The Multicultural Roman EmpireOur knowledge of Black people present in Britain in early times is scanty. However, studies by scholars, archaeologists and historians have pieced together evidence about the lives of Black Romans.
One historian, Anthony Birley, in his work The African Emperor: Septimius Severus, explains that between AD 193 and 211 the Roman empire embraced a multicultural mix of peoples from Syria, Germany, Britain, Spain and Africa. Eight African men had positions of command in the northern Roman legions, and others held high rank as equestrian officers.
|One of these Africans was Emperor Septimius Severus (AD 145-211). He arrived in Britain in AD 203 and when he died in AD 211 he was cremated in York (Eboracum), the capital of Roman Britain.|
An African Emperor - Septimius Severus (AD 145-211)Septimius Severus was the first Roman emperor not born and raised in Italy. His father's family originally came from Libya (Leptis Magna) and his mother's family were Etruscans (Italian). His grandfather, a knight of the Roman empire, owned land near Rome, but Septimius grew up in North Africa with his father.
Septimius married Julia Domna, a Syrian, daughter of a high priest. The name Domna is derived from the archaic Arabic word dumayna, meaning 'black'. Septimius and Julia had two sons, Caracalla, the elder, born in AD 188, and Geta.
Because Septimius's ancestors were Roman citizens, he was entitled to be educated in Rome. He briefly practised as a lawyer, became a Roman senator, and from the age of 24 took part in campaigns in Spain, Syria, Gaul, Sicily and Athens. He spent much time extending Rome's borders eastwards across the Tigris in Mesopotamia and the Balkans. His education and experience won him strong support within the empire. He was described by contemporaries such as the famous physician Galen and the historians Herodian and Cassius Dio as 'a man of such energy...wise and successful...that he left no battle except as victor'.
|In AD 193, following the assassination
of Emperor Pertinax, Septimius Severus was proclaimed emperor.
Later, when the Caledonians (inhabitants of what is now Scotland) invaded Roman Britain in AD 208, Septimius travelled to this most western part of the Roman Empire. He made this remote region a separate province, under the commander of the Sixth Legion stationed at York, and launched an attack into Scotland.
Nearly a century earlier, around AD 122, the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38) had fortified the northern border of Roman Britain by building a defensive wall. However, Hadrian's Wall had been abandoned by a later governor of Roman Britain, Clodius Albinus, and the undefended frontier was overrun by the Caledonians.
|Emperor Septimius spent the last years of his life reorganising
Britain's northern border. In AD 197 he ordered the reconstruction
of Hadrian's Wall, and in AD 208 the Romans once more took
control of the wall. However, the region was abandoned again
after his son Caracalla succeeded him as Emperor in AD 211.|
Coins from AD 208 depict Septimius riding off to war, but due to a painful condition in his legs or feet (probably gout or arthritis) he was carried for most of the journey. During the winter of AD 210-11, his condition worsened, and he died at York in AD 211. His body was cremated, and his ashes - carried in an urn of porphyry (a purple-and-white stone reserved for imperial rulers) - were taken back to his homeland, Libya.
You can find out more here: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/early_times/romans.htm
So, perhaps a bit more reading so as not to be so surprised next time?
Roman-Era Skeletons Found in York, England Yield Interesting DNA Results
The DNA from seven Roman-era skeletons found in York, England indicate the Roman Empire included both locals and immigrants.
Six of the skulls contained DNA matching people living in modern-day Wales, Trinity College Dublin geneticist Dan Bradley and his colleagues said in a paper published this week in the Nature Communications journal.
That wasn’t too surprising, but the researchers were interested to find that the seventh skull’s DNA matched from the modern-day Middle East.
“The nearest genetic matches were from Palestine or Saudi Arabia,” Bradley told National Geographic. “He definitely didn’t come from Europe.”
The results came from DNA preserved in dense inner ear bones, and were confirmed with analysis of chemical signatures in the skeleton’s teeth.
“This Near Eastern chap really, really stands out. He was from somewhere arid and hot,” said Gundula Müldner of the University of Reading, who performed the chemical analysis. “Where he fits best is the Nile Valley or an environment like that—we can’t pinpoint it exactly, but somewhere in the Near East.”
Experts said the latest findings may be the first DNA evidence of the Roman Empire’s cosmopolitan character, showing how even non-elite Romans traveled great distances.
“It confirms the cosmopolitan character of the Roman Empire even at its most northerly extent,” said professor Matthew Collins, of the BioArCh research facility in the Department of Archaeology at York, who co-ordinated the scientific analysis, in a statement.
“This is the first refined genomic evidence for far-reaching ancient mobility and also the first snapshot of British genomes in the early centuries AD, indicating continuity with an Iron Age sample before the migrations of the Anglo-Saxon period.”
Previous analysis of the skeletons indicated that they may have been gladiators or soldiers, and that some of the men grew up in colder climates, perhaps Germany or further east in continental Europe. It also showed that the men had poor childhood health and that many had brown eyes and black or brown hair, while one had blue eyes and blond hair.