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by Archaeology Newsroom

Aspects of Diversity in Byzantium: The Presence of Blacks

The blacks, being a minority, neither became a subject to Byzantine writers nor played a distinguished role in the society of the period. The documentation of the presence of blacks in the Byzantine society is attempted on the basis of the literary sources and the few examples of their representation in floor and mural mosaics and in miniatures of manuscripts. The most usual terms with which the Byzantine texts refer to the people of the black race are “Ethiopians”, “Blacks”, “Indians”, ‘ Nigers”, etc. Sporadic information about biack kings, warriors, officials, bandits, saints, vagabond beggars, demons and slaves occur in hagiological, historical and philological texts.

Conclusively, we can say that, in spite of the Greco-Roman tradition and the doctrines of the Christian Church in regard to the equality of the human race, there existed in Byzantium a popular racism, which attributed to the black people diabolic characteristics, since the devil was depicted like an Ethiopian, with or without horns, wings and tail, or mocked their racial diversity, since a segment of the people believed that the black color of the skin was a typical feature of ugliness.