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Mercenaries fought against the Carthaginians alongside the Greeks

Mass grave containing bones from the second battle of Himera

Stefano Vassallo

A recent study suggests that mercenaries from northern Europe fought alongside the Greeks against the Carthaginians in the years 480 B.C. and 409 B.C.—a fact largely ignored by most history books. According to historians, the Greeks won the first battle and lost the second, both fought at Himera, in the north of Sicily, which at the time was occupied by Greece. By comparing the genetic material of 30 bones from the period found in mass graves in Himera with 96 individuals living in Italy or Greece today, an international group of scientists found that the DNA of many of the ancient skeletons is more similar to peoples who lived further north and east of Europe, and even in central Asia (PNAS, October 3). Led by geneticist David Reich of Harvard University, USA, and bioarchaeologists David Caramelli of the University of Florence, Italy, and Ron Pinhasi of the University of Vienna, Austria, the study suggests that mercenaries from these regions traveled to the south of the Italian peninsula to fight alongside the Greek army. The researchers say their work highlights the important role that mercenaries played in Greek armies and demonstrates the influence that wars had on mobility in the classical world.