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Who Was Considered a Foreigner in the Past?

In the course of human history, the concept of “foreigner” has evolved and changed, shaped by various factors such as geography, politics, and cultural norms. The definition of a foreigner has often been fluid, with different societies and civilizations having their own criteria for identifying outsiders. In this article, we will explore the historical context of who was considered a foreigner in the past, examining different regions and time periods to gain a comprehensive understanding of this complex topic.

The Ancient World

In ancient civilizations, the concept of a foreigner was often closely tied to notions of tribalism and territorial boundaries. People from neighboring regions or those who spoke different languages were often seen as outsiders. For example, in ancient Egypt, individuals from Nubia, a region to the south, were considered foreigners due to their distinct culture and physical appearance.

Similarly, in ancient Greece, the term “barbarian” was used to describe anyone who did not speak Greek. This term was derived from the Greek word “barbaros,” which referred to the unintelligible speech of non-Greeks. The Greeks believed that their language and culture were superior, leading them to view foreigners as less civilized.

Medieval Europe

During the Middle Ages, the concept of a foreigner became more complex as Europe experienced significant political and social changes. The feudal system, which divided society into distinct classes, played a crucial role in defining who was considered a foreigner.

Peasants who lived within a feudal lord’s domain were generally not considered foreigners, as they were tied to the land and subject to the lord’s authority. However, individuals from other feudal domains were often seen as outsiders and were treated with suspicion.

Religion also played a significant role in determining who was considered a foreigner during this period. The Crusades, a series of religious wars fought between Christians and Muslims, intensified the divide between different religious groups. Muslims were often viewed as foreign enemies, while Jews faced persecution and were considered outsiders in Christian-dominated Europe.

Colonial Era

The colonial era marked a significant shift in the perception of foreigners, as European powers expanded their empires and encountered new cultures and peoples. The concept of a foreigner became closely tied to notions of race and ethnicity.

For example, during the era of European colonialism, indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia, and the Americas were often considered foreigners in their own lands. European colonizers viewed themselves as superior and justified their domination by portraying indigenous peoples as primitive and uncivilized.

Furthermore, the transatlantic slave trade introduced a new dimension to the concept of a foreigner. Africans who were forcibly brought to the Americas as slaves were seen as foreigners due to their race and cultural differences. They were subjected to dehumanizing treatment and denied basic rights.

Modern Times

In modern times, the concept of a foreigner has become more nuanced, influenced by globalization, migration, and changing political landscapes. Nationality and legal status have become key factors in determining who is considered a foreigner.

Immigration policies and border control have become central to the identification of foreigners in many countries. Individuals who do not possess legal documentation or have entered a country without proper authorization are often labeled as illegal immigrants and treated as outsiders.

Furthermore, cultural and religious differences continue to shape perceptions of foreigners. In some societies, individuals who adhere to different religious beliefs or cultural practices may face discrimination and be considered outsiders.


The concept of a foreigner has evolved throughout history, reflecting the social, political, and cultural dynamics of different time periods. From ancient civilizations to modern times, the definition of a foreigner has been shaped by factors such as language, religion, race, and legal status.

Understanding the historical context of who was considered a foreigner in the past allows us to critically examine our own perceptions and biases. It reminds us that the concept of a foreigner is not fixed, but rather a product of human constructs that can change over time.


1. Were foreigners always seen as outsiders in ancient civilizations?

No, the perception of foreigners varied across ancient civilizations. While some societies viewed foreigners as outsiders, others embraced cultural exchange and trade with neighboring regions. For example, ancient Egypt had extensive trade networks and welcomed foreigners who brought valuable goods and ideas.

2. How did the concept of a foreigner change during the Renaissance?

The Renaissance marked a period of increased exploration and cultural exchange. As Europeans encountered new lands and peoples, the concept of a foreigner became more complex. The Renaissance humanists emphasized the importance of understanding and appreciating different cultures, leading to a more inclusive view of foreigners.

3. How has globalization affected the perception of foreigners?

Globalization has led to increased interconnectedness and cultural exchange. While it has brought people from different backgrounds closer together, it has also fueled debates and tensions around immigration and national identity. The perception of foreigners in the context of globalization is often influenced by economic factors, political ideologies, and cultural attitudes.

4. Are there any positive aspects to the concept of a foreigner?

While the concept of a foreigner has often been associated with negative connotations, it also has positive aspects. Cultural exchange and diversity can enrich societies, fostering innovation, understanding, and tolerance. Embracing foreigners can lead to the development of vibrant multicultural communities.

5. How can we challenge negative perceptions of foreigners?

Challenging negative perceptions of foreigners requires education, empathy, and open-mindedness. Promoting intercultural dialogue, fostering inclusive policies, and celebrating diversity can help break down stereotypes and promote a more inclusive society. It is essential to recognize the shared humanity and value of every individual, regardless of their nationality or background.

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