Monday, August 07, 2017

Mixed Britain

Mary Beard, a classicist at Cambridge University, has been defending a BBC schools video that featured a high-ranking black Roman soldier as the father of a family.

She said, “It feels very sad to me that we cannot have a reasonable discussion on such a topic as the cultural, ethnic composition of Roman Britain without resorting to unnecessary insult, abuse, misogyny and language of war, not debate...One thing is for sure, the Roman empire, Britain included, was culturally and ethnically diverse, from the Syrians in Bath to Quintus Lollius Urbicus, the Ethiopian who met Septimius Severus on Hadrian’s Wall, and the wonderful couple from South Shields, Barates and Queenie [Regina], he from Palmyra, she an Essex girl. There is no doubt about that,” Beard said.

Quintus Lollius Urbicus, a Berber from what is now Algeria became governor of Roman Britain. Explaining that it can be difficult to be sure of ethnicity because Africans took on Roman names, she said: “Even in the case of Septimius Severus, the first Roman emperor from Africa [Libya], we don’t actually know the colour of his skin, how far he was ‘native’, how far the descendent of Italian settler. The same goes for Quintus Lollius Urbicus, often claimed to be Berber, which he may well have been, but it isn’t certain.”

Beard said a major study carried out by the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford showed very little sub-Saharan DNA, but also very little Norman DNA, “and there is no doubt that they came here in large numbers”.

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