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Ok, let me start by saying I don't think more or less of a person because of the color of their skin. I consider racism to be both misguided and a sin. But, when I visualize a person, I like to think of them in ways that at least approximate their actual appearance.

I am skimming some works of that greatest of the Patristics - Augustine of Hippo, later the Bishop of Milan (in Italy), but hailing from what is today, Tunisia. He wrote the City of God and the Confessions - two classics still studied more than 1500 years after their creation.

And, as I consider the young Augustine of Hippo - a region of northern Africa, nowadays near the Algerian / Tunisian border - I have this image of a white guy in my head.
Augustine - Classic

That said, he was from Africa. And indeed, this seems wholly legitimate as well. Augustine

And, then I remember, the Arab Invasions that went alongside the rise of Islam also changed the area as well.

So, it's a simple question - Was Augustine white or black? Many of the Church Fathers from Alexandria to Carthage would have probably shared this legacy, and I'm just sort of curious - What did they look like?

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Born in Tagaste (Algeria) actually. So were his parents, I believe. Not sure what that means in terms of ethnicity ... – svidgen Jan 25 '13 at 19:58
@svidgen Updated, and thanks! [Gotta admit, though, I was pretty close :)] I always think "Hippo / Carthage / Tunisia..." – Affable Geek Jan 25 '13 at 21:58
Wasn't the rise of Islam a couple of centuries after Augustine? – kurosch Jan 25 '13 at 23:16
That was my point- the influx of Arabs contributed to more Arab features in that area would have occurred 400 years after Augustine. – Affable Geek Jan 26 '13 at 0:25

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

He's the product of Patricius and St. Monica.


Augustine's mother's name, Monica, is Berber ... the names Monnica and Nonnica are found on tombstones in the Libyan language - as such Monnica is the only Berber name commonly used in English

From wikipedia citation of Michael Brett and Elizabeth Fentress, The Berbers, Wiley-Blackwell, 1997, p.71, 293


Patricius probably was a Curiale and he was definitely a pagan of the Roman sort, not the tribal African sort.

So... My money is that he looked like his mom. Who according to scant evidence was a Berber, like these people:

Berber mosaic

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Where is the quote from? And what does it mean that "he looked like his mom"? What is the relevance of the composite image? – Lee Woofenden Aug 16 at 17:35
@lee those are some berbers – Peter Turner Aug 17 at 15:37
I'm suggesting that you clarify the answer on that point. It may be obvious to you, but it's not necessarily obvious to everyone else. – Lee Woofenden Aug 17 at 16:12
Much better! Thanks. – Lee Woofenden Aug 17 at 20:10

Gerald Bonner, in Augustine of Hippo (page 36), says, "There is no reason to suppose that he was of any but Berber stock."

Mark Ellingsen writes in The Richness of Augustine (page 7) that there were three main ethnic groups in the region of Augustine's birthplace:

Three significant ethnic groups populated the region: Italian immigrants; Children of Phoenician immigrants (called Punics), who had lived in the region for nearly eight centuries; and Berbers of the Kabyle clan, indigenous Africans who in that era in this region (modern-day Algeria) prior to the Islamic invasions of subsequent intermarriage were (and continued to be) Black.

Ellingsen identifies Augustine as a Berber on the force of his mother's name, his son's name (naming one's firstborn "Godsend" was a Berber tradition), and the fact that he expressly identifies himself as "Punic" (in a generic sense, as Ellingsen demonstrates) or "African" quite often in his writings. Ellingsen seems convinced that Berbers of the time were dark-skinned.

John K. Ryan, in introducing his edition of The Confessions of Saint Augustine (page xix), agrees that Augustine was a Berber but believes that that means he was light-skinned:

The native inhabitants of the region belonged to a race that was perhaps European in origin. Typically, its members were fair-skinned, with brown or yellow hair, and blue eyes. Called Afri (Africans) by the Romans, or more restrictedly, from geographical and other considerations, Mauri (Moors), Libyans, and Getulians, some of them at least were also called barbari, or near barbarians, by the Romans. It is from this fact that their descendants, the modern Berbers of northern Africa, derive their name. ... The weight of the evidence is that Augustine belonged to this native north African stock.

It's probably impossible to know for sure what his skin color was, largely for the reasons identified in the question body. But it does seem clear that he was of Berber stock and that he closely identified with being a native of the African continent.

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Actually, as per Wikipedia (, both parents, Monica and Patricius, were North African Berbers, the former being a Berber Christian, the latter being a citizen of Rome and whose family was classed as belonging to the plebeian clan ( According to this Patricius was a Roman in the sense that he was a citizen of Rome, though ethnically speaking he was a Berber.

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He was certainly not arab as they came much they is no such thing as the berber race..... Being a berber is to be racially mixed....iam talking about light skinned berbers. If he was light skinned that would mean he was either a mixture of non-african and another dark skinned african. Given that indigenous inhabitants of the continent were not and are still not light skinned people you'd have to conclude he was black....expecially if you think obama is black.....berbers not being a race in the general sense of the word but a mixture of a dark and light skinned race.....since arabs were not yet in the area my gues is black and white mingling was responsible..... But the problem with this explanatuon is they were too few whites on the continent to make this possible..the name berber must have already been in existence before the light skinned berbers ever existed my gues they inherited the name and culture which has obviously evolved and changed over history etc. Europeans than came back to europe and seemingly forgot where it even was for many hundreds of years...infact in that intervining period they seem to have devolved given what we know about europe in the period 700- 1400s end of the dark ages ....i can not believe europeans forgot about africa and rediscovered it hundreds of years later to conqure it....iam more inclined to think they where never in africa in as many numbers as it is generally made to seem until as late as the 16th century certainly didn't run or rule any part of africa until much later...the original berbers couldn't have been light skinned... African are not as light as mordern berbers...todays commonly known berbers are a mix introduced to the continent much later probably 8th century after arab invasion...... If people didn't dispise blacks so much they'd see the obvious about many other great black africans now pictured white....i.e hannibal bacca, st. Arius of alexandria and many more

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Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour and in particular what constitutes a good answer.... Do you have any references to back your conclusion? Right now it kind of reads as a personal rant, not an attempt to answer the question in a scholarly fashion. – ThaddeusB Aug 24 at 17:54

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