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Physical Appearance of Italian Romans

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I made a recent post.


So I am curious of how Romans stereotyped themselves in appearance during their times and how foreigners such as Germanic pictured a typical Roman. Modern Hollywood portrays them as fair skinned as your typical Anglo Saxon Whites. Even Italian actors are used, they still show Romans as milky white as your average American and Brit despite the fact the movie was made during the time of Eugenics and Racism being so bad even "lesser whites" such as Hungarians faced discrimination and physical stereotypes were made to demean them namely Italians being olive skinned almost bordering brown skin that the stereotypical Mexican looks like, they hired Italians movie stars who would easily pass for WASP (white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) in America with extremely light skin. Biggest offender of this being Sophia Lauren who was frequently casted into leading ladies in ancient era movies such as The Fall of the Roman Empire.


Were Romans given stereotypes like "olive skinned" by their enemies? I know Romans were written to be 5'3-5'5 range on average and barbarian warriors as 6 footers. But even this is flawed since they are typically comparing barbarian retainers who were not only the cream of the crop of Germanic society but also often made up a significant, if not most, of the forces in some battle. While the Romans they were using as a base for comparison was the AVERAGE pleb.

Did Roman appearance vary on region (like modern Italy today) and social classes (such as how Hindu Brahmins and Ksatriya Princes are often lighter skinned than Hindus of lower class, many even passing for what constitutes as "white skin" in America)? 

Or were Romans different in appearance today than many modern people in Rome (who are often medium toned skin-not olive nor white as snow but can still pass for a white person who intentionally tans)? Were most Romans as fair as movies would have you believe and the Roman gene pool got diluted by barbarian invasions (which brings stuff like some dark skinned people in Rome and also blondes in the same city with most people being in between)?

Edited by LegateLivius

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When considering appearance of Italians, it is better to consider the genetic makeup.


Even today, Italians seem to have a unique genetic makeup.

  • Quote

    In 2008, Dutch geneticists determined that Italy is one of the last two remaining genetic islands in Europe (the other being Findland.) This is due in part to the presence of the Alpine mountain chain which, over the centuries, has prevented large migration flows aimed at colonizing the Italian lands.



I found this quote rather shocking:


Molecular anthropology found no evidence of significant Northern geneflow into the Italian peninsula over the last 1500 years. On the other hand, the bulk of Italian ethnogenesis occurred prior to Germanic or non-European invasions. DNA studies show that only the Greek colonization of Sicily and Southern Italy had a lasting effect on the local genetic landscape

So, despite the many barbarian invasions from the North, there appears to be very little outside impact on the genetic mix, except in the far South of Italy where the Greek influence (which mostly predated the Germanic invasions) is unmistakable.


"The genetic contribution of Greek chromosomes to the Sicilian gene pool is estimated to be about 37% whereas the contribution of North African populations is estimated to be around 6%


The so-called barbarian invasions that occurred on Italian soil following the fall of the Western Roman Empire have probably not significantly altered the gene pool of the Italian people. These invasions generally consisted of relatively small groups of people that either did not remain on the peninsula or settled in densely populated areas of Italy, therefore becoming genetically diluted and assimilated into the predominant genetic population within a relatively short amount of time

So, my guess is that modern Italians would be larger today because of diet and the increased opportunity to find a mate from outside one's immediate village. I would imagine, however, that the typical Italian today looks very similar (although larger in stature) to the average Ancient Roman from 1800 years ago.



guy also known as gaius



I think genetic testing is making us all more humble, forcing us to realize our common humanity. 

I had to explain to one friend who was "100% Mexican" why her genetic testing results showed at least 25% Italian (as well as 40% Iberian as well as smaller percentages of Native American and African). She was surprised to learn that there wasn't a "Mexican" gene.

Another friend who was "pure Italian" was shocked and disappointed to learn that she was mostly Greek, with some smallers percentage of African and Italian.

Edited by guy
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