This article examines the debates over historiographical uses of the terms race, racism, and ethnicity in the study of the premodern past. It begins with an analysis of conventional approaches to defining race, which understand the concept to be fundamentally modern and reject uses of the term in the study of the premodern world. Such conventional approaches to historicizing race are predicated on problematically essentialist definitions of the term that preclude comparisons of varying types of racisms that manifest across different historical periods. The article spotlights some of the arguments in favor of formulations of race and racism that allow for comparative analyses of premodern instances of racism, relying on the ideas of scholars working in race theory, philosophy of race, and premodern critical race studies. It also puts forward a working model of racism useful for analyzing examples of race-thinking found in Christian texts of the late antique period, focusing specifically on negative significations of blackness. Broadly, the article aims to outline more dynamic and fruitful approaches to conceptualizing race, racism, and ethnicity in the study of the ancient world.

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