Silk Road Caucasian trader or Roman legion legacies?

The theory of Roman soldiers reaching China re-surfaces every now and then, but particularly captivates public imagination when news of Caucasian individuals or like now, with the news of Caucasian-originating DNA being found in remote parts of China. While the news articles below focus only on Roman genes, it is pertinent to know that there are already existing theories for Caucasian genes in East Asia: see Sogdians in China; Eastern Iranians: Bactrians, Saka Scythians and TochariansTaklamakan Mummies Origin of the Celts. However, Roman cultural finds of Roman coins and glass are usually regarded as  evidence of Roman presence.

Chinese villagers ‘descended from Roman soldiers’ The Telegraph
Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a ‘lost legion’ of Roman soldiers.

Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a 'lost legion' of Roman soldiers.

Cai Junnian’s green eyes give a hint he may be a descendant of Roman mercenaries who allegedly fought the Han Chinese 2,000 years ago Photo: NATALIE BEHRING

Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent Caucasian in origin.

Many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompting speculation that they have European blood.
A local man, Cai Junnian, is nicknamed by his friends and relatives Cai Luoma, or Cai the Roman, and is one of many villagers convinced that he is descended from the lost legion.
Archeologists plan to conduct digs in the region, along the ancient Silk Route, to search for remains of forts or other structures built by the fabled army.
“We hope to prove the legend by digging and discovering more evidence of China’s early contacts with the Roman Empire,” Yuan Honggeng, the head of a newly-established Italian Studies Centre at Lanzhou University in Gansu province, told the China Daily newspaper.
The genetic tests have leant weight to the theory that Roman legionaries settled in the area in the first century BC after fleeing a disastrous battle.
The clash took place in 53BC between an army led by Marcus Crassus, a Roman general, and a larger force of Parthians, from what is now Iran, bringing to an abrupt halt the Roman Empire’s eastwards expansion.
Thousands of Romans were slaughtered and Crassus himself was beheaded, but some legionaries were said to have escaped the fighting and marched east to elude the enemy.
They supposedly fought as mercenaries in a war between the Huns and the Chinese in 36BC – Chinese chroniclers refer to the capture of a “fish-scale formation” of troops, a possible reference to the “tortoise” phalanx formation perfected by legionnaries. The wandering Roman soldiers are thought to have been released and to have settled on the steppes of western China.
The theory was first put forward in the 1950s by Homer Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at Oxford University.

Chinese villagers ‘descended from Roman soldiers’
Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a ‘lost legion’ of Roman soldiers.

The Roman Empire reached its greatest territorial extent under the Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD, just as the Han empire was beginning to decline.
Most historians believe that the two empires had only indirect contact, as silk and spices were traded along the Silk Road through merchants in exchange for Roman goods such as glassware.
But some experts believe they could instead be descended from the armies of Huns that marauded through central Asia, which included soldiers of Caucasian origin.
Maurizio Bettini, a classicist and anthropologist from Siena University, dismissed the theory as “a fairy tale”.
“For it to be indisputable, one would need to find items such as Roman money or weapons that were typical of Roman legionaries,” he told La Repubblica. “Without proof of this kind, the story of the lost legions is just a legend.”

Related Articles
Harry Mount: Roman blood runs through Chinese – and British – veins
Have the descendants of Rome’s lost legion been found in China?

Roman descendants found in China? The Telegraph, 02 Feb 2007

Villager Cai Junnian with his green eyes and ruddy complexion
By Richard Spencer in Liqian, north-west China

Residents of a remote Chinese village are hoping that DNA tests will prove one of history’s most unlikely legends — that they are descended from Roman legionaries lost in antiquity.

Scientists have taken blood samples from 93 people living in and around Liqian, a settlement in north-western China on the fringes of the Gobi desert, more than 200 miles from the nearest city.
They are seeking an explanation for the unusual number of local people with western characteristics — green eyes, big noses, and even blonde hair — mixed with traditional Chinese features.
“I really think we are descended from the Romans,” said Song Guorong, 48, who with his wavy hair, six-foot frame and strikingly long, hooked nose stands out from his short, round-faced office colleagues.
“There are the residents with these special features, and then there are also historical records about the existence of these people long ago,” he said.
Studies claiming that Liqian has Roman ancestry have greatly excited the impoverished county in which it is situated. The village is now overlooked by a pillared portico, in the hope of attracting tourists. A statue at the entrance of the nearby county town, Yongchang, shows a Roman legionary standing next to a Confucian scholar and a Muslim woman, as a symbol of racial harmony.
Even entrepreneurs have caught on: in “Imperial City Entertainment Street” there is a Caesar Karaoke bar.

The town’s link with Rome was first suggested by a professor of Chinese history at Oxford in the 1950s. Homer Dubs pulled together stories from the official histories, which said that Liqian was founded by soldiers captured in a war between the Chinese and the Huns in 36BC, and the legend of the missing army of Marcus Crassus, a Roman general.
In 53BC Crassus was defeated disastrously and beheaded by the Parthians, a tribe occupying what is now Iran, putting an end to Rome’s eastward expansion.
But stories persisted that 145 Romans were taken captive and wandered the region for years. Prof Dubs theorised that they made their way as a mercenary troop eastwards, which was how a troop “with a fish-scale formation” came to be captured by the Chinese 17 years later.
He said the “fish-scale formation” was a reference to the Roman “tortoise”, a phalanx protected by shields on all sides and from above. Gu Jianming, who lives near Liqian, said it had come as a surprise to be told he might be descended from a European imperial army. But then the birth of his daughter was also a surprise. Gu Meina, now six, was born with a shock of blonde hair. “We shaved it off a month after she was born but it just grew back the same colour,” he said. “At school they call her ‘yellow hair’. Before we were told about the Romans, we had no idea about this. We are poor and have no family temple, so we don’t know about our ancestors.”
Another resident, Cai Junnian, 38, said his ruddy skin and green eyes meant he was now nicknamed Cai Luoma, or Cai the Roman, by friends. He has become a local celebrity, and was recently flown to the Italian consulate in Shanghai to meet his supposed relatives. The professor’s hypothesis took almost 40 years to reach China. During Chairman Mao’s rule, ideas of foreign ancestry were not ideologically welcome and the story was suppressed.
Mr Cai said his great-grandfather told him that there were Roman tombs in the Qilian mountains a day and a half’s walk away, but he had never connected them to the unusual appearance he inherited from his father. “People thought I had a skin problem,” he said.
The blood tests are part of a project undertaken by scientists and historians after local authorities loosened control over genetic research. The results will be published in a scientific journal. But Prof Xie Xiaodong, a geneticist from Lanzhou University, cautioned against over enthusiasm.
“Even if they are descendants of the Roman empire, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily from the Roman army,” he said. “The empire covered a large area. Many soldiers were recruited locally, so anything is possible.”
The issue has split the university’s history department, with some scholars supporting the claim, some rejecting it. Prof Wang Shaokuan poured scorn on Prof Dubs’s thesis, saying the Huns themselves included Caucasians, Asians and Mongols.

See related: Relics of an empire

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s