Monday, March 1, 2010

BBC News - Roman remains in York are 'elite' African woman

BBC News - Roman remains in York are 'elite' African woman: "Archaeologists have revealed the remains of what they say was a 'high status' woman of African origin who lived in York during Roman times."


  1. Maybe I've spent too much time in the library, but it seems very strange to me that "all Africans in Roman Britain were low class male slaves" would be a common assumption. But anyway...

    It should be noted that the isotope analysis indicates a North African origin - the reconstruction makes her a little more sub-Saharan than I think might be necessary. If you imagine Berber, you might be a little closer as that area, the ancient Numidia, covered modern Algeria and part of Tunisia - what we think of as North Africa or at least a part of it. Of course, the Romans by and large were more interested in your family history than your color.

    Numidia got some attention under Constantine and the governor became of consular rank in 320. Those government types travelled around quite a bit as they rose through the ranks. Perhaps 'Ivory Bangle Lady' was the young wife or daughter of an official re-assigned from Numidia to Britain (brrr). Britannia Secunda (where York is today) was one of the 4 provinces of Roman Britain but had only an equestrian governor so it could have been an early career posting or a setback for someone. Given the conditions there in the late 4th C. it was likely the latter...

    It was messy place - Septimius Severus (himself from Leptis Magna in North Africa) and his charming son Caracalla (yes, the one in Gladiator) ruled the empire from York from 208 while conducting campaigns into Scotland and other areas. He died there in 211.

    Troubles with a variety of invaders from the north would continue on and off for the next 2 centuries(why no Hadrian's Wall didn't work, what did you expect?) and in 410 the 6th Legion abandoned York.

  2. P.S. Did you notice she was a Christian?

  3. I'd missed her Christianity.

    I blame Hollywood. Well, and pop fiction and lazy painters, too: the "Nubian slave" is a cliche in depictions of decadent Rome.

  4. William, if you're a fan of this particular place and time, you might check out Gillian Bradshaw's Dark North, a fun, fast paced novel about Septimus Severus's Britain, as told from the viewpoint of an Ethiopian Centurion who loves practical jokes. A bit slow to start out with, but well worth the wait.