An ancient cemetery reveals details about Rome migrants that walked the road to the magnificent city thousands of years ago. Archeologists had to analyze isotopes found in molars in order to discover the story of the people who migrated to Rome.
According to historians, Rome had about one million residents in its times of glory. Although it is an impressive number, the whole empire housed more than sixty million people, all part of different cultures and speaking various languages. It appears that 40% of the residents of Rome were slaves, while 5% were migrants.
The newest study in the field tackles the subject of the migrants that came to Rome, either willingly or not. Named “All Roads Lead to Rome”, it was conducted by archaeologists Janet Montgomery and Kristina Killgrove and published in PLOS ONE on February 10. In order to find more about the residents of the fabled city, the two analyzed isotopes from tooth enamel. The teeth came from several skeletons that were buried outside the city within two necropolises: Castellaccio Europarco and Casal Bertone.
It seems most of the teeth came from men younger than fifty years of age. Unfortunately, the graves had no markers so this was the sole information the archaeologists could gather easily. In order to discover more details, they took a look at carbon, oxygen and strontium isotopes which could give them information on the water and food consumed by the people.
The study showed that four of the examined individuals were born somewhere else: three adults and a teenager. Another two teenagers and two children also showed signs of migration. Unfortunately, the archaeologists could not determine precisely their origins, but one thing is sure: they did come from multiple locations.
The levels of neutron strontium demonstrated that two migrants must have come from mountain areas such as the Tyrrhenian Sea islands or the Alps. One seems to have migrated from the Apennine Mountains. The last individual showed signs of coming from North Africa or eating grain imported from the African continent. This was not unusual in ancient Rome.
However, once the migrants reached Rome, they changed their diet to the Roman one, and probably most of their habits and customs as well. As Cullen Murphy has written in the Los Angeles Times back in 2007, the Roman Empire was the most successful state comprised of multiple ethnicities before the United States. It was also the one with the longest lifespan.
As an ancient cemetery reveals details about Rome migrants and their origins, the study stands as proof of the important role of migrants in shaping nations and history.
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