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Sub Saharan Africans in Roman army
This painting was posted on Facebook, and while I know some Africans were buried in York and elsewhere, wondered if there was evidence to back this image up? Text with it said:
"Black cornicen of legio III.Augusta detachment transfered to Europe for the fighting in Marcommanic wars of Marcus Aurelius."


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Richard Campbell
Legio XX - Alexandria, Virginia
RAT member #6?
That's an illustration by Pavel, I think. Here's a thread that he started discussing it:

Black Roman Soldiers

I still reckon the 'Ethiopian' encountered by Severus near Hadrian's Wall proves that there were sub-Saharan black soldiers; we just don't know how many of them there were or where they served, as our sources don't tend to differentiate ethnicities in that way.

III Augusta from north Africa do seem to have been used as a handy reserve for a long time though - detachments of them turn up all over the place.
Nathan Ross
Yeah It is by me.Because I recently accepted an offer to become Third admin of "The Romans"on facebook I plan to use this role as best as I can to dispers as many myths to wider laik public about Roman army and Romans as I can(mainly about Late Romans)as well as to have chance to oppose various biased views of history and amazing sentencies like :"

-"Do you know that most legionaries were war prisoners? Romans used non-Roman soldiers so they would not waste good "Roman blood"

- "Actually blacks were only used as slaves in ancient Rome"

And so on...
Richard I've done this image intentionaly in spite of modern Aryan kind of racists( Sick).My point is that there were no reason why Roman citizen army would not allowed persons of different skin color into legions.
I have no doubt that possible black recruits must have been very rare in Roman army,but not because of some racial reasons but simply because the Empire had almost no province or direct frontier with region inhabited in majority by black skinned people of Sub-saharan type,only egypt had borders with such region.
There were indeed black soldiers in the Roman Army for if we consider the Gaetuli who were a tribe conquered in early Imperial times by Cn. Cornelius Cossus Lentulus who there after bore the name Gaetulicus.
There were a whole Cohort of them based in Syria from 88 to 91 AD in the time of Domitian, here is a shield boss found there that personifies Africa. I have also made of a copy of this particular shield boss shown here.

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Brian Stobbs
There was also at Vindolanda a small piece of a pottery statue head found many years ago that had black paint substance on it that may imply African in origin.
Then from excavations more recent I think there was evidence of the middle eastern dish Cuscuss ( if my spelling is correct ) being consumed there.
Brian Stobbs
There is also the myth of Longinius in Christianity, some say that he was a dark skinned centurion, maybe in command of a cohort of Auxiliaries in Judea. I too guess the Romans didn't had any prejudice about skin color, the most important think was the martial prowess of the individual concerned. Also the late Roman army included several elite Auxillia Palatina units of Mauri.

I had to post this as I found it:
Francis Hagan

The Barcarii
:-o When I first read your post, Rennie, I read "...Auxillia Palatina units of Maui...." Imagine my relief when I reread it! :razz: :woot:
M. Demetrius Abicio
(David Wills)

Saepe veritas est dura.
It's maybe worth remembering that, to a Roman, Africa meant Tunisia and, at a pinch, northern Libya (think of Septimius Severus, the so-called "African" emperor). On the east side of the continent, they vaguely knew of the existence of Ethiopia (probably actually Sudan) by following the Nile southwards, and if traders had managed to sail down the west coast as far as Senegal, that's about as far as they got (at least, those who returned to tell the tale). Sub-Saharan Africa was terra incognita to the Romans (imho).
posted by Duncan B Campbell

I found this on Facebook believe it or not!
Francis Hagan

The Barcarii
Isotope analysis is bringing some wonderful new knowledge in where people came from in antiquity. For example , one of the skeletons in the late Roman Lankhills cemetery was from North Africa ( , ); a third century African lady found in Sussex ( ) ; Mauri Feroces on Hadrians Wall. And this blue glass head , found at South Shields
[Image: 12-head-vessel-discovered-near-hadrians-wall-670.jpg]

All in all, quite a lot of evidence!
[Image: wip2_r1_c1-1-1.jpg] [Image: Comitatuslogo3.jpg]

aka Paul B, moderator
Moderation in all things
At least until the voyages of that one Byzantine guy, who visited as far as Axum and Somalia, and mentions the extension of Byzantine/Axumite control across to modern day Yemen

Anyways, I doubt most anyone north of southern egypt or arabia was "Black" skinned, most would certainly have been darker skinned though.
Knowledge about Africa is one of those interesting cases where something was "discovered" by a civilisation and then lost. There is a fair possibility that the Phoenicians actually circumnavigated Africa, but by the time of Ptolemy the Greeks and Romans didn't know much of anything of sub-Saharan Africa.
[Image: PtolemyWorldMap.jpg]
David J. Cord
Quote:one of the skeletons in the late Roman Lankhills cemetery was from North Africa... African lady found in Sussex... Mauri Feroces on Hadrians Wall... All in all, quite a lot of evidence!

Although, as Duncan says above, 'Africa' and 'African' did not mean 'black' by our contemporary standards. 'Afer' was somebody from north Africa, around Carthage. The Mauri, Numidians, Garamantes and others were probably similar to Berbers - dark complexions, but again not 'black'.

Sub-saharan Africans could have entered the empire via the Nile valley and Egypt, and many of them clearly did - references to Aethiopians in Roman literature, and in art (probably including the blue glass head shown above), demonstrate this. But they would not have been common.

However, as I said above, the story of Severus and the 'black' soldier is important precisely because Severus himself was from north Africa - in order for the emperor to have such an adverse reaction to the 'ill omened' soldier, this 'Moor' must have been significantly darker than Severus himself. Quite probably a sub-saharan 'black' African then, serving in the army in north Britain c.209.
Nathan Ross

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