Monday, 12 January 2015

Out of My Ancient Tree

At the beginning of November my landlord sent out officials to check their properties. Two lovely ladies visited me in my flat, and on their way out one of them noticed my family tree chart on the wall. “Oh, someone’s done their family tree”, she said, “How far back have you gone?”

“How far back have you gone?” That’s usually the first question people ask, even other genealogists. We genealogists often try to out-do each other, reaching the outermost limits of ancestry. There’s nothing new in that. People have been chronicling their ancestry for 3,000 years or more. You only have to read the Bible, with all those people “begatting” all the way back to Adam and Eve. Other faiths and most mythologies produce lineages to their own founding deities. The main reason for this was power. If a person can persuade others that he/she is descended from their head god or deity they can say it is proof of their divine right to rule over others.

A more recent application of this, of a divine lineage which claims supreme authority, comes in “The Da Vinci Code”. True, it’s only fictional, but so many people believe it to be true that it has now become a modern “urban” myth. The idea of Christ having a child and descendants isn’t new. I’ve written before about this silly theory. If any alleged bloodline from Christ existed to the Merovingian royal dynasty in France then most people in Europe, the Americas, North Africa, Middle East and Australasia can claim to be his heir. The Da Vinci Code bloodline was disproved decades before it was even written, and Dan Brown knew it was false.

Back to my wall-chart. Not only does it show my descent from the Merovingian kings through King Alfred the Great of Wessex, but it also shows my very probable descent from a historical person who lived in 350 BC. That man is the Macedonian general Antiokos of Orestes.

Is that possible? According to modern genealogical evidence it is. Scientific DNA testing is adding more evidence. Only last year scientists used DNA testing to prove there are living relatives of the so-called “gay caveman” Ötzi.

It means that I, as well a most of Europe and Asia, have in my DNA material inherited from Antiokos and his son Seleukos, one of Alexander the Great’s top generals and founder of an empire.

Seleukos was a page-boy at the court of King Philip of Macedonia, the usual starting point for any young noble destined for a military career. As a child Seleukos would have known Philip’s son, the future Alexander the Great, who was about the same age.

By 327 BC Seleukos had become commander of the elite infantry troop called the Silvershields. In 334 BC he accompanied Alexander on his campaign in India. When Alexander the Great died his empire was divided up and Seleukos took control of the area that became known as the Seleucid Empire. At its height the empire covered southern Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Over time parts of the empire were invaded by its neighbours, but the bloodline flowed directly from Seleukos to the succeeding rulers of the old imperial territories.

This ancestry doesn’t give me any divine right to do anything other than display it on my wall. And, as with the Merovingians, it’s an ancestry which most people share. Of the people I’ve covered so far in my “Out Of Their Tree” series so far most of them can be shown to descend from both the Merovingians and Seleukos – Rufus Wainwright, Langston Hughes, Will Young, Sir Noël Coward, Lauren Meece, Alan Turing, Toller Cranston, Clare Balding, Florence Nightingale, Mark Bingham, Virgil Thomson, Peggy Seeger, Lance Bass, Antonio Hoyos y Vinent, Cole Porter, Michael Dillon and Tom Daley. Other descendants I haven’t covered yet include Ellen Degeneres, Divine, Jodie Foster, Rupert Everett, Christopher Isherwood, Francis Bacon and Lawrence of Arabia.

Professional genealogists admit that there are very few probable lines of descent from antiquity. Written records are often scarce. The problem is that some ancestral lines are incomplete and the gaps filled with educated guess-work. For example, the descent from the Merovingians of all those mentioned above comes through an un-named Anglo-Saxon princess. All genealogists know for sure is that she is either a daughter or granddaughter of King Egbert I of Kent. The fact that this princess’s husband was created king of Kent is evidence of her status as an heir to that throne. Because there’s no proof to show to which generation she belongs, this descent is called probable. There’s no doubt about the ultimate line of descent, only the exact route. There are other examples like this throughout genealogy. That’s why I can claim we are all descended from Alexander the Great’s general and not be proved wrong.

It’s a pity I can’t say I’m descended from Alexander the Great himself. I find it very difficult to find any link to his family at all. But I think being descended from his greatest successor is good enough for me.

What about other great lgbt figures in antiquity? Although I can’t honestly claim any descent from any of the Roman Emperors with queer sensibilities such as Hadrian, Elegabalus, Nero, Tiberius, etc., I can claim that we are all cousins of Cleopatra! She has a proven line of descent from Emperor Seleukos.

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