What Were Africans Called in Ancient Times?

The history of Africa is long and rich, with diverse cultures and traditions that have evolved over thousands of years. One question that often arises when studying African history is what were Africans called in ancient times? Let’s explore this topic in depth.

Origins of the Term ‘Africa’

The term ‘Africa’ has its origins in ancient Rome. The Romans used the term ‘Afer’ to describe the people who lived on the continent south of their empire. Over time, this term evolved into ‘Africa,’ which eventually became the name of the entire continent.

Ancient Names for African Peoples

In ancient times, there were many different names used to describe the various African peoples. These names varied depending on who was doing the describing and what their relationship was with the people they were referring to.

Pharaohs and Ancient Egyptians

The ancient Egyptians referred to their southern neighbors as ‘Ta-Seti,’ which means ‘Land of the Bow.’ They also referred to them as ‘Nubians,’ which was a reference to their location along the Nile River.

Greeks and Romans

The Greeks and Romans had a number of different names for African peoples. One common term used by both groups was ‘Ethiopian,’ which roughly translates to ‘burnt face.’ This term was used to describe people from all over Africa, not just Ethiopia.

Another term used by both groups was ‘Libyan.’ This name referred specifically to people from North Africa, particularly those living in what is now Libya.

Arab Traders

Arab traders who traveled across the Sahara referred to African peoples as ‘Sudanese,’ which means people of black skin. They also used terms like Berber and Tuareg to refer to specific ethnic groups within North Africa.

The Impact of European Colonialism

The arrival of European colonizers in Africa had a significant impact on how Africans were referred to. Many European colonizers used derogatory terms to describe the people they encountered, such as ‘savages’ and ‘barbarians.’

During the colonial period, Europeans also imposed their own names on African countries and regions. For example, the country now known as Ghana was once called the Gold Coast by European traders.


In conclusion, the names used to describe Africans in ancient times varied depending on who was doing the describing and what their relationship was with the people they were referring to. The impact of European colonialism also played a significant role in shaping how Africans were referred to. It is important to understand this history in order to gain a deeper appreciation for African cultures and traditions.