An individual with Sarmatian-related ancestry in Roman Britain

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Abstract

In the second century CE the Roman Empire had increasing contact with Sarmatians, nomadic Iranian speakers occupying an area stretching from the Pontic-Caspian steppe to the Carpathian mountains, both in the Caucasus and in the Danubian borders of the empire.1,2,3 In 175 CE, following their defeat in the Marcomannic Wars, emperor Marcus Aurelius drafted Sarmatian cavalry into Roman legions and deployed 5,500 Sarmatian soldiers to Britain, as recorded by contemporary historian Cassius Dio.4,5 Little is known about where the Sarmatian cavalry were stationed, and no individuals connected with this historically attested event have been identified to date, leaving its impact on Britain largely unknown. Here we document Caucasus- and Sarmatian-related ancestry in the whole genome of a Roman-period individual (126-228 calibrated [cal.] CE)-an outlier without traceable ancestry related to local populations in Britain-recovered from a farmstead site in present-day Cambridgeshire, UK. Stable isotopes support a life history of mobility during childhood. Although several scenarios are possible, the historical deployment of Sarmatians to Britain provides a parsimonious explanation for this individual's extraordinary life history. Regardless of the factors behind his migrations, these results highlight how long-range mobility facilitated by the Roman Empire impacted provincial locations outside of urban centers.

Journal details

Journal Current Biology
Volume 34
Issue number 1
Pages 204-212.e6
Available online
Publication date