Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The Black Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt

 From Greek Reporter:

Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra docuseries has caused an immense storm of controversy surrounding its depiction of Cleopatra VII Philopator as a black woman, and whilst Cleopatra herself was not black, there were indeed black pharaohs who ruled over Egypt at one point in the 8th and 7th centuries BC.

The 25th Dynasty, also known as the Nubian Dynasty, or Black Pharaohs, ruled Egypt between 744 BC and 656 BC as part of the wider Kushite Empire. The 25th Dynasty originated from the city-state of Napata in Nubia, in what is today Sudan.

The Nubian Kushite civilization, from whom the 25th Dynasty originated, could, like the Egyptians,  boast of impressive architectural, artistic, and cultural achievements. Sadly, this enigmatic civilization has been overshadowed by its better-known members and does not achieve the attention it deserves in a mainstream setting. (Read more.)


Cleopatra's dynasty were Greek. Also from The Greek Reporter:

Cleopatra VII Philopator is one of the most famous figures of antiquity, but few people are familiar with the fascinating history of her ancestors. The Ptolemaic Dynasty, to which she belonged, was founded by Ptolemy I Soter, one of the generals of Alexander the Great. This family, of Macedonian Greek origin, ruled Egypt for almost three centuries, leaving an indelible mark on one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

Ptolemaic Egypt was an interesting and complex mixture of cultures. On the one hand, the ruling Hellenistic elite could be incredibly insular, preferring to marry almost exclusively within their own circles and preferring to adhere to Greek customs. Yet the Ptolemies also embraced the syncretism of ancient Greek and Egyptian religious beliefs, aesthetic sensibilities, and culture.

Ptolemy (Greek: Πτολεμαῖος) was born in 367 BC to a Macedonian Greek nobleman called Lagus and a woman called Arsionoe. He was present at the very beginning of Alexander the Great’s life and has been referred to as a youthful friend of the future king, although Ptolemy was about 11 years older so he more likely acted as an adviser throughout Alexander’s life.

Ptolemy accompanied Alexander during his military campaigns where he earned the king’s trust as a dependable companion. In 330 BC he was appointed to be a somatophylax, one of the seven bodyguards and deputies of Alexander. (Read more.)

Many Greeks are upset that Cleopatra's Greek heritage has been whitewashed in a recent Netflix series. From Neo Kosmos:

Never have I seen so many inaccuracies in a documentary that it is difficult to know where to begin. In a scene which is more comic relief than historic auctoritas, Afro-American Professor Shelley Haley, a Netflix chosen expert to comment on Cleopatra tells us that her grandmother had once advised her that Cleopatra was black. Haley also notes that in a dream Cleopatra emboldened her to tell the Queen’s story. As the Americans say, you just can’t make this stuff up.

So let us dissect this claim. Firstly, historical texts note that Cleopatra belonged to the Graeco-Macedonian Ptolemaic line who had ruled Egypt from 332-30 BC. Ptolemy I Soter, who had been a friend and general of Alexander the Great began the dynasty which ended with the death of Cleopatra. The Ptolemaics continued the Pharoanic custom of incestual marriages which prevented them from marrying outside their Graeco-Macedonian blood line. This is where it gets interesting. While we know that Cleopatra’s father was Ptolemy XII Auletes, it is unclear to who her mother was. This critical detail has been played up by Netflix historians to mean that Cleopatra’s mother was possibly of sub-Saharan origin, just like Professor Haley’s now famous grandmother had said. Cleopatra’s mother was more likely to have been the Ptolemaic Cleopatra Tryphaena who was mother to Cleopatra’s sister Berenice. Even if Cleopatra Tryphaena had some Egyptian blood, as the historian Duane W. Roller notes, this does not mean that Cleopatra was black African. This argument can be quickly demolished by the plethora of representations of Cleopatra depicted in sculpture, paintings and coins which show her having a Mediterranean appearance. Next, we have a written account by the Roman philosopher statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero who had met Queen Cleopatra when she had travelled to Rome in 46 BC to meet her lover Julius Caesar. Cicero refers to Cleopatra as ‘the graecula’ meaning ‘Greek woman’ in Latin. There is no mention of her being black African. Case closed.

Another point of contention of the Cleopatra documentary is its Afro-centric influence. The word “Afrocentrism” was first coined in 1962 to describe an ideological movement which focuses on the historical achievements and contributions of Africans. The movement took pace in the mid 20th century in order to challenge the dominance of European misconceptions and distortions of African societies. While its initial motivations were moral and right, Afrocentric thinkers went on to write their own distorted version of history. For example, a leading Afrocentrist Cheikh Anta Diop argued that the Egyptian civilisation was a black African civilisation – the first to develop science, farming writing, arts and the calendar. Apart from the 25th Dynasty (747-656 BC) which was ruled by black Kushite kings, all other Egyptian Pharoanic dynasties were not sub-Saharan Africans. There is no compelling evidence to support Diop’s claim. On the contrary, extensive archaeological research reveals that it was the older Sumerian civilisation in Mesopotamia which had developed the first writing and numerical systems, the plough, irrigation and farming and the wheel. (Read more.)


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