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Thread: The Archaeology of Black Britain: North African soldiers at Burgh-by-Sands

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    Post The Archaeology of Black Britain: North African soldiers at Burgh-by-Sands

    "The Archaeology of Black Britain: Approaches, Methods and Possible Solutions"
    Case study: North African soldiers at Aballava (Burgh-by-Sands)
    Richard Paul Benjamin, Postgraduate Researcher University of Liverpool
    Alan M. Greaves, Lecturer University of Liverpool

    There is an on-going debate regarding the presence or otherwise of black people in Britain in antiquity. The basic problem with this kind of research has always been the reliability and availability of source materials and the analytical methods by which we study them. The most celebrated example of an early black presence in Britain, is the case of the Roman military garrison at the fort of Burgh-by-Sands, on Hadrian's wall in Cumbria. A fourth century inscription tells us that the Roman auxiliary unit Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum was stationed at Aballava, modern day Burgh-by-Sands. This unit had been mustered in the Roman province of Mauretania in North Africa, modern Morocco.


    It is often forgotten that Rome's African provinces were some of its most important and it has been suggested that there may have been a black Roman Emperor (Septimus Severus). There are in fact several inscriptions found in Britain that mention the Emperor Septimus Severus. It is generally accepted that Septimus Severus was born in Numidia, also in North Africa and there is the possibility that the unit Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum was brought to Britain around AD 193-211 during his reign.


    It was recently suggested that African DNA might be found to be present in the local populations near to Hadrian's Wall, for instance Burgh-by-Sands. However, this would not conclusively show that the black Roman soldiers on the wall intermarried with the local population because of the problem of admixture. Admixture is a process whereby the DNA of a population becomes diluted over time and it cannot be shown at what period in time that dilution took place.

    Sir Walter Bodmer, a leading geneticist, believes that it would be exceedingly unlikely that any connection between North African soldiers stationed on the Wall could be detected within modern day inhabitants of the area. It would be difficult to distinguish between the genetic traits of North African Roman soldiers and that of any later influxes of African DNA into the local gene pool.

    Although the contribution of advances in the study of DNA to other areas of archaeological research has been enormous, this has not been the case here. Archaeologists are forced, until there can be further excavations at the site to recover skeletons of the soldiers or advances in DNA technology as a result of the Human Genome Project, to continue relying on the older and more "scholarly" pursuit of epigraphy (the study of inscriptions) to answer these questions.

    The Roman fort at Burgh-by-Sands (ancient Aballava) lay at the western end of Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria. The site was occupied from around the second to fourth centuries AD. Our evidence for this unit consists of an inscription found in 1934 at the village of Beaumont two miles east of Burgh-by-Sands on the banks of the River Eden and a passage in the Notita Dignitatum, a Roman list of officials and dignitaries.

    The Beaumont inscription, which is written in the stylised Latin of a standard Roman military inscription, was carved into an altar stone dedicated to the god Jupiter (king of the gods). It reads:

    "To Jupiter Best and Greatest and the Majesty of our two emperors, to the genius (guardian spirit) of the numerus (unit) of Aurelian Moors, Valerianus' and Gallienus' own, Caelius Vibianus, cohort-tribune in charge of the above-mentioned numerus, [set up this altar] through the agency of Julius Rufinus, senior centurion." (See Fig.1)

    As the name Aurelianorum suggests the unit was named in honour of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180). Recently popularised in the film Gladiator by Richard Harris. It is unlikely that the unit was formed just to be placed in one of the Empire's farthest postings, and they had probably already seen active service before their posting to Burgh-by-Sands. More than likely the unit will have been blooded in battles in Germany (Germania) and the Danube (Dacia), where inscriptions mention a unit of Moors involved in these campaigns. The Roman Empire was constantly at war during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and therefore many units across the Empire will have been destroyed or weakened by battle.

    Fig.1
    Inscribed altar stone dedicated to Jupiter

    Our second piece of evidence is the Notitia Dignitatum, a list of Roman dignitaries that includes the passage, " prefect of the numerus of Aurelian Moors at Aballava." Together, these two pieces of evidence firmly place a unit of Moors on Hadrian's Wall, although the precise date of the occupation at the fort of Aballava is unknown. Their exact number is also unknown, although a small fort like Aballava could hold upwards of 500 men. We do not know where they were stationed before Aballava or where they went afterwards, but we do know that they were there.


    It is not at all well known that North African Roman soldiers were stationed on Hadrian's Wall. Athough it is tempting to think of the local inhabitants of Burgh-by-Sands as still having genetic traits of those black soldiers this cannot be confirmed. Sir Walter Bodmer does not categorically dismiss the possibility but he outlines the difficulties that are faced in trying to show this.

    For us to securely link a unit of North African soldiers with the site at Burgh-by-Sands we must still rely on more traditional methods of scholarly investigation, in this case epigraphy. The inscription and textual evidence available at present brings us to the conclusion that a unit of North Africans were stationed at Burgh-by-Sands but we cannot show that that they intermarried whilst stationed there. For us to find African artefacts and the DNA of African soldiers themselves a full-scale archaeological excavation would have to be organised at the site. Only a methodical and modern archaeological excavation at the fort has the possibility of furthering our knowledge into a fascinating episode of the early black presence in British history.


    Bibliography
    Breeze, D., & Dobson, B., 2000, Hadrian's Wall, Penguin, London.
    Frere, S., 1987, Tabula Imperii Romani-Britannia Septentrionalis, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
    Frere,S., 1995, The Roman Inscriptions of Britain II, Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd, Stroud.

    Maxfield, V., 1981, The Military Decorations of the Roman Army, B.T.Batsford Ltd, London.

    Snowden Jr., F., 1970, Blacks in Antiquity, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, USA.
    Transactions of the Cumberland & Westmoreland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society,
    Volumes: 1923, 1936, 1939, Titus Wilson & Son, Highgate.

    Van Sertima, I., 1990, African Presence in Early Europe, Transaction Books, USA.

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    Post Re: The Archaeology of Black Britain: North African soldiers at Burgh-by-Sands

    It is often forgotten that Rome's African provinces were some of its most important and it has been suggested that there may have been a black Roman Emperor (Septimus Severus). There are in fact several inscriptions found in Britain that mention the Emperor Septimus Severus. It is generally accepted that Septimus Severus was born in Numidia, also in North Africa and there is the possibility that the unit Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum was brought to Britain around AD 193-211 during his reign.

    [...]

    It is not at all well known that North African Roman soldiers were stationed on Hadrian's Wall. Athough it is tempting to think of the local inhabitants of Burgh-by-Sands as still having genetic traits of those black soldiers this cannot be confirmed.
    Is that stuff again from an Afrocentrist page? The Negroes equate of course - either out of impertinence or out of real stupidity - always Roman "Africa" respectively "Africans" in Roman times without any problems with Blacks, with Negrids.

    The Roman territories on the continent Africa were of course only along the northern Mediterranean coastal periphery, the provincia Africa (proconsularis) is located at the coast of today's Libya and Tunesia - areas which are of course populated by racially southern Europid (Caucasian) forms today just as they were in former times.
    Surely there is a certain degree of Negrid infiltration in that area, which is nevertheless - considering the anthropological make-up as a whole - only of secondary importance (maybe it had 2000 years ago an even less importance, as maybe not little of the process of Negrid infiltration may have happened in the Arab period). To conclude from the Roman provincia Africa to "black soldiers" would be somehow the same as if one would conclude to Mongolids from the provincia Asia (located in western Minor Asia). :anieyes



    The name of that emperor is also written Septimius Severus, not Septimus Severus, as it was written twice in that text. Silly Negroes. Generally on Afrocentrist pages the name seems quite often misspelled, which shows the quality of that kind of "research" on classical antiquity:

    http://www.africawithin.com/studies/...us_severus.htm
    http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/...s_severus.html
    http://www.aaregistry.com/african_am..._ruler_of_Rome

    His birthplace was Leptis Magna, which was located not in Numidia, but in the provincia Africa. And he looks of course generally Europid (Caucasian), even if he may have been (and also his character indicated that) from a really European and old Roman viewpoint not fully "clean":




    Here is what Günther wrote on him:


    Septimius Severus, nach Bildwerken ein Mann mit gekräuseltem oder wenigstens eng gelocktem Kopfhaar und Bart, nach Aelius Spartianus (Historia Augusta XIX, 9) mit langem Bart und gekräuseltem Haar, mit einer Aussprache, die den Afrikaner verriet, nach Johannes Malalas (Severus XII, O 383) hochgewachsen und dunkelhäutig, mit gekräuseltem Haar, ist vielleicht als westisch-vorderasiatisch anzusehen, mag aber auch einen ostischen (alpinen) oder vielleicht einen geringen nordischen und negerischen Einschlag gehabt haben. Joseph Vogt findet, daß die Gesichtszüge des Kaisers "eine fremde Rasse" andeuten; nach seinen seelischen Zügen nennt Vogt den Kaiser habgierig, hartherzig, haßerfüllt, rachgierig und grausam.

    Septimius Severus stammte aus einer wahrscheinlich römischen Ritterfamilie der nordafrikanischen Stadt Lepcis (Leptis), die von Phoinikiern an der Großen Syrte angelegt worden war und dann zum karthagischen Reich gehört hatte, wahrscheinlich also zum größten Teil von Nachkommen der Punier bevölkert war. Obschon auch seine Mutter Fulvia Pia wahrscheinlich römischer Herkunft war, mag die Familie schon der lateinischen Sprache entfremdet und zur punischen übergegangen sein: der Kaiser, der selbst durch einen afrikanischen Tonfall auffiel, mußte seine ihn besuchende Schwester, die wegen ihrer mangelhaften Kenntnisse der lateinischen Sprache in der Hauptstadt anstößig wirkte, nach Afrika zurücksenden. Franz Altheim meinte, Septimius Severus habe wahrscheinlich auch punische Vorfahren gehabt und sei daher von "afrikanischer" Art gewesen. Der Kaiser konnte aber auch aus einer rein punischen Familie entstammt sein, denn Lepcis Magna war unter Traianus römische Kolonie geworden und die Bürger der Stadt hatten römisches Bürgerrecht erhalten; einigen dortigen Familien punischer Herkunft war aber das Bürgerrecht schon vorher verliehen worden.


    (H. F. K. Günther: Lebensgeschichte des römischen Volkes, Pähl ²1966, p. 270f.)


    Also not very flattering.
    Last edited by Nordgau; Thursday, June 24th, 2004 at 06:04 PM.
    Man ſei Held oder Heiliger. In der Mitte liegt nicht die Weisheit, ſondern die Alltäglichkeit.

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    Post Re: The Archaeology of Black Britain: North African soldiers at Burgh-by-Sands

    Man ſei Held oder Heiliger. In der Mitte liegt nicht die Weisheit, ſondern die Alltäglichkeit.

    SPENGLER

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    Post Re: The Archaeology of Black Britain: North African soldiers at Burgh-by-Sands

    Generally on Afrocentrist pages the name seems quite often misspelled, which shows the quality on that kind of "research" on classical antiquity.
    Its really frightening how dumb they are and how they use "African" and "black" in the same way.

    Interesting discussion about that topic at Dodona, with someone who meant that any distinction of Northern and subsaharan Africa is just something construed by ignorant Europeans:

    http://dodona.proboards35.com/index....num=1086461076
    Magna Europa est patria nostra
    STOP GATS! STOP LIBERALISM!

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    Post Re: The Archaeology of Black Britain: North African soldiers at Burgh-by-Sands

    Quote Originally Posted by Nordgau
    Here you are more information about this topic:

    WALL LOCALS SIRED BY AFRICANS SAYS EXPERT
    Published in News & Star on Tuesday, June 22nd 2004



    No barrier to love: An archaeologist is claiming locals from Burgh by Sands could be descended from a unit of black Roman soldiers stationed at the Aballava fort. He says DNA could prove his theory
    By Chris Musson

    AN ARCHAEOLOGIST wants DNA tests of Cumbrians to prove his theory that people from the Carlisle area are descended from Africans.

    The academic says there is compelling evidence that a 500-strong unit of soldiers from modern-day Morocco manned the Aballava fort near Burgh by Sands – and would have mixed with the local ladies.

    Richard Benjamin, from the University of Liverpool, says a fourth century inscription in Beaumont, two miles from Burgh, is a mark of Aurelian Moors, a unit of North African soldiers.

    Locals have reacted with a combination of amusement and intrigue to the news, which could mean generations of Cumbrians have black Africans as their forefathers. “When you talk about Romans in Britain, most people think about blue eyes and pale complexions,” said Mr Benjamin. “But the reality was very different.”

    Writing in the journal British Archaeology, he said hundreds of soldiers placed at Hadrian’s Wall could have arrived in Britain from North Africa in the second or third century AD.

    “Soldiers would have had plenty of money to spend in native settlements on the outskirts of the forts,” said Mr Benjamin.

    “They would have sought entertainment in brothels. Many would probably wanted more permanent relationships.”

    Mr Benjamin now wants a thorough study into black Roman Britons – and believes DNA tests of locals could reveal the truth.

    But some residents of the Burgh by Sands area don’t seem convinced.

    Jack Hodgson, whose family have lived in the area for generations, said: “I find this a little far fetched, but there could be some truth in it.

    “Even going back a couple of hundred years it gets confusing – never mind 2000.”

    Chris Little, who was brough up in Monkhill, less than half a mile from the dig in Beaumont, said: “If this is true it’s one in the eye for the BNP.

    “It would certainly be ironic if it turned out that Cumbrian BNP members are actually descended from Africans.

    “That would surely be hard for them to reconcile.”

    Burgh councillor Brian Wind added: “It will be something to talk about down the pub!”

    What do you think of the theory that Cumbrians are descended from Africans? Call our Talkback line on 01228 612300.

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