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Meyers Blitz-Lexikon (Leipzig, 1932) shows a Corsican man as an example of the Mediterranean type.

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,[1] as well as parts of Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland,[2] 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.[3]. By the nineteenth century long-standing cultural and religious differences between Protestant northern Europe and the Catholic south were being reinterpreted in racial terms.[4]

Racial theories

Madison Grant's map, from 1916, charting the distribution of the "European races". Nordic race is shown in bright red; green indicates the Alpine race; yellow, the Mediterranean race.

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.[5]

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) [6] created a tripartite model that was later popularised by Madison Grant. It divided Europeans into three main subcategories: Teutonic, Alpine and Mediterranean.

European Racial Types according to Ripley[7]
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; aquiline
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.[8] 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.[9] 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 Iraq, Persia, Egypt, India, Carthage, 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.[10]

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."[11]

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.[12]

H.G. Wells referred to the Mediterranean race as the Iberian race. [13]

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.[14]

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."[15]

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 Morocco to Afghanistan[16]. 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 Britain 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"[16].

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[17][18][19][20].

See also


  1. ^ The Races of Europe by Carlton Stevens Coon. From Chapter XI: The Mediterranean World - Introduction: "This third racial zone stretches from Spain across the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco, and thence along the southern Mediterranean shores into Arabia, East Africa, Mesopotamia, and the Persian highlands; and across Afghanistan into India."
  2. ^ The Races of Europe by Carlton Stevens Coon. From Chapter X: The British Isles: "The Neolithic economy was probably first brought to Britain by the bearers of the Windmill Hill culture from the Continent, and they in turn were members of the group which had invaded western Europe from North Africa by way of Gibraltar. The racial type to which these Windmill Hill people presumably belonged was a small Mediterranean, but there is little or no direct skeletal evidence from England to confirm this. By far the most important Neolithic movement into Great Britain, and into Ireland as well, came by sea from the eastern Mediterranean lands, using Spain as a halting point on the way. It was this invasion which passed up the Irish Channel to western and northern Scotland, and around to Denmark and Sweden. The settlers who came by sea were the Megalithic people, and belonged to a clearly differentiated variety of tall, extremely long-headed Mediterranean, which was presumably for the most part brunet. This racial group furnished both Great Britain and Ireland, which consisted, before their arrival, of nearly empty land, with a numerous and civilized population which has left many descendants today."
  3. ^ Summary of Tacitus's views; Full text of Tacitus's Germania; Encyclopedia Britannica Discussion of Nordicist use of Tacitus
  4. ^ Georg Hegel claimed that the Latin people maintained "the principle of disharmony" in contrast to the Germans. Johann Fichte asserted that the Mediterraneans were deficient because of the corruption of their language. See Poliakov, L., The Aryan Myth, 1974
  5. ^ On the Geographical Distribution of the Chief Modifications of Mankind, Journal of the Ethnological Society of London (1870)
  6. ^ William Z. Ripley, The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1899)
  7. ^ Ripley (1899), The Races of Europe, p. 121; Synonyms column shortened
  8. ^ See Gobineau and Chamberlain. Such ideas were repeated by Gobineau's admirers such as Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Richard Wagner (in his essay Herodom and Christianity), and later by the Nazis. See Der Reichsführer SS/SS-Hauptamt, Rassenpolitik (SS handbook on race)
  9. ^ Gilette, Racial Theories in Fascist Italy, 2002
  10. ^ Gilette 2002
  11. ^ The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 54. (Jan. - Jun., 1924), p. 30.
  12. ^ The African Origin of the Grecian Civilization, Journal of Negro History, 1917, pp. 334–344
  13. ^ Wells, H.G. The Outline of History New York:1920 Doubleday & Co. Volume I Chapter XI "The Races of Mankind" Pages 131-144 See Pages 98, 137, and 139
  14. ^ Carleton S. Coon on the Mediterranean Race - from C.S. Coon, Caravan : the Story of the Middle East, 1958, pp. 154-157
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b "Our area, from Morocco to Afghanistan, is the homeland and cradle of the Mediterranean race. Mediterraneans are found also in Spain, Portugal, most of Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean islands, and in all these places, as in Southwest Asia, they form the major genetic element in the local populations. In a dark-skinned and finer-boned form they are also found as the major population element in Pakistan and northern India ... The Mediterranean race, then, is indigenous to, and the principal element in, the Southwest Asia, and the greatest concentration of a highly evolved Mediterranean type falls among two of the most ancient Semitic-speaking peoples, notably the Arabs and the Jews (Although it may please neither party, this is the truth.). 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.",Carleton Coon, the Story of the Middle East, 1958, pp. 154-157
  17. ^ Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, "Dans le Bassin méditerranéen, la ressemblance entre tous les peuples vivant des deux côtés de la mer est remarquable" ("In the Mediterranean Basin, the similarity between all peoples living on both sides of the sea is great"), Evolution biologique, évolution culturelle (L'evoluzione della cultura), Odile Jacob, 2005, p. 119
  18. ^ Jean-Michel Dugoujon, "Les populations du pourtour méditerranéen forment une entité anthropologique de loin plus cohérente que celles proposées par les découpages entre pays ou entre continents." ("The people around the mediterranean sea form an anthropological entity much more coherent than those proposed by the divisions between countries and between continents."), Diversité des allotypes des immunoglobulines d’une population berbère de la vallée de Tacheddirt, Dugoujon, 2005
  19. ^ Eleven populations around the Mediterranean basin were analysed by Tomas et al. 2008 (Catanzaro, Cosenza, Reggio di Calabria, Sicily from the South of Italy; Valencia, Ibiza and Majorca from the East of Spain; Tunisia ; Morocco; Turkey and Iraq and the genetic distance between them was very low (except for Moroccans). Tunisians and Middle Eastern populations did not show a significant level of differentiation with northern populations. The conclusion was :"Tunisians did not show a significant level of differentiation with northern populations as mentioned by others. (...) The genetic distance between populations in the Middle East and the western part of the Mediterranean area was very low, most likely reflecting the effect of the Neolithic Wave and recent migration events. Only the Moroccan population showed a significant genetic distance from the remaining Mediterranean populations including populations that are geographically close to it, showing the importance of the Strait of Gibraltar as a geographic barrier and supporting the idea of a low impact of the Neolithic demic diffusion and more recent migrations in North-West Africa", X-chromosome SNP analyses in 11 human Mediterranean populations show a high overall genetic homogeneity except in North-west Africans (Moroccans), Tomas et al. 2008
  20. ^ "The genetic proximity observed between the Berbers and southern Europeans reveals that these groups shared a common ancestor. Two hypotheses are discussed: one would date these common origins in the Upper Paleolithic with the expansion of anatomically modern humans, from the Near East to both shores of the Mediterranean Sea; the other supports the Near Eastern origin, but would rather date it from the Neolithic, around 10,000 years ago (Ammerman & Cavalli-Sforza 1973; Barbujani et al. 1994; Myles et al. 2005; Rando et al. 1998). Common polymorphisms (i.e. those defining H and V lineages) between Berbers and south Europeans also could have been introduced or supported by genetic flows through the Straits of Gibraltar. For example, genetic exchanges could have taken place during prehistory, while European populations retreated from ice sheets and expanded from refuge, around 15,000 years ago (as evidenced by the H and U5b mitochondrial lineages).", The Complex and Diversified Mitochondrial Gene Pool of Berber Populations, Coudray et al., december 2008


  • 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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