Ancient Diversity and Genetics in Roman Britain

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Graf, Paige
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Scholarship Sewanee 2022 , University of the South , Classics , Ancient Rome , Genetics , Diversity , Archaeology , Biology , Representation , Latin
What do you picture when you think of an ancient Roman? What is their gender? How old are they? What is their race? These questions are difficult ones, as just five years ago in 2017, a controversy occurred over a historical cartoon portraying a Roman soldier at Hadrian’s Wall in Britain as a black man. People have firm opinions about what ancient Romans looked like in their minds, and often, they looked like them. But what do ancient people really look like in Roman Britain? What do they look like when our biases and prejudices are put aside? Following a review of commonly held academic and pop-cultural perceptions of race in ancient Rome, we compared them to the actual archaeological findings and genetic data of what some of these ancient people looked like. This research will examine the ethnic populations we find in Roman Britain through a literature study of archaeology journals, genetic research, epigraphical inscriptions, and classical texts. Although we cannot know the exact percentage of ethnic populations from this ancient empire, we can create a comprehensive catalog for the individuals we know lived at this time. Looking at evidence drawn from bioarcheological sources, we have created a storytelling project featuring ancient individuals who lived and breathed in Roman Britain long ago. This collection hopes to dispel the idea that Romans were mostly white, affluent, wealthy men. It includes finds of diverse people who lived all over Britain and the stories of their lives and deaths two thousand years ago. So what did ancient Romans in Britain really look like? You might just be surprised by the answer.