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Roman Recruitment In Illyria

The Northern Area of Modern Albania Might Have Been the Balkan Homeland for Many of our E-V13/E-BY4793 Legionnaires

Prior to its encounter with the might of Rome, Illyria was an ancient, warlike kingdom across the Adriatic Sea from the boot-heel of Italy. The northern two-thirds of modern Albania was at the center of this kingdom while modern Kosovo was part of the Kingdom of Dardania immediately to its northeast. After struggling to subjugate the area, Rome began to recruit there. “Known to be aggressive people in their early relations to Rome, they were eager and readily recruited into the Roman Legions. Illyricum eventually grew into one of the leading recruiting grounds for the Roman armies.”

By early in the first century, Illyria was part of the Roman province of Illyricum to which it gave its name. The province increasingly became integrated with the empire, with citizenship and thus military service available to the inhabitants. Many of the later Roman emperors ascended through successful military careers from this more broadly defined Roman Province of Illyricum, which had been expanded well beyond the borders of the old kingdom.i

The map below focuses on the old Kingdoms of Illyria and Dardania as they existed in the 3rd century BCE. Dardania included the territory of modern Kosovo and Illyria parts of southern Croatia, Montenegro and northern and central Albania. Despite divergent names and rulers, both kingdoms were Illyrian.

We cite elsewhere that Haplogroup E-V13 is currently at it’s highest concentration in Kosovo (45%) and among Kosovar Albanians (44%). This is well illustrated at Eupedia’s review of E-V13 distribution where we see modern Kosovo and Northern Albania each as having 40% to 50% E-V13 prevalence.

Dardania (now essentially Kosovo) and the area extending from there to the Adriatic through central Illyria (now northern Albania) is the area where E-V13 is currently at it’s highest, roughly 40% to 50% of the total male population of these areas.

While the current Y-DNA statistics may be relevant, demographics do not remain the same over the millennia and a paper released early in 2023 suggests that while Albania today shows very high concentrations of E-V13, disproportionately high variant growth in the early middle ages is consistent with the possibility that our E-BY4793 subclade originated further east, with significant subsequent migration from or through the Dardania/Kosovo region into modern Albania. In fact, one of the E-V13 subclades with the most significant growth, both before and after the Roman recruitment period, was E-Z5018. Our E-BY4793 is a subclade of this haplogroup and so men of our subclade are a subset of the those within the broader E-Z5018 population. Those with the Z5018 variant have a MRCA who is estimated to have lived just 750 years earlier than the origination of BY479. The article does not imply these subclades were not present in significant numbers closer to the coast during the Roman recruiting period, only that their concentration at that time may have been less than it is today and/or less than the concentration further east.

As already mentioned, by the first century CE the Roman Province of Illyricum was considerably more extensive than the old kingdom. During that time and in later centuries it incorporated all of Dalmatia, including modern Bosnia and Herzegovina, and at times areas even further north and west. While the Romans recruited from the entirety of this province and beyond, there are several reasons why our interest centers on this part of the Balkans:

  • Existence of a Y-DNA test subject with the E-BY4793 variant claiming Albanian roots, as well as a second such test subject with ancestry from Croatia, possible along the coast to the northwest. At the time of this writing, these are the only test results traced to Balkan ancestry.
  • Exceptionally high prevalence of E-V13 in northern Albania and inland from their in Kosovo.
  • Location of Albania along the coast across from southern Italy with longstanding access to the area by the Roman military.

These considerations suggest that perhaps this area of northern coastal Albania was where men with the E-BY4793 variant were recruited. Given that this variant appears to have originated less than a millennium prior to such recruitment, we can speculate the mutation occurred among Illyrian or Dardanian tribes, thought perhaps further inland.

While it’s interesting to speculate, none of this amounts to more than informed conjecture. If E-BY4793 men were recruited into the Roman military and disbursed further west as hypothesized in our Legions article, the recruits might have come in large part from a relatively limited geographic area, but we don’t know how broad or limited the disbursement of men with E-BY4793 might have been by the beginning of the first millennium. Moreover the existence of a single Albanian ancestor among E-BY4793 test subjects is certainly not conclusive evidence that all or most of the recruits came out of modern Albania or even Kosovo, Montenegro, or southern coastal Croatia, let alone the rather restricted area highlighted above. Nonetheless, if the overall hypothesis holds and we wish to further speculate about the likely area for such recruitment, our speculation might reasonably center on the areas as highlighted on this map.

Sources are primarily those linked above with the map coming from Wikipedia

Of particular interest is the paper, Ancient DNA reveals the origins of the Albanians, by Leonidas-Romanos Davranoglou, Aris Aristodemou, David Wesolowski, and Alexandros Heraclides. This paper had not received peer review as of the date of our article.

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