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Ancient Greek Army Ancestry Highlights Mercenary Role in Historical Migrations

In PNAS, an international team led by investigators at Harvard University the Max Planck-Harvard Research Center, and the University of Florence present findings from a genomic analysis of ancient soldiers at the Greek Sicilian colony Himera. Using targeted enrichment sequencing, the researchers profiled roughly 1.2 million SNPs across the genome in ancient 5th century samples representing 33 apparent Battles of Himera participants and another 21 ancient Sicilians from nearby Indigenous Sicani settlements. Together with sequences for almost 100 individuals from modern-day Italy and Greece, the ancient sequences revealed northern Europe, Steppe, and Caucasus ancestry in the Greek soldier group, they report. The new genetic ­— combined with available archaeological, historical, and other — data, "illustrate the significant role mercenaries played in ancient Greek armies and highlight how participation in war contributed to continental-scale human mobility in the Classical world," the authors write, adding that the wide-reaching Greek mercenary origins lends "nuance to our understanding of the long-distance movements of individuals relating to specialized economic or religious activities, apart from well-documented population movements, such as the establishment of colonies.