6 comments on “DNA and the Roman Army in Britain

  1. Pingback: Engaging with the Roman Army | Ancient Worlds

  2. Thank you for this comment. I originally wrote this blog in response to the article about finding the DNA marker for men from northern Italy in the present day population of Britain, the inference being that this genetic marker was left by men serving in the Roman army. I was saying that there were relatively few Romans and Italians in the Roman army in Britain – certainly after the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-38). British auxiliary regiments were raised but they were posted abroad. It seems to have been the policy to post auxiliaries outside the province where they were raised in order to discourage rebellion. This measure may have been no more than common sense but there is a historical precedent. Hannibal at the outbreak of the Second Punic War sent soldiers from Spain to Africa and vice versa (Polybius Histories III.33). The consequences of not observing this rule coud be disastrous. There was a serious mutiny by Batavian soldiers in Germania Inferior in AD 69-70 who were serving on or close to home ground. That aside, the recruiting pattern changed during the later Roman Empire, perhaps because all free people living in the Roman Empire had been granted citizenship by the Emperor Caracalla. The old distinction between native men being recruited to auxiliary regiments (serving for 25 years in return for citizenship) and Roman citizens being recruited to the legions disappeared. Presumably at this point more local recruitment became the norm and men who had been born in the province served in the Roman army in Britain. It would be reasonable to expect men to be recruited for an auxiliary regiment from amongst the male population of the civilian settlement or vicus usually attached to the fort where the auxiliary regiment was stationed. They were probably the children of the soldiers of the garrison. To what extent were ethnic regiments like the Hamian archers or the Dacians and other nationalities attested in Britain still Syrian and eastern European after a generation or so? The later recruits were probably the sons and grandsons of the men of those regiments which were transferred to Britain. That they were born in Britain did not make them any less proud of their foreign military traditions and heritage. They would also carry the biological marker of their fathers and grandfathers’ foreign ethnic origin. In addition native Britons served in the Roman army and David Mattingly lists four possible candidates in his An Imperial Possession Britain in the Roman Army (Allen Lane, 2006). However, Britons may well be under-represented because they had not got the ‘epigraphic habit’ of setting up inscriptions.

  3. Pingback: Roman Finds Group Meeting at Manchester Museum 8th October 2014 | Ancient Worlds

  4. Pingback: Musings about Thematic Collecting and Roman Migration | Thematic Collecting

  5. Pingback: Two Thousand Years / Two Thousand Miles – Stories from the Museum Floor

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