Thank God someone slapped Paul Joseph Watson

Rhetorically, of course. The man is an ignoramus. He actually objected to a BBC video that illustrated the Roman empire as a vast polyglot melange of varying ethnicities, because, as all good alt-right Nazis know, Romans were all white British aristocrats.

One of his buddies even mocked the idea that there could have been black legionaries — black people have always been slaves, not realizing that this is only a trope that evolved with modern colonialism.

You know, we have these nifty DNA technologies that allow us to examine remains from Roman Britain and learn all kinds of things about the colonizers. They weren’t all Kenneth Branagh clones — the early residents of Roman London were mostly immigrants from all over the empire. Even without DNA analysis, we have written historical records that testify to the diversity imported into the island.

But all you have to do is enjoy Mike Stuchbery’s evidence filled smackdown. Totally righteous.

Another lesson the Nazis might want to learn is that despite the flood of foreigners almost 2000 years ago and despite the measurable infusion of non-white, non-Briton blood, the region did what usually happens with an influx of diversity — the resident population absorbed it and survived just fine, eventually becoming the pasty white Englanders we all know and love. We are all children of mongrels, our blood is spiced up with diversity, and it does us no harm.


  1. Reginald Selkirk says

    This seems relevant:
    The polygamous town facing genetic disaster

    In a remote region of the US, a town is struggling with a chilling health crisis caused by a recessive gene. The reason? Here, polygamy is still practised.

    Even more intriguingly, this region is polygynous. In this small, isolated community of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the likelihood of being born with fumarase deficiency is over a million times above the global average…

  2. doubtthat says

    Funniest/saddest comments and tweets are all the ones saying, “Yeah, I guess we were all full of shit, but ROME WAS DIVERSE AND IT COLLAPSED!!!!! Keep the Muslims out of Europe!!”

    So, first, BBC lying to appease PC culture. Oh, we’re completely, flagrantly wrong, but still, the very thing we were wrong about is now OBVIOUSLY so destructive and evil that the Roman empire fell apart (300 years later).

    We are in such a dark place.

  3. nomadiq says

    Hey, don’t through Kenneth Branagh under the bus like that. Test his DNA first. If he really is British we’ll see just how much of a mongrel he is!

  4. brett says

    Ironically, the “pasty white” element itself was probably from a not-so-benign migration (the migration of Angles, Saxons, etc from what is now northern Germany and the Low Countries in the 5th Century CE). Historians debate how many of them migrated over, but IIRC the evidence has swung back in recent years towards a large amount of migrants over decades (think 5000-10,000 year over 50 years, that type of thing).

  5. says

    Everyone’s got some Roman or Mongol in ’em. And after WWII they’ve got some American, which is to say “the kitchen sink.” The whole idea of pure blood is ridiculous.

    I remember back in high school when someone was shocked to learn that Cleopatra probably didn’t look anything like Elizabeth Taylor and I had to break it to them that, if Moses was a real person, he didn’t look much like Charleton Heston, either.

  6. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @doubtthat, #2:

    Where did you see those comments?

  7. says

    Marcus @6

    I remember back in high school when someone was shocked to learn that Cleopatra probably didn’t look anything like Elizabeth Taylor and I had to break it to them that, if Moses was a real person, he didn’t look much like Charleton Heston, either.

    And then there was Jesus, if he existed.

  8. says

    Several Roman emperors were in fact black Africans. Septimius Severus was born in Africa. The playwright Terence was African. Lucius Quietus, a general and governor of Judea, was a Berber. There are innumerable other prominent roman generals, writers and politicians who were African. There were African popes.

  9. cartomancer says

    The provincial governor of Roman Britannia from 139-142 AD was a Numidian Berber called Quintus Lollius Urbicus. We didn’t just have dark-skinned African legionaries clomping about in their caligae, we were bloody ruled by one for a bit.

  10. doubtthat says

    @8 Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    They’re in the responses to Stuchbery’s tweets. Some here:

    More of them if you click on one of the alt-right guy’s tweets. Stuff like this:

    “Yeah and because of it it crumbled. So you’re saying that Britain will share the same fate?”

    “Rabble, Rabble, Rabble, how dare you SJWs says Britain wasn’t all white during the Roman occupation!!!!!”
    …Science, DNA, history…
    “Rabble, Rabble, Rabble, OF COURSE Rome was ethnically diverse, that’s why they fell!!”

    It’s amazing how perfectly Trump represents them.

  11. brett says

    Sorry, that should have been 5000-10,000/decade, not per year.


    They were born in North Africa, but that doesn’t mean they would have looked like subsaharan Africans (especially since the Romans re-colonized Carthage with citizens from Roman Italy). Septimius was mixed Punic/Italian Roman in ancestry.

  12. williamhyde says

    That was a satisfying set of tweets (and I’ve never said that before).

    When ultra-conservatives talk about Rome, it’s always a Dunning-Kruger fest.

    They seem to feel that imperial Rome is “theirs” and that they know all about it without ever needing to actually read a book or ten on it.

  13. unclefrogy says

    it is kind of amazing how tenaciously people can hold on to some story about reality in the face of all the actual evidence to the contrary when that story props them up to some how be to be important or better than everyone else.

    uncle frogy

  14. doubtthat says

    @16 williamhyde

    When ultra-conservatives talk about Rome, it’s always a Dunning-Kruger fest.

    They seem to feel that imperial Rome is “theirs” and that they know all about it without ever needing to actually read a book or ten on it.

    I get the impression that they confuse the First Reich – the Holy Roman Empire – with the Classical Roman Empire. Start with Nazi ideology, force it backwards in time, then miss your mark by 500 years, and you have a theory indistinguishable from what they say about Classical Rome.

  15. unperson says

    @cervantes: It’s unclear whether Septimius Severus, Geta, and Caracalla would be considered “black” to a modern viewer. We actually have a contemporary colour portrait of them: The top hits on Google claiming that they were black are from a Rastafarian web site, which I think that we can agree might be biased.

    There certainly were plenty of dark-skinned people in the Roman empire, some of them serving in important positions. But Rome’s African holdings were mostly north of the Sahara, a region whose majority population is not “black” today and probably wasn’t 2000 years ago either (based on what we know of the egyptians, punii, etc. — though we do know for certain that there were black pharaohs).

    Rome was an equal-opportunity slaver. People were not enslaved based on race, but rather (mostly) based on being defeated enemies or having been enslaved by someone else outside the empire then sold to them. Later on, after the empire stopped expanding, they started enslaving their own peasantry (aka “serfdom”) — again, without any known basis in race.

  16. Rich Woods says

    the region did what usually happens with an influx of diversity — the resident population absorbed it and survived just fine

    A while ago there was a thread in the Graun about genetic diversity, on how measurable it is by DNA analysis and on what that might mean. I’m happy to say the same thing here that I said there: all it means is that people move around quite a bit and shag each other a lot.

  17. says

    doubtthat @18: I doubt that they’re thinking that deeply. I think they’re going by older media images of Rome, with all those white Hollywood actors or British Victorians drawing pictures of themselves and their neighbours wearing togas.

  18. doubtthat says

    Haha, you’re probably right.

    Alt-Right Razor – Assume the theory that requires the least amount of knowledge about the world.

  19. brett says

    @15 Cervantes

    I don’t see how that contradicts what I said.

    @19 Unperson

    There were probably more than a few traders, slaves, and folks from beyond the border voluntarily signing up to be soldiers from subsaharan African groups, although the Roman Empire proper didn’t stretch further south than Egypt, the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, and parts of the Atlantic Coast of Africa. The kingdom that was ruling Nubia at the time was a friendly client regime of the Roman Empire for most of its existence (I can’t remember if it was Kush or a successor kingdom).

  20. bachfiend says

    Well, obviously Rome was ethnically diverse. Whenever it conquered a different ethnic group with a different set of gods it just took their gods and added them to their pantheon.

    It was perfectly fine for other ethnic groups to worship their gods provided they gave some respect to other groups’ gods (including dead Roman emperors).

    The Roman Empire ran into trouble when it came across intolerant monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Christianity, which refused to give respect to other groups’ gods.

    The Western Roman Empire collapsed when it had become ethnically non-diverse with Christianity as its state religion, and was invaded by heretetical Christians from outside the Empire.

  21. tacitus says

    Paul Joseph Watson — whose only role in life is to stand next to Alex Jones and make his boss appear charming, witty and intelligent by comparison.

  22. consciousness razor says

    And then there was Jesus, if he existed.

    He totally looked like Cesare Borgia, didn’t he?

    But Jim Caviezel could totally work too … not so much The Passion of the Christ Caviezel as Person of Interest Caviezel.

  23. says

    The other funny thing about their defenses is that they point to ancient statuary and art and are basically saying, “See? They looked like normal people. So of course they were white!”

  24. magistramarla says

    Ah, the struggles that I had each year with each new set of students! I had to convince them that ALL of the Romans were NOT Italian, the first Roman Emperor was NOT Julius Caesar, but Augustus Caesar, the Roman slaves mentioned (and pictured!!) in our Cambridge textbook were NOT supposed to be dark-skinned, and the myth about Hercules was NOT as it was portrayed by the Disney cartoon.
    I tried, really I did, to make a small dent in the general American ignorance about Ancient Rome.
    (Quite a task, since each year some of them were convinced that they had signed up for Latin American Studies!)

  25. blf says

    they point to ancient statuary […] and are basically saying, “See? They looked like normal people. […]”

    The ancient Romans were Weeping Angels?

  26. blf says

    magistramarla@31, Reminds me of a fellow student in my German-language class (in the States). He insisted all Germans were nazis at the (then) present time, which was (then) forty-something years after the end of the war. And never true at any point in time.

  27. zibble says

    It’s amazing to me that these people never critically examine their biases even when it leads them to outrageously stupid assumptions.

    Like, this fucking muppet *really*, *truly* thought the BBC would just ahistorically inject black people into a cartoon historical recreation solely for reasons of “political correctness”, as if they would draw random background characters as African while portraying ancient China. He holds on to this idiotic assumption even when presented with the much more reasonable possibility that maybe an Empire that stretched into Africa would have Africans in it, and maybe his ignorant ass just hadn’t considered that fact.

    It’s like the nutcases who can be readily led to believe that Obama was preparing to invade Texas, or that Planned Parenthood was eating baby parts or that Satanists were murdering children all over the country. I just don’t understand how anyone can be *so ludicrously wrong* and not question the biases and sources of information that led them to those big mistakes. Instead they act like “oh, I was guess there wasn’t a ridiculous anti-white conspiracy at the BBC… *this* time” and go on being fucking morons.

  28. sammywol says

    Brannagh is an immigrant too. He’s Irish. Northern Irish but still. Moving to Reading knocked the corners off his Belfast accent (still took him two tries to pass his Received Pronunciation exam) but if you can track down the Billy plays, from when he was appallingly young, you can check out his original Ulster boy voice.

  29. seleukos says

    The Roman Empire may have been a very diverse place, but it was diverse in a very different way from what North Americans are accustomed to (i.e. a majority of northern Europeans, a downtrodden minority of mostly western Africans, and a spattering of everyone else on the planet). That’s why I’m often baffled when people try to project their modern European or North American viewpoints on the ancient Mediterranean, either from the nordicist or the afrocentrist camp. A case in point for the nordicists are the ones you make fun of, who probably imagine all Romans speaking with an english accept. A case in point for the afrocentrists is the Atlanta Black Star article linked to by cervantes #15, where everyone who was born anywhere in Africa is declared black (something especially silly for Carthage, which started out as a Phoenician colony and was later repopulated by Romans). By the same token, the leaders of Apartheid South Africa could be included in a list of great black statesmen.

  30. A. Noyd says

    zibble (#35)

    as if they would draw random background characters as African while portraying ancient China.

    Not that African-looking people would be out of place there, either, even if they’re more likely to be Negrito than African.

  31. davidc1 says

    There is a certain kind of rightit wingnut on the comment section of The Guardian and The Independent that calls London Londonstan ,i reply ,yes that is correct ,the place where Londoners come from .

  32. emergence says

    PZ @30

    How are they responding to the actual forensic evidence that the Roman Empire was genetically diverse? I’d say that chemical and genetic analysis of the remains of actual Romans trumps racist layman interpretations of statues.

  33. davidc1 says

    The boss @30 Most of the English have fallen in love with the sun and and are now a reddish brownish colour ,go in to an English chemist and you will find tanning stuff next to skin lightening stuff .

  34. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    still took him two tries to pass his Received Pronunciation exam

    ….is that really a thing?

  35. blf says

    Mary Beard abused on Twitter over Roman Britain’s ethnic diversity:

    Classicist says her assertion that there was at least some diversity under Roman rule led to ‘torrent of aggressive insults’
    The historian had been defending a BBC schools video that featured a high-ranking black Roman soldier as the father of a family, prompting a wave of online abuse. One person said she was literally rewriting history.

    She said the tone of the debate left her dispirited. “It feels very sad to me that we cannot have a reasonable discussion on such a topic as the cultural, ethnic composition of Roman Britain without resorting to unnecessary insult, abuse, misogyny and language of war, not debate.”

    Beard, a classicist at Cambridge University, who is well known for her robust responses to Twitter trolls, was one of those who pointed to evidence that there was at least some ethnic diversity in Britain under Roman rule.

  36. blf says

    Professor Beard (see @43) is getting support for her standing up to the eejits, Monica Lewinsky defends Mary Beard in Twitter row over black Roman Britons. The initial part of the article is about support from various celebrities (as indicated by the title), and has been redacted from the following excerpt:

    While figures from wider culture as diverse as Lewinsky, Paralympian heroine Tanni Grey-Thompson and cookery writer Nigella Lawson offered their backing, Beard’s fellow academics also threw their weight behind her:

    Dr Adam Rutherford (@AdamRutherford)
      Look at all these men, none of whom are historians calling names to academic historian @wmarybeard, because she asked for evidence? Amazing. […]

    Dr Caitlin Green (@caitlinrgreen)
      Similar figures from other urban sites too eg. Roman London, where 24% of ppl studied were of prob African ancestry […]


    Cambridge University’s faculty of classics — where Beard works — released a reading list on Monday morning, in support of the professor. “In the faculty we welcome and encourage public interest in, and reasoned debate about, the ancient world, such as Professor Beard has always sought to encourage,” the statement read. “The evidence is in fact overwhelming that Roman Britain was indeed a multi-ethnic society.”

  37. blf says

    And Mary Beard is right — ‘Romans’ could be from anywhere, from Carlisle to Cairo:

    The classics professor’s naysayers refuse to believe ancient civilisations could have been anything but Caucasian, but there is evidence that proves them wrong

    The wonderful Mary Beard has been sucked into another Twitter row […]. This latest tussle has been about her defence (which, as usual, was measured, graceful and — above all — well-informed) of a BBC cartoon showing a Roman British family with a black father. For some people this was infuriating, disgusting: a politically correct piece of anachronistic nonsense, throwing modern multicultural values back on to the past. And yet, as Prof Beard has pointed out, of course it is perfectly possible, even pretty likely, that such families existed in Roman Britain, and an entirely reasonable thing for the BBC cartoon to have posited.

    The Roman empire encompassed large tracts of north Africa, and even though it did not extend to sub-Saharan Africa, its borders were porous and its sphere of influence vast. “Being Roman”, it should be remembered, was not about tracing your origins to one city in Italy: as the empire grew, citizenship was extended across conquered territories. “Romans” could be from anywhere from Carlisle to Cairo, and beyond.

    In Britain, there is plenty of evidence of the presence of soldiers, traders and administrators from all parts of this enormous empire, including from Africa. Some of them would have been passing through; some made a life here. What is more difficult to do is to say with certainty whether such-and-such a person was “black” or “white” in our terms: these were not categories of interest to the Romans, and in the case of elite families from north Africa, say, it’s also unclear whether they were originally Italian settlers.


    [… T]here is particular evidence of a man from Syria, Barates, settling down in Britain in the second century AD. We know about him because he raised a tombstone to his wife in what is now South Shields. She was a girl from Essex or Hertfordshire, a former slave called Regina. The touching inscription is in Latin and in his own language, Palmyrene. Thanks to the Roman habit of writing so much stuff down, frequently on stone, for us to read millennia later, this is all pretty clear. What is bewildering is why some people are so determined to white-out early British history.

    I rather liked the following reader’s comment:

    The most revealing thing about this is that those who are complaining about BBC accuracy only care about a very specific aspect — race.

    It’s not as if these white men are trawling through all of the BBCs factual content to make sure there are no historical inaccuracies. No. They’ve suddenly become interested in Roman history because they saw something they didn’t like and set out to try to discredit it

    And this particular exchange: It may be impossible to tell if Clodius Albinus was black or not, but given one of his names is derived from the adjective ‘albus’, white , let me take a wild guess. In reply: “That makes Honor Blackman…?” (Other replies tear into the lack of logic as well.)