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Enemies of Civilization

Attitudes toward Foreigners in Ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China

Mu-chou Poo

Publication Year: 2005

Enemies of Civilization is a work of comparative history and cultural consciousness that discusses how “others” were perceived in three ancient civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. Each civilization was the dominant culture in its part of the world, and each developed a mind-set that regarded itself as culturally superior to its neighbors. Mu-chou Poo compares these societies’ attitudes toward other cultures and finds differences and similarities that reveal the self-perceptions of each society. Notably, this work shows that in contrast to modern racism based on biophysical features, such prejudice did not exist in these ancient societies. It was culture rather than biophysical nature that was the most important criterion for distinguishing us from them. By examining how societies conceive their prejudices, this book breaks new ground in the study of ancient history and opens new ways to look at human society, both ancient and modern.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

About ten years ago I was asked by my fellow graduate students at Johns Hopkins University to contribute an article in a Festschrift for my mentor, Hans Goedicke, a famous Egyptologist. After some thought, I decided to write something that is both Egyptological and Sinological, just to show my appreciation to my old professor for his...


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p. xv

Chronological Table

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pp. xvii-xvii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-22

A genre of fantastic stories circulated Medieval Europe that recounted strange or monstrous peoples who inhabited faraway countries—people with one foot, people with their face on their chests, people with long lips that could be used as an umbrella, and so on.¹ Not entirely created out of pure imagination, some of these stories...

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2. In Search of Cultural Identity

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pp. 23-36

When the Egyptian soldier went up to Syria, the journey on which he was about to embark was characterized as full of dangers, taking place in a foreign environment that was quite hostile. His identity as an Egyptian was keenly felt when encountering a very different terrain in a faraway place. Distance and terrain, therefore, are two...

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3. Representations

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pp. 37-67

For people ancient and modern, there are always foreigners outside their political or cultural borders, since no identity could have been established without the presence of at least the concept of “others.” By identifying the others, whether from a biological point of view or from a cultural point of view (that is, language, religion, custom), people...

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4. Relations and Attitudes

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pp. 68-100

In the records of the ancient civilizations, foreigners and foreign countries were very often considered as sources of hostility. A foreigner can be defined as someone who is from a place outside of the political and cultural spheres of a certain community. This concept of “foreigness,” therefore, could represent what is unfamiliar, hostile, and...

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5. Foreigners Within

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pp. 101-120

Textual and graphical evidence, as has been presented in the last three chapters, provided us with views of foreigners: their characteristics, their relationship with Egypt, China, and Mesopotamia, as enemies, friends, or allies. Yet these textual and graphical evidence, preserved on particular media with a limited spectrum of representation, run...

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6. The Transformation of the Barbarians

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pp. 121-144

Much as people tend to keep their own way of life and thinking, in reality their attitudes and mentality are susceptible to outside influence upon contact with others. When contacts are made, changes in both directions are usually expected. The extent of change, of course, varies from person to person, from culture to culture, and from time...

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7. Conclusion

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pp. 145-159

This study begins with a simple question: What can we know about the attitudes toward foreigners in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China? The intention that prompted this question, as already explained in the introduction, is a desire to better understand the ways in which social groups perceived each other, and thus, hopefully, to...


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pp. 161-185


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pp. 187-208


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pp. 209-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780791483701
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791463635
Print-ISBN-10: 079146363X

Page Count: 229
Illustrations: 13 figures
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 63145859
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Enemies of Civilization

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Aliens -- China -- History -- To 1500.
  • Egypt -- Civilization -- To 332 B.C.
  • Iraq -- Civilization -- To 634.
  • China -- Civilization -- To 221 B.C.
  • China -- Civilization -- 221 B.C.-960 A.D.
  • Iraq -- Relations.
  • Egypt -- Relations.
  • China -- Relations.
  • Aliens -- Iraq -- History -- To 1500.
  • Aliens -- Egypt -- History -- To 1500.
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