Racial Prejudice in Imperial Rome


By A. N. Sherwin-White, Published in 1967



Although Roman Imperialism unified a diversity of peoples into a centralised political unit, racial and cultural prejudice persisted. It took forms of varying significance, ranging from a lawyer’s gibes at Celts for their long hair to the massacre of 10,000 Jews at Damascus during the reign of Nero. Sherwin-White has taken as his theme the literary evidence for racial tension during the Roman Imperial period. He begins by considering the criticisms by Tacitus, Strabo and Caesar of the Celts and Germans encountered during the annexation of Northern Gaul and Britain. These criticisms, which were sometimes hostile and political, principally concern celtic barbarism. They offer a stark contrast to the subsequent analysis of the antipathy between Romans and Greeks in the artificial atmosphere of Rome, and the anti-semitism characteristic of certain cities of the Eastern provinces. The author’s synthesis of numerous relevant references in the classical literature makes a notable contribution to Roman studies.

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