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Thank You, Arminius

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It turns out that the decisive victory of Arminius over three Roman Legions at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest may still be yielding benefits:

The spread of the Roman Empire through Europe could help explain why those living in its former colonies are more vulnerable to HIV.

The claim, by French researchers, is that people once ruled by Rome are less likely to have a gene variant which protects against HIV. This includes England, France, Greece and Spain, New Scientist reports. Others argue the difference is linked to a far larger event, such as the spread of bubonic plague or smallpox.

The idea that something carried by the occupying Romans could have a widespread influence on the genes of modern Europeans comes from researchers at the University of Provence. They say that the frequency of the variant corresponds closely with the shifting boundaries of the thousand-year empire.

In countries inside the borders of the empire for longer periods, such as Spain, Italy and Greece, the frequency of the CCR5-delta32 gene, which offers some protection against HIV, is between 0% and 6%. Countries at the fringe of the empire, such as Germany, and modern England, the rate is between 8% and 11.8%, while in countries never conquered by Rome, the rate is greater than this.

The theory is that the carriers of the ccr5-delta32 gene, while resistant to HIV, created a vulnerability to other diseases more common within the boundaries of the Empire than outside. As such, the gene is more common outside the Empire, and its carriers now enjoy a fortuitous resistance to AIDS.

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest is thought to have taken place 1999 years ago next Tuesday. I propose that we dub this day Arminius Day, a time when we give thanks for the barbarian chieftain who helped stop the disease spreading Legions of the Roman Empire.

…in comments, Scott suggests:

I think the residents of Gaul and Spain would have accepted a slightly higher susceptibility to a disease 2000 years later over the kind sensibilities of the Vandals, Goths, and Attila the Hun.

Listen; you play with discount rates enough, you can prove anything you want.

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