Thursday 20 September 2012

Rome in the Ancient World - Northern Europe and Russia

Scythia and Sarmatia in 100BC
Scythians as the Romans saw them -
they don't look much like Conan do they?
In the second last post of the 'Rome in the Ancient World' series we'll take a look at two parts of the world where you wouldn't imagine Romans - Scandinavia and Siberia. Well, there's no doubt the Romans had a toe hold in the southern Ukraine - the Emperor Vespasian established forts in the Crimea (ancient Sarmatia) during the 1st-century AD to protect Roman outposts in the region from the surrounding Scythian kingdoms. These kingdoms stretched northwards and westwards across the Urals into Siberia, and although Pliny's accounts of this area are limited to dubious descriptions of the Hyporboreans who lived beyond the Scythians, his understanding of life in the six month day and six month night encountered beyond the Arctic suggests the Romans had some knowledge of northern Russia and Siberia. However trade in this region appears limited - the Scythians weren't inclined to be miners and still used wooden tools during the Roman era, so at the most, harvested timber and perhaps grain were the principle commodities exchanged.

To the west in Scandinavia, the impact of Rome was far more intense. Rome had established trading routes with Denmark by the 1st-century BC - soon after the catastrophic invasions of the Cimbri invasions into Gaul - which had also originated from the same region. Roman ceramics, weapons and coins are found throughout Denmark and there's evidence that Danes fought as cavalrymen and auxiliaries in the Roman legions. In fact the Danish adopted many of Rome's military practices, copying their sword and armour designs and then selling them to the Germans, complete with Scandinavian maker's marks - arms that were then used against the Roman Legions. I guess free trade was a big thing back then.

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