Black African Authors in the Roman Empire
Throughout history black and African voices have been silenced systematically, in order to forge a narrative of white supremacy. By casting Western-minority groups as savage or uneducated natives, collective memory now recalls groups of people subdued and modernized by the ‘more developed’ West. Traditional practices regarding research and interpretation in the Classics discipline tend to reaffirm and strengthen the misconceptions associated with this flawed and dangerous narrative. The field of Classics has been dominated by white, male voices. Through telling stories relatable to them they created an echo chamber of information on the classical world. Perpetuating the idea of a white-washed ancient past is harmful, however, to all. In ignoring data and evidence for a society that was far more influenced by the East and South than was sometimes thought, Westerners have lost or hidden a wealth of knowledge, understanding and answers.
Reading University’s Classics Department is committed to decolonising the curriculum and challenging our preconceptions of the non-white world. Originally, this digital exhibition was intended to accompany a physical display for Black History month, in October 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions this wasn’t possible, but in the wake of the University’s launch of its Race Equality Review on 24 May 2021 we re-animated the project. The three authors featured here are ancient African writers: Tertullian, a Berber; Terence, a Libyan; and Apuleius, a Numidian. These authors wrote broadly and across different genres, but each touched on the experiences of their people, even if in a satirical manner. The planned exhibit included an illustrated collection of Terence’s Comedies, a Penguin Classics edition of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass and a 1931 edition of Tertullian’s Apologeticus and De Spectaculis. Visitors to this digital exhibit are encouraged to find these and other relevant resources, as suggested with out bibliography provided below. Meanwhile, to read about each of these authors please follow these links:
If you enjoyed learning more about these authors and their texts, we suggest you follow up with these resources:
- Augoustakis, A. and A. Traill (eds). 2013. A companion to Terence. Chichester and Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell
- Lee, B. T. , E. Finkelpearl and L. Graverini (eds). 2014. Apuleius and Africa. New York and London: Routledge
- Raven, S. 1993. Rome in Africa. London: Routledge (available online)
- Wilhite, D.E. 2007. Tertullian the African: an anthropological reading of Tertullian’s context and identities. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter
- Apuleius, The golden ass, trans. S. Ruden. 2011. New Haven: Yale University Press (available online)
- Terence, The Comedies, trans. P. Brown. 2007. Oxford: Oxford University Press (available online)
- Tertullian, Apology and De Spectaculi, trans T.R. Glover. 2014. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
This exhibition was curated by Chloe Gardner and Edward Gregory of the University of Reading, with help and support from Profs. Barbra Goff and Amy Smith. Special thanks to academic liaison librarian Charlie Carpenter and UMASCS librarians Fiona Melhuish and Claire Clough.