February 05, 2007

How a Roman legion ended up in China and formed a village

I just found this interesting story in the news about how a lonely village in the north western China has a lot of inhabitants with western features.
Some "old" theory from the 1950'ies suggests that the reason for this is a lost roman legion, lead by Markus Craccus. Craccus was defeated in 53 BC in what is now Iran, the theory suggests that these troops then moved eastwards as mercenaries until they were taken prisoners by the Chinese and described as using a "fish-scale formation" which fits well to the way the romans had a habit of defending themselves with shields all around.
Some scientists now want to test this theory using DNA samples from the inhabitants of the village, to see if it really is Roman blood that gives the inhabitants of the village their special features.

I find this story quite fascinating in many ways.

*2nd edit*
As pointed out in the comments to this post, the pdf linked to below, while being an investing read is pretty unscientific on the subject and also does not cite it's sources, so please do not take it for a historic document or an accurate description.
I have not read this paper yet [pdf] that the comment also links to but it sure does look a lot more scientific and worked through at a first glance.

I got a post posted to /. on this subject, a user was so friendly to direct me to this very interesting piece [pdf] about the story and theory from the 1950'ies. I stand corrected for leaving behind the impression that the roman troops were acting as "happy mercenaries" when they moved eastwards, that is probably far from true, in some ways they were more like prisoners of war.


Ethan said...

Hi, I came across your blog via your post in slashdot. The theory of Romans in China has interested me for years, and there's a plethora of information about the theory all over the internet, most of it completely incorrect and unsubstantiated. As someone who has researched this topic fairly extensively in an academic setting, I can attest that the pdf you have read (I came across it the other day) is almost completely rubbish. There are a few facts here and there (though I am fairly certain the author of that paper came across a paper I wrote more than two years ago that has since been circulated on the internet--since I recognize a few bits that were probably taken from my paper without citation) that are correct, it is largely inaccurate and generally not very well written or constructed.

I completed a paper for a Roman architecture class last semester that is, as far as I know, the most comprehensive academic critique of Dubs' theory.

It can be found at:


Arne said...

Thank ethan you for pointing this out to me.
I think I am guilty of having written almost as poor a scientific text as the one that has been circulating the internet in high school also, but at least I have not released it to the internet (not yet anyhow, and I think that by now that doc(yes I also once used MS Word ... and still use to many parentheses) file is happily lost with some hard disk crash back in time ... it was probably for the best).

I hope my 2nd edit does your work justice to the post does your work a little justice.