Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Genetics of the Ancient Romans

As we've noted before, there are a bunch of charlatans in the world of Ancient DNA.  The worst offender, perhaps, is a pseudonymous Belgian named Maciamo Hay, who runs a site called Eupedia.  This uneducated man knows just enough to sound knowledgable, and to delude himself and some of the similarly ignorant.  In the world of Ancient DNA, he is probably the best example of Dunning-Krueger effect out there.

Many of these Ancient DNA practitioners spend their time trying to digest the most recent DNA studies, but don't ever come close to picking up a history book, much less to acquiring the deep, big-picture understanding of ancient history that is needed to explain the population movements that have occurred in places like Rome and Italy over time.

In this post, we go over those population movements, to review claims made by fools like Maciamo on Eupedia.

Let's start with his baldest misstatement: "In all logic, the ancient Romans, from the original founders of Rome to the patricians of the Roman Republic, should have been essentially R1b-U152 people."  This laughable statement was directly pulled from Eupedia on the same day that this post is dated, and as far as I can tell, it's still up.  (I just refuse to link to it, lest any more misinformation be circulated).

As Maciamo's own maps show! -- the distribution of U152 in Italy is centered in the ALPS, and radiates outward to all the parts of Italy that were previously inhabited by CELTS.

So: Where to begin?  How does one even start to explain history to someone so uneducated?

Let's start with something most people know.  The saying, "he's crossed the Rubicon" is a reference to Caesar crossing the Rubicone river.

Why was that so significant?  Because the Rubicon was the traditional BORDER of Italy at that time.  (49 BC.)  In other words, it was an act of war for Caesar to cross that border.  Where is the Rubicone river?  It's just south of modern Ravenna!

For 700 years, the "Italy" of Roman times -- that which was populated by Italians (versus Gauls) -- was the true peninsula parts (sticking out).  Never forget that.  The distribution of U152 clearly corresponds to where the population was Gaulish versus Roman!  U152 is the OPPOSITE of a Roman marker.

Southern Italy, on the other hand, was considered the most desirable real estate for much of the Roman Republic and early empire.  When Cicero listed the most beautiful and prosperous cities in Italy, most were in Southern Italy.  Places like Reggio Calabria and Capua.  When Mark Antony and Augustus' veterans demanded land, they demanded it in Southern Italy.

Furthermore, Rome devastated places like Samnium (modern Molise/Campania) and modern Cosenza, destroying most of the inhabitants, and then seizing the territory for Roman citizens.  Anyone who knows Roman history knows this.

Rome planted dozens (almost a hundred) of colonies (of Roman citizens) in Southern Italy.  Entire towns (like Vibo Valentia) were populated by tens of thousands of transplanted Romans.  These colonies were stocked BEFORE Rome became an empire, i.e., before it became cosmopolitan.  The people who founded these towns were of "pure" Roman stock.

Why does this matter?  Well, this blog is no Southern Italy apologist.  Southern Italy was a backwater for years.  Isolated and insignificant.  But from a genetic standpoint, those qualities ARE significant.

If you wanted to study the genetics of the Romans, would you go to a place where lots of people had passed through?  A place that was a successful and world port in the Middle Ages?  A place where people wanted to move to from elsewhere?  OF COURSE NOT.

You would WANT a backwater; a place unchanged over millennia.  The towns of South Italy (many of which who have never been invaded by anyone, thank you very much), are where you can find the descendants of Romans, unadulterated.

Well before modern genetic studies, very intelligent, very thorough researchers did large-scale demographic studies on Rome.  These folks, mostly British historians from Oxford, scoured records in churches and cemeteries, in abbeys and books -- everywhere, -- to estimate the population demography of Rome.  This much we know: at the dawn of the empire, "Italy" was Italy south of the Rubicon, well south of the Po.  The population was a mix of the local Italic tribes and Roman Latins, placed there as colonies.

Want to know the genetics of the Romans?  Look at which towns started out as Roman (not Gaulish, Maciamo!) and which towns have largely been untouched since.

Professor Chris Wickham produced exhaustive studies of Italy from 400-1000 AD.  He provides real numbers of the "others" in Italy.  He concludes the Goths and Lombards (German tribes who ruled large parts of Italy from 476 AD - c. 1000 AD) never were more than 2%-9% of the Italian population, and he believes aside from pockets in the South, they were clustered mostly in the North.  Again, it's the NORTHERN Italians with the non-Roman influences, not the Southerners.  Again, this skews the DNA of the North.  Don't assume the Southern differences from the North are from Southern exoticness.

Chances are, Northern Italian DNA is different because it started with a large dollop of Gaulish (Celtic) genes, and they received a small smattering of Germanic genes.  This is why northern Italians appear, well, more "northern."  Southern Italian DNA, for the most part is not different because of subsequent influences or invasions.  Southern Italians are generally darker (although not by much) because of the absence of Gaulish and Germanic influences.  But those southerners more closely represent Roman DNA as it was around the years 200 BC - 50 AD.

Wickham also studied the Byzantine (Eastern Roman empire, Greek-speaking), Norman (French Viking) and Saracen (Arab or North African) occupying forces in Italy, and concluded that for peninsular Italy, these forces were tiny, much less than 1% of the population, and that they left no real permanent traces.  Again, this is because these were occupying armies not settlers.  Please note contrary to popular belief, much of the towns and villages of Southern Italy were never physically occupied by ANY of these groups, even though suzerainty and tax payments did change hands.  Was Paris after the Nazis any less French?

Folks like Maciamo also greatly UNDERESTIMATE the effect of Roman colonies throughout the Mediterranean.  Rome, through much of its thousand-year history, was a population EXPORTER.  Romans bred like crazy -- there was never enough land to go around -- and they, as the most powerful people of their era, felt it was their prerogative to seize lands of the conquered and place their citizens' families there, to live long and prosper.  It wasn't like now, where middle class families have 2.5 kids.  Then, (aside from the patricians), a family had as many kids as it could afford -- as many kids as it could feed.  Romans had many kids...

A look at the map of Roman colonies shows just how widespread this practice was.   Note the concentration in Italy and Spain, followed by France and Romania.  Yes folks, there's a reason why the Latin language survived in those regions, and why Romance derivatives are still spoken there today.

Despite the Romans exporting so many people, I have never seen one of these modern, unschooled-in-history geneticists raise the question as to whether the similarities between South/Central Italian DNA and that of say, Greece,or North Africa is due to Roman OUTFLOW of genes.  These idiotic (and perhaps racist?) people only repeat the Quentin Tarantino-esque claims that the similarity between such genes must be from exotic INFLOWS into the population of Italy.

It's really idiotic if you think about it.  Rome locates a colony of 25,000 Italian FAMILIES in some town in backwater Greece (or North Africa), and the town prospers for 1000 years and still exists today.  A Byzantine (or Saracen) garrison of 1000 men holds an Italian town for 100 years and then departs.  But many dummies online ascribe the similarity between Italian and Greek (or North African) genes to the latter?  Incredibly myopic.

Anyway, in conclusion:

Maciamo Hay is an idiot.  He should read some JB Bury, some Sir Ronald Syme, and some Chris Wickham.

Geneticists should realize if they want to find Roman genetics, they should try to discern the similarities between backwater (untouched/remote) towns in Southern Italy and Spain, which were settled around the same time with Roman colonists.  There, you can detect and isolate the signal of Roman genetics.

And genetic similarities between Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean could just as easily be due to pre-Roman factors or Roman OUTFLOWS as they are to post-Roman inflows into Italy.

Related Posts: The Genetics of the Ancient Romans, Part II


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. Please share it widely. There is so much misinformation out there.

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