An ancient Roman city in China?
A Roman descendant in China? Inconceivable?
Cai Luoma or “Cai, the Roman”; has ruddy skin and green eyes.
Song Guorong, has wavy hair, six-foot frame and strikingly long, hooked nose.
Are they descendents from the ill-fated Roman army led by Crassus that suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Parthians in 53BC?
Historians are split over the matter due to insufficient conclusive proof. Looks like the tiny village of Zhelai in Yongchang County, Northwest China’s Gansu province is tossing up more than Caesar salad.
Its ancient name, Liqian (Li-chien), is believed to be a transliteration of “Alexandria”. The theory goes that the 10,000 soldiers taken prisoners by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae eventually made their way to modern-day Uzbekistan and were later enlisted by the Hun army.
It seems that these men later settled down to build the town of Liqian. One of the earliest mentions of them came possibly from the “fish-scale formation”, described in Han Dynasty history annals. In a battle between the Han empire and the Huns in Western China, a troop using the “fish-scale formation” was noted. It was a reference to the Roman “tortoise”, a phalanx protected by shields on all sides and from above. This troop was later captured by the Chinese and was said to be the forefathers of Liqian.
In 1957, Homer Hasenflug Dubs, professor of Chinese history at Oxford University published his book entitled “A Roman City in Ancient China” asserting the above theory. He has been accused of being overly presumptuous and jumping to too many conclusions.
Sceptics were doubtful as Liqian was established in 104 BC, half a century earlier than the proposed arrival of the said Roman soldiers. Moreover, the Huns themselves consist of Caucasians, Asians and Mongols. And even if they were really from the missing Roman troop, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re Romans as many soldiers were recruited locally since the empire covered a huge area. So anything goes.
To add to the confusion, the area where Yongchang is situated was a trade hub along the ancient Silk Road, where people of different ethnicities gather.
But then, how does one explain the presence of ancient Roman tombs in the area? Even though archaeologists have pointed out that these tombs were dated to the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220) and therefore had nothing to do with the Roman legions, somehow the fact that these tomb owners were of Caucasian origins can’t be disputed.
Moreover, how do you explain the fact that these residents of Zhelai obviously look more Caucasian than Asian? Could DNA help to unravel the mystery? Life sciences researcher Xie Xiaodong and bio-chemist, Ma Runlin, are among those that have collected blood samples of the villagers of Zhelai. So far, the research has yet been completed and the theory remains inconclusive.
So if these villagers are not descendents of the ancient Roman legions, who were they descended from?
And what happened to the contingent that went missing in the tragic battle?
Hmn, wonder when we would be able to solve all this mystery….