The racial composition of Ancient Egypt has been the subject of considerable debate for several decades. Two radically opposed groups have actively participated in this debate: the “Egypt was white” group and the “Egypt was black” group.
On the “Egypt was white” side, we find Arthur Kemp, an important contributor to pro-white activism. His epic work March of the Titans: a history of the White Race dwells considerably on evidence apparently indicating that the pharaohs were white: among other things, the mummies of some of the pharaohs clearly have red hair.
On the “Egypt was black” side, we find Cheikh Anta Diop. This renowned Senegalese gentleman is recognized as a leading figure in the development of Afrocentrism, this being essentially a pro-black movement. The University of Dakar in Senegal was renamed Cheikh Anta Diop University in 1987 (the year after Diop’s death).
As is usually the case, the truth in this matter is in the middle, between the two extremes.
Ancient Egypt was indisputably one of the more attractive places to live in Antiquity. The Nile River produces a long but relatively narrow band of fertile soil that stretches for hundreds of miles from the heart of the Sudan to the Nile Delta on the Mediterranean Coast. The Nile Valley was probably a magnet for humans from the most remote prehistoric times.
The earliest human inhabitants of the Nile Valley were probably rather dark-skinned. But as lighter skin tones evolved, the skin color of the Nile Valley inhabitants probably came to approximate the skin tones that presently prevail in North Africa and the Middle East, this being best described as light brown.
But then, a general drying tendency around 5500 years ago (i.e. c3500 BCE) caused areas that had been relatively wet to become arid. The area of the Sahara had been “green” up until this time, but quickly became the desert that exists today. This drying event caused some people in the northern half of the African continent to migrate to more hospitable locations, and one of these was the Nile Valley.
Although most of the people who immigrated into the Nile Valley at this time may have been relatively light-skinned folks from the areas to the west and to the east of the Nile Valley, it may well be that some of them were rather dark-skinned peoples from areas to the south and southwest of the Nile Valley.
From this time on, light brown skin probably continued to prevail among the people in the north of Ancient Egypt (and some of these light brown people may have had red hair). But the influx of considerably dark-skinned folks into the southern part of Ancient Egypt probably resulted in moderately brown skin tones in this area. And this difference in shades of brown could easily be the basis for the historical division between Upper and Lower Egypt.
By the beginning of the Early Dynastic Period around 3150 BCE, the basic racial composition of Ancient Egypt had been produced: light brown folks in the north and moderately brown folks in the south. Which is to say that the racial composition of the Ancient Egyptians was neither white nor black.
Later population movements between north and south probably produced a gradual levelling of skin tones, especially in those periods when Ancient Egypt was unified under one dynasty. But it may well be that the immigration of Canaanites, Libyans, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs at various times would cause a shift towards lighter skin tones, especially in the northern areas where the immigrants would tend to stay.
Moreover, I think it likely that there was an emigration of the darker-skinned folks of Upper Egypt to more southerly areas beginning from the Third Intermediate Period. This due to the strong possibility that the lighter-skinned rulers who ruled from the northern areas near the Mediterranean coast from this time on were not as conciliatory towards darker-skinned folks as previous rulers. (Yes, I’m saying that these rulers may have been racists.)
This migration of the darker-skinned folks of Upper Egypt probably contributed to the establishment of the Kingdom of Kush which maintained itself until the fourth century CE. And it just might be that the conquest of Egypt by the Kushite rulers in 744 BCE had something to do with the reasons for these particular population movements. It is also interesting to note that the capital of Kush was moved from Napata to the much more southerly Meroë sometime around the middle of the sixth century BCE.
The current racial composition of Egypt was probably achieved by the end of the Roman period and probably wasn’t altered significantly by the Arab invasion in the seventh century CE.
I started thinking about this Ancient Egyptian race issue as I looked through the list of pharaohs on Wikipedia: List of pharaohs – Wikipedia The list includes images for many of the pharaohs, usually consisting of a picture of a statue or statuette that has been identified as such and such a pharaoh. Granted, perhaps some of the identifications are mistaken, and Wikipedia certainly is not without (ahem) “mistakes”, but I do think that most of the images represent the likenesses of genuine Egyptian pharaohs.
Here are some of these images. I think you might agree that their facial features are much more typical of black folks than white folks:
Statue Senusret II Lille – List of pharaohs – Wikipedia (look at the width of the nose)
CairoEgMuseumTaaMaskMostlyPhotographed – List of pharaohs – Wikipedia (look at the lips)
Of course, I would not say that these pharaohs were all black. But I do definitely think that they tend to have black features. In fact, what I am saying is that these pharaohs were brown – I might even call them mulattos.
One aspect of the Ancient Egypt race issue is the Ancient Egyptian language. This is usually classified as an Afroasiatic language along with the Semitic languages (Akkadian, Hebrew, Arabic, etc.) and the Berber languages. But a very significant amount of Ancient Egyptian vocabulary and much of its grammar can’t be attributed to an Afroasiatic origin.
On the other hand, a linguist from the Congo called Théophile Obenga (associated with Cheikh Anta Diop) has attempted to demonstrate a relationship between Ancient Egyptian and the language families of Sub-Saharan Africa, especially the Niger-Congo languages (which includes the widespread Bantu languages among which are Swahili, isiZulu and Shona).
These two positions on the Ancient Egyptian language don’t necessarily need to be mutually exclusive. Again, the truth of the matter seems to be somewhere in the middle.
It is certainly more than likely that the original inhabitants of the Nile Valley spoke an Afroasiatic language related to both the Berber languages and the Semitic languages. But if considerable numbers of dark-skinned folks from the south and southwest immigrated into the Nile Valley during the drying event 5500 years ago, they certainly brought their Sub-Saharan languages with them, and it is not unlikely that these Sub-Saharan languages combined with the Afroasiatic language to produce a mixed language.
So, here is my definitive statement on the Ancient Egyptian race issue: Ancient Egypt was a mixed-race civilization, a mulatto civilization. It was neither white nor black but ranged from light brown (in the north) to brown (in the south).