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Thread: Roman Impact on Britain and North-Western Europe

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    Roman Impact on Britain and North-Western Europe

    I've been wondering for a while what kind of genetic and cultural impact the Romans genuinely had on pre-Germanic Britain and the Germanic realms of North and Western Europe. We seem, on Skadi, reluctant to acknowledge any significant Roman influence and I wonder if that's because we have solid evidence to suggest that the influence was small, or if it's because we'd prefer to pretend that our lands are overwhelmingly Germanic/Celto-Germanic.

    I stumbled across this passage on *gasp* Wikipedia and thought it was worth putting up for discussion. We'll either find some truth in it or the more educated among us will struggle little to quash its validity:

    The Romano-British were originally a diverse group of Celtic (mostly or wholly Brythonic) peoples living, and frequently fighting, with each other. They first united when Roman troops, mainly from nearby Germanic provinces, under Emperor Claudius invaded Britannia in 43 AD. [1] Defeated and conquered, the various tribes were assimilated into the Roman Empire as the province of Britannia. Roman businessmen and officials came to Britannia to settle by the thousands along with their families. Roman troops from all across the Empire as far as Spain, North Africa, and Egypt, but mainly from the Germanic provinces, Batavia and Frisia (modern Netherlands, Belgium, and the Rhineland area of Germany) were garrisoned in Roman towns, taking local Britons for wives and intermarrying. This diversified Britannia's cultures and religions, while the populace remained mainly Celtic with a Roman way of life.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romano-Britons

    Obviously, this pertains specifically to Britain, but the Roman Empire was once widespread. I'll make an early interjection to say that I believe the Roman cultural impact to be relatively small (though larger in Britain), but I wonder how insignificant the genetic impact really is. We Brits talk refer to our ancestry as Celto-Germanic, but would it be more honest to say Celto-Romano-Germanic? Or is the "Celto" part intended to include the "Romano" part, as a kind of catch-all prefix for any and all pre-Germanic ancestry?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cythraul View Post
    would it be more honest to say Celto-Romano-Germanic?
    Define what "Romano" is in your eyes.

    To me, the Romans who invaded the British Isles were largely of non-Roman stock as the conventional eye would see it.
    The idea of Rome was built upon the aspirations of one people, but in order to survive and in its encroaching growth into new territory, the ranks filled were by those considered 'barbarian'.


    (Circa 44 B.C.E ish)

    The Romans based their system to counter man power shortages and to counter large populations being governed by their own by using soldiers alien or at odds with the nation at question.
    By the time the Roman invasion of England occurred the stationery troops would have been of largely non-Roman stock and of the stock more akin to the English today. ie: Germans and Gauls.

    The Germans and Gauls/Celts(?) would have taken local women but still subjected the local men to that of a slave nation.

    I do remember one genetic survey revealing a few applicants had North African lineages tracing back to as late as the 14th Century or to the Roman invasion of Britain which would be of interest.

    New Scientist: genes reveal West-African heritage of white Brits.html


    In a nutshell I believe the demise of the Roman presence in England led the Roman higher class to retreat back to more secure climes and leave only remnants of Latin speaking locals governing a large Brythonic lower class.
    Last edited by BeornWulfWer; Friday, December 26th, 2008 at 04:54 PM. Reason: Forgot date of map.
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    I suppose the easiest way to settle this question would be genetically. I'm not an R1b expert, so I'd have to ask, has an Italian haplotype been identified within the R1b haplogroup, and has this been found in Britain? I'd imagine we'd only be looking at the Y-DNA, since the Legionnaires wouldn't have been traveling with their wives.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BeornWulfWer View Post
    Define what "Romano" is in your eyes.

    To me, the Romans who invaded the British Isles were largely of non-Roman stock as the conventional eye would see it.
    I agree with your post. What I'm interested in most is challenging the statement in bold taken from the Wikipedia source:

    Roman troops from all across the Empire as far as Spain, North Africa, and Egypt, but mainly from the Germanic provinces, Batavia and Frisia (modern Netherlands, Belgium, and the Rhineland area of Germany) were garrisoned in Roman towns, taking local Britons for wives and intermarrying.
    I'm sure most of the troops stationed in Britain were not first generation Romans but rather Germanic men gathered over the course of the Empire's rise. But I'm reluctant to say that a sizeable portion were not of mediterranean origin. Furthermore, what about interbreeding along the way? Early Roman invaders would have been almost wholly mediterranean and would have interbred with perhaps Austrians during the first surge, then Germans and Dutch with the second, then Britons with the third. This would have resulted in a sizeable but watered down med ancestry in Britain-stationed Romans.

    Just food for thought. My postulations might be faulty.
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    Legio II Augusta
    Legio IX Hispana
    Legio XIV Gemina
    Legio XX Valeria Victrix

    These were the legions used in the invasion. Only Augusta and Valeria Victrix were garrisoned and used extensively within Britannia.
    I tried looking for sources that may hint at the ethnic make up of the legions, but as you can imagine, the references were nil for me.

    I do recall as a child reading of the Romans using Celtic cavalry and it wouldn't take much to speculate that the ranks were mostly of non-Roman stock, being bolstered by further infusions of Celts/Iberians and Germans as the empire grew.
    Bear in mind that the Marian reforms didn't occur till around 100 B.C.E, so that would have denied access for any non-Romans to the ranks.

    In all, I think Psychonaut's reference to genetics would be our best bet to truly find out.
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    I found a couple of sources that shed a bit of light on this.

    This essay, Haplogroup E3b1a2 as a Possible Indicator of Settlement in Roman Britain by Soldiers of Balkan Origin, discusses the arrival of E3b1a2 (now called E1b1b1a) in Britain. It's a very in depth article and sheds a lot of light on the Balkan-British connection.

    Also, it looks like the haplotype 35 variant of R1b is connected to the Romans and is found in very high concentrations along Hadrian's wall. There are two pages of essays discussing this here and here.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BeornWulfWer View Post
    Legio II Augusta
    Legio IX Hispana
    Legio XIV Gemina
    Legio XX Valeria Victrix

    These were the legions used in the invasion. Only Augusta and Valeria Victrix were garrisoned and used extensively within Britannia.
    I tried looking for sources that may hint at the ethnic make up of the legions, but as you can imagine, the references were nil for me.

    I do recall as a child reading of the Romans using Celtic cavalry and it wouldn't take much to speculate that the ranks were mostly of non-Roman stock, being bolstered by further infusions of Celts/Iberians and Germans as the empire grew.
    Bear in mind that the Marian reforms didn't occur till around 100 B.C.E, so that would have denied access for any non-Romans to the ranks.

    In all, I think Psychonaut's reference to genetics would be our best bet to truly find out.
    Around the fourth Century most of the recruits in the Roman Army came from places with Germanic populations like northern Italy. The people living around the Mediterranean had become too civilized to be physically/mental tough to be soldiers. Read the "The Invasions of Europe by the Barbarians" by J.B. Bury.

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    Roman admixture might explain the dark coloring of some Welsh and Scottish people. Even some Englishman are quite Mediterranean in appearance(Rowan Atkinson is a good example). According to what I've read, Celtic British women were sexually used by Roman soldiers all the time. Historians will tell you that only one in ten soldiers stationed in Britannia was of Roman extraction, but their characteristics would have left an impact on the looks of the Celtic population. The genes responsible for Mediterranean traits are dominant over Celtic and Germanic ones. You can assume some of the other nine out ten soldiers left were North African or Middle Eastern. That could account for the very curly hair you often see in people of Celtic descent.
    I'm no expert on the prehistoric peoples of Britain, but I'm quite sure I read somewhere that either the Bell Beaker people or the Wessex people were at least partially dinaric and had dark hair. If that was the case, then some of these dark Brits could just be throw backs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flemish View Post
    Roman admixture might explain the dark coloring of some Welsh and Scottish people. Even some Englishman are quite Mediterranean in appearance(Rowan Atkinson is a good example). According to what I've read, Celtic British women were sexually used by Roman soldiers all the time. Historians will tell you that only one in ten soldiers stationed in Britannia was of Roman extraction, but their characteristics would have left an impact on the looks of the Celtic population. The genes responsible for Mediterranean traits are dominant over Celtic and Germanic ones. You can assume some of the other nine out ten soldiers left were North African or Middle Eastern. That could account for the very curly hair you often see in people of Celtic descent.
    I'm no expert on the prehistoric peoples of Britain, but I'm quite sure I read somewhere that either the Bell Beaker people or the Wessex people were at least partially dinaric and had dark hair. If that was the case, then some of these dark Brits could just be throw backs.
    The darker features of the Welsh, Irish, and all the Britons is a long standing characteristic of the islands. If it were the case that the Romans brought these traits, we would be looking at a massive invasion of Mediterranean peoples in the Roman era, which is not the case. There are simply too many examples of dark haired Britons for that to be the case. I've seen many a "Negresence" map of the British Isles showing the relative proportions of dark features...the Western portions, and those with the least contact from invading Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Vikings and Normans, are the darkest. Wales is full of the surviving Brythonic Celts, Ireland's West was largely untouched by Viking establishments and Anglo-Norman invasions...it's darker. Point is that the dark features are from the earliest settlers of the isles, not Romans or their armies.

    Celtic areas are usually darker than "Germanic" areas of England. I would have to say it's because of Continental and Scandinavian influence that the Isles get their lighter tones. You will have to double check this, but I think that some of the original inhabitants of the Isles did in fact come from Northwest Spain and Portugal...in the Mesolithic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Soten View Post
    TI think that some of the original inhabitants of the Isles did in fact come from Northwest Spain and Portugal...in the Mesolithic.
    Bingo. Spain was one of several European refuges where R1b1b2, one of Britain's indigenous haplogroups, was preserved during the last glacial maximum.
    "Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of Time."
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