Roman literature seems to provide plenty of instances of contempt towards foreign or black individuals, but it is an untenable assumption that such distaste amounts to a racist attitude, particularly considering how elusive the definitions of `race' and `racism' are.
Making extensive use of developments in sociological theory and psychology, Romans and Blacks, first published in 1989, presents an innovative and illuminating picture of black-white relations in Roman society. It is argued that `race' as a somatic identification that entails permanent and genetically transmitted social disabilities was absent, and that the main deference-entitling distinctions in the Roman world were socio-cultural rather than somatic. Therefore, Professor Thompson concludes, references to black skins and negroid features should be interpreted in aesthetic terms.
This wide-ranging study brings welcome clarity to the discussion of blacks in the Roman world, and is valuable for all students of race relations as well as classicists and historians.