Ancient Battlefield Archaeology and DNA Findings

Archaeologists and scientists are discovering new information about the soldiers and conflicts of the past through battlefield archaeology.

Recent digs have uncovered the grave of Richard III from the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) and mass graves from battles of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).

A newly published article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers fresh archaeological evidence from the battlefield of Himera (Sicily) on mercenaries’ involvement in ancient Greek warfare.

Mass Grave from the Site of the Second Battle of Himera, 409 BCE. Photo: The New York Times

The New York Times reports on the battlefield archaeology in Sicily and the analysis of soldiers’ remains from the site of the battlefield at Himera: “Neither Herodotus nor Diodorus Siculus mentioned mercenaries in their reports of the first Battle of Himera, a fierce struggle in 480 B.C. in which the Greeks from various Sicilian cities united to beat back a Carthaginian invasion. Mercenaries were considered the antithesis of the Homeric hero.”

“‘Being a wage earner had some negative connotations — avarice, corruption, shifting allegiance, the downfall of civilized society,’ said Laurie Reitsema, an anthropologist at the University of Georgia. “In this light, it is unsurprising if ancient authors would choose to embellish the Greeks for Greeks aspect of the battles, rather than admitting they had to pay for it.'”

“But research published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the ancestry of the troops defending Himera was not as strictly Greek as historical accounts of the time would have it.”

The New York Times article is available online.

This entry was posted in Ancient History, Battlefield Archaeology, European History, History of the Western World, History of Violence, Mediterranean World, Mercenaries, War, Culture, and Society, World History. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Ancient Battlefield Archaeology and DNA Findings

  1. Gregory Hanlon says:

    dear Brian, Normally I don’t follow up LinkedIn posts, but I found this one quite interesting. I don’t suppose the DNA would reveal the geographical origin of the soldiers? I am curious to see your image of the fortifications of Montauban in 1621. Where did you find it?
    I’m on sabbatical doing research and giving lectures in Europe this winter, January in France and February in Italy. Teaching military history every year, I am happy to steer students towards your work on Languedoc. I hope you will write the book on the later wars of religion, sooner rather than later.
    all the best,
    Gregory Hanlon

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