A dazzling history of Africans in Europe, revealing their unacknowledged role in shaping the continent
Conventional wisdom holds that Africans are only a recent presence in Europe. But in African Europeans, renowned historian Olivette Otele debunks this and uncovers a long history of Europeans of African descent. From the third century, when the Egyptian Saint Maurice became the leader of a Roman legion, all the way up to the present, Otele explores encounters between those defined as "Africans" and those called "Europeans." She gives equal attention to the most prominent figures -- like Alessandro de Medici, the first duke of Florence thought to have been born to a free African woman in a Roman village -- and the untold stories -- like the lives of dual-heritage families in Europe's coastal trading towns.
African Europeans is a landmark celebration of this integral, vibrantly complex slice of European history, and will redefine the field for years to come.
“Magisterial....A story of violence and exclusion but also extraordinary destinies and achievements. Particularly admirable is Otele’s command of the subtleties of identity formation and change over time, as well as her marvellous cast of women characters, such as Jeanne Duval, Baudelaire’s muse and lover.”
—Sudhir Hazareesingh, The Guardian, The Best Books of 2020
"Superbly researched....This richly layered history brims with stories of how African Europeans contributed to the culture, politics and language in the countries they lived in."
“A fascinating history, with a memorable cast of characters, of Africans who had a vital presence in European life….Though this is a work of synthesis, it’s an unusually generous and densely layered one. Otele is not just concerned to tell the life stories of her protagonists, but also to follow their changing portrayals after death – as well as explaining how and why they’ve been differently interpreted by generations of previous scholars.”
—The Guardian (UK)
“A brilliant telling of a story that’s been too long overlooked.”
—The New European (UK)
"A brilliant, important and beautifully written book that forces us to think about the past differently."
"A thrilling, informative read."
—LSE Review of Books
"Olivette Otele’s African Europeans: An Untold History is superb. Enlightening and erudite, it deploys awesome range, narrative panache and deep scholarship to overthrow conventional wisdom and show the neglected role of Africans in European history from ancient times."
—Simon Sebag Montefiore
"Rich in storytelling, discovery, question-making and a way forward, African Europeans covers no old ground. This is new—and European history itself is not complete without this book."
—Bonnie Greer, playwright, novelist and broadcaster
"This is a book I have been waiting for my whole life. It goes beyond the numerous individual black people in Europe over millennia, to show us the history of the very ideas of blackness, community and identity on the continent that has forgotten its own past. A necessary and exciting read."
—Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)
"Yoking together the “African” and the “European,” too often treated as entirely separate categories, Otele skillfully invites her reader to navigate the multiple intersecting worlds inhabited by her characters. This is fundamentally reparative writing that undoes the cultivated ignorance around race and blackness in Europe and shows us what is irrefutably true—that black history is European history, indeed, world history."
—Priyamvada Gopal, author of Insurgent Empire
"A magisterial book—brilliant, humane and gripping, and a call to arms for an end to violence and subjugation. Otele explores the individual lives of African Europeans against great shifts of history, and the result is a masterpiece."
—Kate Williams, historian and broadcaster
"This is a book that all must read—now. This story has been lived not just for centuries but for millennia, all the while being consistently suppressed, denied or untold. Searing scholarship and heightened humanity combine to illuminate, appall, explore and ultimately inspire."
—Bettany Hughes, historian and broadcaster
"The scope of Otele’s research is awesome, as is her unflinching analysis of the shifting prisms through which African Europeans—particularly women—have had to contest their identities. Full of powerful stories with deep roots and livid scars, African Europeans is scholarly, revelatory and important."
—Jessie Childs, author of God¿s Traitors and Henry VIII¿s Last Victim
"Fascinating. Otele reconnects us with the men and women who came from Africa to shape European history: rulers, diplomats, slaves and soldiers—above all, our ancestors."
—Dan Snow, historian and broadcaster
"The first survey this century of the fascinating 2,000-year-long history of Africans in Europe. Otele’s masterful narrative weaves together the lives of prominent figures—St Maurice, Jacobus Capitein, Manga Bell, Paulette and Jane Nardal—with those of everyday people."
—Hakim Adi, author of Pan-Africanism: A History
"Olivette Otele is a scholar with a vivid intellect and a deep sense of right and wrong. African Europeans forces us to reassess the past so that we can imagine a different future."
—Fiammetta Rocco, chief culture writer, The Economist
"A nuanced, thoughtful retelling of the stories of African Europeans, with extraordinary scope. Otele triumphs in her commitment to countering the experiences of the privileged with those of the enslaved. This is a learned, impassioned and searingly important history."
—Suzannah Lipscomb, historian and broadcaster
"Important, exciting and illuminating. Otele takes us through centuries of history we think we know, but shifts the lens onto those who have been deliberately excluded from traditional historical narratives. This book will change how you look at the past and introduce you to wonderful characters with rich and revealing lives."
—Janina Ramirez, historian and broadcaster