The Lost Tribes

Imperial politics sometimes played an important role in dispersing genes, often in highly unpleasant ways. Forced relocation of peoples has been a standard tactic during times of conflict—whether in ex-Yugoslavia or Chechnya in our day or in Assyria during ancient times. Tiglath Pileser III moved some 30,000 people from what is now northern Syria to the Zagros

Mountains in western Iran in 742 BC, Sargon II displaced about 100,000 Babylonians in 707 BC, and Sennacherib deported another 208,000 in 703 BC. One of the most notorious forced relocations was in 722 BC, when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, destroying its capital and sending its population into exile.

These population transfers were intended not only to punish, but also to break up local elites and traditions, open up strategic areas for occupation, and provide the Assyrian state with labor and soldiers. The number of people forcibly removed from home over three centuries of these policies has been estimated at more than 4 million. Considering the enmity these actions provoked, they may have hastened the fall of Assyria— but they surely spread alleles over most of the Fertile Crescent.

There are other famous examples of forced relocations. The Babylonian Empire defeated Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel, in 586 BC and relocated some of the population to Mesopotamia. After the Persian Empire succeeded the Babylonians in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great allowed them to return.

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