One million British men may be directly descended from the Roman legions which came, saw and conquered England and Wales almost two thousand years ago, a DNA study suggests. The Romans departed abruptly in the early fifth century, leaving behind relics of their rule including Hadrian’s Wall along with a host of towns, roads and encampments.
But perhaps the most enduring sign of their legacy is in our genes, experts claim, with an estimated million British men descending from the invading forces.
A genetic study of five thousand people found that up to four million men in England and Wales carry distinctive genetic signatures which are most commonly found, and likely have their origin, in Italy.
Although it is impossible to prove whether any individual person’s genes were introduced during the Roman occupation of Britain, and not before or after, researchers estimate that the influx of tens of thousands soldiers was responsible for at least a quarter of the total.
Following their arrival in AD43 Romans are thought to have accounted for between four and eight per cent of all men in Britain – a much greater proportion than at any other point in history.
The DNA markers are much rarer in Ireland, where there was no Roman invasion, and Scotland where the armies’ presence was limited to a brief occupation of some southern regions.
Researchers examined DNA from the Y chromosome, which is only passed on by men, and identified five rare patterns which are unusually common among English, Welsh and particularly Italian men.
The most prominent pattern, known as Alpine, R1b-S28, is found in 13 per cent of men in Italy and 6.5 per cent in England and Wales but just 4.3 per cent in Scotland and 1.8 per cent in Ireland, for example.
Applying the findings to the whole population, this suggests 1.6 million English and Welsh-born men carry the Alpine marker alone. A further 2.3 million English and Welsh men have one of the four other genetic signatures identified by the study.
Although many of the lineages may have begun before or after the invasion, the researchers estimated that at least a million of the men are likely to be direct descendants of Romans.
The figures, which will be announced at the Who Do You Think You Are? roadshow in London on Sunday, only represent men whose Roman descent has been passed down from father to son, so the true total must be even higher, the researchers added.
Dr Jim Wilson of BritainsDNA, a commercial DNA testing company which conducted the study, explained: “Of course each individual person has many other lineages. This implies that a considerable number of women and men descend from Romans in lineages other than their paternal line.
“We cannot be certain whether any particular individual descends from the Romans but across the population of people in these five genetic groups, some proportion of them must, and it could be considerably more than one million.”
Alistair Moffat, the company’s managing director, added: “What this fascinating piece of research shows is that the Romans did indeed do something for us – for about a million of us in fact.”