Why is Cleitus called Black?

Discuss Alexander's generals, wives, lovers, family and enemies

Moderator: pothos moderators

jan
Strategos (general)
Posts: 1709
Joined: Sat Feb 15, 2003 2:29 pm

Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by jan »

I read that Cleitus is called black because of his hair coloring. While searching for information on Cleitus, I came upon some African document, attempting to tie the word black to race. I am interested in Cleitus because of the time that I had my dream experience, a person stood out in my memory whose arms and legs showed black hairs. Today, I began to muse that I must have been seeing Cleitus. He was standing immediately in front of me in my dream, and had the most muscular arms and legs. His legs were massive and the fact that the hairs were so noticeably pronounced make me think it could be Cleitus. But he is definitely not African. Sorry to bore you, but it is eating away at me, and it has finally dawned on me that that is a possibility.
ruthaki
Strategos (general)
Posts: 1229
Joined: Sat Jul 13, 2002 4:31 pm
Location: Vancouver B.C. Canada

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by ruthaki »

There were more than one Cleitus and I think that he was given that nickname to distinguish him. He was probably of a dark complexion and hair colour as opposed to a lot of the Macedonians who were fair or red-headed. His sister Lanike was Alexander's nurse.
Tre

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by Tre »

The Greeks were not particuarly good at calling things specific colors as we are today. Cleitus the Black would translate more as Cleitus the Dark. There was also Cleitus the White, who was probably fair like Alexander. One notes that Plutarch refers to Alexander as well as being of fair complexion - no mention of hair color, so I'd be a bit leery of the assumption it was based on hair color, but he likely had darker hair with a dark complexion. If both Cleitus' had fathers with the same name, being that "son of 'father's name'" was everyone's last name, a further need for something more specific to differentiate them other than a name would be required.
jan
Strategos (general)
Posts: 1709
Joined: Sat Feb 15, 2003 2:29 pm

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by jan »

Thanks, Ruth, and I am now wondering about physicians. How many did Alexander have? How did one become a physician? (Again, dream time. I had another episode of going back in time and was in bed with a physician attending. I woke up in the middle of the night realizing I was back in the age of ATG and recall only the physician standing by my bed. And I am in the process of reading Tarn now and wondering at my mind...As all dreams are in motion, and go so fast, it is difficult to get a hold on them. But this one struck my fancy. It got me to thinking at what kind of education one had to have, and how one became a medical student in that day and age. Where and how did Alexander find his physicians? In the story lines by Doherty, I know that he uses the physician a lot.From your readings, how important is the physician?
Thanks, Jan
jan
Strategos (general)
Posts: 1709
Joined: Sat Feb 15, 2003 2:29 pm

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by jan »

Thanks, Tre, I am reading Tarn who calls Alexander fair and ruddy in complexion. I watched Helen of Troy last night, and like the actor who plays Paris. It struck me odd that Paris is also named Alexandros originally, but that ATG likes Achilles since he is Greek. Helen of Troy was featured on USA t.v. network Sunday and Monday of this week.In Adele Geras's book Troy, Paris is curlyhaired and blonde, a lot like ATG seems to be. I suspect that it is due to the sculptors and the paintings that one concludes that ATG is like Paris, curlyhaired and blonde.
Tre

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by Tre »

Many of the Greek heroes and gods were portrayed as light-haired, no doubt because it was rare and was particularly coveted, much as it is today.
RichardH
Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 7:54 am

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by RichardH »

There is absolutely no reason to think that Cleitus was NOT black, as in race. The Macedonians were NOT (and are not) "light complected". Type in "Greeks" or "Macedonians" in Yahoo "images" and it is clear that virtually ALL of them have dark black hair, so, your dreams aside, that idea is not valid. Blacks, as in black Africans, were quite common in those days, either as mercenary fighters or as slaves, or as freedmen. Blacks in those days would have come up through Egypt -- what we would call southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and the Sudan, today. In Biblical times (and, the time of Alexander the Great, -- 300 B.C., was right in the middle of Old Testament times), blacks were called "Ethiopians", "Nubians", and "Cushites". And, the use of any of the three of these terms usually meant an African who was jet black, as almost all blacks south of the Sahara are.

The Egyptian ruling class, however, were GREEK, not black Africans. At least they were Greek from Alexander for 300 years until the time of Caesar and Cleopatra and they were Greek for several hundred more years. After Alexander, one of his Generals and his descendants ruled Egypt and one of his descendants was Cleopatra. ALL were Greek. They were very upper class and very "racist", meaning that they would definitely not inter-marry with a black African such as a Nubian, Cushite or an Ethiopian. The Mediterranean was their social and political playground and they would inter-marry with princes and princesses of other kingdoms bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. These marriages would consolidate alliances and help to prevent wars.

For at least 2,000 years BEFORE Alexander, the rulers of Egypt (Pharaohs) were what we would call Arabs, today. They were Semites, related to the Jews, but they were not black Africans. There are thousands of preserved royalty (mummies), and their features (hooked nose, etc) clearly show that the rulers of Egypt were never the blacks of Africa (further up the Nile in what is now the Sudan and Ethiopia, all of the rulers were black.)
agesilaos
Strategos (general)
Posts: 2180
Joined: Mon Sep 09, 2002 2:16 pm
Location: LONDON

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by agesilaos »

No reason other than his Macedonian name, his father's Macedonian name, the extreme unliklihood of slaves of non-Balkan origin existing in the poverty stricken pre-Imperial Macedonian state and the fact that the Greeks did not call call Africans 'Blacks'.

On the Egyptian thing you have forgotten the 25th Dynasty which was Kushite beginning when Piye invaded from Nubia c752 and ending five pharaohs later in 653. Nor was inter-marriage with blacks frowned upon Selene, the daughter of Kleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius married Juba II, King of Numidia. As you say the criterion was rank not colour.
When you think about, it free-choice is the only possible option.
User avatar
Jeanne Reames
Pezhetairos (foot soldier)
Posts: 132
Joined: Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:44 am
Contact:

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by Jeanne Reames »

Kleitos Melas = dark, not black. This, btw, also affects Alexander's horse, Boukephalas, who is also called "melas." Given that brown is nature's most popular horse color (like black is for cats and dogs), and in conjunction with the Pompeii Mosaic, it's more likely that Boukephalas was a black-bay. :-) Although many a famous horse in literature was "black" thanks to Boukephalas (Walter Farley's novel, The Black, being perhaps the best known).

Anyway, ancient Greeks like modern Greeks were fond of nicknames, but in antiquity, those nicknames weren't necessarily shortenings of their full names as they most often are today (e.g., Yannis for Ioannis, Sakis for Anastasios [famous Greek pop singer Sakis Rouvis], or Aleko for Alexandros). Ergo, we have Antigonos Monophthalmos (The One-Eyed) and Kleitos Melas (the Dark). In both cases, the nickname is physically descriptive. I think all we can say is that Kleitos was darker than most Macedonians, so yes, he might have had black hair and slightly darker skin. His family was definitively upper-class Macedonian, as we know from the primary sources, but we have to remember that this tended to address the FATHER'S ancestry only (or Philip II might have been only a quarter Macedonian). Ergo, Kleitos's mother or grandmother may have been from the surrounding areas, but probably not from sub-Saharan Africa, as slavery in general was not common in Macedonia before Philip's reign, and really not until Alexander's. It's more probable that any sub-Saharan travelers seen in Macedonia were free traders or craftsmen, and given several factors (distance being paramount), it's unlikely any made it that far north. If they had, they'd have been men. But if Kleitos's mother/grandmother were from anywhere non-Macedonia/Illyria/Thrace, then probably from Asia Minor...which would still be "dark" by Macedonian standards, remember.

I DO think we have to be very careful about the white-washing of history (I frequently remind my students that medieval artwork gives plenty of evidence for dark-skinned people in Europe, not all of whom were necessarily slaves, and of course, Rome was famous for slaves from all over the Med, which ran in shades from pale to quite dark). BUT, given the time-frame, I find it more likely that Kleitos may just have been darker haired than usual.

re: Alexander's coloring. Being "ruddy fair" is more about skin tone than hair color, but I think it does probably point to something fair. The Alexander Sarcophagus had him with reddish hair, when it was first brought out (before the color oxidized). Strawberry blond might be a good guess. Of course, the Pompeii Mosaic (which I noted above for Boukephalas) has him with medium brown, but it also gives him Romanesque sideburns, so I'm a little less sold on the hair-color than on the horse color. :-D I smell Romanizing.
----
Dr. Jeanne Reames
Director, Ancient Mediterranean Studies
Graduate Studies Chair
University of Nebraska, Omaha
287 ASH; 6001 Dodge Street
Omaha NE 68182
http://jeannereames.net/cv.html
sikander
Somatophylax
Posts: 267
Joined: Wed Aug 14, 2002 7:17 pm

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by sikander »

Greetings Jeanne Reames,

Happy to see you commenting at Pothos again- hope all is well with you and yours.

Regards,
Sikander
AthenaofEarth
Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:02 am

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by AthenaofEarth »

"Cleitus The Black" could most likely have been called 'black' because he was of African origin.

Ancient Greece was not unfamiliar with early migrant populations from Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Alexias
Hetairos (companion)
Posts: 704
Joined: Thu Nov 26, 2009 11:16 am

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by Alexias »

AthenaofEarth wrote: Sun Aug 12, 2018 10:18 am "Cleitus The Black" could most likely have been called 'black' because he was of African origin.

Ancient Greece was not unfamiliar with early migrant populations from Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Unproven and unprovable. I'm afraid this is an example of modern redactivism. The ancient Greeks and Macedonians were xenophobes and an outsider was unlikely to have risen to such a position of trust and importance. he was simply called Cleitus the Black to differentiate him from Cleitus the White.
User avatar
Jeanne Reames
Pezhetairos (foot soldier)
Posts: 132
Joined: Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:44 am
Contact:

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by Jeanne Reames »

Kleitos Melas (which means "dark" not "black") was called that most likely because he had dark hair (and possibly eyes). Kleitos the "Light" was probably blond. We happen to know Kleitos came from an upper-class Macedonian family, so no, he wasn't himself a migrant from Africa or the ANE. There was something of a "glass ceiling" when it came to the very upper offices...but even that ceiling could be shattered, as with the Thessalian family of Lysimakhos, and quite likely, Hephaistion, who may have come from Pydna, or Amphipolis, but was almost certainly of Attic-Ionic descent. At least they're Greeks. When ATG later made the brother of Darius an Hetairos, that elicited grumbling.

Recent archaeology is showing us that early Macedon interacted more than we've suspected with trade networks in the northern Aegean.

There IS evidence of early settlement in Macedonia along the coasts, chiefly by Euboians (Methone is a Euboian settlement, as is much of the Chalkidiki). If the Macedonians originally ejected their immediate neighbors (Peirians, Bottians, etc.) in order to take their land, later some of these populations were encorporated into Macedonia, especially the highland groups, which were originally their own kingdoms (Elimeian Archaic Age material is damn impressive, an easy rival to Argead Macedonian). The Macedonians also interacted with groups further afield, such as various Thracian groups, especially those along the coast, and later the Odrysians. Illyrians, Agrianians, and Paiones, as well. So there was a fair bit of intermixing.

Probably the most "foreign" ethnic group in those early Archaic periods (we're talking late 8th, early 7th centuries) would have been Phoenicians. Phoenicians and Euboians had a long history of working together at Pithokousai, Al Mina, and now, we realize, at Methone. How much Phoenician, versus Euboian, presence was found there is hard to know. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if, in those early days, a Phoenician merchant married his daughter to a Macedonian for business ties. We know Alexander I married his sister Gyges to the Persian Bubares.

Remember, in much of ancient Greece, a person's ethnicity was determined by the *father* (Or Philip himself might have been counted Illyrian and Alexander Epirote). Sparta is an obvious exception, as was Athens, but that didn't happen until the Classical Era.

These early Greek merchants (chiefly Ionians and Euboians + Rhodes) were sailing *all over the place*. And dating back into the Bronze Age, it was common practice in many nation-states to practice intermarriage among the upper classes. They had more in common with each other than their own peasantry. A few weird exceptions did exist: Egypt wouldn't marry out her royal daughters, but would marry the daughters of other "Brother Kings."

I think it's pretty unlikely, at least until Philip put Macedon on the map, to have seen, say, a Nubian/Ethiopian trader in Pella, but I don't think we could entirely rule it out. He probably would have been the source of great fascination. :-)
----
Dr. Jeanne Reames
Director, Ancient Mediterranean Studies
Graduate Studies Chair
University of Nebraska, Omaha
287 ASH; 6001 Dodge Street
Omaha NE 68182
http://jeannereames.net/cv.html
Alexias
Hetairos (companion)
Posts: 704
Joined: Thu Nov 26, 2009 11:16 am

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by Alexias »

I think it's pretty unlikely, at least until Philip put Macedon on the map, to have seen, say, a Nubian/Ethiopian trader in Pella, but I don't think we could entirely rule it out. He probably would have been the source of great fascination.
You would need to ask what he would have come to Macedon for. Timber was their main resource and the famed 'cedars of Lebanon' would have been far nearer to Africa.

It is also worth asking that if Alexander's nurse Lanike, Cleitus' sister, was of African origin, would it not have been a subject of some controversy which we would have heard about. It would have been too convenient a peg to hang Alexander's pothos on, his longing to see distant lands and wear Persian costume, being the result of exotic tales imbibed from his 'foreign' nurse. Also, given the sensitive nature of Alexander's Epitote mother at the time of Philip's final marriage, would it not have been politically inept of Philip to have given his son a nurse of non-Macedonian, foreign, blood, particularly if Lanike was not just Alexander's nurse but also his wet-nurse. Lanike was a high-born Macedonian and an experienced mother with at least three sons of her own, and that Alexander survived infancy is likely due to her influence.
User avatar
Jeanne Reames
Pezhetairos (foot soldier)
Posts: 132
Joined: Tue Jun 02, 2015 2:44 am
Contact:

Re: Why is Cleitus called Black?

Post by Jeanne Reames »

Alexias -- Oh, I agree.

My main point is just that Macedon wasn't as isolated early as our ancient sources might suggest (archaeology telling otherwise). As for what an African trader might want in Macedonia...who knows? As you note, timber (and gold) had closer sources, but merchants were famously footloose, so perhaps just curiosity, to see what *might* be out there. But timber sources in Macedonia in the early-mid Archaic area would have coincided with Assyrian taxes on the sale and exportation of Phoenician timber. That's probably why Methone was founded. By later dates (post-Assyria) that wouldn't have been an issue.
----
Dr. Jeanne Reames
Director, Ancient Mediterranean Studies
Graduate Studies Chair
University of Nebraska, Omaha
287 ASH; 6001 Dodge Street
Omaha NE 68182
http://jeannereames.net/cv.html
Post Reply