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Peoples and Cultures

Italians, Africans and Hannibal
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Question:
I was told by some guy that 90 percent of Italians are black.  Is this true?  He states it all goes back to Hannibal having sex with the Italian women.  He figures that only 10 percent of Italians are 100% white.  I would find it hard to believe that every Italian woman I know is mixed race, instead of white.

Answer:
Thanks for this fascinating question.  You are right to be skeptical of such a hilariously outrageous and emotionally-charged prejudiced claim like that!  It displays a disrespectful prejudice and an extreme ignorance of the issues involved!  The claim contradicts the extensive body of details known about the people of the Italian peninsula.

First of all, Hannibal was not black!  He was Semitic!  And what could he mean by "black?"  Has he seen any black Italians?

This is such a general statement it would be impossible to test or verify.  People of modern Italian origin live all over the world, so you can see how impossible such a statement would be.

On Record
There is an extensive and detailed body of literature about the historical overlays of culture and genetics that have settled in parts of the Italian peninsula.

The largest population in the northern third or so, especially the alpine north of Italy, is of largely Germanic origin.  In the south there is a large percentage of Berber-Arab background.

Other components dating into prehistoric or early historic times are Celtic, Semitic (Phoenician/Carthaginian), Etruscan and Greek, as I comment in other articles.  This is all on record.

I am not aware of any African (Negroid or "black") component.  I would suggest a basic search on some of the key terms here.  This should turn up extensive information on the Roman-Carthaginian era.

Semitic
Everyone knows Hannibal was the ruler of Carthage, a Semitic sovereignty, established originally as a Phoenician colony and trading center.  (The city was where the Berber-Arab city Tunis, Tunisia is now.  Tunisians are still mostly "White" in appearance.)  Some scholars have proposed that the Phoenicians had trade with the Americas before the rise of the Etruscan empire which preceded the Romans.

Carthage became powerful and independent and continued its trading empire, with heavy trade with Britain before the time of the Roman Empire.  Hannibal probably had black people in his populace, but the greatest portion of the Northern Africans seems to have been Berber, not Negroid Africans.

Besides the early population of northern Africa, DNA indicates that one ancient (prehistoric) source of the North African population was from the European early strata, a population that migrated back to Africa from the Italian or Iberian peninsulas in early pre-history, thousands of years ago.  You can see this on National Geographic Genographic Project online.  I have links to that in my articles.

Do the Math
But even more important, it is ridiculous to think that Hannibal or even all the total of his Carthaginian forces could have ever possibly had sex with enough women of the Italian peninsula to cause all of them to have a child by a Carthaginian.  Can you imagine how many months and years this would take?  The Carthaginians weren't even there that long.

They did not even colonize the peninsula.  Hannibal did conquer and rule the Roman territories for a period of 15 years of the Second Punic War (218-201). But ultimately the Carthaginians lost the war.

Even if they could ever have had a child by all or most of the women in the peninsula, that would make at most 33% of the population who would be even part Carthaginian.  With women about 1/2 the population, if every single one had a baby, that would still only add 1/2 again, and so it would take at least two birth cycles to bring the foreign genetic contribution to even 1/2.  You can see it would take generations for the population to be 90% ANYTHING.

But they were White anyway, a Semitic populace perhaps mixed somewhat with the earlier "Berber" ("Moorish") population, with maybe some black population.  A large force of warriors from the Berber tribes were Hannibal's allies in his successful march through Iberia, over the Pyrenees and through the Italian peninsula.

No one really knows for sure.  But the Carthaginians continued to maintain the Semitic culture and language all through their history.  Even today, blacks are not the major population of Northern Africa, though there is a high presence and admixture.

>Pure White?
The biggest fallacy underlying this type of reasoning is the idea that any particular population is "pure."  What would that mean anyway?  And what kind of designation is "white," an extremely vague and precarious term.  How "white" is "White?"

Political Geography
Even further, "Italians" did not even exist at the time of Hannibal.  The name "Italy," as I comment in my articles, was a geographic name, until the late 1800s.  There never was an "Italian" race or ethnicity.

There were many ethnic groups living on the peninsula called Italy.  "Italian" is primarily a political or geographic designation.  "Italians" are already a mix of the many layers of immigrants over thousands of years, just like your friend's ancestors if they came from Europe.

Some of these Italic ethnic components I mentioned are discussed in my articles and the sources I cite there.

The designation "Italian" may apply to various subgroups from the Italian peninsula or territories or under sovereignty of the modern nation-state called Italy.  For instance, "Italian" in the New York-New Jersey area refers to the largely southern Italians, which are mostly Sicilian in culture and language.  A pastor friend of mine is a Sicilian who grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn.

And there are several "Italian" languages.  Some may refer to them as dialects of one "Italian."  They are mutually intelligible only to varying degrees.  IN the 20th Century, the various Italic dialects have grown more similar and regional language has diminished as Tuscan-based "Italian" was taught in the schools and used on radio and TV.

I suggest a search for credible sources on this topic.  We must be careful to define what we are talking about when we use these terms that are political designations and perhaps only secondarily ethnic, if at all.

Slur
Your commentator is obviously simply flinging an ethnic slur at Italians for some reason, and his comment has no possible basis in any fact.  I can't see that he has any real intention of stating a historical or genetic truth by such a comment.  He has obviously made no attempt to really learn what the situation is.

Worldwide
People we might call "Italians" now, by nationality or place of origin, are what people commonly call, as you say, White.  But "White" is likewise a very vague term, mostly a general offhand reference.  Some individuals and populations are more "white" than others!  Is anyone really "white?"

All people in the whole world are a combination of various sub-groups and overlays of many additional migration groups that have mixed over and over again over the millennia of history since the prehistoric times when humans originally diversified out of one original human group in Africa into different physical types in different parts of the globe.

In this sense we are all African, whatever the specific color of skin or physical features!  Besides that, there are several different sets of genes that affect skin color, so "Black" does not tell us much either.  Look it up.  A simple search should yield loads of scientific references.

I hope these comments help to put in perspective the uninformed, prejudicial, derogatory comments you will hear.

Also related
Dialects, Languages and Ethnicity
Italian and Caucasian
Italians and Race (Race and Nationality)
How We Define Ethnicity (Menu of Articles)
Latins, Italians and Mexicans
Models of Assimilation
Our Genetic Journey
Side Trip through the Roman Empire
The Subtlety of Assimilation

Related on the Internet:
Hannibal
Genetic History of the Italians
National Geographic Genographic Project
Roman Empire:  Carthage


Second Punic War (218-201)
Tunis

OBJ

Initially written in a reply to an email query 27 January 2011
Developed over time, last developed 23-28 October 2011
Posted on OJTR 29 October 2011
Last edited 10 April 2017

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright 2011 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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