But despite Hollywood’s near-complete refusal to acknowledge it, ancient Rome was the original melting pot. See, back then, color and prejudice weren’t linked — unlike racism and stupidity today. Rome even had at least two African emperors, Severus and Macrinus. Rome was unique in the ancient world for its inclusive citizenship. In the past, a city-state like Sparta might have conquered a people and enslaved or slaughtered them all. Rome, on the other hand, blew ancient people’s minds by assimilating or even naturalizing the conquered. The ancient Romans didn’t even force conquered peoples to give up their own languages or customs.
The important thing for the Romans was that people followed the law, paid taxes, and, oh yeah, fought in the Roman army. The Romans were no dummies: Little old Rome was never going to be able to populate the world it conquered, let alone defend it, so absorbing other peoples like a giant legionary sponge was the only way to keep enough bodies in the military and on its farms. Rome enrolled northwest Africans, Moors, Gauls, Celts, Jews — pretty much anyone who could swing a sword or throw a spear — which is how an Ethiopian soldier could find himself fighting in Britain (maybe that’s why every film Roman speaks with a British accent).
There are no exact numbers on ancient Roman diversity, but given Rome’s constant contact with Africa and the Near East, the coliseum we asked you to imagine earlier should look more like Ellis Island and less like a Dave Matthews Band concert.