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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 ... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Souk_Ahras –  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

3 Answers 3

up vote 1 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


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.

Berber mosaic

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I reworded, because I initially misread that St as plural. If a title applies to only one person, it's clearer to read if the titled person is listed last. On the other hand, you may have had good reason for wanting to list Monica before Patricius. Erm. –  TRiG Jan 25 '13 at 23:17
Perhaps He was the product of St. Monica and of Patricius. Or perhaps I'm being silly, and the original wording was fine. –  TRiG Jan 25 '13 at 23:19

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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augustine_of_Hippo), 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 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurelia_%28gens%29). 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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