How far did the Roman Empire stretch?
Famously, the Romans could only go as far as Hadrian's Wall in Britain. They had a vague knowledge of Ireland. Speaking of Ireland, the Greek geographer, Strabo, writes of the island of Ierne in the first century CE:
"..its inhabitants are wilder than the Britons, for they eat human flesh as well as plants, considering it proper to eat their fathers when they die."
But how far east did Roman influence stretch?
Glass jewellery has recently been found in an ancient tomb near Kyoto, Japan, which tests reveal to be of Roman origin.
The beads are thought to contain a chemical called natron, which was used bt Romans to melt glass so it could be layered with gold leaf.
This find is not so surprising. It is known that Rome did have some knowledge of the Chinese, and indirectly traded with them, so some of this produce could have ended up in Japan.
Much of the trade was in silk, which was very desirable to rich Roman women. Not everyone approved of the fashion. Seneca the Younger writes at around 3 BCE to 65 CE:
“I can see clothes of silk, if materials that do not hide the body, nor even one's decency, can be called clothes ... Wretched flocks of maids labour so that the adulteress may be visible through her thin dress, so that her husband has no more acquaintance than any outsider or foreigner with his wife's body.”
The arrival of a Roman embassy is recorded around 166 CE in Hou Hanshu; a written history of the Han. However, the contact between the two nations appears to be two-way.
In 2010, an excavation of an ancient Roman cemetery in Vagnari, Southern Italy revealed a male skeleton. No surprises there then!
However, a research team from McMaster University, Canada, decided to analyse its DNA. The test results showed that the skeleton had East Asian ancestry on its mother’s side. Whether the man had come from straight from Asia, or was descended from a migrant that had left Asia generations before, cannot be told.