Friday, July 16, 2010

An African community in Roman Britain?

Figurines of Nubian archers (from Egypt)

The Roman conquest of Britain brought not only cultural change but also profound ethnic change, i.e., an influx of soldiers, officials, and traders from elsewhere. Until recently, historians placed this influx mainly in the first century of Roman rule. As the native British became Romanized, they would have increasingly filled local positions in the army and the administration. This view now appears to be erroneous: the process of ethnic replacement continued unabated and may have even intensified. In particular, the last century of Roman rule saw many soldiers arrive from North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

Leach et al. (2010) argue that the north of England, with its many garrison towns, became heavily multi-ethnic through the stationing of foreign soldiers and the subsequent settlement of veterans on local estates:


Inscriptions from York attest to the presence of Gauls, Italians and a possible Egyptian at York, although much of the epigraphic evidence is significantly earlier than the burial discussed here (Ottaway 2004). Artefactual evidence also suggests that ‘the Roman north was a cosmopolitan place with a great mixing of people from all over the empire’ (Cool 2002: 42). For example, Swan (1992) argued for the presence of North Africans in York on the basis of braziers and other vessels typical of North African food-ways but made in local fabrics.

Previous studies of the physical remains of the people of Eboracum (Buxton 1935; Warwick 1968) suggested that the males exhibited heterogeneous craniomorphometric traits suggesting migration from a variety of geographic locales. However, both argued that the female population of Roman York was indigenous. In their view, the diversity noted in the female crania represented genetic admixture between local women and migrant males
(Warwick 1968: 155).

Leach et al. (2009) provide evidence for intense foreign settlement. At one burial ground near Roman York, craniometric analysis revealed that 66% of the individuals clustered most closely with Europeans, 23% with sub-Saharan Africans, and 11% with Egyptians. At another, the proportions were 53% European, 32% sub-Saharan, and 15% Egyptian (Leach et al., 2009).

In a subsequent article, Leach et al. (2010) focus on one burial: a young woman 18 to 23 years old who had been buried between 350 and 400 AD. The authors dubbed her the ‘Lady of York’ because of her stone coffin and its rich array of grave goods, apparently a sign of high status. Nonetheless, her skull showed little or no affinity to any European population, the closest match being a sample of African-American women. Various facial indices showed a mix of sub-Saharan African and European traits, suggesting a person of mixed parentage or perhaps a North African. An African origin is also suggested by the presence of elephant ivory among the grave goods. The authors conclude that this burial “contradicts assumptions that may derive from more recent historical evidence, namely that immigrants are low status and male, and that African individuals are likely to have been slaves.”

Undoubtedly, many Africans rose to high positions in the Roman army. This was especially so for the Nubians, who were prized for their skills in archery. This being said, the Nubians came from the Egyptian culture area and, as such, attached great importance to human burial. In comparison to Europeans of the same socioeconomic status, they would have been more inclined to provide grave goods and to use tombs made from impervious materials.

High status is also inconsistent with a Latin inscription placed in the coffin: SOR AVE VIVAS IN DEO [Sister, hail, live in God]. This is Vulgar Latin, the kind used by the lower classes. An educated citizen would have inscribed the more classical soror instead of sor, especially in the formal context of a burial.

An African community in Roman Britain?

Leach et al. (2010) conclude that the Romans laid “the foundation of a multicultural and diverse community.”

The word ‘foundation’ suggests permanence and is perhaps inappropriate. If the Lady of York had lived a full life, she would have seen the end of Roman Britain—less than a half century later. She would have certainly witnessed the pullout of the legions and, perhaps, the arrival of the Dark Ages … with the breakdown of law and order after 430.

What happened to her community? Did it play a role in the struggles between the Romano-British and the Anglo-Saxons? Did it survive into the early Anglo-Saxon period?

I will try to answer these questions in my next post. For now, let me ponder another question: why had Roman Britain been so intensely militarized? More legions were stationed there than in Lower Germany, which was closer to the Empire’s core and faced a much larger barbarian population. If Britain had been ruled indirectly, through client states, the Romans would have been free to concentrate more soldiers along the crucial Rhine-Danube border.

These questions have answers … more or less. The Empire had annexed Britain during the early days of seemingly endless expansion, when military leaders worried much less about spreading themselves too thin. Britain was also a Celtic homeland. Its people were closely related to those of Gaul and had openly sympathized with them during the rebellion led by Vercingetorix. Even as a collection of client states, Britain would have remained a threat to Roman rule in Gaul. Finally, more legions were needed in Britain because the barbarians to the north (Scots and Picts) were less interested in being friends of Rome than those along the frontier of continental Europe.

Well, perhaps. In any case, history would have turned out the same either way. The main barbarian threat—the one that led to the sack of Rome in 410—came not from the barbarians outside the Empire but from those who had been allowed to settle within. This was an eventuality that Roman military strategists had never foreseen and for which they were unprepared. When the end came, the border fortifications proved to be of no help.

References

Leach, S., H. Eckardt, C. Chenery, G. Müldner, & M. Lewis. (2010). A Lady of York : migration, ethnicity and identity in Roman Britain, Antiquity, 84, 131-145.

Leach, S., M. Lewis, C. Chenery, G. Müldner, & H. Eckardt. (2009). Migration and diversity in Roman Britain: A multidisciplinary approach to the identification of immigrants in Roman York, England, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 140, 546-561

P.S. The link and reference information for my 2008 article have changed. They are now:

Frost, P. (2008). Sexual selection and human geographic variation, Special Issue: Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Meeting of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2(4), pp. 169-191.
http://www.jsecjournal.com/articles/volume2/issue4/NEEPSfrost.pdf

16 comments:

Ben10 said...

I'll answer Patrick here. Maybe there are blacks in Alaskan military units, but first, all the occidental armies have been subjuged by the politically correctness of quotas, minorities, Ask and Tell vs don't, sexual equity etc. Second, lots of alaskan troops must be in radar controls or other indoor facilities. What will happen when the heat goes of?
So, this won't change my opinion, based on real life experience, that blacks are completely inferior in conditions where physical resitance, mental stamina, resistance to stress and moral are prime factors. With me, they failed the test in a training night march in moderatly cold snowy hills.
Not one of the black guy in my platoon was able to follow the group. When they were so much behind that i worried about their safety, we just waited for them and thereafter they slowed us down to unaceptable level. Needless to say that in real war time we could not have waited.
Why does the high command persist to put them in combat unit ? politic. The french army had taken good care to place freemasson and other suckers to decision positions. So, yes, you might have quotas full of women and minorities in combat units, when a real war comes, you will be left only with the white guys. And if you want to keep war crimes and unnecesary cruelty low, you must ask very unpolitically correct questions.

Why would this be diffent with nubians archers in a cold british winter ? They might have been there for political reasons, but they were not fighting for their land and my bet is that during winter, their moral must have been so low that they were as much of a burden than Hannibal's war elephants crossing the alpine mountains.

Anonymous said...

Blacks comprised about a third of the engineer troops who built the Alaska
Highway during WW2:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/alaska/peopleevents/p_men.html

Ben10 said...

Anon, there is no comparisons between peace time and war time activities. Anything that can be piece of cake in peace will require 10 times more efforts under the mental stress of war.
I don't say that building a highway in alaska is not hard work, it is, but this is a civilian routine. You know that you are going to eat at such time, sleep in a cabine and leave the construction after one or two months. Part of the stress associated with war is that you don't know anything. During military training in peace time, the stress is low because you know it's all fake ultimately. But you can still introduce some uncertainties to fake it. For example, during military practice, a regular 'joke' is to announce after an exhausting march: 'surprise, there will be no food ration tonight and everybody will sleep outside in the cold'. The day after, if the uncertainties are maintained, everybody will be obsessed with the constant thinkering, 'will there be food tonight or not'? The focus to do anything else will be impacted.
Now, in a wartime defending position in an occupied country, like the nubians in britain, they don't know when they are going to be attacked. If they have been attacked once, they are now waiting for the next, their nerves are on the edge and can stay on the edge for months. This is the guerilla against an occupying force. I imagine Great Britain under Caesar, with vast forests to hide the counterinsurgency, the imperials need as much men on the ground as they can to maintain an 'occupational autority'. You also need informers, to know were are the insurgents, these can only be local traitors that you need to pay. You also need to pay your mercenary forces (the nubians). In short, the roman occupation needed lots of men and lots of money. When very harsh conditions come, that is winter, because cold is in itself an ennemy, the moral of the foreign imperial mercenary troops can be reduced to rubbles and they are now the prey of diseases because their immune system is affected. They are now ready to surrender, without even firing a shot, if luck is against them.
But the need for archers make sense. The roman defensive position must be a fort on top of a hill or a flat with the forest cleared all around, to see the attackers coming. Long range accurate archery to shoot in the clearing is an additional deterrant. It doesn't make any sense for picts, welsh or saxons to attack such a position, because guerilla and starvation will do it better.

Anonymous said...

You should have paid more attention in history class. Any Roman who could feed, clothe and house his family and still have enough money in reserve to employ a slave, did so. They didn't care about the slave's origins, only of their loyalty. And seeing as how propertied/moneyed Romans took their slaves with them to all points of their empire, the idea of hundreds of slaves (and "impresed"/coerced warriors of African descent) having an impact on the genetic code of the British people makes perfect sense. After all, it only takes one curious young woman to catch a Nubian's eye, or, perhaps, a triumphant Celt man to claim his foe's property to begin miscegenation. England was and still is a cold country, and everyone looks the same in the dark...

Anonymous said...

Ben10, tell that to Matthew Henson's descendants in Greenland.

Ben 10 said...

Did I hurt your feelings ? I'm sorry.

Anyway, soon the white man will be a minority, he already is in some parts of America and therefore 'minorities' will have the opportunities to use leadership and spirit to create the America of the future. I just regret that there is no place left for us. Most white women turned their back on us. All the media is against us, many white men also act indifferent or even agressively to their own brotherhood.
Maybe the predictions of chief Seatle turn out to be true, "Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless". It is time for us to leave or to change. I call with all my soul for a change.

Dragon Horse said...

Ben:

That is the most racist nonsense I have ever heard.

First, "blacks" mean what. Do you think Italians and Germans fight the same, they almost share a border but act very different in battle, at least the last 100 years.

Africa is bigger than the Continental U.S. and Europe combined. There is more genetic variation in many villages in Nigeria than most nations in Northern Europe. However all 900 million blacks in the world are the same? Doubtful.

The Tuskegee Airman have a fine combat record, "flying in Northern Europe" I might add.

Their moral did not shrink.


http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org/uploads/stats.pdf

Ben10 said...

Nonsense or not nonsense, racism or not, that won't change my past experience: all the africans in my plattoon were not performing well, in the cold, after a march of about 10 km in the snow while everybody else was fine. And their moral shrank.

Dragon Horse said...

Ben10:

Have you ever thought that your limited experience does not represent groups as divergent in history, genes, and culture as African American enlisted and ancient Nubian archers? LOL

Nubians have been used in battle in ancient times since the Persian (Achaemenid) invasion of Greece in 480B.C. it is recorded that the Persians had various "Ethiopians" in their militaries.

http://www.historynet.com/greco-persian-wars-battle-of-thermopylae.htm

It is odd that if these same East African blacks are so "weak" and fall under pressure and cold they would be recruited to fight for nearly 1,000 years by various Northern civilizations from the Persians to the Romans.

ogunsiron said...

Anonymous said...

... the idea of hundreds of slaves (and "impresed"/coerced warriors of African descent) having an impact on the genetic code of the British people makes perfect sense
----
The estimates given in the previous post for the proportions of inhabitants of York clustering with subsaharan africa were from 20% to 32%. Does anyone know approx. how many people lived in York in those days and what was the total population in britain at the time , including the barbarian zones ? If we had a few thousand subsaharan africans lost in a sea of 1 or 2 million native britons, then the genetic impact might not have been large at all. In fact it might have been close to nil.

to ben10 :
Dude, on this site science and research based arguments are taken most seriously so yes, an internet link to a history website is a priori taken more seriously than your anecdote. Sorry.

To peter :
When the medvieval chronicler talks about africans, does he mean africans as the romans meant it ? Africa meant the area around carthage. Subsaharan africa was known as ethiopia in those days.

Dahinda said...

The Roman Empire in its later days needed a lot of barbarian workers to run the large estates. The Roman population itself was driven from the land and into the cities due to high taxation and other factors which created huge estates. The barbarians soon outnumbered the Romans and at some point just simply took over. The same sort of thing is happening in rural America today as farming becomes more and more consolidated and the white Americans leave to go to the major cities. The only growing population in much of rural America today is hispanic.

Anonymous said...

Ben10, face it, you're an incompetent judge.

kelvin anderson said...

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY SEPERATING SUB SAHARAN WITH EGYPTIANS ?ANCIENT EGYPTIANS WERE SUB SAHARANS SO WHAT DOO YOU MEAN BY EGYPTIANS ? EGYPTIAN CRANIOMETRICS CLUSTER WITH NUBIANS(KUSHITES) YOU MEAN THE ROMAN EGYPTIANS ?

kelvin anderson said...

A plot of the distance scores revealed only one cluster; the Nubian and Egyptian groups clustered together.----
Rate Member Icon 1 posted 25 October, 2009 01:20 PM Profile for .Charlie Bass. Send New Private Message Edit/Delete Post Reply With Quote
An Examination of Nubian and Egyptian biological distances: Support for biological diffusion or in situ development?


Homo. 2009;60(5):389-404. Epub 2009 Sep 19.


Godde K.
Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 250 South Stadium Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA. kgodde@utk.edu

Many authors have speculated on Nubian biological evolution. Because of the contact Nubians had with other peoples, migration and/or invasion (biological diffusion) were originally thought to be the biological mechanism for skeletal changes in Nubians. Later, a new hypothesis was put forth, the in situ hypothesis. The new hypothesis postulated that Nubians evolved in situ, without much genetic influence from foreign populations. This study examined 12 Egyptian and Nubian groups in an effort to explore the relationship between the two populations and to test the in situ hypothesis. Data from nine cranial nonmetric traits were assessed for an estimate of biological distance, using Mahalanobis D(2) with a tetrachoric matrix. The distance scores were then input into principal coordinates analysis (PCO) to depict the relationships between the two populations. PCO detected 60% of the variation in the first two principal coordinates. A plot of the distance scores revealed only one cluster; the Nubian and Egyptian groups clustered together. The grouping of the Nubians and Egyptians indicates there may have been some sort of gene flow between these groups of Nubians and Egyptians. However, common adaptation to similar environments may also be responsible for this pattern. Although the predominant results in this study appear to support the biological diffusion hypothesis, the in situ hypothesis was not completely negated.


kelvin anderson said...


Rate Member Icon 1 posted 25 October, 2009 01:20 PM Profile for .Charlie Bass. Send New Private Message Edit/Delete Post Reply With Quote
An Examination of Nubian and Egyptian biological distances: Support for biological diffusion or in situ development?


Homo. 2009;60(5):389-404. Epub 2009 Sep 19.


Godde K.
Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 250 South Stadium Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA. kgodde@utk.edu

Many authors have speculated on Nubian biological evolution. Because of the contact Nubians had with other peoples, migration and/or invasion (biological diffusion) were originally thought to be the biological mechanism for skeletal changes in Nubians. Later, a new hypothesis was put forth, the in situ hypothesis. The new hypothesis postulated that Nubians evolved in situ, without much genetic influence from foreign populations. This study examined 12 Egyptian and Nubian groups in an effort to explore the relationship between the two populations and to test the in situ hypothesis. Data from nine cranial nonmetric traits were assessed for an estimate of biological distance, using Mahalanobis D(2) with a tetrachoric matrix. The distance scores were then input into principal coordinates analysis (PCO) to depict the relationships between the two populations. PCO detected 60% of the variation in the first two principal coordinates. A plot of the distance scores revealed only one cluster; the Nubian and Egyptian groups clustered together. The grouping of the Nubians and Egyptians indicates there may have been some sort of gene flow between these groups of Nubians and Egyptians. However, common adaptation to similar environments may also be responsible for this pattern. Although the predominant results in this study appear to support the biological diffusion hypothesis, the in situ hypothesis was not completely negated.

Buddy Silver said...

Why were sooooooooooooooooo many Blacks shop by snipers in Vietnam?
Whenever the troop leader identified a Vietcong sniper, he would shout - "GET DOWN"!
And the Blacks would start DANCING!