It is often claimed that Italians, especially those from the South of the country, have substantial Middle Eastern and African admixture acquired during Roman times and the Moorish occupation. However, data from anthropology shows a prehistoric origin for the Mediterranean elements in Italy, and detects no Negroid influence there whatsoever. Genetic research confirms this, showing that both sub-Saharan and Arab-Berber admixture are negligible. The differences between Northern and Southern Italians have also been greatly exaggerated for political reasons.

"Italy, one of the most clearly demarcated geographical units in Europe, is a country of considerable [sub]racial variability. Although the Mediterranean race is strongly represented in it, Italy belongs only partially to the Mediterranean world, for much of it is more typically Alpine racial territory. ... The primary racial impulse of the early Neolithic, however, is known. This was the immigration of small Mediterraneans in great numbers, coming largely if not entirely by sea; these first food-producers were followed by more competent navigators, Atlanto-Mediterraneans, who settled chiefly in the north and in the islands, and Dinarics from the eastern Mediterranean in search of metal. Some of the Dinarics penetrated the Alpine Valleys while others settled in the Po Valley and in central Italy. The movement of highly cultured peoples from the east into Italy continued into historic times, and included the settlement of the Etruscans in Tuscany, and of the Greeks in Sicily and in the southern end of the peninsula.

"...through her role as mistress of the world, Rome accumulated and assimilated a heterogeneous population. That this population was by no means purely or even predominantly Mediterranean is shown by the study of the skulls of Pompeians, victims of the eruption which turned their city from a metropolis into a museum. These crania, with a mean cranial index of 80, represent a population which had acquired a [sub]racial character of its own despite its mixed origin, and in which the Alpine element was the most important. ... A series of 100 modern crania from Bologna, with a mean cranial index of 83.5, is almost purely Alpo-Dinaric, with the latter element in a position of prominence. The Dinaric race is common in northern, but not southern Italy, and this distinction has been true since the Bronze Age.

"In other words, the southern Italians are a blend for the most part of Alpines and small Mediterraneans, while among the northern Italians the most important dolichocephalic strain is the Atlanto-Mediterranean. The association of relatively great blondism with brachycephaly merely indicates that both Alpines and Dinarics are characteristically mixed or intermediate in pigmentation. The few unaltered Nordics still found in northern Italy and in aristocratic families elsewhere are far outnumbered by Atlanto-Mediterraneans.
... The binding element which is common to all sections is the Alpine, which has reemerged from obscure beginnings through a superstructure composed of Dinaric, Nordic, and various kinds of Mediterranean accretions."

Combined data from two large mtDNA studies provides an estimate of non-Caucasoid maternal ancestry in Italians. The first study sampled 411 Italians from all over the country and found five South Asian M and East Asian D sequences (1.2%) and eight sub-Saharan African L sequences (1.9%). The second study sampled 465 Sicilians and detected ten M sequences (2.2%) and three L sequences (0.65%). This makes a total of 3% non-white maternal admixture (1.3% Asian and 1.7% African), which is very low and typical for European populations, since Pliss et al. 2005, e.g., observed 1.8% Asian admixture in Poles and 1.2% African admixture in Germans.
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Similar data from the Y-chromosome reveals Italians' even lower non-Caucasoid paternal admixture. Both studies obtained samples from all over the mainland and islands. No Asian DNA was detected anywhere, but a single sub-Saharan African E(xE3b) sequence was found in the first study's sample of 416 (0.2%), and six were observed in the second study's sample of 746 (0.8%). The total is therefore a minuscule 0.6%, which decreases to 0.4% if only Southern Italians are considered and 0% if only Sicilians are considered. Again, these are normal levels of admixture for European populations (e.g. Austrians were found to have 0.8% E(xE3b) by Brion et al. 2004).
(Semino et al. 2004;
Cruciani et al. 2004)

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52 world populations, including three Italian samples, were typed for 993 autosomal polymorphisms and subjected to a clustering algorithm. In the resulting data (excerpted below), Orange, Blue and Pink represent Negroid, Caucasoid and Mongoloid clusters, respectively. Other colors denote Austro-Melanesian and Native American clusters (omitted). Notice that the Italian, Sardinian and Tuscan samples show the same near-total membership (>98%) in the Caucasoid cluster as the Basque, French and Scottish (Orcadian) samples.

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Two subclades of North African Y-chromosome haplogroup E3b (labeled E-M81 and E-M78β) have been given an estimated age of ~5000 years, making them useful in detecting historical admixture from Berbers. These markers exist at combined frequencies of 1.5% in Northern Italians, 2.2% in Central Italians, 0% in Southern Italians, 1.4% in Sardinians and 1.4% in Sicilians. Additionally, North African mtDNA haplogroup U6 occurs at a rate of 0.6% in Sicilians and is absent everywhere else in Italy (Plaza et al. 2003). This suggests that gene flow from Carthaginian and Moorish colonists was minimal.

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Another Y-chromosome marker that may have been spread to Europe by Phoenicians and Arabs is the subclade of haplogroup J labeled J*(xJ2) or Eu10. It originated in the southern part of the Fertile Crescent and is very common in Arabia and Palestine (Neolithic J2 or Eu9 is from the northern Fertile Crescent). Its frequencies are 0.9% in Northern Italy, 7.1% in Central Italy and 5.3% in Southern Italy (for a total of between 0.5% and 3.6% admixture). It's important to note that while Phoenician and Arab colonists undoubtedly carried Eu10, its expansion is dated to ~9000-6400 YBP and generally attributed to Neolithic migrations (Nebel et al. 2001). Therefore, levels of recent admixture may be even lower.
(Di Giacomo et al. 2003)

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An analysis of 10 autosomal allele frequencies in Southern Europeans (including Italians, Sicilians and Sardinians) and various Middle Eastern/North African populations revealed a "line of sharp genetic change [that] runs from Gibraltar to Lebanon," which has divided the Mediterranean into distinct northern and southern clusters since at least the Neolithic period. The authors conclude that "gene flow [across the sea] was more the exception than the rule," attributing this result to "a joint product of initial geographic isolation and successive cultural divergence, leading to the origin of cultural barriers to population admixture."

Northerners vs. Southerners
Italians share the same ancestry for the most part: Paleolithic, Neolithic and Italic with minor Germanic influences, and even smaller recent non-European ones. But there are two significant differences that account for most genetic as well as phenotypic variation between Northern and Southern Italy, and they have no connection to Roman times or subsequent events.

1) The North has an Ancient Celtic component, while the South has an Ancient Greek one:


2) Neolithic Mediterranean ancestry is slightly higher in the South:

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Overall, however, physical differences are negligible:

   Hair Blondism
   Black Hair
   Eye Blondism
   Brunet Skin
   Average Height
168 cm
165 cm
   Cephalic Index **

* Red and reddish-brown shades were observed in an additional 16% of this sample.
** Above 81 is in the Alpine-Dinaric range, and below 76 in the Mediterranean range.

Racial Types

Alpine (Italian Switzerland)

Small Mediterranean (Campania)

Atlanto-Mediterranean (Piedmont)

Atlanto-Mediterranean (Sicily)

Dinaric (Marche)

Dinaric (Lazio)

Borreby (Lombardy)
(Coon, 1939)

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| Central | Southern

Northern | Central | Southern

Italian Parliamentarians

Northern | Southern

Northern | Central | Southern

Northern | Central | Southern

Southern Italian Mafiosi

Regional Map of Italy

Related Topics

Sicilian Origins: Sub-page on Sicilians that includes much additional information.

Anti-Padania: Sub-page on Northern Italians that refutes Lega Nord supremacism.

Skin Color: Effects of sun-adaptation and tanning on Southern Europeans.

Sickle Cell: Not a tracer of African ancestry.

Study Clarifications: Three often-misused studies on Sicilians (follow the links).

European Genetic Variation: Greek, Neolithic and other influences throughout Europe.

Ancient Romans: Refuting Nordicist claims to the civilization of Ancient Rome.

Italianthro: Italian biological and social anthropology blog.