CASTE

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CASTE; certain classes whose burdens and privileges are hereditary. The word is derived from the Portuguese casta, and was originally applied, by the conquerors of the East Indies, to the Indian families, whose occupations, customs, privileges and duties are hereditary. This term has been sometimes applied to the hereditary classes in Europe; and we speak of the spirit or the prerogatives and usurpations of a caste, to express particularly that un natural constitution of society, which makes distinction dependent on the accidents of birth or fortune. The division into castes, among the people of the old world, comes to us from a period to which the light of history does not extend ; hence its origin cannot be clearly traced: but it is highly probable that, wherever it exists, it was originally grounded on a difference of descent, and in the modes of living, and that the separate castes were originally separate races of people. This institution, is found among many nations. According to the accounts collected by Clavigero, some traces of it are apparent among the Peruvians and Mexicans; but it prevails principally in the East, where it has. existed from the earliest times, and has become blended with the political condition of the people, because it favors despotism, which is the prevailing form of government. Thus, in Persia, even before Zoroaster, there was a division into four classes or castes ; priests (magi), soldiers, husbandmen, tradesmen. But the division into castes was nowhere so perfectly formed, and so entirely interwoven in the whole fabric of civil society, as in Egypt and India. In Egypt (q. v.), this division was perfected, as a political institution, in the flourishing period of the Pharaohs; and the lines of separation which had been drawn, in earlier times, by a difference of descent, and different modes of living, were then rendered still more distinct. The number of castes in that country was originally seven. The class of priests, who formed, in some respects, a highlyprivileged order of nobility, and maintained possession of the offices of state, was the highest. Next followed the soldiers, who were divided into two classes, and whose occupation was hereditary. Of the remaining castes, the husbandmen, the watermen (who navigated the Nile), the interpreters (who arose subsequently to the rest, and sprung from the Greeks who were invited into the country), and the two castes of herdsmen, formed a gradation of ranks, the order of which is not known, any further than that the herdsmen were the lowest. Among these the swineherd was considered impure, and despised, and was excluded from the temples. In India, there were originally four castes. (See Hindoos.) Probably the deep researches into Egyptian antiquities recently made, or in a state of progress, particularly those of Champollion, will throw much light upon this interesting subject.