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Black Roman soldiers
#1
What do we know about black people serving in the roman army?Or what is you opinion?

I tried to find if there was a similar topic in the past,but I did not find anything.It makes my angry if I encounter someone who knows nothing or only very little about roman military who speaks overconfidently if encountered with-for example black legionary in neil marshall's Centurion,that "black in the legion is such a ridiculous nonsense".

I believe that at least some blacks served in the roman army,certainly in auxilliary units but probably in the legions as well.Only their numbers were rather very small,but not because of some modern racist prejudices(which emerged in modern form only as a result of a massive slave trading from 16.cent.on),but because areas inhabited by black people were rather in longer distance from Empires frontiers or only very small area of actual direct contact for such possible recruits like egyptan borders with today's sudan region.
On the other hand I don't believe(because I don't know of any real direct evidence for it)That historical characters like Hannibal,Cleopatra or emperor Setimius Severus were black-there are really people who fanatically claim this,although often their "strongest argument" is in short-"they were from Africa,so they must be black,because what is from Africa must be black".By the way I had nothing against these people be black if they really were and I would like it if there were any a black Roman emperor.

So how strong were their numbers and what regions would probably saw them most in active service?


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#2
Pavel Amelianus wrote:
Quote:On the other hand I don't believe(because I don't know of any real direct evidence for it)That historical characters like Hannibal,Cleopatra or emperor Setimius Severus were black-there are really people who fanatically claim this,although often their "strongest argument" is in short-"they were from Africa,so they must be black,because what is from Africa must be black".By the way I had nothing against these people be black if they really were and I would like it if there were any a black Roman emperor.
Hi Pavel,I always assumed that Septimius Severus was Libyan (probably of Punic descent) as was one of his rivals for the throne Clodius Albinus. Cleopatra was Greek (I think). I just did a quick search and found this
http://books.google.com.au/books?id=J8rV...ns&f=false book called "Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain"
By Peter Fryer
You would think though that Nubians would be used around the Upper Nile to protect Egypt. I see a few mentions of Moors and Numidians but whether they were black or just darker skinned than the Romans I don't know.
Just adding that although only a novel Gillian Bradshaw's "Dark North" is set in Roman Britain in 208AD and the main character is Memnon who was a black african cavalry scout serving with the "Aurelian Moors".
I found this Wikipedia article about St Maurice a saint in the Coptic Orthodox Church
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Maurice
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
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#3
There's an episode in the (dubious) Historia Augusta biography of Severus in which the emperor receives a series of premonitions of death while on campaign in Britain. The first involves his meeting with 'a Moor', or Ethiopian soldier, carrying a cypress garland. "And when Severus in a rage ordered that the man be removed from his sight, troubled as he was by the man's ominous colour and the ominous nature of the garland, the Ethiopian by way of jest cried, it is said, "You have been all things, you have conquered all things, now, O conqueror, be a god." (HA Severus 22.5)

The incident supposedly happened close to Hadrian's Wall, and may well be anecdotal, but demonstrates that black soldiers might be encountered there, even if they were unusual.

It also demonstrates, incidentally, that Severus himself was not black, and in fact had a very negative view of black people!

There's a discussion about the passage here:

Ethiopian Troops

... including some ideas about African soldiers returning to Britain with the legion detachments sent to Mauretania under Antoninus Pius, and arriving with Severus in detachments from African legions (principally III Augusta, who recruited in Numidia).

There were a number of auxiliary units from Mauretania, Africa and Egypt which probably recruited men we would consider to be black. These soldiers would have gained citizenship on discharge, and their descendants could well have served in the legions.
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#4
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
TARBICvS/Jim Bowers
A A A DESEDO DESEDO!
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#5
Wow! This is sadly amusing! Racism has finally reared it's ugly head
Here! Fortunately there are people here who can immediately
Provide evidence and knowledge to disprove such nonsense!
I suppose the only ethnic group definitely not possible( or probable)
Would be people's from the American continent(s)!
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
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#6
If you look at the various prosopographical Personennamen etc you can see a few nick names which certainly suggest blacks. Blacks in the legions etc are certainly no more silly, and much more accurate in many cases, than the Germanic actors etc anyway.
Jass
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#7
Not really! The Roman Legions were alway manned by citizens!
The Auxilliaries came from the people's of the Empire!
But as time went on and these people became citizens,
All nationalities were accepted into the Legions, or what remained of them!
Visne partem mei capere? Comminus agamus! * Me semper rogo, Quid faceret Iulius Caesar? * Confidence is a good thing! Overconfidence is too much of a good thing.
[b]Legio XIIII GMV. (Q. Magivs)RMRS Remember Atuatuca! Vengence will be ours!
Titus Flavius Germanus
Batavian Coh I
Byron Angel
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#8
With regard to Cleopatra, and what she may have looked like, allow me to quote from Adrian Goldsworthy's excellent bio Antony & Cleopatra:

http://narukamisthunderbolts.blogspot.co...ntony.html

“Absolutely nothing is certain. Cleopatra may have had black, brown, blonde or even red hair, and her eyes could have been brown, grey, green or blue. Almost any combination of these is possible. Similarly, she may have been very light skinned or had a darker more Mediterranean complexion. Fairer skin is probably marginally more likely given her ancestry. Greek art traditionally represented women and goddesses as very pale, and fair skin seems to have been part of the ideal of beauty. Roman propaganda never suggested that Cleopatra was dark-skinned, although this may simply mean that she was not exceptionally dark or simply that the color of her skin was not important to her critics.

At no point will we need to consider Antony’s appearance at similar length and this should remind us that the obsession with Cleopatra’s looks is unusual, and not entirely healthy. Not only is there no good evidence, but also there is something disturbing about the desire to base our understanding of her first and foremost on her appearance. Cleopatra was not another Helen of Troy, a mythical figure about whom the most important thing was her beauty. She was no mere object of desire, but a very active political player in her own kingdom and beyond.

Cleopatra was born and raised in the real and very dangerous world of the Ptolemaic court in the first century BC. When her father died in 51 BC, she became queen. Auletes had planned for his son and daughter to rule jointly. Cleopatra had other ideas.”

-from Antony And Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy, c2010 pp.128-129

:wink:

Narukami
David Reinke
Burbank CA
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#9
Quote:Racism has finally reared it's ugly head Here!

Eh? Did I miss something? :???:


Quote:If you look at the various prosopographical Personennamen etc you can see a few nick names which certainly suggest blacks.

Possibly. We were discussing the cognomen Maurus as a possible ethnic identifier a while ago. Even so, it's probably not that simple - the name Maurus does indeed turn up frequently in north Africa, and among liberti in Rome, but somebody from Mauretania may not have been 'black' as we would understand it anyway.

Part of the problem, I think, is that many modern cultural debates about blackness/whiteness are rooted in earlier concepts of self and other. The Romans had these concepts too, but with different definitions (barbarism and civilisation) which were rather mutable and not determined by ethnicity. So to try and identify people we would consider black (those of sub-Saharan African origin, probably) in the texts of a society and culture that did not recognise the distinction is going to be tricky...
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#10
Quote:
Gaius Julius Caesar post=329533 Wrote:Racism has finally reared it's ugly head Here!

Eh? Did I miss something? :???:


Quote:If you look at the various prosopographical Personennamen etc you can see a few nick names which certainly suggest blacks.

Possibly. We were discussing the cognomen Maurus as a possible ethnic identifier a while ago. Even so, it's probably not that simple - the name Maurus does indeed turn up frequently in north Africa, and among liberti in Rome, but somebody from Mauretania may not have been 'black' as we would understand it anyway.

Part of the problem, I think, is that many modern cultural debates about blackness/whiteness are rooted in earlier concepts of self and other. The Romans had these concepts too, but with different definitions (barbarism and civilisation) which were rather mutable and not determined by ethnicity. So to try and identify people we would consider black (those of sub-Saharan African origin, probably) in the texts of a society and culture that did not recognise the distinction is going to be tricky...

Yes, I gather the problem is something like that - I've never really looked at it indepth for the Romans and I doubt my stuff on Greek ethnography would hold much water. You're right though, there has been a problem with the tradition of associating our colour/ethnic terms with those of the ancients or even them with ourselves. Admittedly this seems to be an old school problem, only the Germans nowadays still go for the pale blonds vs black ideaology, we're much more nuanced now.

Also, yeah, I was pretty much taking references to /Maurus/ as an ethnic marker myself but it could just as easily be an inherited name like Araps in later Greek (Roman) sources.
Jass
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#11
Quote:I was pretty much taking references to /Maurus/ as an ethnic marker myself but it could just as easily be an inherited name like Araps in later Greek (Roman) sources.

Just had a quick look through PLRE Vol 1 - there's a note that Aemilia Corinthia Maura, the grandmother of Ausonius, was so named 'from her dusky complexion' (Ausonius Par. VII 3-4). She was actually from Aquitania.

So it could just mean that somebody looked a bit 'Moorish'!

There's also a rhetor named Maurus, who was an Egyptian (same thing?)
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#12
Bit of a stretch, but there is the example of Ivory Bangle Lady from 4th century York, a young black (or mixed race) woman from North Africa with apparently wealthy grave goods. That doesn't really tell us more than the fact that black Africans could indeed cross the Empire and retain a high status, but I'm not aware of other positively identified black African individuals in Britain, military or not. :/
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#13
I think there were trading, and therefore travel, routes across the Sahara, and avoiding the Sahara along the Nile and the Red Sea. Since the sea routes to India and beyond went via the Red Sea, this last could have been pretty important.
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#14
Quote:Since the sea routes to India and beyond went via the Red Sea, this last could have been pretty important.

The usual term in Roman texts for a (sub-saharan) black African is Aethiops, which suggests that the usual route for black people to enter the empire would be via the Nile valley. So there were no doubt black people, as we would understand the term, in the Roman world. The fact that most would have been brought this way as slaves explains the additional social stigma - presumed servile origin, rather than a conception of inferior ethnicity.

There are a few inscriptions, meanwhile, to people from Africa. One was apparently the freed slave of a cavalryman from Arbeia:

(RIB-01, 01064) Arbeia: D(is) M(anibus) Victoris natione Maurum / [a]nnorum XX libertus Numeriani / eq(u)itis ala(e) I Asturum...

Another, a member of the horse guards:

(AE 2001, 00246) Roma: D(is) M(anibus) / T(itus) A / eq(ues) s[ing(ularis) Aug(usti) tur(ma) / n(atione) Afro / vix(it) anno...

And another a citizen of Carthage:

(CIL 13, 02000) Lugudunum: D(is) M(anibus) / et memoriae aetern(a)e Iul/i Alexsa(n)dri natione Afri civi / Carthagine(n)si (h)omini optimo opif/ici artis vitriae qui vix(it) an(n)os LXXV / menses V dies XXIII...

Of course, whether someone calling themselves Mauri or Afri would be 'black' as we would understand it is unknown. Just to underline the difficulty of using names to determine ethnicity, here's a Raetian called 'Africanus'!:

(CIL 06, 03190) Roma: D(is) M(anibus) / T(ito) Aur(elio) Africano / eq(uiti) sing(ulari) Aug(usti) ex tur(ma) / Germani nat(ione) / Raetus...
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#15
Quote:
Marja Erwin post=329578 Wrote:Since the sea routes to India and beyond went via the Red Sea, this last could have been pretty important.

The usual term in Roman texts for a (sub-saharan) black African is Aethiops, which suggests that the usual route for black people to enter the empire would be via the Nile valley. So there were no doubt black people, as we would understand the term, in the Roman world. The fact that most would have been brought this way as slaves explains the additional social stigma - presumed servile origin, rather than a conception of inferior ethnicity.
As I noted on the other thread, though, we find Ethiopian used for "a member of any dark-skinned people from the far east or south" as far back as Herodotus (who speaks of Indian Ethiopians and African Ethiopians). So this might just be the Romans copying a Greek phrase, rather like how "Ionian" came to mean "Greek" in many ancient Asian languages, or how Österreich is still the eastern Reich long after Charlemagne's heirs divided his realm in three.

The Roman army was so large, and so attractive to people trying to advance themselves in life, that I would say it was almost certain that some people of sub-Saharan African ancestry served. But picking them out is as you say difficult since the Romans did not have our racial categories.
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
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