst Egyptians such that their admixture is certainly not “European caucasoid” but when we do speak in racial terms then I do believe that natives of the Indian sub-continent are considered caucasoid (though please correct me if I am wrong).