African influence on pre-modern European people & cultures (2)

This is a continuation of my post here. As I talked quite heavily about the Moors, this time I shall focus more on other Africans and their influences in European history.


When Christianity was first being spread in Rome, many Christians were martyred (read: massacred), with the first records of such incidents being from 180 CE. In the year 203 CE, we have the story of two African women who were also martyred for their Christianity: Felicity/ Felicitas and Perpetua. Christians may have heard of them through “The Martyrdom of (Saints) Perpetua and Felicity”. Perpetua was a 22yo noblewoman who was nursing her infant and Felicity (who was 8 months pregnant at the time) was her slave, both of whom were killed in Carthage (in modern-day Tunisia) during the reign of Septimius Severus. In that era much of north Africa was under Roman rule – the Roman Province of Africa, and the pair and their companions were killed in an amphitheatre.


Of course there’s disagreement over their appearance,

this is just one rendition,


And another. I’ll leave it to you

to decide which is more accurate


Ancient Greek myth has its fair share of African personalities, one of the most famous being Memnon, a powerful Ethiopian* warrior-king who brought a massive army to aid the Trojans during the Greek invasion of Troy. He was described by Quintus as “lord over the dark Ethiopians” whom the Trojans were delighted at seeing in their city, and Robert Graves in The Greek Myths Volume 2 called him “black as ebony, and the handsomest man alive”. According to the myth, when he died his mother Eos wept for him, and king of gods Zeus was so moved by her weeping he made Memnon immortal. Interestingly enough, the story also states that Aesop (original spelling was Aisopos) was a close friend of Memnon who got killed in the battle by Antilochos. There is debate over his actual existence, and probably even more about his ethnic origins, but there’s reason to believe Aesop was at least ‘black’ if not African. Yes I’m talking about the Aesop of Aesop’s Fables, and those have unquestionably influenced European culture.


* Bearing in mind that Ethiopia is a Greek name which originally referred to all the parts of Africa south of Egypt, it’s not certain which part of the continent Memnon was from. Assuming he was a real person, since an immortal man is somewhat hard to believe.


There’s also the history of the Colchians, the natives of Colchis/ Kolkhis (now the western part of Georgia, just south of the Caucasus mountains). Though their exact ethnic origins are still up for debate, Herodotus considered them to be Kemetians (ancient Egyptians), specifically descendants of Senusret/ Senwosret I’s army because they looked so similar to them. He described them as black-skinned and woolly-haired, but over and above that he also pointed out that they practised circumcision, something only the Egyptians and Nubians were known to do at the time. Furthermore, the manner they wove their linen was identical to the Egyptians’ way.


Note – Senusret I is also often known by his grecianised name Sesostris I. I don’t know if ‘grecianised’ is a real word, by it I mean that his original name was changed to a more Greek-sounding name because Europeans have had a habit of doing that for centuries.


Senusret I


There are many other examples of African influences in ancient Europe, but I’ll save them for another post.

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