The selfish nature of history

One of the central concepts of history is that it is always written to serve a purpose.  Whether that be for political gain, religious motivation or for legitimising material wealth.  There is no more poignant example for this quality than is the racially motivated suppression of Africa’s role in world history. The view that Africa is a barbarous 'land of darkness' is a view held by Oxford professors of History as late as the 1960s, and still very much alive today.  In a lecture in 1831, the otherwise great philosopher Hegel stated that Africa was of no significance to the course of world history until it was colonised by Europeans.   Hugh Trevor-Roper, Professor of History of Modern History at the University of Oxford, echoed this view in 1963, despite the indisputable evidence of the significant role the continent has played in shaping Human History.  Of all the numerous African empires and innovations, this sinister prejudice is best displayed by Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt was an African state, its location is African, inhabitants were African and much of its affairs were with other African civilisations.  Academics holding discriminatory views against Africans such as Hegel did not discredit the Ancient Egyptians, but believed that it was not an African civilisation, and that its people were European in origin and appearance.

Black Ancient Egyptians

This view is not only false, but is intentionally racist.  The root of this perception is the Napoleonic expedition to Egypt in the 17th century, at the height of transatlantic slavery.   The French invasion force rediscovered the ruins of Egyptian civilisation.  This immediately caused problems as the economy of Napoleonic France was based on racialised slavery, which was justified by the pseudo-scientific concept that the 'negro race' was inherently inferior to Caucasians.  The discovery of the Pyramids and other structures showed that ancient North Eastern African civilisation was far superior to that of Europe's at the time, where most lived in squalor.  Imagery and statues clearly showed that they were built by people regarded by the French as 'Negros', a people considered as unintelligent and uncivilised.  This huge discovery directly challenged 'negro' inferiority, and therefore slavery and the French economy itself.
French academics reacted to the discovery in very different ways; some intellectuals recorded the discovery without obscuring the facts with racist bias. Professor Amelineau, an Egyptologist who translated and published Coptic texts stated; 'Egyptian civilisation is not aesiatic but African in origin, of negro origin, however paradoxical this may seem.  We are not accustomed to endow black or related races with too much intelligence'.  Although Amileau felt inclined to racially abuse the Ancient Egyptians, he acknowledged their ethnicity.  His understanding came directly from previously untranslated texts and from the unexcavated tombs of the First Dynasty Pharaohs.  Amelineau's claim corresponded with the firsthand accounts of Greek historians.  For example, Herodotus, the father of history, visited Egypt around 450BC, during the 27th Dynasty.  In the Second volume of Histories , he frequently notes the appearance of the native Egyptians he encountered on his voyage down the Nile, for example he states that the Egyptians were 'black with heat' and he was able to identify an Egyptian Oracle because she was 'black'.  When referring to the Colchians, people living in Southern Russia, believed to be of Egyptian descent, Herodotus was able to affirm the Egyptian belief that the Colchians were descended from the Army of Sesosrris; 'As for me, I judge the Colchians to be a colony of the Egyptians because, like them, they are black with wooly hair'.

Napoleon Bonaparte before the Sphinx

However, many of the 167 French academics on the expedition held a belief in racial higherachy; a 'negroid' civilisation can not be highly advanced because members of the 'negroid' race were inferior to those of the 'Caucasoid' race. They could not dispute the intricacy and advancement of Egyptian civilisation, but due to their belief in racial higherachy, the only possible explanation was that Egypt was of European origin, and that it could not be African because the 'negroid' race were incapable of such incredible feats of engineering as the Pyramids.  This viewpoint has obscured the truth of Ancient Egypt, as the Napoleonic scholars Europeanised the Ancient Egyptians, inventing their ethnicity based on the false notion of ethnic superiority.  They therefore believed that the Ancient Egyptians were Hamites, an invented 'race', determined by unsystematic features, that do not suffice to characterise a race of people, such as thin noses or straight hair.  These were believed to be inherited from Europeans, subsequently placing them above 'Negros' on the invented Pyramid of the races.  Scholars credited 'Hamites' with all evidence of African civilisation.

In addition to the eyewitness accounts of Greek historians, the concept of a European Egypt was challenged by artefacts in which the Ancient Egyptians depicted themselves as Africans.  This is one possible explanation of the mysterious missing noses of Egyptian statues; to give more credibility to a European Egypt, early Egyptologists defaced sculptures to hide the damming African characteristics that they displayed.  However, Intact statues of Pharaohs such as Narmer, founder of the First Dynasty and Djoser, builder of the Step Pyramid clearly show a 'negro' complexion.  Furthermore, tomb paintings show that the Egyptians were unconfused about their own ethnicity.  One such example is the 'Portrait of the Races', a painting found in the tomb of Rameses II. This artwork shows how the Egyptians saw themselves.  The artwork depicts four races; Europeans, Semites (people from the Middle East), Egyptians and Nubians.  As well as clearly distinguishing Egyptians from Europeans, it portrays Egyptians in the same likeness as the Nubians, who are widely accepted as being a 'negro' civilisation, with the only difference being their clothing.   

Portrait of the Races

In spite of all this evidence, early Egyptologists dismissed claims of a black Egypt.  For example, Francois Champillion, translator of the Rosetta Stone, comments on Volney's (a scholar and author of The Ruins of Empires) assertion; 'He (Volney) concludes that the Ancient Egyptians were true 'Negros' of the same species of all indigenous Africans - To support his opinion, Volney invokes that of Herodotus, who apropos the Colchians recalls that the Egyptians had black skin and wooly hair.  Yet these two physical qualities alone do not suffice to characterise the negro race and Volney's conclusion as to the Negro origin of the Ancient Egyptians is evidently forced and inadmissible'.  This statement aptly demonstrates the contradictory nature of the 'evidence' for a Caucasian Egypt; according to pseudo-science, 'black skin and wooly hair' defined the 'negro race', marked an individual as fundamentally inferior and condemned them to a lifetime of slavery.  I can not cite a more paradoxical and poignant example of the discerning nature of history, which is entirely derived from historians. 

Even today, Egypt is depicted as a European civilisation.  For example, a scientific reconstruction of Tutankhamun’s skull carried out by National Geographic in 2015 caused controversy as it depicted the Pharaoh as an Anglo Saxon.  A second reconstruction on the same skull conducted by British scientists yielded a 'negroid' complexion.  Although CT data can reconstruct the shape of Tutankhamun's skull to a high degree of accuracy, it gives no indication to characteristics such as skin tone and hair colour, therefore the artist selected a shade based on 'an average shade of modern Egyptians'.  The inaccuracy of this decision cannot be overstated; the modern Egyptians do not represent the Ancient Egyptians as intermarriage between different ethnic groups after immigration and various invasions considerably altered the appearance of the Egyptians.  The artist chose to ignore copious amounts of paintings and carvings from Tutankhamun’s own time; these images depicted the King in two colours: bright red (In Ancient Egyptian and Nubian art, A symbolic colour to represent men) or jet black.  Based on all available evidence, the artist should not take the complexion of modern Egyptians into account, but simply decide whether Tutankhamun was bright red or jet black.  Although this may seem an insignificant error, National Geographic's esteemed reputation and wide audience means that the eurocentrism in Egyptology, stemming directly from the racist conquers of Egypt is reinforced in the modern era, therefore diminishing our acknowledgement of the scope of Africa's contribution to the human story. 

This bigoted account of Ancient Egypt demonstrates that history is not an objective quality, it is skewed by the viewpoints of the historian and, and the conventions of the era they exist in, making it a deeply subjective quantity.  George Orwell, the acclaimed writer and journalist aptly summarises this in his dystopian novel ‘1984’; who controls the present controls the past’.  All groups and classes construct histories for themselves, in a manner that one might write an autobiography.  The working class will perceive the same past very differently to the bourgeoisie, for example.  A historian also shares this bias, even subconsciously.  When they practice histography, they devise a thesis, and collate traces of the past that lend credence to this notion. The French soldiers promoted images of the interbred Copts, who’s complexion was altered by generations of interbreeding with various waves of immigrants, but omit images of ‘negroes’, which did not support their thesis of a European Egypt.  A history is never written altruistically. 


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