Black people in Ancient Roman history

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African origins were not unusual in Roman urban centres as far north as Britannia; a craniometric study of 22 individuals from Southwark, Roman London, found that four of them appeared to be of African ancestry, and the isotopic analysis of their bones suggested childhoods spent in a climate warmer than Roman Britain.[1] Analysis of autosomal DNA from four individuals from Roman London found that one had Black ancestry, with brown eyes and dark brown or black hair. Bone isotopes suggested that this individual, a male aged over 45 years, had spent his childhood in the London region.[2] The "ivory bangle lady" whose rich burial was found in York also had cranial features that hinted at a 'mixed' white/black ancestry.[3][4][5]

Roman writers described people with physical characteristics of sub-Saharan Africans as "Aethiopes", but the term carried no social implications.[6] There was no such thing as a black community; immigrants from south of the Sahara were few and from disparate ethnic communities. The immigrants would have been separated from each other in households of white people, and if they had descendants these would have blended within very few generations into the local population.[6] While slavery was a deeply-stigmatized social status, the great majority of slaves were from European and Mediterranean populations; inherited physical characteristics were not relevant to slave status.[6] Black people were not excluded from any profession, and there was usually no stigma or bias against mixed race relationships in Antiquity.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Redfern RC, Grocke D, Millard AR, Ridgeway V, Johnson L. Going south of the river: a multidisciplinary analysis of ancestry, mobility and diet in a population from Roman Southwark, London. Journal of Archaeological Science 2016 74 11-22.
  2. ^ 'Written in Bone': New discoveries about the Lives and Burials of Four Roman Londoners. Rebecca C Redfern, Michael Marshall, Katherine Eaton, Hendrik Poinar. Britannia 48 (2017) 253-277 doi:10.1017/S0068113X17000216.
  3. ^ Leach S, Lewis M, Chenery C, Müldner G, Eckardt H. Migration and diversity in Roman Britain: a multidisciplinary approach to immigrants in Roman York, England' American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2009 140 546-561
  4. ^ Leach S, Eckardt H, Chenery C, Müldner G, Lewis M. A "lady" of York: migration, ethnicity and identity in Roman York. Antiquity 2010 84 131-135
  5. ^ Rebecca Gowland. Britannia 48 (2017) 177-194 doi:10.1017/S0068113X17000125 Embodied Identities in Roman Britain: A Bioarchaeological Approach.
  6. ^ a b c Thompson, Lloyd (Sep 1993). "Roman Perceptions of Blacks". Electronic Antiquity: Communicating the Classics. 1 (4): 1. Retrieved 9 May 2017. 
  7. ^ Snowden, Frank M. (Winter 1997). "Misconceptions about African Blacks in the Ancient Mediterranean World: Specialists and Afrocentrists". Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics. 4 (3): 28–50. JSTOR 20163634. 

Sources[edit]

  • Benjamin, Isaac (Mar 2006). "Proto-Racism in Graeco-Roman Antiquity". World Archaeology. 38 (1): 32–47. doi:10.1080/00438240500509819. JSTOR 40023593. 
  • Snowden, Frank M. (Winter 1997). "Misconceptions about African Blacks in the Ancient Mediterranean World: Specialists and Afrocentrists". Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics. 4 (3): 28–50. JSTOR 20163634.