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26.10.03

How Did They Say "Quagmire" In Latin?

Exhibit: Romans Weren't Racially Prejudiced

The ancient Romans did not judge people based on ethnicity nor did it influence the status an individual could achieve within the Roman Empire, a new exhibit in England contends.

... Lindsay Allason-Jones, who organized the exhibit and is director of archaeological museums at the university, said very few Italians constructed and manned the wall [Hadrian's Wall, which defended Roman-occupied Britain]. Most were Spanish, Gallic, German and North African. She said soldiers could rise to senatorial status regardless of their color or country of origin, as long as they were loyal to the empire.

Allason-Jones told Discovery News that Emperor Hadrian himself was Spanish. Yet another famous Roman emperor, Septimius Severus, came from Libya. A number of governors of Roman Britain came from various parts of Africa. These leaders included Urbicus, Adventus, L. Alfensus Senecio, Clodius Albinus, L. Aemilius Salvianus and L. Minthonius Tertullus.


I don't mean to dispute the conclusion that race and ethnicity was a very different thing in Roman times. But the evidence I quoted above seems a pretty weak way of defending the conclusion that Romans weren't prejudiced. After all, consider American-occupied Iraq: there are plenty of black and Hispanic soldiers over there, and the person running the show -- Condoleeza Rice -- is likewise not white. Yet it would clearly be incorrect for the archaeologists of the future to infer from that that there's no racial or ethnic prejudice in the United States.

On a bit of a tangent, I wonder if anyone who actually knows something about ancient history has written an article comparing the American occupation of Iraq to the Roman occupation of Britain.

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