African Romans in Britain

Roman Britain was actually a multi-cultural society that included newcomers and locals with African ancestry and dual heritage.

Woman in light blue top looking down on skeletonal remains from a Roman tomb. The skull is placed in the middle of the display and other bones are arranged around it.
Musem of London curator Merie Jeater with a Roman skull of a 36-45 year old woman with Black African ancestry.

The Roman Empire was the largest empire of the ancient world. At its peak in the early 2nd century AD, its territories stretched from northern England in the far north to the borders of modern-day Sudan in the far south and from Portugal in the far west to the Persian Gulf in the far east. As a direct result of the vast territories, the Roman Empire was an extremely ethnically diverse and multicultural place. But, likely, you weren't taught this at school.

In 1901, a skeleton that would later be called the 'Ivory Bangle Lady' was discovered in a stone sarcophagus buried underneath a main road in York. The skeleton was of a wealthy mixed-race young woman - probably from North Africa - who held a high status in a diverse city. Entirely at odds with traditional views of Roman Britain.

The Ivory Bangle Lady came from a group of graves excavated in 1901, located on what would have been the approach to the Roman city of Eboracum, modern-day York. The burials were dated to the second half of the 4th century AD, and many had rich grave goods. But she had one of the richest graves found, which ultimately turns on its head the perception that Africans in Roman Britain were slaves.

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