2.5.1.13 Early Greeks

 0 Contents 2 Background 2.5 Societal 2.5.1 Europe

Wandering 2.5.1.15

2.5.1.14 Etruscans and Romans

Introduction

Etruscans

Etruscan flautist from the Tomb of the Leopards fresco, Tarquinia
Map of Etruscan territory. Click to enlarge

The Etruscans had a literate and urban culture while the ancestors of the Romans were shepherds on the Seven Hills. Studies of mtDNA in modern Tuscans and ancient Etruscans indicate an origin in the Near East,1F.Brisighelli et al., The Etruscan timeline: a recent Anatolian connection,European Journal of Human Genetics(2008); A. Achilli et al, Mitochondrial DNA Variation of Modern Tuscans Supports the Near Eastern Originof Etruscans, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 80, no. 4 (2007), pp. 759–768; A. Piazza et al, Origin of the Etruscans: novel clues from the Y chromosome lineages,European Journal of Human Genetics, vol 15, Supplement 1 (June 2007), p.19 (Abstract of paper read at the 39th European Human Genetics Conference in June 2007); C. Vernesi et al., The Etruscans: A Population-Genetic Study, American Journal of Human Genetics vol. 74 (2004), no. 4 pp. 694–704. And see S. Guimaraes et al., Genealogical discontinuities among Etruscan, Medieval and contemporary Tuscans,Molecular Biology and Evolution, published online on July 1, 2009. supporting the story reported by Herodotus that the Etruscans were from Lydia (in Anatolia).2Herodotus,The Histories (c. 430 BC), book I, 94. They were probably thrust out of north-western Anatolia by spreading Indo-Europeans.3R.S.P. Beekes, The origin of the Etruscans,Biblioteca Orientalis vol. 59 (2002), pp.206–242. The real surprise comes in the date of their advent. Archaeology and DNA studies of Tuscan cattle breeds suggests that they arrived in Italy around 1,200 BC, centuries after the Indo-Europeans.4M. Pellecchia et al., The mystery of Etruscan origins: novel clues from Bos taurus mitochondrial DNA, Proceedings ofthe Royal Society Series B, vol. 274 (2007), pp. 1175–1179.Spreading into what is now Tuscany, the Etruscans formed a solid wedge between blocks of Indo-Europeans to north and south, particularly after their expansion north-east into the Po Valley in the 6th century BC. This created a linguistic barrier, which no doubt encouraged the already developing separation of the Celtic and Italic families of languages. More surprisingly it may have contributed to the division of the Celtic languages. Martin Counihan suggests that Etruscan influence was responsible for the sound shift from Proto-Indo-European kw to p in two Italic languages (Oscan and Umbrian) and Gaulish, from which it spread to Brittonic, the precursor of Welsh, Breton and Cornish.5M. Counihan, An Etruscan solution to a Celtic problem paper read at "Edward Lhuyd" International Conference on Language, Literature, Antiquities and Science, Aberystwyth, UK, 30 Jun-03 Jul 2009.

The Roman Empire

The Roman Empire in 117 AD

 As Italy edges into history we can dimly see the Latin-speakers in central Italy among other Italic tribes, sandwiched between the Hellenised south and the Etruscans to their north. Yet Romans ultimately prevailed over the Etruscans, conquered the Greeks and Phoenicians, took over a large part of Celtic territory and created an empire that spread their language far and wide. By 200 AD the Roman Empire had 46 million subjects, including 28 million in Europe, a large part of the total European population, estimated at 36 million.6C. McEvedy and R. Jones, Atlas of World Population History(1978). From Latin sprang modern languages such as French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian.

Civilization was not an unmixed blessing. The technology that brought fresh water into Roman towns also poisoned people slowly through the use of lead pipes. Crowded urban environments help diseaese to spread. Between 600 and 300 BC, cattle as a share of livestock fell sharply in Mediterranean Europe, and remained very low until the end of the Western Roman Empire. Rome lived on grain and vegetables, with meat mainly for the rich. So native Romans were smaller than their uncivilised forefathers.7N. Koepke and J. Baten, Agricultural Specialization and Height in Ancient and Medieval Europe, Explorations in Economic History, vol. 42, no. 2 (2008), pp.127-46. As the empire expanded, Roman soldiers found themselves fighting milk-fed Celts and Germans who towered over them. Diodorus Siculus described the Gauls as tall of body, with rippling muscles.8Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, book 5, chapters 28 and 32. Strabo marvels that mere lads from milk-drinking Britain were half a foot taller than the tallest people in Rome.9Strabo,Geography, book 4, chap. 2. Strabo says that, although well-supplied with milk, they did not make cheese. Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, ed. J. Bostock and H.T.Riley (1855), chap. 96 (41) also comments that the barbarous nations which subsist on milk do not make cheese. Tacitus declared that the Germanic tribes had huge frames.10Tacitus, Germania, chapter 4.Caesar reports ruefully that the Gauls called the Romans pygmies, and that accounts of the enormous stature and military zeal of the Germans had some of his men signing and sealing their wills.11Caesar, Gallic War, I.39, II.30 and see IV.1 for his comments on the diet and height of the Suebi. It says much for the discipline of the Roman army that it triumphed for so long over such fearsome foes.

Non-Romans in the Roman army

Gravestone of Reburrus, son of Friatto, horseman of the Ala Frontoniana, Archeological Park Xanten, Germany

However the Roman army was not forever composed of Romans - at least not Romans of Italic origin. Those massive barbarians made useful soldiers for Rome. In the Archaeological Park at Xanten in Germany stands a tombstone with a tale to tell. It depicts the departed cavalryman Reburrus, son of Friatto, in a classic Roman pose of victory. He is trampling the German enemy. Yet he was no Roman. The inscription identifies his unit as the Ala Frontoniana. This auxiliary unit was stationed first on the Roman frontier with Germania, hence its name. In 73 AD it was moved to Italy, followed by posting in Pannonia. What gives away its origin is its later name of I Tungrorum. It was recruited from Germanic Tungri.12T. F. C. Blag and M. Millett, The Early Roman Empire in the West (1990), p. 99. So the Romans had Germans fighting Germans. Probably they were nothing loath. There was no sense of national unity among either Celtic or German tribes, which was an asset to Romans intent on conquest.

From 30 BC to AD 212 Roman legionaries had to be Roman citizens, which restricted recruitment largely to Italy and the Roman colonies (colonia), formed originally of legionary veterans. Intermarriage with locals gradually gave thecolonia a variety of genetic blends, while at the same time recruitment from colonia rose. Former soldiers were breeding more soldiers. We would expect their Y-DNA to be typical of Italy, but they might never set foot in the country. By the time of the Emperor Hadrian only about 8% of the legionaries were Italian-born.13Cambridge Ancient History, vol. XI The High Empire (70-192), 2nd edition (2000), p. 814. This was only half the story. The legions were bolstered by a roughly equal number of auxiliaries, recruited primarily from non-citizens within the Empire. Evidence for recruiment outside the Empire is more oblique until the 3rd century, when a few auxilia units with barbarian names start to appear in the record, for example the Ala I Sarmatarum in Britain, evidently manned by fierce Sarmatians from the steppe.14A. Goldsworthy, Complete Roman Army (2003), p.74; D. Mattingly David, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire (2006), p. 223. From 212 AD all the inhabitants of the Roman Empire were granted citizenship. Henceforth many legionaries too had no claim at all to Italian blood.

This makes for many an interesting theory. Men who find themselves carrying an unexpected Y-DNA signature may wonder if it arrived in their homeland (or the homeland of their known ancestors) with a Roman soldier. That is perfectly possible. A man could cross the Empire from one extreme to the other. Palmyra was a wealthy caravan city in the Roman province of Syria. Yet we find Barates the Palmyrene burying his beloved British wife Regina on the most northernly border of the Empire - at the fort of Arbeia, on Hadrian's Wall in Britain. Since there can have been few Palmyrenes on that frontier, it seems safe to see an inscription to ---rathes Morenus the Palmyrene at another Hadrian's Wall fort as that of Barates himself. It tells us that he had been a standard-bearer.15R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright,The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, vol. 1 (1965), RIB 1065, RIB 1171.

However there are so many ways that Y-DNA could travel across Europe that we should not leap to conclusions. The offspring of Roman soldiers would be a tiny fraction of the teeming millions of the Roman Empire.

Roman slaves

Another way that the Roman Empire moved its inhabitants around was by the practice of slavery. The ownership of one person by another was not a new concept. It is embedded in the earliest law codes that survive.16M.T. Roth and P. Michalowski, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, second edn. (1997). The Greek and Carthaginian empires ran on slave labour. What was novel about the Roman use of slaves was its scale. Massive numbers were enslaved in the process of their conquests. There were 75,000 enslaved prisoners from the First Punic War, 150,000 slaves from the Greek state of Epirus in 167 BC and a similar number from the victory of Marius over the Germans (102-1 BC). Julius Caesar sold entire tribes from Gaul into slavery. His human haul from the Gallic Wars was probably close to half a million.17M. Grant,The World of Rome (1960), p. 136; Caesar, Gallic Wars, II.33,III.16.

One estimate of the total number of Roman slaves over the thousand years of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire is over 100 million people. The majority were born into slavery. The children of enslaved mothers became slaves. That limits the use of isotope analysis to identify the origins of Roman slaves, for it can only tell us whether an individual had travelled to the place of burial. An isotope study of the cemetery at the Imperial estate of Vagnari did tease out a few foreigners among them. Ancient mtDNA showed that few of those buried there were maternally related. The specific haplogroups were not particularly informative though. Roman slaves came generally from within the conquered territories in Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. The mtDNA haplogroup mix is fairly similar over this region. However the sample also contained at least one far-travelled individual from East Asia.18J. Webster, Routes to slavery in the Roman world: a comparative perspective on the archaeology of forced migration, Journal of Roman Archaeology, supplement 78: Roman Diasporas: Archaeological approachs to mobility and diversity in the Roman Empire ed. H. Eckardt (November 3, 2010), pp. 45-66; T.L. Prowse et al., Stable isotope and mtDNA evidence for geographic origins at the site of Vagnari, Italy (1st - 4th centuries AD), ibid, pp. 175-198.

An image rendered by Mental Ray of a Roman street, from the Rome Reborn project.

Other foreigners flocked willingly to the hub of the Empire. Rome drew traders and artisans, envoys and refugees, teachers and students. Their epitaphs give us glimpses into their lives. The tomb of Numitorius Nicanor, a Theban eye-doctor, contained other members of his household, which included individuals from Phrygia, Smyrna and Carthage. Rome was a melting-pot. Some Roman authors railed against the level of immigration, which they felt was diluting the Roman character of Rome. This seems rather short-sighted. David Noy estimates that the Italian-born made up about 95% of the city's inhabitants.19D. Noy, Foreigners at Rome: Citizens and Strangers (2000). Rome was exporting its culture by allowing access to its heart. The state consolidated its hold on the provinces by making it possible for high-ranking provincials to sit in the senate. Foreigners were sucked into Rome to be Romanised, and funneled out again to spread Latin ways.

Notes

  1. F. Brisighelli et al., The Etruscan timeline: a recent Anatolian connection, European Journal of Human Genetics (2008); A. Achilli et al, Mitochondrial DNA Variation of Modern Tuscans Supports the Near Eastern Origin of Etruscans, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 80, no. 4 (2007), pp. 759–768; A. Piazza et al, Origin of the Etruscans: novel clues from the Y chromosome lineages,European Journal of Human Genetics, vol 15, Supplement 1 (June 2007), p.19 (Abstract of paper read at the 39th European Human Genetics Conference in June 2007); C. Vernesi et ali, The Etruscans: A Population-Genetic Study, American Journal of Human Genetics vol. 74 (2004), no. 4 pp. 694–704; and see S. Guimaraes et al., Genealogical discontinuities among Etruscan, Medieval and contemporary Tuscans, Molecular Biology and Evolution, published online on July 1, 2009.
  2. Herodotus, The Histories (c. 430 BC), book I, 94.
  3. R.S.P. Beekes, The Origin of the Etruscans, Biblioteca Orientalis vol. 59 (2002), pp. 206–242.
  4. M. Pellecchia et al., The mystery of Etruscan origins: novel clues from Bos taurus mitochondrial DNA, Proceedings of the Royal Society Series B, vol. 274 (2007), pp. 1175–1179.
  5. M. Counihan, An Etruscan solution to a Celtic problem, paper read at "Edward Lhuyd" International Conference on Language, Literature,Antiquities and Science, Aberystwyth, UK, 30 Jun-03 Jul 2009.
  6. C. McEvedy and R. Jones, Atlas of World Population History (1978).
  7. N. Koepke and J. Baten, Agricultural Specialization and Height in Ancient and Medieval Europe, Explorations in Economic History, vol. 42, no. 2 (2008), pp.127-46.
  8. Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica,book 5, chapters 28 and 32.
  9. Strabo, Geography, book 4, chap. 2. Strabo says that, although well-supplied with milk, they did not make cheese. Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, ed. J. Bostock and H.T.Riley (1855), chap. 96 (41) also comments that the barbarous nations which subsist on milk do not make cheese.
  10. Tacitus, Germania, chapter 4.
  11. Caesar, Gallic War, I.39, II.30.
  12. T. F. C. Blag and M. Millett, The Early Roman Empire in the West (1990), p. 99.
  13. Cambridge Ancient History, vol. XI The High Empire (70-192), 2nd edition (2000), p. 814.
  14. A. Goldsworthy, Complete Roman Army (2003), p.74; D. Mattingly David, An Imperial Possession: Britain in the Roman Empire (2006), p. 223.
  15. R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain, vol. 1 (1965), RIB 1065, RIB 1171.
  16. M.T. Roth and P. Michalowski, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, second edn. (1997).
  17. M. Grant, The World of Rome (1960), p. 136; Caesar, Gallic Wars, II.33,III.16.
  18. J. Webster, Routes to slavery in the Roman world: a comparative perspective on the archaeology of forced migration, Journal of Roman Archaeology, supplement 78: Roman Diasporas: Archaeological approachs to mobility and diversity in the Roman Empire ed. H. Eckardt (November 3, 2010), pp. 45-66; T.L. Prowse et al., Stable isotope and mtDNA evidence for geographic origins at the site of Vagnari, Italy (1st - 4th centuries AD), ibid, pp. 175-198.
  19. D. Noy, Foreigners at Rome: Citizens and Strangers (2000).

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