It’s easy to forget that many of the world’s nations only came into existence fairly recently. Think South Sudan and East Timor, for example. We also tend to forget than many once-prominent nations have ceased to exist entirely.
Human history is a long narrative of the rise and fall of nations, empires, and the peoples that inhabit them. Yet while empires fall, rebellions are crushed, and cultures are lost to time, tiny remnants sometimes survive—precariously—across history. Here are ten examples that will surprise you.
10. The Lost Legionaries Of China
Contact between the Roman Empire and Han dynasty China was limited, yet there is evidence to suggest that villagers in the remote Chinese county of Liqian are the descendants of Roman soldiers lost 2,000 years ago.
The theory was proposed by Oxford professor Homer Dubbs after he examined ancient Chinese accounts of a battle in 36 BC on China’s western frontier with nomadic barbarians, the Hsiung-Nu (or Xiongnu). In this battle, more than 100 men fighting for the Hsiung-Nu used a “fish scale” formation—similar to the Roman testudo formation and uncharacteristic of such Nomadic peoples.
Dubbs noted that 17 years earlier, some 10,000 Romans had been captured by the Parthians at the disastrous Battle of Carrhae. Historical records reveal that the prisoners were moved to Parthia’s eastern frontier, close to China’s western border. (Parthia occupied what is now Iran.) Dubbs believed that these men may have become mercenaries, fighting for the Hsiung-Nu before being captured and used by the Chinese to defend their frontier. He believes they founded a frontier town named Li-Jien (also spelled Li-Chien), a name which sounds remarkably similar to “Legion.”
To this day, many of the villagers in Liqian have blue or green eyes and fair hair. A 2010 genetic study revealed that 56 percent of their DNA is Caucasian in origin. Despite this, the theory remains controversial.