LIKE MOST AMERICANS, I am appalled at the prospect of having to pay reparations to blacks. But my reason for being appalled is somewhat different from the mainstream. Having written a book about the relationship between Europe and Africa in ancient times, I have learned that whites might have just as much reason to demand reparations from blacks as the other way around.
My book Black Spark, White Fire points out that the ancient Egyptians were a mixed people, at least partly black, a fact which no anthropologist disputes. According to the one-drop rule favored in America, partly black means black.
Egypt was the dominant imperial power of its day. It subdued and enslaved neighboring peoples. Under the conquering pharaoh Thutmose III (1479 –1425 B.C.), Egypt's vast empire stretched from deep in the Sudan to the Euphrates River in Syria.
My book takes the controversial position that the Egyptians were also accomplished seafarers, whose war fleets may have reached Greece, parts of which they conquered and colonized.
There is real evidence for such a conquest. Greek legend holds that an Egyptian king named Danaos landed in the Peloponnese with a great fleet, made himself ruler, and ordered the natives to call themselves "Danaans" in his honor. In the earliest writings of the Greeks – the epics of Homer – Greeks do not call themselves Greeks or Hellenes, but Danaans.
Later Greeks accepted the tale of Danaos as true. In Greco-Roman times, tourists would make pilgrimages to Apobathmi, the place where Danaos allegedly made his first landfall. Apobathmi was the Plymouth Rock of its day. The Greeks even believed that they knew the exact date of Danaos' landing. An inscription on the Parian Marble pinpoints the event in the year 1511 B.C..
Archaeology provides intriguing hints that the story might be true. Several Egyptian pharaohs claimed ownership over the land of Haunebut, which means "Behind the Islands." This may well have been Greece. The Greek portion of the Rosetta Stone text clearly translates the phrase Haunebu – meaning "the people of Haunebut" – as Greek or Hellene. And Greece does lie "behind the islands" of the Aegean, when viewed from Egypt.
Thutmose III boasted that he had "trussed… the Haunebut" and struck those that lived "in the midst of the Great Green Sea" (the Mediterranean). In a single year, he claimed to have collected 36,692 deben of gold from his conquered subjects – the equivalent of three metric tons – of which 27,000 kilos is specifically said to have come from the Asian provinces and the Isles in the Midst of the Great Green Sea (the Greek islands).
Outside the Greek city of Argos, I have seen with my own eyes the remains of a limestone structure that the Greeks call The Pyramid of Hellenikon. Most guidebooks say that its origin is unknown. But Greek archaeologist Theodore Spyropoulos contends that the pyramid was built by Egyptian colonists.
Readers may decide for themselves whether or not to credit the theory of Egyptian colonies in Greece. But I have noticed that African Americans are more inclined to believe it than most.
"Brilliant…" wrote Temple University Black Studies professor Molefi Kete Asante of my book. "Poe has produced a classic volume… splendid in its conception and powerful in its execution – a major work."
Black people seem to enjoy contemplating the possibility that their kinsmen may have conquered, enslaved and ruled Europeans. And why shouldn't they? It is only human to idolize the conqueror, the explorer, the colonizer, the empire builder. Blacks are no different from whites in admiring this sort of behavior. Deference toward the conqueror is encoded in our genes.
Yet many blacks who have read my book seem not to realize that the sword cuts both ways. They exult in their own ancestors' conquests readily enough. But then they turn around and tell whites that we must be ashamed of similar aggression in our ancestors.
One such selective reader is Randall Robinson. In his book The Debt, Robinson actually uses my book to prop up his argument that whites owe blacks huge cash reparations for past wrongs.
"Historian Richard Poe makes a case that black Egyptians were among the first philosophers and explorers," Robinson notes on page 36.
In Robinson's view, the failure of European scholars to fully acknowledge Egypt's greatness constitutes an insult, just one more in a long list of grievances for which whites must now pay.
It is true that Western scholars have given Egypt less credit than it deserves. But Robinson overlooks a more important lesson of Black Spark, White Fire, which is that white people are not the only ones who have conquered, colonized and enslaved their neighbors.
If black people truly believe that their ancestors conquered parts of Europe – and judging from the enthusiastic response to my book, it seems that many do – then perhaps it's time we just called it even. No people, it would seem, can claim innocence.
On the other hand, if blacks really want to press this reparations demand, maybe European Americans should start looking into what happened to all that gold Thutmose III carried off from Greece.