Rome Genetics Varied Considerably, Apparently Carrying Culture With It. Right Or Wrong.


Ancient Rome was the capital city of an empire that encompassed at least 70 million inhabitants, maybe a quarter of humanity at the time. Genetic studies suggest that, just as all roads may once have led to Rome, so did a great many European and Middle Earth genetic lineages also converged there. Genetic studies reveal a dynamic population history from the Mesolithic era (~12,000 Before Present) into modern times, which spans the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Genetic studies do even more: they show a connection between those genes and the cultures they carry.

No, I am not tying up genes and mental capabilities, as the Nazis and other racists did. Instead, I am pointing out that it seems cultures are carried by physical people.

When one looks carefully, this is astounding: Caesar’s ancestors had nothing to do with those of later Romans… Republican Romans are a completely different population from that of the fascist empire.

It is now well established that, as advanced farming with all its human selection engineered grains, spilled from the Fertile Crescent… literally brought by farmers from the Middle East. So basically Mesopotamian farmers with advanced technology settled Italy, nine thousand years ago. We knew the grains came in. We didn’t know the farmers who cultivated these grains had come with them. Nobody would have guessed this, 50 years ago. But now we have DNA sampled from ancient skeletons (in the latest study,127 genomes from 29 archaeological sites in and around Rome).

It turns out that population dynamics, even in the last two thousand years, is much more spectacular that one could have ever guessed. Consider: “Ancient Rome: A genetic crossroads of Europe and the Mediterranean.” One sees in Rome people coming from all over… this corresponds with historical political events. (The study was headed by the Stanford University team in collaboration with the University of Vienna and Sapienza University of Rome.)

Big History, Big Genetic Mixing

The samples sequenced fell into three distinct genetic clusters. “Mesolithic hunter-gatherers; early farmers (Neolithic and Copper Age individuals); and a broad historic cluster encompassing individuals from the Iron Age to the present…The oldest genomes in our dataset are from three Mesolithic hunter-gatherers (10,000 to 7,000 BCE) from Grotta Continenza, a cave in the Apennine Mountains.” The DNA analyses confirmed at least two major migrations into Rome, as well as several smaller but still significant population shifts over just the last few thousand years

The findings indicated that as the Roman Empire expanded around the Mediterranean Sea, immigrants from the Near East, Europe, and North Africa migrated into Rome. This significantly changed the faces, literally, of the ancient world’s greatest city.

A pictorial representation of where the populations came from, as represented by the blue arrows.

The first major ancestry shift occurred between 7,000 and 6,000 BCE, coinciding with the transition to farming and introduction of domesticates including wheat, barley, pulses, sheep, and cattle into Italy…. And their farmers: Europe didn’t invent colonialism, actually, it was colonized to start with! 

The second major ancestry shift occurred in the Bronze Age, between ~2,900 and 900 BCE … During this period, major technological developments increased the mobility of populations. Advances in sailing technologies enabled faster, safer, easier and more frequent navigation across the Mediterranean. By the time of the founding of Rome, in 753 BCE, the city’s population resembled a mix of modern European and Mediterranean peoples.

Another look

The establishment of the fascist Principate, starting with Augustus, saw a huge shift in the ancestry of people who lived in Rome, now suddenly primarily from the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East. Hence Rome became Oriental. Thus one understands better the switch of Roman emperors towards a cultural obsession with all things Oriental: Isis, Judaism, Christianism, Manicheism, Mithraism, and, most of all typically Oriental Despotism. Traditional historiography pondered the fascination of early emperors such as Tiberius, Caligula, Nero with the ways of the Orient. An obvious reason was that, since they were despots, they imitated the ways of the imperial despots they knew of, and those were from the Orient. 


(There was nothing genetic about the love of the Orient with despotism: the Orient was desiccating, while being the cradle of advanced agriculture; the optimal way out was to establish “hydraulic dictatorships”: big armies to protect big hydraulic works built by armies of slaves.)

Now we can understand why the appeal of the Orient was so strong on the Princeps: the leaders of Rome were suddenly ruling over an Oriental population, fully indoctrinated with the religion of Despotism, with their mothers’ milk. 

It’s not just that the Orientals migrated to Rome from the dense Middle East: the ravages of the Civil Wars had been so great that much of the old Roman and Italian population had been decimated (when Octavian and Antonius engaged the war against Brutus and Cassius, Caesar’s main assassins, they had 43 legions. They finished with just 28 legions. Entire legions, like the famed “Martian” legion ended at the bottom of the sea)… 

During the Imperial period … the most prominent trend is an ancestry shift toward the eastern Mediterranean and with very few individuals of primarily western European ancestry”, the Stanford-Vienna-Rome team wrote.

The same process of decimation of the population happened in reverse, when the Late Empire collapsed, and ironically enough, Europeans moved back in, as the Franks “Renovated the Roman Empire”.


“It was surprising to us how rapidly the population ancestry shifted… reflecting Rome’s shifting political alliances over time. Another striking aspect was how cosmopolitan the population of Rome was, starting more than 2,000 years ago and continuing through the rise and dissolution of the empire. Even in antiquity, Rome was a melting pot of different cultures… within each time period, individuals exhibited highly diverse ancestries, including those from the Near East, Europe, and North Africa… These high levels of ancestry diversity began prior to the founding of Rome and continued through the rise and fall of the empire, demonstrating Rome’s position as a genetic crossroads of peoples from Europe and the Mediterranean.”

Hence the Romans, up to Caesar, had a different ancestry, a European, culturally rebellious ancestry, than the Romans, after Augustus’ long reign, whose ancestors came from the culturally submissive Middle East (Islam, to appear as the straw which broke the Roman camel’s back, in the Seventh Century, actually means “Submission”). 

Modern morality? Immigration is not just about changing genetics. Roman history tends to indicate it fosters dramatic cultural shifts. Sometimes for the best (Agriculture), sometimes for the worst (Despotism).

Thus, contrarily to the cultural defeatism grandly promoted by most self-promoting European intellectuals after World War two, and considering carefully the Roman cultural collapse into despotism, one may want to be more careful at denying that genetics can’t propagate democratic collapse. 

Patrice Ayme


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