An aquiline nose (also called a Roman nose) is a human nose with a prominent bridge, giving it the appearance of being curved or slightly bent. The word aquiline comes from the Latin word aquilinus ("eagle-like"), an allusion to the curved beak of an eagle.
Although the aquiline nose is met among people from nearly every nation in the world, it is most frequent in certain ethnic groups originating from Southern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and South Asia. Various writers in the field of racial typology assign aquiline noses to different peoples. According to a racial anthropologist Jan Czekanowski, they are most frequent amongst the Oriental race and Armenoid race. However, it is also often seen in the Mediterranean race and Dinarid race, where it is known as the "Roman nose" when found amongst Italians, the French and Spanish. Others, however, such as racial theorist and econimist William Z. Ripley, argue that the aquiline nose is characteristic of Teutonic peoples.
In racialist discourse
In racialist discourse, especially that of post-Enlightenment Western scientists and writers, the occurrence of a Roman nose (in an individual or a people) frequently serves as a marker of beauty and nobility, but the thought itself is found in Plutarch already, in his description of Mark Antony. Conversely, among Nazi racialists the aquiline nose was characteristic of Jews. However, Maurice Fishberg in Jews, Race and Environment (1911) cites widely different statistics to deny that the aquiline nose is in any way characteristic of Jews, but rather to prove that this type of nose occurs in all peoples of the world. The supposed science of physiognomy, popular during the Victorian era, made the "prominent" nose a marker of Aryanness: "the shape of the nose and the cheeks indicated, like the forehead's angle, the subject's social status and level of intelligence. A Roman nose was superior to a snub nose in its suggestion of firmness and power, and heavy jaws revealed a latent sensuality and coarseness".
Among Native Americans
The aquiline nose was deemed a distinctive feature of some Native American tribes, members of which often took their names after their own characteristic physical attributes (i.e. The Hook Nose, or Chief Henry Roman Nose). In the depiction of Native Americans, for instance, the Roman nose is one of the standard traits of the "noble warrior" type. It is so important as a cultural marker that, Renee Ann Cramer argues in Cash, Color, and Colonialism (2005), tribes without such characteristics find it difficult to receive federal recognition from the US government.
Among populations in Africa
The flat, broad nose (platyrrhine) is ubiquitous among most populations in Africa, and is noted by nineteenth-century writers and travelers (such as Colin Mackenzie) as a mark of "Negroid" ancestry. It stands in opposition to the narrow aquiline, straight or convex noses (lepthorrine), which are instead deemed "Caucasian".
The aquiline nose was reportedly deemed beautiful for girls in 1930s conceptions of beauty among the Tswana and Xhosa people. However, a recent scholar could not discern from the original study "whether such preferences were rooted in precolonial conceptions of beauty, a product of colonial racial hierarchies, or some entanglement of the two". A well-known example of the aquiline nose as a marker in Africa contrasting the bearer with his/her contemporaries is the protagonist of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688). Although an African prince, he speaks French, has straightened hair, thin lips, and a "nose that was rising and Roman instead of African and flat". These features set him apart from most of his peers, and mark him instead as noble and on par with Europeans.
According to craniometric analysis by Carleton Coon (1939), aquiline noses in Africa are largely restricted to populations from North Africa and the Horn of Africa. However, they are generally less common in these areas than are narrow, straight noses, which instead constitute the majority of nasal profiles. Among the Copts and Fellahin of Egypt, two distinct nasal types reportedly exist: one with a narrow, aquiline nose accompanied by a slim face, slender jaw and thin lips; the other with a slightly lower rooted, straight-to-concave nose, accompanied by a wider and lower face, a strong jaw, prominent chin, and moderately full lips.
Among "Nordic" peoples
For Western racial anthropologists such as Madison Grant (in The Passing of the Great Race (1911) and other works) and William Z. Ripley, the aquiline nose is characteristic of the peoples they variously identify Nordic, Teutonic, or Anglo-Saxon. Grant, after defining the Nordics as having aquiline noses, went back through history and found such a nose and other characteristics he called "Nordic" in many great men. Among these were Alexander the Great, Dante Alighieri, "all the chief men of the Renaissance", as well as King David. Even Jesus Christ reportedly had those "physical and moral attributes".
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