Skip to comments.Borders Folks May Be Descended From Africans (Hadrian's Wall)
Posted on 06/13/2004 2:15:19 PM PDT by blam
Borders folk may be descended from Africans
By David Derbyshire
Families who have lived in the English-Scottish Borders for generations could be descended from African soldiers who patrolled Hadrian's Wall nearly 2,000 years ago.
Archaeologists say there is compelling evidence that a 500-strong unit of Moors manned a fort near Carlisle in the third century AD.
Richard Benjamin, an archaeologist at Liverpool University who has studied the history of black Britons, believes many would have settled and raised families.
"When you talk about Romans in Britain, most people think about blue eyes and pale complexions," he said. "But the reality was very different."
Writing in the journal British Archaeology, Mr Benjamin describes a fourth century inscription discovered in Beaumount, two miles from the remains of the Aballava fort at Burgh by Sands. The inscription refers to the "numerus of Aurelian Moors" - a unit of North Africans, probably named after the emperor Marcus Aurelius.
The unit is also mentioned in the Notitia Dignitatum, a Roman list of officials and dignitaries. It describes the prefect of the "numeri Maurorum Aurelianorum, Aballaba".
The unit was probably mustered in the Roman province of Mauretania, in modern-day Morocco, by the emperor Septimus Severus and arrived in Britain in the second or third centuries AD. Aballava lay at the western end of Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria.
Mr Benjamin suspects that the unit would have been blooded in battles in Germany and the Danube where more inscriptions refer to a unit of Moors. Their number is unknown, but the fort could have held up to 500 men.
"There was freedom of movement for civilians and those in administration of the armed forces. Discharge certificates indicate that the veteran soldiers settled in Britain," he said. "Soldiers would have had plenty of money to spend in native settlements on the outskirts of the forts. They would have sought entertainment in brothels. Many would probably have wanted more permanent relationships."
Mr Benjamin is calling for a major study of black Roman Britons. He believes that DNA tests of locals could reveal genetic links with modern-day north Africans, while skeletons of Romans found in the area might contain telltale clues to their childhood origins.
Buildings in the village may have been built from recycled Roman materials. Some might be of African origin, he said.
The unit is likely to have been composed of Berbers from North Africa, but may also have had darker-skinned soldiers from Nubia.
In 1989, archaeologists discovered a 1,900-year-old wooden sculpture of a black African head in London carved in the first century.
Contemporary records also point to Africans living in Britain during the Roman occupation. The emperor Septimus Severus is reported to have been approached by a black African soldier while he crossed Hadrian's Wall on his return from a battle in Scotland.
In South Shields, a Roman tombstone refers to a 20-year-old "Moor by race, the freed slave of Numerians".
Oswald Mosley, please call the office!
Does this mean that Brits and Scots are going to come to the US and demand reparations?
hence THE BLACK WATCH? haha
Everyone want s to claim that they are related to the Scots the reality is that by the time the Moors were running around Scotland had already had a long and wonderful history and it continues today...Let them keep trying to define us...they never will
I happened to be in England recently. Three days ago, I stopped in a pub north of Newcastle (in the vicinity of Hadrian's wall, but on the opposite side of the country from Carlisle.)
The publican was evidently an archaeology enthusiast, because the walls had many interesting maps and illustrations of life in Roman Britain.
One document stated unequivocally that the residents of the area were descended from the Roman legions, and gave examples of local names that might have Roman, Greek, or even Arab origins.
Hardly a word of Latin entered the English language in those days; modern English words of Latin origin mostly came in during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. But it seems clear that the Roman (and perhaps African) blood still flows in the vicinity of Hadrian's Wall.
Okay, so now that I know where Borders Folks come from, what about Barnes and Noble?
They are an offshoot of the B. Dalton tribe.
LOL! Well played.
Years ago, I worked as a tech for a computer chain store that is no longer with us. Our competition, down the road, was CompUSA. They were located in a shopping center called "The Willows".
When asked by a staffer where a particular item could be found around town that we didn't have, I folded my arms and in my best Hollywood Indian accent replied, "Umm. Must go see Compoosa, hostile tribe that lives among Willows".
I thought they were talking about the folks who work in the bookstore.
Why would anyone think Romans had "blue eyes and pale complexions"?
Silly racial story. The tribes in Mauretania in the 3rd Century were not black, nor were they Berbers. As far as we can tell at this late date, they were generic Mediterranean peoples, with large dashes of Lebanese, Egyptian, Greek and Roman.
A freed Nubian slave or three was possible, though.
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Guess it is worth checking.
Although the play is very much concerned with racial difference, the protagonist's specific race is not clearly indicated by Shakespeare. Othello is referred to as a "Moor"; for Elizabethan Englishmen, this term could refer to the Arabs of North Africa, or to the people we would now call "black" (that is, people of sub-Saharan African descent). In his other plays, Shakespeare had previously depicted an Arabic Moor (in The Merchant of Venice) and a black Moor (in Titus Andronicus). In Othello, however, the references to the character's physical features do not settle the question of which race Shakespeare envisaged (Othello's line "Haply for I am black" does not help, since 'black' could simply mean 'swarthy' for Elizabethans). Popular consensus among average readers and theatre directors today leans towards the "black" interpretation, and Arabic Othellos have been rare.
Presently "black" in reference to skin color in Britain refers not only just to Africans but mostly to light-skinned Indians and Pakistanis.
quite a resurrection of a 2 year old post!
Whatever various were there, they certainly had to be localized, concentrated, because, I, too, am of Scot descendance and I'm about as white as you can ever find anywhere, without locating an albino. And my Scot grandfather had exactly the same complexion and coloring, which is quite normal from the area of Scotland from where he originated, as did his ancestors for many centuries prior to his birth.
Yes, and some people even in the U.S. refer to Italians as "blacks." Many Italians prior to large numbers of Spanish moving in, were brunette and pale and some even blond. Some Italians still are! South Italy is mostly all dark skinned and dark haired, however, particularly Sicily.
An Arabic Moor would never refer to himself as black..
It is (and was far before the time of Shakespeare) a clear distinction..
Arabs were conducting slave raids into sub-saharan africa for thousands of years..
Only a black Moor would refer to himself as such..
Additionally, there is the clue, "Haply I am black"..
While black may mean swarthy in Elizabethan english, the term "haply" constitutes chance or fortune (destiny? Circumstance? Coincidence?)
As an arab among meditteraneans in Venice, he would probably not have stood out enough to cause comment, whereas a black general would have..
However, early Greece was also greatly far more fair than they became later, same as Italy...even to general view, the very sculptures from early Greece shows Grecians with appearances far more similar to Northern Europeans than to the Middle East, etc. Same with, for example, Ramses I in Egypt: very tall, prominent European features, red hair.
I read earlier on FR somewhere written that someone said they would not be surprised that when the First Emporer of China's tomb was eventually explored, they would not be surprised if a tall, red haired man was found there.
Most of the Mediterranean seems to have been originally populated by what we'd call today "Europeans" -- tall, flat and high foreheads, long noses, many blond and red haired individuals. They seem to have been largely supplanted over time by shorter, darker persons and the mix has resulted in what and who we see in the Mediterranean today.
If I posted the same thing two years ago my Alzheimer's must be worse than I thought. But I don't think this is possible as I was just quoting wikipedia and I'm not sure they even existed two years ago. Othello came to mind as a famous (if fictional) Moor, who is always played by or as a black man.
Most, if not all, of such a unit would have been berbers who are relatively light skinned and who have an eye color range that goes from brown to blue and even green. They are not Arabs and they are not southern African blacks.
But they were darker than the average Briton, leading to the term "black." You'll find similar references to darker-skinned folks throughout northern Europe.
Correct. They are not Bantu.
Everyone knows how wild and clannish the Scots of the 1st century were--and still are some say. The reason the two Roman walls were built across the Island was because the Romans decided it was safer/easier to wall them out than to try and conquer them.
That being said, how likely was it that occupying Roman soldiers would have been allowed to take land and live in peace once the Roman armies dissolved/withdrew? There was never any peace among the clans, so why would they tolerate outside interlopers?
And I don't see any outsider and former foe being inducted into a clan, even if he'd gotten a maiden with child. More likely, he'd have been killed.
"He believes that DNA tests of locals could reveal genetic links with modern-day north Africans, while skeletons of Romans found in the area might contain telltale clues to their childhood origins. "
This is probably true with any unit which can be identified as to place and origin in the roman area...
"Hardly a word of Latin entered the English language in those days; modern English words of Latin origin mostly came in during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. But it seems clear that the Roman (and perhaps African) blood still flows in the vicinity of Hadrian's Wall. "
There is a big reason for this - the langauge spoken in britain during the roman period, p-celtic (modern welsh bretonish cornish) was eradicated from most of modern england during the germanic invasinn/colonization taht began in the 4th cetnruy progressively scrubbed the celt language (though not dna), including place-names, from almost everywhere but wales, cornwales, and cumbria.
There are some words in welsh that are very similar to the latin word, 'pont' = bridge, so there are probably some loanwords there, as well as indo-european words of similar origina (was aur (gold in welsh and roman, Ore in modern english) a loanword or did the indo-european root survive into p-celtic?
Thre precursion of old english was spoken by pretty much no one in roman britain except the german soldiers in the army. Old english as a spoken language in daily life in britain doesn't appear until the romans were gone.
Modern names derived from roman soldiers names is unlikely, the saxon's brough their own names to most of england.
The idea that enough of the 500 or so members of a Roman unit would have (a)survived and (b)remained in the area to put down genealogical roots having an identifiable DNA today is interesting but somewhat farfetched.
Especially since the mother's DNA is the primary way of identifying lineal descendants.
well you have to remember there was military presence for centuries, and soldiers dropping their DNA in the brothel and wife pot, retiring, etc, all during this time, so even if when legions retreated suriving retirees went south (who knows, possibly not), the DNA impact over generations of mixing would remain.
this is full of typos, sorry. spelling-cops please just give me a warning.
I didn't say it was impossible that a strain or two of the DNA might not have survived.
But even today family branches die out all the time from natural causes.
Considering the uncertain nature of mortality at the time, where whole populations died out in the 1st-3rd Centuries from disease, infant mortality, warfare and violence, the likelihood of uncovering a single line of DNA from only 500 subjects that lasted over a 1,500 year period seems rather remote.
yeah i would assume some genes are still mixed in but the y-chros. are likely long absorbed. Unless they were importing women to border forts, no foreign matrilinear dna at all. as you say, 80+ generations with multiple plagues and migrations (q-celts in some areas, saxon, viking, saxon again, then the 'harrying of the north' (did this extend to the wall?) it is amazing any celtic genes survive at all in that area
I wonder if there has been a study of people in the interior of wales (or cornwall) to see if any dna markers are similar to known italic dna, since they would have absorbed people from roman towns and cities, with civilian population including some romans.
1)Inscriptions refer to the "numerus of Aurelian Moors"
2) The fort could have held up to 500 men
3) archaeologists discovered a 1,900-year-old wooden sculpture of a black African head in London carved in the first century
Conclusion: "Compelling evidence that a 500-strong unit of Moors manned a fort"
This isn't compelling at all. It could just as well have been 20 Moors in a 500 man unit. And the artifact could just as well have been a war trophy carried to Britain by an Italian soldier.
None of this stops the speculation from being reported as fact.
If by "not black" you mean they didn't have curly hair, thick lips and flat noses, probably right.
But the skin of Northern Africans can be extremely dark. There is quite a variation in skin color in North Africa. They sure aren't Caucasians.
Well, forts full of handsome young soldiers with money to spend do seem to have a way of acquiring "camp followers," that is to say, women of easy virtue. ;^)
'Tis the way of the world . . . .
Dinna "dis" our fair Scots lassies or you'll hear the bagpipes comin' for ye through the brae.
My husband is a piper so pipes don't scare me.
And your fair Scots lassies were pagans back then.
They still are. I know, my wife is Scots.
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