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The Mediterranean race was one of the three sub-categories into which the Caucasian race and the people of Europe were divided by anthropologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, following the publication of William Z. Ripley's book "The Races of Europe" (1899). The others were Nordic and Alpine.

The Mediterranean race was thought to be prevalent in southern Europe, parts of Eastern Europe, most of North Africa, Northeast Africa, West Asia and South Asia, as well as parts of Walesmarker, Englandmarker, Scotlandmarker and Irelandmarker, and was characterized by moderate to short stature, long (dolichocephalic) or moderate (mesocephalic) skull, dark hair, dark eyes and olive complexion.

Early debates

These differentiations occurred following long-standing claims about the alleged differences between the Nordic and the Mediterranean people. Such debates arose from responses to ancient writers who had commented on differences between northern and southern Europeans. For the Greeks and Romans, Germanic and Celtic peoples were often stereotyped as wild red haired barbarians. Pseudo-Aristotle argued that the Greeks were an ideal race because they possessed a medium skin-tone, in contrast to pale northerners and dark southerners. However Tacitus argued that the Germanic tribes were an "unmixed" people, who had preserved their ancient language and race.. By the nineteenth century long-standing cultural and religious differences between Protestant northern Europe and the Catholic south were being reinterpreted in racial terms.

Racial theories

In the nineteenth century the division of humanity into distinct races became a matter for scientific debate. In 1870, Thomas Huxley argued that there were four basic racial categories (Xanthocroic, Mongoloid, Australioid and Negroid). The Xanthocroic race were the "fair whites" of north and Central Europe. According to Huxley,

On the south and west this type comes into contact and mixes with the "Melanochroi," or "dark whites"...In these regions are found, more or less mixed with Xanthochroi and Mongoloids, and extending to a greater or less distance into the conterminous Xanthochroic, Mongoloid, Negroid, and Australioid areas, the men whom I have termed Melanochroi, or dark whites.
Under its best form this type is exhibited by many Irishmen, Welshmen, and Bretons, by Spaniards, South Italians, Greeks, South Slavics, Armenians, Arabs, and high-caste Brahmins...I am much disposed to think that the Melanochroi are the result of an intermixture between the Xanthochroi and the Australioids.
It is to the Xanthochroi and Melanochroi, taken together, that the absurd denomination of "Caucasian" is usually applied.

By the late nineteenth century Huxley's Xanthocroic group had been redefined as the "Nordic" race, while his Melanochroi became the Mediterranean race.

William Z. Ripley The Races of Europe (1899) created a tripartite model that was later popularised by Madison Grant. It divided European into three main subcategories: Teutonic, Alpine and Mediterranean.

European Racial Types according to Ripley
Head Face Hair Eyes Stature Nose Synonyms
Alpine (Celtic) Round Broad Light chestnut Hazelgray Medium, stocky Variable; rather broad; heavy Occidental (Deniker), Homo Alpinus (Lapouge)
Mediterranean Long Long Dark brown or black Dark Medium, slender Rather broad
Teutonic Long Long Very light Blue Tall Narrow; aquiline Nordic (Deniker), Homo Europaeus (Lapouge)

In Germany, Britain and the USA it became common for white supremacists to promote the merits of the blond, blue-eyed Nordic race as the most advanced of human population groups: the "master race". Southern/Eastern Europeans were deemed to be inferior, an argument that dated back to Arthur de Gobineau's claims that racial mixing was responsible for the decline of the Roman Empire. However, in southern Europe itself alternative models were developed which stressed the merits of Mediterranean peoples, drawing on established traditions dating from ancient and Renaissance claims about the superiority of civilization in the south. Some of these arguments were taken up by African-American writers to counter the arguments of Nordicists who considered any deviation from "pure" whiteness to be a taint.

The fact that Mediterranean peoples were responsible for the most important of ancient western civilizations was a problem for the promoters of Nordic superiority. Giuseppe Sergi's much-debated book The Mediterranean Race (1901) argued that the Mediterranean race had in fact originated in Africa, and that it also included a number of dark-skinned peoples from the African continent, such as Ethiopians and Somalis. Sergi's studies claimed that the Mediterraneans, the Africans and the Nordics all originated from an original Eurafrican Race. According to Sergi, anthropologist of the early twentieth century, notable for his opposition to Nordicism, in his books on the racial identity of ancient Mediterranean peoples the Mediterranean race, the "greatest race of the world", was responsible for the great civilizations of ancient times, including those of Persia, Egypt, India, Carthagemarker, Greece, and Rome. These Mediterranean peoples were quite distinct from the peoples of northern Europe. To Sergi, the Semites were a branch of the Eurafricans who were closely related to the Mediterraneans.

C. G. Seligman also stated that "it must, I think, be recognized that the Mediterranean race has actually more achievement to its credit than any other, since it is responsible for by far the greater part of Mediterranean civilization, certainly before 1000 B.C. (and probably much later), and so shaped not only the Aegean cultures, but those of Western as well as the greater part of Eastern Mediterranean lands, while the culture of their near relatives, the Hamitic pre-dynastic Egyptians, formed the basis of that of Egypt."

In the USA, the idea that the Mediterranean race included certain populations on the African continent was taken up in the early twentieth century by African-American writers such as W. E. B. Du Bois, who used it to attack white supremacist ideas about racial "purity". Such publications as the Journal of Negro History stressed the cross-fertilization of cultures between Africa and Europe, and adopted Sergi's view that the "civilizing" race had originated in Africa itself.

Physical traits

According to C. S. Coon, typically marked Mediterranean features include skin color ranging "from pink or peaches-and-cream to a light brown", a relatively prominent nose, considerable body hair, and dark brown to black hair.

According to Renato Biasutti: "Skin color 'matte'-white or brunet-white, chestnut or dark chestnut eyes and hair, not excessive pilosity; medium-low stature (162), body of moderately longilinear forms; dolichomorphic skull (78) with rounded occiput; oval face; leptorrhine nose (68) with straight spine, horizontal or inclined downwards base of the septum; large open eyes."

Later 20th century

Later in the 20th century the concept of a distinctive Mediterranean race was still considered useful by theorists such as Earnest Hooton in Up From the Ape (1931) and Carleton S. Coon in his revised edition of Ripley's Races of Europe (1939). These writers thought the Nordic race was the northern variety of Mediterraneans that lost pigmentation through natural selection due to the environment.

Hooton argued that even a skilled anthropologist would have a difficult time separating a Nordic from Mediterranean skeleton. He thought a destabilized blend of the two existed mostly in Britain that he labeled "Nordic-Mediterranean", with hazel eyes (rather than pure brown), dark hair color (mainly dark brown) and dolichocephalic skull.

According to Carleton Coon the "homeland and cradle" of the Mediterranean race is in North Africa and Southwest Asia, in the area from Moroccomarker to Afghanistanmarker. Coon argued that smaller Mediterraneans traveled by land from the Mediterranean basin north into Europe in the Mesolithic era. Taller Mediterraneans (Atlanto-Mediterraneans) were Neolithic seafarers who sailed in reed-type boats and colonized the Mediterranean basin from a Near Eastern origin. He argued that they also colonized Britainmarker where their descendants may be seen today, characterized by dark brown hair, dark eyes and robust features. He stressed the central role of the Mediterraneans in his works, claiming "The Mediterraneans occupy the center of the stage; their areas of greatest concentration are precisely those where civilization is the oldest. This is to be expected, since it was they who produced it and it, in a sense, that produced them".

After the 1960s the concept of an exact Mediterranean race fell out of favor, though the distinctive features of Mediterranean populations continued to be recognized.

See also



  • Racial Theories in Fascist Italy, by Aaron Gilette, 2002, Routledge, London.
  • Talks with Mussolini, Emil Ludwig, Boston: Little, Brown. 1933, p.202.
  • The Aryan Myth, Leon Poliakov, New York: Basic Books. 1974

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