Romans From Everywhere

I don’t know why this is so hard for some people. The Romans were a diverse, multicultural society. Rome cared about getting rich from exporting government, not about racial silliness.

The Roman empire encompassed large tracts of north Africa, and even though it did not extend to sub-Saharan Africa, its borders were porous and its sphere of influence vast. “Being Roman”, it should be remembered, was not about tracing your origins to one city in Italy: as the empire grew, citizenship was extended across conquered territories. “Romans” could be from anywhere from Carlisle to Cairo, and beyond.

In Britain, there is plenty of evidence of the presence of soldiers, traders and administrators from all parts of this enormous empire, including from Africa. Some of them would have been passing through; some made a life here. What is more difficult to do is to say with certainty whether such-and-such a person was “black” or “white” in our terms: these were not categories of interest to the Romans, and in the case of elite families from north Africa, say, it’s also unclear whether they were originally Italian settlers.

The explanations are everywhere around us but it seems they all bury the lead– these were not categories of interest to the Romans. No one cared.

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