Steven Collins

November 10, 2007

On pages 62-72 of my book, Parthia–The Forgotten Ancient Superpower, I wrote about the first great battle which occurred between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire in  53 BC. My book presents much evidence that the Parthians were the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel who were originally carried into captivity in the region of Mesopotamia and Persia by the Assyrians. The Parthians spoke a Semitic-based language and had cities named Samariane, Gaza and Asaak. These cities’ names are clearly based on the names of the capital city of the former kingdom of Israel, a Philistine city and the name of Isaac (which the Bible promised would be attached to descendants of the ten tribes of Israel (Genesis 21:12, 48:16). Josephus also wrote that the ten tribes of Israel were, in his lifetime, an immense multitude living east of the Euphrates River (Antiquities of the Jews, XI, V, 2). In Josephus’ lifetime, the Euphrates River was the geographical border between the Roman and Parthian Empires, so Josephus’ comment indicated the ten tribes were living “in Parthia” in the 1st century AD.

In this first great battle between these empires, the Roman Commander, Crassus was killed along with about half of his army, which originally numbered over 40,000 men. Plutarch, a Roman historian, records that while several thousand Roman survivors managed to return to Roman territory after the battle of Carrhae, 10,000 Roman soldiers were taken captive by the Parthians (Fall of the Roman Republic, see “Crassus, 31). This left the Parthians with the rough equivalent of a modern infantry division in the form of captive Roman soldiers. The Roman routinely sold their captives into slavery, paraded them in victory marches, forced them to become gladiators, etc. The Parthians had an entirely different approach in what to do with captive soldiers.

The historian George Rawlinson wrote that these 10,000 Roman prisoners were given native wives, were relocated to Parthia’s northeastern border in the ancient Parthian province of Margiana, and later served as Parthian soldiers (The Sixth Oriental Monarchy, p. 172 and footnote 5). This region would roughly correspond to the modern region where Turkmenistan borders Afghanistan. Rawlinson’s book indicates the Parthian Empire extended as far eastward as the modern territory where Tajikistan meets Western China (see map between pp. 78 and 79). These Roman soldiers likely felt they were very fortunate to become Parthian soldiers with wives and families and be relocated, en masse, to a region deep into Asia. It was a far better fate than what happened to soldiers that Rome took captive!

It appears that this large mass of ex-Roman soldiers built a city which has now been found. A reader of my website emailed me the stories found after my commentary. The stories did not include full links so I have attached the text files sent to me. The press reports below are translated from Italian, Spanish and Chinese media and you will notice some poor translations into English (one of them inexplicably renders the word “Parthians” as the “Childbirths”). Nevertheless, they are attached below in the formats sent to me and the stories give both “pro and con” viewpoints on this story. I present it to readers of this blog for their review. The reports below indicate that a remote region in Western China is inhabited by people with Roman customs, architecture and appearances. Could this be true?

Roman legions typically had excellent engineers attached to them who could build roads, bridges, buildings, etc. If the Roman survivors of the battle of Carrhae were relocated to the extreme northeastern frontier of Parthia’s empire, one would expect them to have engineers with them who could easily build a city with residual Roman characteristics. Living in a remote region of Central Asia, their descendants would have known about their Roman origin and the local gene pool would have begun with a large body of mixed European and Eurasian ancestry (Crassus’ Roman army was known to include Romans, Gauls and auxiliary forces from various parts of the Roman Empire). According to later Chinese records, Parthia’s “Roman” force fought in the traditional “turtle” formation of the Roman legions. Some accounts even relate that at least a portion of this Roman force later became involved in the Asian warfare of the Huns and Chinese and may have been relocated deeper into Asia. DNA tests are reportedly being done on some of the supposed modern descendants of the ancient Roman force to see if there are any similarities.

What is known is that the Parthians did relocate a very large mass of Roman soldiers to the far northeast portion of their empire, which was not far from modern Western China. They were certainly placed somewhere in Central Asia. While there are very accurate ancient records of the border regions between the Roman and Parthian Empires in the Mesopotamian region, specific information about Parthia’s eastern border region is rather sketchy. Maps of the Parthian Empire in history books differ on where these lines should be drawn. However, if descendants of this relocated ancient Roman army are now located in China, it argues that the eastern border of Parthia’s empire (or at least its region of influence) may have extended farther to the east than modern sources have realized.

The relocation of the Roman soldiers to a very distant location in Asia assured the Parthians that the Romans would remain loyal to Parthia as the relocated Romans had no hope of returning to Roman territory. Keeping them together as a fighting unit also shows the Parthians understood the value of unit cohesion in a military force. By keeping the Roman legionnaires together, they could fight in their cohorts with trusted comrades at their side and fight under familiar officers who would utilize Roman tactics the entire force would understand.

The story of the “lost Roman force” which disappeared into Parthia’s eastern region is an interesting footnote in historical accounts. I hope you enjoy the material presented below from foreign press articles. Obviously, you may make up your own mind on the subject.


Roman legion founded Chinese city

Florence, July 25, 2005 (ANSA) – Roman soldiers who disappeared after a famous defeat founded a city in eastern China, archaeologists say .The phantom legion was part of the defeated forces of Marcus Licinius Crassus, according to the current edition of the Italian magazine Archeologia Viva .

The famously wealthy Crassus needed glory to rival the exploits of the two men with whom he ruled Rome as the First Triumvirate, Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar .

Crassus decided to bring down the Parthian Empire – a fatal choice .

His forces were routed in 53 BC outside the Mesopotamian city of Carre – today’s Harran – and he was beheaded.

According to the Roman historian Pliny, the Romans who survived were taken to a prison camp in what is now northern Afghanistan.

When Rome and Parthia sued for peace in 20 BC – 33 years after Crassus’s last battle – all trace of the prisoners had disappeared .

The survivors of Crassus’s legion became a mystery, walking ghosts in Roman legends. A Chinese historian in the Han Empire, China’s second dynasty, provided an answer to the riddle in the early 3rd century AD .

The historian, Bau Gau, wrote that a Chinese war leader defeated a group of soldiers drawn up in typical Roman formation .

Crassus’s old troops must now have been in their fifties and sixties.

Bau Gau said the foreigners were moved to China to defend the strategically important eastern region of Gansu, near today’s city of Yongchang. This is where the survivors founded the city of Liquian, the only site in China where the mark of Ancient Rome can be seen. Liquian” is said to mean “Roman” .                      


The city has been virtually unknown outside China although hundreds of people visit it each year, admiring traces of defensive wallworks and pieces of broken pottery .The number of visitors is certain to rise. Crassus, celebrated as the richest Roman of them all in pre-Imperial days, was never satisfied with his wealth and had an undying lust for glory .

Eighteen years before his doomed expedition to Parthia he put down a slave revolt led by the Thracian slave Spartacus. In Stanley Kubrick’s epic film he was played by Laurence Olivier.  

          Additional data at:

H. Dubs, “A military contact between Chinese and Romans in 35 b.C.”, T’oung Pao, XXXVI, 1942, pp.64-80; Id., “An ancient military contact between Romans and Chinese “, American Journal of Philology, XLII, 1941, pp.322-30; Id., ‘A Roman influence on Chinese painting”, Classical Philology, XXXVIII, 1943, pp.13-19. La tesi opposta è stata sostenuta da P. Daffinà, “Chi-chih shan-yü”, Rivista degli Studi Orientali, XLIV, 1969, pp.199-232.

1,700-year-old ‘Roman Glass’ Discovered in East China

Xinhua News Agency – November 20, 2005

Glass remains over 1,700 years old, possibly imported from ancient Rome, have been discovered in an ancient tomb located in east China’s Anhui Province, local cultural relic department said on Sunday.The tomb was found during the latest road project in Zhulong Village of Dangtu County in Anhui. Archaeologists believed the tomb was built in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 – 420).

Covered with white mantlerock, the glass remains seem to have ancient Roman shapes and craftwork.

According to the local cultural relic department, the owner of the tomb was possibly from an eminent family of the Eastern Jin Dynasty.

Besides the “Roman glass,” other rare articles including a gold bracelet, a silver ring, a bronze bowl and porcelain were also discovered in the tomb.

Currently, pieces of the “Roman glass” have been sent to the Anhui-based University of Science and Technology of China for further study and analysis, said the local cultural relic department.

Romans in China

Xinhua News Agency – (translated on Aug 28, 2005)

Xie Xiaodong, a life sciences researcher, has finally started the laboratory test he wanted to do 10 years ago.He hopes a comparative DNA analysis may get him closer to unraveling a mystery that has haunted him for a decade.

The findings may help establish a genetic link between some villagers in Yongchang County, Northwest China’s Gansu Province, and the ancient Romans in the Mediterranean.

When Xie was attending his post-graduate courses in Lanzhou University in 1995, he heard about stories of some ancient Roman soldiers who later ended up in Yongchang County, about 500 kilometers to the northwest of Lanzhou, the provincial capital.

Xie was intrigued, hoping to explore it with his studies in genetic research.

Research forerunners

Xie, however, is a newcomer in the search for the ancestry of the small group of farmers in Zhelai Village of Yongchang County. In June, he went to the village to collect samples from the villagers who have blue eyes, blond hair, big noses and prominent cheekbones. They look more Caucasian than Asian.

According to Song Guorong, a local villager with a good knowledge of Liqian (ancient name of Zhelai Village), Chinese researchers suggested that Liqian might have some links with ancient Rome in the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1955, Homer Hasenflug Dubs, professor of Chinese history at Oxford University, surmised that some of the 10,000 Roman prisoners taken by the Parthians after the battle of Carrhae in southeastern Turkey in 53 BC made their way east to today’s Uzbekistan and later enlisted with the Hun chieftain Jzh Jzh against the Chinese Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220).

Dubs derived his speculation from ancient Chinese Han Dynasty history annals, which described a battle between the Han empire and Jzh Jzh in western China.

The annals noted that about 150 men from Jzh Jzh’s army took up a “fish-scale formation,” which Dubs surmised to have been the Roman testudo formation.

Dubs then asserted that these men, captured by the Chinese, then settled and built their own town called Liqian (Li-chien) the Chinese transliteration of “Alexandria.”

In 1957, Dubs published his book entitled A Roman City in Ancient China.

Thirty years later, David Harris, an Australian writer and adventurer, read Dubs’ book and came to Gansu to search for Liqian, which he called “a city built by Romans in China 1,300 years before Marco Polo entered Cathay.”

During his trip, he met Guan Yiquan, a scholar in the history of Central Asia at Northwest University of Nationalities in Lanzhou, who had already probed into Liqian for about 10 years.

Guan, who was a young interpreter for the American Air Force in Chongqing during World War II, discussed in detail the questions Harris raised during his journey to Yongchang.

In 1991, Harris published his book, Black Horse Odyssey, mainly sharing his experiences of the journey.

Meanwhile, Guan was still writing his own work on his research into this possible “Roman city.” However, Guan died in 1998, leaving behind a draft of 450,000-Chinese characters.

Guan Heng, Guan Yiquan’s son, said he is trying to continue his father’s studies and hoping to publish the work one day.

In his letter to Guan Heng, Harris wrote: “Without (Old) Guan’s work, we in the West would know so little about the story of the Roman troops in China.”

Indeed, today, in an e-mail to China Daily, Harris admitted that there was no new development in the study of “Roman city in China” in the West.

Over the years, a few more scholars have joined in the search.

Chen Zhengyi, a historian at Lanzhou University who had introduced Guan Yiquan to Harris, said he could cite proof from Han Dynasty annals to support these scholars’ speculations.


So far, their research has remained inconclusive.

Dubs’ theory was considered “interesting and provocative” but was criticized as jumping to too many conclusions in his assertions, according to an article on the Pennsylvania State University website.

Yang Gongle, professor with Beijing Normal University, said there has not been sufficient proof to link the villagers with the ancient Romans.

According to Yang’s research, Liqian County was established in 104 BC, half a century earlier than the proposed arrival of the Roman soldiers.

Meanwhile, he noted that the fish-scale formation had nothing to do with Roman legion’s testudo strategy.

The double wooden palisade, which might have looked like fish scales, was widely used in constructions in Central Asia and India at that time, Yang said.

There is no link between the name Liqian and the Roman legions, Yang argued.

The debate took a new turn after a group of ancient tombs dating back more than 2,000 years were uncovered in Yongchang in 2003 during the laying of the country’s giant west-to-east natural-gas pipeline project.

From one tomb, archaeologists found the owner of one tomb to be 1.8 meters tall in life. Some researchers believe this offered more proof that soldiers from ancient Roman legion once lived here.

However, Zhang Defang, director of Gansu Provincial Archaeology Team, pointed out that the tombs were dated to the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220). The tomb owners should have no relations with the ancient Romans.

The development and wide application of DNA technologies have opened a new approach for researchers like Xie, who are bent on unraveling the mystery.

DNA lends a hand

However, Xie and his colleagues are encountering tremendous complexities.

The area where Yongchang is located was a trade hub along the ancient Silk Road, where people of various ethnicities from as far as the Mediterranean came and went, Xie said.

Moreover, soldiers in the Roman legions were supposed to consist of peoples of different ethnic and national backgrounds.

Because the Roman Empire was at that time at the height of its power and splendor, it had conquered many countries and regions across Europe, Africa and West Asia, he added.

According to Zhou Ruixia, Xie’s assistant, they will build up the genetic data from the local villagers with Caucasian features and compare the data with those of European as well as Western, Central and East Asians.

They will report their research results in academic journals in the United States or Britain.

Two years ago, Ma Runlin, a bio-chemist based in Beijing, also collected blood samples from Yongchang people for DNA analysis.

However, he has not finished his research yet.

In an e-mail to China Daily, Ma said he is collaborating with British researchers in the genetic study of the villagers’ ancestry.

He does not know when he will finish the research.

Liquian: the Romans in China

Rafael Poch de Feliu
The Vanguard, Spain, May of the 2004 (translated)

He is something more than a legend because the possibility is endorsed by old testimonies, but not yet is a demonstrated reality because it lacks a conclusive archaeological test. The existence of a Roman city in the borders of China Has been having, founded for 2000 years on the present province of Gansu by a lost legion of Marco Licinio Craso, is, at least, a pretty history.

Defeat of Licinio Craso in the Euphrates

In year 53 before Christ, while Julio Cesar fought victorious in the Galias, his companion of triunvirato and rival, Licinio Craso initiated a campaign against the Empire Childbirth. Like the third member of the Triunvirato, Pompeyo Magno, that were in Hispania, Craso looked for the glory with a victorious campaign in the Eastern border of the empire.

It left Syria with a powerful army of 45,000 men, including a body of Gallic cavalry of 4000 riders to the control of his own older son, Marco Licinio, seven legions and 4000 arqueros. The campaign was a disaster. 10,000 men only returned.

After crossing the Euphrates both, violating the border between empires established forty years before, the Roman army was defeated by the seasoned childbirths as opposed to Carrhae, a Turkish city that today is called Harran.

In its work on Craso [Marco Licinio Craso], Plutarco [Plutarch or Mestrius Plutarchus] explains that in the battle of Carrhae half of the army died, 20,000 men, who the own Craso was catched and beheaded and that other 10,000 legionaries were taken prisoners.

In his “Naturalis History”, Pliny adds that the Roman prisoners were transferred by the childbirths to the Eastern border of their empire, to the north of present Afghanistan, on the borders of the Amu Dariá that today marks the border with Tadyikistán (the Oxus river for Greek and Roman), where Alexander Magno had founded centuries before the hellenistic kingdom of Bactria. There, it explains, found use military and they married with local women. The case is that when, in the 20 before Christ, Romans and childbirths signed La Paz and decided the return the prisoners of Carrhae, the rest of those defeated legions had disappeared of the map.

The lost legion

The answer to the mystery could be in the history of Ban Gu, a cronista of the Empire Have, second great Chinese imperial dynasty (206 a.C. /220 d. Of C.), contemporary of the Roman Empire and the Empire Childbirth.

In century I before Christ, China Has had a road network of 40,000 kilometers, half that the Roman network, and had incorporated the river basin of the Tarim river, in the present Xinjiang, to its zone of influence. Only the great mountain range-plateau of the Pamir separated that zone, of the old kingdom of Bactria. Never like then, Rome and China, whose mutual knowledge was vague and confused, were so close.

The “history of the Dynasty Has Western” of Ban Gu includes a biography of general Gan Yanshou. In her it is explained that in the 36 a. C, that general undertook an incursion of punishment against the nomadic shepherds to the north of the Xinyiang, the Xiongnu calls. In the city of Zizhi, in the region of the present Dushanbe, capital of Tadyikistán, the Chinese army was, and won, to a contingent stranger. Its bastion was surrounded by a wood fence and the chronicle describes,” aligned, unfolded infants in a formation like of fish grudges “, which remembers the “with a big head one” (the turtle), a formation of classic battle of the Roman legions, in which the soldiers covered themselves mutually with the shields, forming a flaking iron ceiling that protected bodies and extremities completely.

Historians as Homer H. Dubs recognized in 1957 in that contingent the lost rest of the Roman legions of Carrhae.

Defeated by the Chinese, 1500 of those foreigners they were deported to China, where the emperor Has, Yuandí ordered that they were seated to protect the borders of its empire in the present district of Yongchang, province of Gansu, to about 2500 kilometers to the east of Bactria and the Oxus river. There, it explains the Chinese cronista, founded a called locality Liqian, name used in China to designate to Syria and to the Roman world of East.

“Here there is cubertura of movable no telephone”, explains the Gentleman I have, a young farmer of Liqian.

Between the snow and the desert

From the provincial capital of Gansu, Lanzhou, to borders of the Amarillo River, has been eight hours of nocturnal train to Jiling, plus one hour of bus to Yongchang, a city of 200,000 inhabitants, district capital. Thence, still five kilometers more by a dusty way.

Nobody would say that for 2000 years in this one place, under this one same sky in which a revolotea flock of crows around a chips stock market transported by the wind, was what it is suspected was the only Roman establishment in old China.

Liqian, or Zelaizai, as their 300 neighbors call, is a town of 60 houses of marinates in the middle of a secarral, swept by the wind that lowers of imposing mountains of the Qinlian.

The neighbors know the history that is attributed to the place and have much to count on her, says I have, who, with the proverbial hospitality and generosity of the Chinese farmer, he invites to me to eat in his house when seeing me to vagar between desolate the walls of marinates of the place.

The town is in a slight stop, from which an ample panorama is controlled. To the south, the snow-covered skirts of the Qinlian on foot, from which the only water available arrives (it does not rain here, literally, never), have left few hours. To north, the ample valley, parched beyond the small zone of irrigated land that surrounds to the town, culminated by another mountain range, much more modestly, after which one affirms, irremediably, the barren desperation of the desert of Gobi.

During thousands of years all traveller in East-West route towards (or from) the Chinese world, has had to happen this way. A good location for a trimming.

Of her it is not left great thing: a clay wall pressed of about 30 meters in length by meter and means of stop. According to I have, at the beginning of the seventy wall she had one hundred meters and he was much more high, but people used the Earth of the wall for her works, reducing it until her present state. In 1993, the archaeologists confirmed that the rest of the wall, as well as some found porcelain pieces and metal, were of the dynasty Have, with which the chronicle of Ban Gu gained plausibilidad.

In the museum of Yongchang there is a great cubical granite stone recorded with reasons for western appearance that it was found by the grandfathers of I have, but nobody is able to clarify its date.

The lady I have, grandmother of my host extends on the strange characteristics of the people of the place; prominent noses, you even orbit noticeable eyeglasses and some clear and curled hair. Appointment to the son of Wang, stop like “lao wai”, a foreigner, and to the mother of Li, blue eyes. Next to templete that the government erected in center in 1994 of the town, the grandfathers Chang, another neighbor, mention” found “very great bones “recently” over there close. “They did not correspond to those of a Chinese man”, assures. And all the neighbors speak of Mr. Song Guorong.

Cayus Song and Titus Luo

Song is the president of the “Cultural Center Liqian”, in Yongchang, the capital of district and an enthusiastic one of the “romanidad” of the region. Destartalada Su and dirty office even conserves the signs of the last sand storm that whipped the place. It measures 1.82 and its hair even has blond tufts and some curls. To the question of if it considers the history of the Romans in Liqian “serious”, one apologizes and it makes two calls with his moving body. After awhile, other two “Romans” enter the office; Mr. Luo Yin, also high and of equally exotic aspect for the common appearance here, and Mr. Lu, of wide nose, clear eyes and aspect Persian than Chinese. The three are native of the place to which it reaches the memory of his families, they say. It is then when Song responds to the question:

“Have been many things in excavations, for example, when constructing the freeway were a.d. 99 dated complete human skeletons in year 180”, explains. “Of them, 17 measured more than 1,80. In addition, the chronicles therefore indicate it, reason why it seems very possible to me”.

The height is a doubtful argument, unless it is considered that meter eighty was a habitual stature between the legionaries of Campania of 2000 years ago and that that improbable characteristic has survived two millenia. The clear eyes and the other “little Chinese” fisionómicos characteristics in a zone opened during millenia to influences Indians, Persian, tibetanas and esteparias of all type, do not seem very convincing either.

“Until 1949, people moved very little in this region and the genetistas have observed very significant differences between the local population and the one of other parts of China”, Song objects.

All those signs know little definitively, which on the other hand does not affect the plausibilidad of history. However, from the tourist point of view, its logical one is overwhelming.

Yongchang finishes seeing itself blessed by the passage of a freeway of 1600 kilometers that unites Lanzhou with Urumqi, the capital of the Xinyiang. If the Roman reclamation of the region, exposed in a sculpture placed next to the entrance of the toll and which represents Yuandi emperor flanked by a villager and a legionary, it is able to be mentioned in the guides and to enter the Chinese inner tourist circuits, something that as soon as it is beginning in China, the blessing would be double.

Gansú is one of the poorest provinces of China, the villa beginning by the tail, on a total of thirty and three, in terms of rent. The efforts of the government to develop to the poor west of the country, constructing infrastructures, promoting the foreign investment and fomenting the commerce and the services, already have made appear signs of prosperity. Almost all the buildings of the main artery of Yongchang are recent, like probably also is it the great door “of the dynasty Ming” who adorns downtown. The “romanidad” of Liqian is necessary to also observe it against this background.

Something more than a legend, but at the moment devoid of conclusive archaeological tests, the lost legion in the borders of China could contribute to the battle of the development, 2000 years after its arrival. 

                                  Naturalis Historia (Latin for “Natural History”) is an encyclopedia written by Pliny the Elder.