Who were the 99% of ancient Rome?
Kristina Killgrove, shown here in the catacombs under Paris, is fascinated by ancient Rome.
November 11th, 2011
09:00 AM ET

Who were the 99% of ancient Rome?

Editor's note: Ed Yong is a freelance writer who blogs regularly at Discover Magazine's Not Exactly Rocket Science.

From Gibbon to "Gladiator," it might seem like we know a lot about Ancient Rome, but our view of this civilization is a skewed one. The Romans lived in one of the most stratified societies in history. Around 1.5% of the population controlled the government, military, economy and religion. Through the writings and possessions they left behind, these rich, upper-class men are also responsible for most of our information about Roman life.

The remaining people – commoners, slaves and others – are largely silent. They could not afford tombstones to record their names, and they were buried with little in the way of fancy pottery or jewellery. Their lives were documented by the elites, but they left few documents of their own.

Now, Kristina Killgrove, an archaeologist from Vanderbilt University, wants to tell their story by sequencing their DNA, and she is raising donations to do it. “Their DNA will tell me where these people, who aren’t in histories, were coming from,” she says. “They were quite literally the 99% of Rome.”

***

People have long been interested in the Romans, but most archaeologists only started paying attention to their skeletons in the last 30 years or so. There are currently anywhere between 10,000 and 20,000 skeletons knocking about in Italian warehouses, and most have been ignored because of lack of money and personnel. “It’s an untapped data source, especially about the common people, the ones we know nothing about,” says Killgrove.

Since 2007, Killgrove has been studying 200 skeletons recovered from lower-class graves excavated outside Rome’s city walls. As they went about their lives, these Romans incorporated chemical isotopes from their water, food and environment into their bones and teeth. By measuring the levels of these isotopes, Killgrove could reconstruct the lives of her subjects.

Carbon and nitrogen told her they ate different and varied diets, which included wheat, barley and fish. Strontium and oxygen revealed that a third of them had immigrated to Rome after their childhood, and had very similar lives to the locals. That was a surprise.

Ancient Rome lacked any formal census, so it is hard to pin down the dynamics of its population. Many people thought only young boys came to the city, but Killgrove found older men, women and children among her immigrants.

She thinks that some could have travelled to Rome from as far away as North Africa, but the isotopes cannot pinpoint a location. To do that, Killgrove wants to extract DNA from the bones of as many immigrants as possible.

This will mark the first time anyone has sequenced DNA from a Roman skeleton, and it is part of a growing field of “molecular archaeology,” in which scientists turn the tools of modern genetics toward ancient civilizations. Several teams have sequenced DNA from Egyptian mummies, both human and crocodile. John Dudgeon, one of Killgrove’s collaborators from Idaho State University, has been sequencing the DNA of Easter Islanders. Other societies, from the ancient Greeks to the Etruscans, are likely future targets.

But for the moment, Killgrove’s attention is squarely on Rome. She says, “I’m trying to fill in these huge gaps in history and piece together what life was like for the average people in Rome.” She will start with where they came from.

***

Killgrove’s own origin story, like many of the best, involves radiation. At the age of 7, she broke her arm and while discussing her X-ray, her doctor asked, “Do you want to know how tall you’ll be when you grow up?” As Killgrove writes: “Predicting the future from bones –that is how you blow a 7-year-old’s mind.” That incident sparked a longstanding and “slightly creepy” love for skeletons, which fused with a fascination for ancient civilization. Both interests are abundantly clear in her research and her personal blog, Powered by Osteons.

To finance her new project, Killgrove is looking for public donations. She is one of 49 scientists who are trying to persuade the public to fund their research as part of the SciFund Challenge. With more than a month to go, she has already raised more than a third of her $6,000 target. Her donors are mostly members of the public, and include several “weekend genealogists.” One generous individual has donated $1,000, earning an acknowledgement on the eventual research paper.

Killgrove says the crowdfunding model comes into its own for small pilot projects, which can provide the basis for larger grant applications. “I don’t think it could fund an archaeological expedition, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars,” she says. “But for these small-scale projects, I think it’s a great way of raising money and bringing the public into my science.”

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  2. Angelo Paratico

    Hi

    I am discussing these point in an essay:

    http://www.medievalists.net/2012/09/26/a-cold-case-of-historical-bias/

    Thanks
    Angelo

    September 27, 2012 at 4:59 am |
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  9. Ringing In The Ears

    Don't let anyone tell you there is no help for this. You can now get answers that were not available previously.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  10. JEWZRHOT

    I recognized my friend Randy's skull in that picture. He has a very distinctive skull.
    Do musterd go good on ham?

    November 18, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  11. DannySaid

    I found this article intriguing. This isn't a multimillion dollar expedition but a low cost expedition that will highly inform us about Roman life. As a Latin III student I want to know more about the Romans.

    November 15, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  12. Jeepers

    This is interesting...but it's also why I want to be cremated. I don't want to be dug up at some point and be someone's science project...or end up in a museum. These people were "buried" with very little dignity, but where exactly do we draw the line?

    November 14, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  13. Dan Bednarik

    They were the barbarians that burned Rome - something like our 99% are about to do to the US Congress.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  14. Pat Savu

    It will not be a first to study the DNA of ancient Romans. Julius Polybius's family DNA from Pompeii has been studied prevously. They coud tell they were a family unit from the DNA they were able to extract, and that some of the individuals must have family by marriage like the young man who might have been the husband of the young pregnant woman (who was related to the others).

    November 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  15. SteveB

    There should be a minimum intelligence requirement to post on a public forum or comment topic, such as this. Unfortunately very few literate and meaningful comments on the interesting article posted above. [(the're, racist comments, your/you're, brakedown, expenseve, trechery, "slave like life")]

    November 14, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  16. dinak

    Individuals like Obama, Clinton, the Kennedy's, the Rochefeller's, and other libs.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  17. Julius Caesar

    Et tu, Brute?

    November 14, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  18. RamblinRosie

    Why is everyone taking their bitter outlook out on this scientist and her preferred field of interest? If it doesn't flip your switch, then shut up. I'll bet if CNN posted an article about you and your career aspirations Ms. Killgrove might not find your ideas worthwhile either. These comment streams are bloated with people who could stand an attitude adjustment and a reminder about the Golden Rule.

    November 14, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  19. Lighting

    Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity

    and originality now. Keep it up!

    November 14, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  20. Trajan

    I'm pretty sure the Romans did have a formal census. The word census is derived from the word Censor...which was the Latin title of the offiial who performed the census. Granted, it was not as in depth as our modern version, but our whole concept of census taking comes to us from the Romans.

    November 14, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  21. GokTurk

    top 1.5% control everthing...hows that any different today?

    November 13, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  22. Lucille

    Carole,

    Explain a little more about the vestals, if you will. No pun intended.

    Thanks!

    These are indeed the days of Joseph. As his father Jacob said, "... I have heard that there is corn [grain] in Egypt: ..."

    November 13, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  23. eric calderone

    Interesting article, though I do take some exception to several points. Rome, the Republic and Empire, covers a span of over 1100 years. That is a long time. Roman society was not as static as this article suggests. For example, women had relatively few civil rights under the Republic, and those rights consistently expanded under the Empire. There was mobility: we know from records that slaves and gladiators not too infrequently received their freedom. The size of what can be equated to a middle class, is a question that I would like answered. A few hundred wealthy families essentially controlled the Republic. Some of that power and wealth made its way down under the Empire to the equestrian classes.

    Just how many people owned small shops, or were in skilled crafts, or owned enough land to support themelves, is an area worthy of research? The figure of 1.5% mentioned in the article is a red herring. How many Americans move in and out of Congress? Or have enough money to contribute handsomely to pollitical campaigns and influence legislation? Would the number of such Americans exceed 1.5%? I don't think so.

    November 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  24. Mike Brooks

    What a lot of readers, here, forget s that there were two Rome's. The earlier Rome was a democracy that made advances in the medical sciences, engineering, invented concrete, had popularly elected government's, produced astonishing works of literature and the arts... The later Rome was an oligarchy, where the Senate was composed of the elite, the wealthy, who chose the Emperor. That Rome resembled *us* in every way. It fed off the innovations of the earlier Republic, outsourced work, and gave a complacent population bread and circuses, slavery, and examples of debauched lifestyles to live to. And after years of Nero and Caligula and greed and incompetence and neglect, the Roman nest was so befouled that the elite ran away to Constantinople, leaving a bankrupt Rome to invasion by the barbarians ... Those Byzantines formed a corrupt, gilded cesspool that has become infamous for deceit, lawyers, and debauchery. And this is our future for allowing the kindred oligarchs of Rome to rule over us.

    November 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • eric calderone

      My friend, where do you get your information? The Republic was in essence an oligarchy. It fell because internecine fighting among the elites, and their unwillingness to make concessions to the common people, and to orchestrate an intelligent foreign policy, threatened Rome with collapse. It was the Empire which opened up avenues of advancement to the equestrian classes, and attempted to help the Roman farmers.

      Medical advances reached their apex in the 2nd century under Galen (this is during the Empire.). Nero and Caligula lived in the first century. Constantinople was founded in the 4th century. Your dates are considerably off. The capital was moved from Rome to Constantinople in the 4th century because the East was where the wealth was, and where the military threat from Persians and Goths existed.

      November 13, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
      • Mike Brooks

        You're playing games. Constantinople existed as a bolt hole for the Roan elite well before Constantine moved his capital there. And, quite obviously, your ignorance of Roman history is profound, if you do not realize that Roman Republic was a pluralistic democracy from around 500 BC until it was overthrown by Octavian (Augustus) around 45 B.C. Thereafter, the Roman Empire was ruled by the elite and the plight of the working class became horrible. Prior to Octavian, work, actual jobs, were done by Roman citizens. After, outsourcing increased, the elite became obscenely wealthy, and the ordinary Roman became a welfare case, bought off with bowls of wine, free grain, public baths and circuses. The debauchery of the elite simply grew and was emulated by the populous until the whole structure, rife with decay, fell apart. Then, just as today, the wealthy fled to their neat hidy holes. And, I will not excuse your abysmal ignorance of history, Galen was a ROMAN citizen, a product of the Republic. In 162 A.D. Galen went to Rome, where he established a practice and a *school* of medicine. That school discovered and charted the circulatory and nervous systems, developed drugs (including "aspirin") for the treatment of diseases. They *established* medicine as a science.

        November 13, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
      • Debates are fun!

        Have really enjoyed reading the exchange between Mike Brooks and yourself. More please.

        November 14, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  25. AVGPAGUY

    "My wife and I work hard and if you combine our incomes, I think we are in the 1% and guess what, we have influence over jack squat. We can't even get our local town to pave the sidewalks. People claiming to be the 99% need to get a grip" Then maybe you and your wife should help contribute to the cost of the sidewalk. Or spend some money to help elect someone who will get these necessary things done. So in essence... you have FAR MORE influence than those with little financial means.

    November 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • llib

      Maybe you two folks should move out of Texas
      There are sidewalks in the civilized parts of America

      November 13, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  26. chris

    ask yourself why CNN keeps supporting and propping up these OWS folks that don't want to work and riot in the streets.

    then ask yourself why CNN denounces the tea party whose members don't get arrested and are civilized.

    pure partisanship by the liberal media.

    November 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • palintwit

      Most OWS folks want to work. The jobs just aren't there thanks to the republicans. They are afraid Obama will be re-elected if the economy improves and they're not about to let that happen.

      November 13, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      Liberal media? What are you talking about?

      November 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Super-D

      Because CNN doesn't lean so far off the scale to the right that you can't even see the scales off in the distance anymore?

      November 14, 2011 at 2:29 am |
  27. palintwit

    Sarah Palin believes that the movie "Deliverance" is an accurate account of conservative, christian life in America.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  28. dscon

    there the liberal/socialist CNN goes again wanting to be like europe!

    November 13, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  29. paverset

    These are exciting times for learning about our distant past. Molecular archeology is telling us more than we ever knew about the first migrants to America, for instance. Over the next decades we may find our conventional wisdom about many things upended or refined.

    November 13, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • josef vandernbreks

      sure, but once the truth comes out that White people were here first, it will be covered up by the racist, liberals in the universities....

      November 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
      • KeithTexas

        No one knew you were stupid until you posted your statement.

        November 13, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
      • llib

        Oh I bet his stupidity is widely known
        I am sure he is proud of it

        November 13, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
      • Robert Henriques

        Silly statement you most certinly were noy hrere first, you misees the boat on that by 150 k years minimum ice age man, you are from the loins and the womb of tropical men and women allbeit cold adapted deal with it nazi!!

        November 14, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
      • jimmer

        josef.....its not youyr fault....I blame your parents.

        November 14, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
      • Wyler Chesterfield

        Who really gives a crap who was here first. People are people are people. What are you, five?

        You fail so much.

        November 14, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
      • Anglo Saxon

        The violence and hysteria in many of the responses to your justified comment reveals much about the sorry, brainwashed, and puerile condition of those who make up the bulk of both US (North American) and nominally 'White' nation demographics.

        Clearly these ignorant people believe passionately in a future where the world is populated to overflowing with coffee-coloured people, and absent all white people. If that isn't dogmatically racist, then perhaps we should just get on with it and rename the White House ... "Black House". Would doing that not make this world better by making it a little less white?

        Self-loathing is a mental disease, given to genetically white persons by those with malignant intent, and many commenting here are showing advanced symptoms of just that.

        Less than 10 or 12 percent of all immigrants to Rome originated from the African continent, and far less than that from sub-Sahara Africa. So, those who are looking for black ghettoes in Rome's history are simply guilty of projecting contemporary political dogma (of the cheapest kind) into historical inquiry. If you so love Africa then why the heck don't you all go live there?

        November 18, 2011 at 4:54 am |
      • chf

        Anglo Saxon "we should just get on with it and rename the White House ... "Black House"."

        The White House is named after the color of stone it is constructed of, not the people in it. Fail noob now go back to your neonazi/con recovery meeting.

        December 1, 2011 at 3:01 am |
    • TiredOfMoneyBeingWasted

      Doing studies like the will do nothing but satisfy curiosity. I love history and think things like this are cool but they are like a coach bag. A total waste of money. Who cares where they came from, how they lived and what they ate. the money that goes into funding ridiculous things like this is contributing to the current state of the worlds economy. this whole 99% vs. 1% is just as irritating. Why not look at the real reasons we are here and stop blaming the rich. Blame the policy makers, the Presidents, the people on all the boards that give billions of dollars of funding out to people to do useless studies. There are people desperate for food now and for home and shelter and we want to figure out what a dead person ate hundreds and hundreds of years ago. The irony and lack of seeing the madness is infuriating to me.

      November 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
      • Mystic American

        So why not advocate selling national treasures, park land, or even sell advertising space on the Mona Lisa or Statue of Liberty to fund these immediate needs like food and jobs? Seems silly not to go all the way.

        November 13, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
      • RC Johnson

        History, is made up of the bad actions of extraordinary men and woman. All the most noted destroyers and deceivers of our species, all the founders of arbitrary governments and false religions have been extraordinary people; and nine tenths of the calamities that have befallen the human race had no other origin than the union of high intelligence with low desires.

        Thomas B. Macaulay (1800-1859)

        November 13, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
      • Greg

        Understanding history is how we learn from it. Perhaps you think nothing is to be gained from learning from history, but many – including myself – would disagree with you.

        November 14, 2011 at 3:07 am |
      • Susan

        If all we did was focus time, attention, and money on the necessities, we would be a much poorer society. Imagine a world without the arts, sports, or documented history. Very bland

        November 14, 2011 at 8:27 am |
      • T3chsupport

        Everyone should care about history. Know why? Because it repeats itself, over and over. Your statement is stupid.

        November 14, 2011 at 11:05 am |
      • LZ Boy

        those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it..

        November 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
      • James

        I can understand why you have a problem with finding ancient history important when most people don't even remember what lead up to the depression and what got us out of it. But yet our fearless Republican leaders still call for deregulation and cutting government. And Newt can get away with saying Americans don't know history while using that to his advantage to pull the wool over your eyes.

        November 14, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
      • PeopleNeedToPayAttention

        OK..... For all the people complaining about how much the study would cost..... Let's Review. The scientists mentioned in this article are competing with a number of other scientists to have their project funded. This isn't some crusade by a bunch of left-wing scientists to take your concervative cash away. Second, I would like to see some of my taxes go to a good cause instead of blowing up Muslim kids in a country that doesn't mean jack squat to me. Third, did you see how big a donation got someone's name on the research paper.?.....? This isn't a multi-billion dollar scheme to keep rich people rich. The total cost for the project is probably comparable to what weekend warriors spend doing live fire excercises once.... Keep your uninformed financial/ socio-political views out of solid news. Go watch the Kardashians or something.......

        November 14, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
      • mark

        this doesn't sound like someone who 'loves history'. if you think something must produce (immediately) tangible benefits to you then you probably are not an academic.

        December 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Sugarland

      Right now we're ion the middle of a fincial brakedown. Unemployment, Japan nuclear melt down. Why do this expenseve project now.
      Wait for better times.

      November 14, 2011 at 10:20 am |
      • 5 JONES

        What? Expensive? Have you even read the article? I would advise you to increase your cultural baggage a bit, learn some spelling and then pontificate about things you obviously know diddly squat about.

        November 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • r

      sweetheart i respect your work. but i can save you alot of time. your going to discover nothing but what you see on t v.

      outsourcing , trechery , immigration , taxxes , inflation , devluation of currency, bills , malnurishment , slave like life , and they prob lived for there jobs
      like we did.

      and 1 percent ,,, spending the whole day making money on top of money thats what those 20,000 bones will tell you.

      i doubt highly anyone had any other kind of life.......no matter how many skeletons you look

      same thing just 2000 years ago. world never changes never will.

      November 14, 2011 at 10:29 am |
      • kuroranj

        ...not once in your rambling, incoherent response, did you say anything that could be considered a rational thought... everyone in the room is now dumber for having listened to it... i award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

        November 14, 2011 at 11:00 am |
      • AAAAargh

        Don't call strangers Sweetheart, Creampuff.

        November 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
      • Dr.K.

        Wow, "sweetheart" and "the world never changes." You have managed to be both condescending and absurdly incorrect in the same post. Good job.

        November 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • no time like the present

      Robert, modern humans are only 100,000 years old and oriental-type people began crossing over the Berring sea into the Americas between 15K and 12k years ago. Those people were just as destructive as everyone else and managed to wipe out mastodons, horses and other species. The important question is what are we as a society and as individuals going to do now? We live right now, not in the past and not in the future.

      November 14, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  30. Dr. Richards

    After reading comments on the BBC and here in on the America boards, I am shocked. Americans need to to learn how to engage in civil discourse, not mindless banter. It is most disgusting, and most unproductive.

    November 13, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • paverset

      Doctor, you are equating BBC with all of Britain and CNN with all of America. If you want higher quality American forums, they are out there. Try the Wall Street Journal for starters.

      November 13, 2011 at 9:46 am |
      • AmericanPlebe

        paverset, I would simply like to say that your comment to read the Wall Street Journal is by far the most hilarious thing in this long chain of funny comments. You make an excellent point about the subjective difference of the readers of a publication vs the people of a nation. It gets hilarious when you recommend reading comments on the Wall Street Journal for a more enlightened banter. In the midst of a misplaced discussion about economic disparity and the 99%, you have the most profoundly elitist comment ever by suggesting the Doc read the WSJ, a paper designed by and for the absolute 1%. The rabble of the 99% cannot construct intelligent discourse, but the comments on the WSJ by the illustrious, educated 1% are pure gold. What a powerfully elitist statement. I wish it wasn't so true...

        November 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Joe Yuna

      Dr. Richards fellow citizens should learn better behavior in their own homeland after what I observed since the 1960's. Discourse – obviously we have a college-knowledge type here who elevates himself due to elogence rather than substance or logic. If he had he would understrand Americans are torn between globalization and world socialism now on our own doorstep and America, the Republic.

      Education is good, but real-world life expereinces are better.

      November 13, 2011 at 11:24 am |
      • Robear in Ojai

        I think Dr. Richards' remark is to the point. All too often, comments on articles like these quickly degenerate to the lowest common denominator, with religious beliefs, politics and let's blame Obama all coming to fisticuffs over what is an interesting piece of scientific vulgarization.

        But really, "elogence", "expereinces"?

        Tsk, tsk.

        Yes, education is good, it helps with spelling – or at least learning how to use spell-check on your computer – and thus makes your argument more convincing as the reader does not have to stumble upon such glaring misspellings...

        November 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
      • Same message

        Robear: blanket statements are annoying and generally tend to provoke. Learn this point: you don't need to insult others or be pedantic to prove your intelligence.

        Must be the Robert/Robear thing?

        Here is a guttural Americanism for you: High fellutin. Did I spell that right?

        November 14, 2011 at 8:12 am |
      • r

        Dr start by enforcing the border and cutting the visa program. and you get all the literacy you want. you have a babble country. cause you have babble populous.

        November 14, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • JED234

      Do a little more research, we Americans dont care what people from other countries do here, as long as its legal. Look into other news agencies, there are 5 i can think of, CNN, Fox, ABC, CBS, and NBC. Then Compare. People need to realize each country is diverse within itself. French people on my trip thought everyone in the U.S. made whiskey and had rifles with us all the time, and yes i go hunting, but i dont like whiskey or any alcohol, but Canadians are so much better, the only difference between us and them is that its colder, and type of government.

      November 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • bttrthnu

      Really? Years back I lived in London and read a certain free evening publication, the level of "discourse" was appalling at best. Perhaps we should remove the plank from our own eye before commenting on the sliver in another's. BTW, your comment just lowered the discourse of this article, as does my waste in replying to it.

      November 14, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • RK

      Dr. Richards,
      It is like 99% and !% thing. Most of the times you do not find any meaningful discussion. Rarely like 1% like you try to get into real dialogue, it will be understood and appreciated on ideological context., moslty This is a place for venting and killing time, not a place for intellectuals sir.

      November 14, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • C.K.

      Here's a thought: Stay off the comments page and stick with reading the Classic's.

      November 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  31. aurelius1947

    Today, it's just the opposite. Everyone can hear what 95% of the average smock has to say, and we hear nothing or almost nothing about what the real power holders have to say.

    November 12, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • general decay

      Very keen observation.

      November 13, 2011 at 5:52 am |
    • Super-D

      I disagree. We may not hear it from them directly, but I would venture to guess they want it that way. We hear it from their mouthpieces in politics and media. They get to remain quietly away from the fray, and their message gets spread through via outlets who claim to be "fair and balanced" yet merely spout what someone else wants you to think.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  32. JED234

    Well, would have went in there, but needed 2 more people, then a group smaller than us went down there, my uncle knows french well, but spoke in English because the officers in the french military where suppose to know English, long story short, French do not like Americans because we are apparently gun loving hillbilly rednecks to them. And no, we did not go get to see them.

    November 12, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  33. Rod C. Venger

    The Romans may or may not have done a formal census, but surely they had tax rolls...we know they did eslewhere because Joseph and Mary had to add Jesus onto the tax roll in Nazareth. It makes sense that they did the same for people in Rome.

    November 12, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • eddie

      really you know that for sure ?

      November 13, 2011 at 5:07 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Add that they don't appear on the rolls.

      November 13, 2011 at 6:58 am |
    • mooseant

      Really, tax roles? Do you think slaves and gladiators (who were essentially slaves) paid taxes? I believe the point here is that forensic science can tell us about those who lack a voice in the historical record. We can learn quite a lot from analyzing the skeletons of the unrecorded such as their ethnicity, what their diet was and what diseases they suffered from. Using that information, we can infer similar conclusions regarding their lives as we can from the historical record. Both are biased, of course, but then everything is.

      November 13, 2011 at 8:14 am |
      • Will

        Gladiators were not always slaves. Quite often Roman citizens would sell themselves into that world to pay off whatever debts they may have had and would serve for a specific amount of time or until they were killed, in which, their families would still receive payment for services rendered. It wasn't surprising to find a son of a noble man doing the same in order to improve his dignitas to help progress his political prospects.

        November 13, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Mike

      Actually, a good question regarding the tax rolls and the like. Problem is, most of that information wouldn't have survived this long. The Romans certainly did do a census in the form of tax rolls, yes. but it's relatively rare that comprehensive documents written on paper survive – fragments sometimes do and we have a few surprisingly intact manor rolls from the middle ages (written on vellum most often). Complete ones are rare, though, because all kinds of things can destroy or damage them (beyond natural decay). Those also are from like 700 years ago, not 2000 years ago. So most things written down on anything other than stone probably are long gone from the Roman period (some fragments may survive, though certainly nothing comprehensive).

      November 13, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  34. Sharp

    Has this researcher thought to contact the Mormon Church? Their self imposed mission is to trace the genealogy of all humanity. Surely tracing the common Romans would fit in there somewhere.

    November 12, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
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