Frank Snowden; Major Scholar of Blacks in Antiquity

Historians in the News

Frank M. Snowden Jr., 95, a Howard University classicist for almost 50 years whose research into blacks in ancient Greece and Rome opened a new field of study, died Feb. 18 at the Grand Oaks assisted living home in Washington. He had congestive heart failure.

As a black man, Dr. Snowden was a rarity in classics, but ancient history consumed him since his youth as a prize-winning student at the Boston Latin School and later at Harvard University. His body of work led to a National Humanities Medal in 2003, a top government honor for scholars, writers, actors and artists.

Much of his scholarship centered on one point: that blacks in the ancient world seemed to have been spared the virulent racism common to later Western civilization. "The onus of intense color prejudice cannot be placed upon the shoulders of the ancients," he wrote.

Dr. Snowden's most notable books are "Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience" (1970), which took him 15 years to research, and "Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks" (1983). Both were published by Harvard University Press.

Using evidence he found in literature and art, he showed that blacks were able not only to coexist with Greeks and Romans but also were often revered as charioteers, fighters and actors.

Because Romans and Greeks first encountered blacks as soldiers and mercenaries and not slaves or "savages," they did not classify them as inferior and seek ways to rationalize their enslavement, he said....
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