London Was Diverse Even in Its Early Roman Days

Illustration for article titled London Was Diverse Even in Its Early Roman Days

Forget all those Roman epics with sprawling casts of white actors speaking in (real or fake) British accents. New findings suggest that London circa 50 A.D. was pretty diverse.


Quartz reports on the work of researchers from the Museum of London, University of Durham, and McMaster University, who did detailed DNA analysis on four skeletons from the period. They say that just one of them was born in Britain—and “while her skeleton showed female characteristics, her chromosomes were found to be male.” Another, possibly a gladiator, might’ve hailed from Eastern Europe. Another could’ve come from Europe or North Africa. The fourth:

Another skeleton was a teenager who had probably grown up in North Africa. She was buried in on a bed of chalk, which researchers note was a North African custom. She was buried with two glass vessels at her head and a folding knife by her hip. Researchers speculate on whether the Lant Street teenager was part of a military community, as either the daughter of a soldier, a young wife, or even a female slave.

One expert told Quartz the findings weren’t shocking—inscriptions found on previous digs suggested the settlement’s population came from all over.

Admittedly, it’s not a completely straight line from ol’ Londinium town to modern London—for instance, there was a bumpy period between Roman Britain petering out and Anglo-Saxon London really getting going. But the findings serve as a reminder that the past often looked very, very different from the all-white panoramas built in the years since. Especially somewhere like London, a crossroads from its very beginning.

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John Boehner

Every time I think of London and Romans... I think about Victorian London and disease and the state of their sewage systems, and I wonder how Londoners could have fucked up something they were given like a thousand or two years ago by the Romans?