||The massive preindustrial urban center of Rome required millions of immigrants to increase its population and provide goods and services for its citizens. Most of these immigrants came to Italy involuntarily, but the city was also a draw for the suburban elite and the free poor. Studies of population movement in the Roman Empire have ignored the Imperial capital, focusing instead on the military in the provinces. Distressingly, the lack of material culture and historical records of immigrants to Rome has stymied progress in the study of ancient migration.
Using strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of human skeletal remains from Roman cemeteries, my research has demonstrated that immigrants to Rome can be found in the bioarchaeological record. The simple fact that immigrants existed, however, provides little information about migrants’ lives and contributions to society. Contemporary anthropological theories dealing with transnational individuals and diasporic groups can be combined with what we know about the geopolitical or structural constraints on movement in the Roman Empire. This multi-level framework allows me to reflect on immigrants as contextualized actors within an economically connected Mediterranean network, by depicting the paths of movement and the lived experiences of mobile individuals. In this paper, I will discuss the demographic effects of slave diasporas on the population of Imperial Rome and illustrate the life histories that can be read from the biological remains of immigrants.