Italian Ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews

March 8, 2014

Genetic similarities between Italians and Ashkenazi Jews are due to the fact that about half of Jews' ancestry is European, a lot of which came from Italy when diaspora males migrated to Rome and found wives among local women who then converted to Judaism. The same process happened again to a lesser degree in other parts of Europe as Jews migrated further north, west and then east, but according to genome-wide autosomal DNA, their highest European admixture is Italian.

Overall, it seems that at least 80% of Ashkenazi maternal ancestry is due to the assimilation of mtDNAs indigenous to Europe, most likely through conversion. The phylogenetic nesting patterns suggest that the most frequent of the Ashkenazi mtDNA lineages were assimilated in Western Europe, ~2 ka or slightly earlier. Some in particular, including N1b2, M1a1b, K1a9 and perhaps even the major K1a1b1, point to a north Mediterranean source. It seems likely that the major founders were the result of the earliest and presumably most profound wave of founder effects, from the Mediterranean northwards into central Europe, and that most of the minor founders were assimilated in west/central Europe within the last 1,500 years. The sharing of rarer lineages with Eastern European populations may indicate further assimilation in some cases, but can often be explained by exchange via intermarriage in the reverse direction.

The Ashkenazim therefore resemble Jewish communities in Eastern Africa and India, and possibly also others across the Near East, Caucasus and Central Asia, which also carry a substantial fraction of maternal lineages from their 'host' communities. Despite widely differing interpretations of autosomal data, these results in fact fit well with genome-wide studies, which imply a significant European component, with particularly close relationships to Italians. As might be expected from the autosomal picture, Y-chromosome studies generally show the opposite trend to mtDNA (with a predominantly Near Eastern source) with the exception of the large fraction of European ancestry seen in Ashkenazi Levites.

Evidence for haplotype sharing with non-Ashkenazi Jews for each of the three main haplogroup K founders may imply a partial common ancestry in Mediterranean Europe for Ashkenazi and Spanish-exile Sephardic Jews, but may also, at least in part, be due to subsequent gene flow, especially into Bulgaria and Turkey, both of which witnessed substantial immigration from Ashkenazi communities in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Gene flow could have been substantial in some cases—ongoing intermarriage is likely when these communities began living in closer proximity after the Spanish exile. A partial common ancestry for all European Jews—both Ashkenazi and Sephardic—is again strongly supported by the autosomal results.

Jewish communities were already spread across the Graeco-Roman and Persian world >2,000 years ago. It is thought that a substantial Jewish community was present in Rome from at least the mid-second century BCE, maintaining links to Jerusalem and numbering 30,000-50,000 by the first half of the first century CE. By the end of the first millennium CE, Ashkenazi communities were historically visible along the Rhine valley in Germany. After the wave of expulsions in Western Europe during the fifteenth century, they began to disperse once more, into Eastern Europe.

These analyses suggest that the first major wave of assimilation probably took place in Mediterranean Europe, most likely in the Italian peninsula ~2 ka, with substantial further assimilation of minor founders in west/central Europe. There is less evidence for assimilation in Eastern Europe, and almost none for a source in the North Caucasus/Chuvashia, as would be predicted by the Khazar hypothesis—rather, the results show strong genetic continuities between west and east European Ashkenazi communities, albeit with gradual clines of frequency of founders between east and west.

Costa et al. "A substantial prehistoric European ancestry amongst Ashkenazi maternal lineages". Nature Communications, 2013.

Admixture between previously diverged populations yields patterns of genetic variation that can aid in understanding migrations and natural selection. An understanding of individual admixture (IA) is also important when conducting association studies in admixed populations. However, genetic drift, in combination with shallow allele frequency differences between ancestral populations, can make admixture estimation by the usual methods challenging. We have, therefore, developed a simple but robust method for ancestry estimation using a linear model to estimate allele frequencies in the admixed individual or sample as a function of ancestral allele frequencies. The model works well because it allows for random fluctuation in the observed allele frequencies from the expected frequencies based on the admixture estimation. We present results involving 3,366 Ashkenazi Jews (AJ) who are part of the Kaiser Permanente Genetic Epidemiology Research on Adult Health and Aging (GERA) cohort and genotyped at 674,000 SNPs, and compare them to the results of identical analyses for 2,768 GERA African Americans (AA). For the analysis of the AJ, we included surrogate Middle Eastern, Italian, French, Russian, and Caucasus subgroups to represent the ancestral populations. For the African Americans, we used surrogate Africans and Northern Europeans as ancestors. For the AJ, we estimated mean ancestral proportions of 0.380, 0.305, 0.113, 0.041 and 0.148 for Middle Eastern, Italian, French, Russian and Caucasus ancestry, respectively. For the African Americans, we obtained estimated means of 0.745 and 0.248 for African and European ancestry, respectively. We also noted considerably less variation in the individual admixture proportions for the AJ (s.d. = .02 to .05) compared to the AA (s.d.= .15), consistent with an older age of admixture for the former. From the linear model regression analysis on the entire population, we also obtain estimates of goodness of fit by r2. For the analysis of AJ, the r2 was 0.977; for the analysis of the AA, the r2 was 0.994, suggesting that genetic drift has played a more prominent role in determining the AJ allele frequencies. This was confirmed by examination of the distribution of differences for the observed versus predicted allele frequencies. As compared to the African Americans, the AJ differences were significantly larger, and presented some outliers which may have been the target of selection (e.g. in the HLA region on chromosome 6p).

Banda et al. "Admixture Estimation in a Founder Population". Am Soc Hum Genet, 2013.

Two major differences among the populations in this study were the high degree of European admixture (30%-60%) among the Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Italian, and Syrian Jews and the genetic proximity of these populations to each other compared to their proximity to Iranian and Iraqi Jews. This time of a split between Middle Eastern Iraqi and Iranian Jews and European/Syrian Jews, calculated by simulation and comparison of length distributions of IBD segments, is 100–150 generations, compatible with a historical divide that is reported to have occurred more than 2500 years ago. The Middle Eastern populations were formed by Jews in the Babylonian and Persian empires who are thought to have remained geographically continuous in those locales. In contrast, the other Jewish populations were formed more recently from Jews who migrated or were expelled from Palestine and from individuals who were converted to Judaism during Hellenic-Hasmonean times, when proselytism was a common Jewish practice. During Greco-Roman times, recorded mass conversions led to 6 million people practicing Judaism in Roman times or up to 10% of the population of the Roman Empire. Thus, the genetic proximity of these European/Syrian Jewish populations, including Ashkenazi Jews, to each other and to French, Northern Italian, and Sardinian populations favors the idea of non-Semitic Mediterranean ancestry in the formation of the European/Syrian Jewish groups and is incompatible with theories that Ashkenazi Jews are for the most part the direct lineal descendants of converted Khazars or Slavs. The genetic proximity of Ashkenazi Jews to southern European populations has been observed in several other recent studies.

Atzmon et al. "Abraham's Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry". Am J Hum Genet, 2010.


Maternal grandma said...

What happened, genetically to the thousands of Roman/Italian converts to Juadaism (e.g. emperor Titus's sister)whose descendants followed the Gothic kings into Rhineland and N. France in the early dark ages? There were numerous Greek-speaking synagogues in ancient Rome and a few Latin-speaking synagoges as well. Is there genetic studies showing the date of the admixture in ancient times between Italians, Greeks, and Jews living in Italy who left the country later? For example, there was a Jewish migration from Lucca to Mainz in 920 CE as the Ashkenazi communities were being established there which later migrated to Lithuania and then to Poland. National Genographic Project gives the Ashkenazi DNA of some as 54% Greek or Tuscan and 21% Iranian (ancient DNA admixture) along with 19% N. European and 2% African, 4% E. Asian, where the East Asian comes from the 5% E. Asian in most Iranians. Any clues on Ashkenazim being partly descended from Italians and Greeks mixed with Persians? Thanks for any references to articles.

starfishlady said...

I think it's a mistake with the way they are interpreting the test. I think that what they are picking up is that all the people of the Mediterranean are related to a single group in ages past. For example, my dad's line started out in Babylon just like the legendary Abraham.

Paul renan-zelezniak said...

I think the Italian interpretation is probably correct - DNA test interpretations need historical support, and the conversion of Italian women was indeed historically recorded. One only needs to read the New Testament to read of these unions, if not involving conversion, at least marriage ( ie Timothy had a Greek father and a Jewish mother )

Anonymous said...

To Maternal Grandma,
Where did you read that Nat. Geo is doing this?
"National Genographic Project gives the Ashkenazi DNA of some as 54% Greek or Tuscan and 21% Iranian (ancient DNA admixture) along with 19% N. European and 2% African, 4% E. Asian, where the East Asian comes from the 5% E. Asian in most Iranians. Any clues on Ashkenazim being partly descended from Italians and Greeks mixed with Persians?"
I've never seen an article on Genographic stating this and have not seen Dr. Spencer Wells give a speech on this. There is no Ashkenazim grouping listed on Genographic and I thought they just looked at individual markers. They don't seem to compare one group to another as in recent ancestry, but look for markers that a particular population is known for. If those markers fall into Tuscan or Greek, then that is what you are. I am northern Italian and Genographic lists me as Tuscan. I've seen South Italians come in with an Ashkenazi percentage on 23andMe, but never a Tuscan or Northern Italian. Just curious if you could post where you heard this. It is very interesting. I know that South Italians often get confused with Ashkenazi and on Gedmatch they have the AJ population between Southern Italy and Greece. I'd love to know the science of how they pull apart a South Italian from an Ashkenazi person, since both have Levant admixture automatically. Seeing all the South Italians come in with 11 to 14% Ashkenazi on Gedmatch, makes me wonder whether you can pull apart the two populations. I don't see why they'd put them between Greek and Tuscan, since the Tuscans do not come in with Ashkenazi ancestry, unless they really have that ancestry. I do believe that the Ashkenazim might have a significant South Italian ancestry from Roman times onward. They were in Southern Italy a very long time. Greeks and Southern Italians mixed with the Levant people during Hellenistic times. All Europeans come from the people who were in Persia and Iran at some point in time... making all of this yet harder to pull apart.

Anonymous said...

PS... I think I understand what you are saying Maternal grandma. I have not seen those kinds of results with Ashkenazi people who have done both 23andMe and Genographic. Not one has said they come out with that combination. Usually the person was found to be related to the Greeks (southern Italians) and also come in with a certain northern European component as well as a south Asian component, etc. So they will list Greek and Lebanese, as well as saying they are 60% Mediterranean, 20% northern European and the rest is generic south Asian at 20%. I've never seen them come in with 2% African or 4% E. Asian. I've never seen them come out related to Iranians. I've never seen them come out as Tuscan, but I gather if you are Italkim, then that might be in there. I've seen Lenbonese, but not Iranian. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

Edit: I meant to say southwest Asian component of 20%. Sorry I misspelled Lebanese.

Anne Hart said...

I'm Greek with pre-1840 relatives from Salonika. When I used to date Greeks pre 1963, the first question the male asked me was whether I was from Cyprus or Turkey. I have no idea why it would matter whether my distant relatives in the far past came from S. or N. Greece, the islands, or the southern part of Greece. My neighbors in Brooklyn's Little Italy of the 1950s was mostly Sicilian. We all look Middle Eastern, but a few Greeks did have red hair and blue or gray eyes. Thought it was fascinating. Proud to be Greek.

Rashi said...

I'm taking this hypothesis with a grain of salt. Although it bears merit, there are some things that don't make any sense. Why are the overwhelming majority of those in the mtDNA HG N1b2 or N1b Ashkenzi Jews and those who are not Jewish are either Mazadarani (Iranian), Egyptian or even Saudi? Why aren't there other Europeans within this HG? I know that the seeds of Ashkenaz started in Rome, yet many Jews were brought to Rome as slaves or merely kicked out of Israel. Many state that N1b started in the near east, yet what makes them say that it was 12,000 years ago? Couldn't it have been sooner? Thoughts anybody?

hebrew-catholic connection said...

This is very interesting to me. First my dna is the following.

Europe west-36%
Great Britain-11%
European jewish-1/2%
Europe east-1%
Iberian peninsula-6%
Middle east-1%

So, it looks like the jew were brought to italy greece region possible as slaves. the males from the Caucasus/middle east (possible birth place of the jewish people.) intermarried with the female italian/greece female population? So confused right now lol. Excuse my ocd traits on the subject.

multicaruana said...

Make no mistake about the fact that Ashkenazim Jews such as myself have strong Italian DNA in our genetic profile. My Ancestry report has only a few percentage points non-Jewish European and it is mostly Italian. Studies now have confrmed what I postulated years ago; the Askenazim roots are in Italy- not the Middle East or the Caucasus. My mother always told me that her East European "clan" had Italian roots but no one paid attention. Add to that the fact the ancestral name was "Volpe." Italian DNA among the Ashkenazim is much stronger than Middle eastern, which is almost non-existent. By the fifth and sixth centuries, following the decline of Rome and the triumph of Christianity, the conversion of Italian women to Judaism following marriage, ended, and the population of Jews from Italy continued to move northward towards Germany, where by the tenth century the group coalesced into what we call the "Ashkenazim", and from then on became an autonomous genetic grouping due to tremendous in-breeding.The Italian DNA , however, lives on- in small quantities among th Ashkenazim- some one thousand years later, following close to 2300 years of Jewish presence in Italy. The Middle Eastern, however, does not- it may never have been there.I postulate that whatever Middle Eastern DNA there is among the Ashkenazim comes from the Italian DNA -or- Sephardim. In shortthe Ashkenazim are a subgroup of the Italian people.

Jean-Philippe Gourdine said...

My wife has Celtic ancestry from France and Ashkenazi from her mom. Our 23andme results as well as dnatribes results clearly stated Northern Italy (Tuscany) and Celtic ancestry.

My wife can trace back her European Jewish ancestry from 2 generations. That was pretty striking. This article from Zoossmann give a good summary of the Italian origin of Eastern European Jews (The origin of Eastern European Jews revealed by autosomal, sex chromosomal and mtDNA polymorphisms,

multicaruana said...

Dear Mr. Gourdine,
Your wife is basically Ashkenazim and she showed Northern Italian DNA? Does she know any of her Italian relatives on her mother's side? Do you know what ancestry she has beyond the two generations of Jewish? And I am curious as to what percent Italian and what percent Ashkenazim she is? How was she brought up?
I would like to read the article by Zoosmann. Someone I know has told me that there is minimal Italian in the Ashkenazim so I need to see more studies.
Harry Katz

Jean-Philippe Gourdine said...

Dear Mr. Katz, she had well documented Polish-Ukrainian and Dutch Jewish maternal ancestry and no Italian ancestry as far as documents can tell (Are there family secrets, maybe yes maybe no ?).

Interestingly, 23andme pointed out Ashkenazi signature but broader Italian features overall. Similarly, DNATribes clustered her with Ashkenazi individuals but compared to general European peoples, clustered her with nowadays Italian people (Tuscany, Bergamo, Abruzzo, Sicily...).

In this case, it is not minimal. Many studies in the past used non-significant sample size and focused only on Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA. Nowadays, we can study the whole genome and be more precise. Ancient DNA in Israel will be also great to compare with modern people.



multicaruana said...

Dear Mr. Gourdine,
Thanks for the info.
Are you saying that her Italian ancestry was clustered with "general European peoples" or was it separate from "general European peoples?"
I do agree with you that ancient DNA in Israel needs to be studied but how can this be found? My hunch is that ancient Israel DNA would be FAR closer to Palestinian DNA than it is to the DNA of the Ashkenazim, whom I am reasonably confident, did not originate in the Middle east.
Thank you.
Harry Katz

Jean-Philippe Gourdine said...

Dear Mr Katz,

Her DNA clustered with general European, Italian particularly.

For ancient DNA, some studies have been conducted on parasites like lice for instance ( )

Hopefully, more preserved human ancient DNA will be available like this study (


stan orr said...

More blue smoke and mirrors. The Ashkenazim are Italian converts to Judaism not descendants of Jacob. However, there has to be another explanation for the vast numbers found in Eastern Europe: Germany, Poland, Russian, Ukraine, Romania for example. Where there`s there is smoke there is fire (expect for blue smoke) so the likelihood that many are converts from the former Empire of the Khazars. The story that all these Italian women converted to Judaism is a stretch. We have many Biblical examples of gentile women that married Hebrew men and did not convert to Judaism.

Samsons wife and girlfriend, was Samson`s romantic interest Delilah converted before she sold him down the river to the Philistine Lords? King Agrippa's wife, Queen Esther was a Jewish but the Kind of Persia did not convert. Solomon had 700 non-Jewish wives that he built heathen shines for on the mount of offense opposite to the Temple of God. In fact God warned Israel not to marry heathen wives because they will turn your heart away from worshiping the true God.

For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 1 Kings 11.4 This literally happen to King Solomon, he did not convert one heathen wife to God they converted him to idol worship. Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.1 Kings 11.2

Finally we have the example of the mass divorcees of heathen women ordered by Nehemiah after the Jewish captives returned to Jerusalem after the Babylon captivity. Eza 10.3 When the Hebrews left Egypt they took a mixed multitude with them of Jews married to Hebrews...these people had to camp outside the Hebrew tribes and not allowed into the congregation of the Lord for three generations. Exodus 12.38, Deuteronomy 23:8
This prohibition demonstrates the danger God associates with heathen converts to Judaism.

So this story of Jewish men marrying heathen wives that all converted and became good Jews is a stretch. Unless all these women were miracles...the story is most likely fiction. There is no scriptural prescience for mass conversions of heathen women to Judaism. to suggest that conversion of We can find no examples in the Bible and very few in history. A more reasonable explanation is they were a result of a mass conversion similar to the Khazar Empire.

multicaruana said...

Are you saying that the Ashkenazim are not descendants of Judeo/Italian men and their Italian wives who converted but, rather are the descendants of Jacob Not sure, here. But you do seem to be saying there was a "mass conversion." If it were the Kazars who had a mass conversion that are the foundation of the Ashkenazim, our DNA would show significant Caucasus ancestry but it does not. None. If the mass conversion was in Russia we would should Rus DNA but we do not. The MiddleEast origins may be true for the religion but not for the Ashkenazim. I am going to stick with my theory that the Ashkenazim, which started out few in number, have significant Italian ancestry from over 1200 years of habitation in that land, and that the population EXPLODED in East Europe after the 17th century. My grandfather, born in Vilnus, was one of 15 children, and this I do not think was exceptional as tese people followed the ordinance "be fruitful and multiply."

Robin Lieske said...

Hi Mulitcaruana,
Thank you! My father's people were Ashkenazim and my DNA markers are off the chart for Tuscany and Southern Italy. All I know is that they ended up leaving Lithuania for the US around the 1900's, barely escaping destruction. I was astounded to find out there was Italian ancestry in that line---or, for that matter, how European they became (Italian, French & German) as they migrated through Europe. There's only one faint marker that could be considered from the "Levant" and it was from Iran. Less than 1/100 of my DNA. So here I am seeking answers. 6-7% came from Turkey and 3% from the Caucasus. Nothing compared to the Italian markers.

multicaruana said...

As I wrote you, I am curious about how much Italian DNA you have and what your mother's ancestry is. If you as much as 25% Italian it would suggest strongly that you have an Italian grandparent. While I believe that the foundation of the Ashkenazim- over a thousand years ago- was substantially Italian because of the historic and abundant presence of Jews in Italy, and the fact that many of them moved up to the Rhineland where the first evidence of the Ashkenazim exists, I do not believe that a very high Italian genetic marker would be left, after 1000 years of inbreeding, with little or no infusion of Italian genes into the Ashkenazim(once they settled into Eastern Europe). The Italian DNA would have been substantially reduced . In my case, I know that an Italian soldier(among French and Spanish) fleeing the Russian Army in the dead of winter in 1812 found refuge with our family in Vilna, and ultimately married an eligible woman in the house, after he converted. We are descended from this man- "Gerson Volpe." I believe other Italian(French and Spanish) soldiers may have also been taken in in Vilna. Thousands perished outside the gates of Vilna. Mass graves have been found. My humble Italian DNA would reflect a forbearer in 1812. I still , however, believe that the foundation of the Ashkenazim is Jewish Italian, not the Levant or the Middle East! Thank you for the correspondence. Harry Katz

Robin Lieske said...

My Italian DNA is 30.4%---14.8% Tuscany; 12.5% South Italy; 1.7% Iberian Peninsula and 1.3% Aegean. From the Near East, I have 5.2% North Turkey; 1.5% Levant (Iran) and 1.2% South Turkey. From Central Asia, 1.8% Northwest Caucasus and from South Asia, 1.1% Pashtun. Otherwise its French, English, and German. Having grown up this "Lithuanian Jewish" identity I was delighted to see Italian. It made a lot of sense given a life-long passion for all things Latin---including 20 years of working deeply with the Hispanic community here in the Southwest. I have no idea how my Jewish family mated or lived. Too much was wiped out during the Holocaust.

Robin Lieske said...

(And my Mom's ancestry was the English. She was Gentile.)


My all jewish grandparents came from Austria-Hungary and one grandpa from Ukraine. So I was shocked when my dna report showed 49% Tuscany and 9% Northern Italian ancestry. I thought it was a mistake. But not now. The rest was 25% from the Levant and 5% from Turkey, Iran, Kurd, and another 5% the orkneys and also 6% Eastern European.

multicaruana said...

I find this amazing. You, Madeline, have ancestry from Austria and the Ukraine, yet you show up 58% Italian. It's impossible, really. You also 25% Levant and 11% Eastern Europe and Orkneys. You don't have any European Jewish? No Ashkenazim? There are only two explanations for this: your grandparents emigrated from Italy to Austria and Hungary or: you are adopted. It is impossible for European Jews from this region to have such a high percentage of Italian and Levant unless they moved to this region from Italy which is unlikely, or they are not your biological grandparents. I don't mean this in an offensive way. While it is true that many Ashkenazim show up with some Italian DNA it is only minimal, but your DNA is primarily Italian and the Levant. (it is also possible your parents were adopted).
No, European Jews don't have such significant Italian DNA. Let me know what else you discover regarding your ancestry.


They break down from probable to cautious. Using only cautious data it shows 49.8% "Tuscany" (this shows on their map all of Italy and France), then 8.1% "North Italy" (this shows on their map as north Italy and France - but in definition explains this percentage shows narrow area certain from this specific region), Northeast Europe related 5% (Poland, Ukraine etc), Baltics 1.9%, Orkney Islands related 4.9% (broad area includes Orkney islands, Scandanavia and northern Germany), Armenia and Cyprus related is 28.9% (this includes the Levant) and Kurdish related 1.3%. That is the "cautious" breakdown. I am a real euro-near east mishmash. But the motherline haplogroup and sub are distinctly ashkenazi. Reading about that group, it seems that the woman was probably living in Italian area thousands of years ago and there was a mix with men from the levant. Then through intermarriage it became focused within what became Ashkenazi Jews, who likely moved from southern europe to eastern europe to escape persecutions. At the time the lived in eastern europe they married within their own group and became distinctive ethnic group carrying their own distinct characteristics. At least that is how I explain it after reading about it on the internet. Appears many ashkenazi jews do show 30-60% Italian type dna..


By the way, the Living DNA report goes back 10 generations. So when you ask do you know any grand parents or great grandparents from Italy - of course not considering how the Jews were running from one place to the next to escape varying degrees of persecution.

multicaruana said...

Dear Madeleine,

Well, may I ask if you show any "European Jewish" or "Ashkenazim"? If you don't have any "Ashkenazim" DNA you cannot be European Jewish.
I do agree that that intermarriage with Italian women was very common, and I do believe that the founding "members" of what became the "Ashkenazim" had significant Italian DNA. But this was the 11th century. Over 10 centuries this Italian DNA has become washed out due to excessive intermarriage among the Ashkenazim, forming a totally new ethnic group. Where did you read that the Ashkenazim have up to 60 % Italian DNA? I, who have the ancestral name "Volpe"- an Italian name only, at best, have 2 % Italian DNA. I would wish to have your DNA- to be more Italian- but another Company- 23 and me- determined that I have zero Italian DNA.I have never met an Ashkenazim Jew who has any Italian DNA to speak of...I am jealous of your Italian DNA, but, at the same time, if your analysis is correct you are Jewish by religion, not ethnicity. Fascinating. Who did your analysis- have your parents had theirs done?

multicaruana said...

This is interesting, Madeleine. I do agree with you that DNA analysis can go back 10 generations- this is how 2 % Italian showed up in me, but in your case, if 10 generations ago you had an ancestor who was 100% Italian, in order for your family to have retained the high percentage of Italian DNA that you have they would have had to marry other Italians. But if they were from Ukraine and Austria, this would have been impossible. If you have 50% Italian DNA it means that you have a parent who was 100% Italian, or two parents who were 50% Italian. In my family, my wife's DNA reflects her varied ancestry. Her immediate grandparents were Greek, Arabic, Native American, and Caucasus. I am 92 percent European Jewish. My son showed 46% European Jewish. I don't mean to be confrontational, Madeleine, but you can't be European Jewish if you have such high concentration of other ethnic DNA- it's that simple. Your DNA has to equal 100%. Where is the Jewish component? Harry Katz


Living DNA report doesn't show "euro jewish" as a group. I don't think they use that as a group except for the mother's Mta which for me is clearly Ashkenazi. They breakdown the European DNA regions of similarity. The Jews living during the greaco roman empire were mixed with southern Europeans. Jewish men from the levant are thought to have married Italian women. Jewish communities were more open and fluid before the diaspora. Then they started running away from place to place to find safety and became insulated It is very possible that both sides of my family tree stemmed from Italians and they intermarried and maintained the Italian genes. Once the Jews became more and more clannish and isolated they also had their own mutations and character traits passed on but they kept exchanging their Italian genes within the small community, which don't disappear. The Jews didn't mix with outside groups very much once they migrated. My mix shows some eastern european genes as well but not that high. Actually it does make sense. I have heard of twins being born, and one is black and one is white. It depends on which genes get passed along from both parents.


multicaruana - Here is the article about up to 60% I would be interested where you read the Italian genes were "washed out" ? "Two major differences among the populations in this study were the high degree of European admixture (30%-60%) among the Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Italian, and Syrian Jews and the genetic proximity of these populations to each other compared to their proximity to Iranian and Iraqi Jews. "

multicaruana said...

Hi, Madeleine,
I totally agree with everything you wrote, but I would ask- you say your family stemmed from Italians- what century would you say this was? How far back does it go? As far as "Living DNA" - is that a DNA testing company? They don't show "Euro-Jewish?" I would like to have my DNA tested with this company. I would be so happy to have DNA that reflect Italian roots! I was disappointed with my meagre 2 percent given the Italian myths of my mother's ancestry and our name-VOLPE. This would, at last, give me the confirmation I want. As it stands now, I am just another inbred euro-Jewish person with no ethnic diversity and I am tired of it, tired of my homogenous DNA. We will have to call a truce on our discussion and I will order the kit that gave you such a high percentage of Italian, although being Ashkenazim. I would love to have what you have... All the best!


Living DNA They did show ashkenazi for my mother line mta. I do not think they show a family group distinctly called european or ashkenazi jews. But I think I do have traits distinct to the ashkenzi jews that they don't mention. They didn't in mine. But what I read in these articles is that because ashkenazi Jews are inbred after a certain point, they do share certain distinct dna chains or "IBD"s that make us ethnic resemble each other. I don't know if you would say that washes out the inherited Italian genes, it just emphasizes certain traits, no? It does make us a distinct group. I may write to them and ask why they don't point that ethnic grouping out except in mta. They say they go back 10 generations. So that is about 250-300 year ago.

multicaruana said...

Well, Madeleine, you do raise interesting points. I still have some trouble conceptualizing a group of people-the Ashkenazim- with its own distinctive DNA carrying up to 60% Italian DNA 1000 years after the group coalesced. 23 and Me and the other company show little Italian DNA in European Jews, although some is noted. We have even less Middle eastern DNA. I do not know how living DNA formulates its ethnic compositions but I will find out when I order my kit.
I do believe, however, that it was primarily Italian women and Italian-Jewish men who formed the basis of the Ashkenazim 1000 years ago; we cannot underestimate the presence of Jews in Italy both before the time of Jesus and for the next thousand years and beyond. I believe that Jews have a much greater Italian imprint than Middle Eastern, but I had thought most of this was wiped out by inbreeding and the development of a new ethnic group. Incidentally my 2 % Italian may have to do more withan Italian soldier from Napoleons army who found refuge in Vilnus, among my family in 1812, during Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, converted and married into the family, than an ancient Italian lineage. Take care. Harry


@multicaruana I have been reading about the ashkenazi genetics which are found to be very interesting. They believe there was a 50/50 admixture originally (southern euro and levant) at turn of the millennium. Then it was followed by an "event" caused a bottleneck, which I believe means the population was drastically reduced. Hence the heavy inbreeding. This they believe happened before the Jews moved to eastern europe and also the rhine valley. Later there was a "founder" and after in eastern europe another bottleneck. Ashkenazi Jews do share these Identitical by Descent of dna markers even if not closely related to each which give us our ethnic identity. But I have not read anywhere that means origins changed or ancestry is "erased". They know how to identify source, it depends on how far back they go. The southern european source happened they think 30-50 generations ago. I am not a scientist, I am just explaining what I read. Livingdna doesn't give you a report on your recent ethnic identity, it traces your origins. And from what I am reading it is extremely possible that in the inbreeding after the admixtures of southern euro and other north eastern dna (to lesser extent) that I and other Jews like me can have such a mixture depending on what dna your parents give you.

Don't Mind Me said...

@multicaruana If you used Ancestry DNA or 23andMe, you can upload your DNA to GEDMatch for free. It lets you put your DNA through various tests which use different algorithms and different reference populations. Ancestry DNA says I'm 97% Ashkenazi (1% Finnish/Western Russian, 1% North African, and <1% British, but that's considered "noise" since it's so small). GEDMatch tests break it down further.

There's one test under Eurogenes called the JTest which is designed for people who have a significant portion of Ashkenazi ancestry. According to JTest, I'm 29% Ashkenazi, 19% Eastern Mediterranean, 11% Western Mediterranean, 11% Middle Eastern, 10% West Asian, with the rest of my DNA from more northern parts of Europe. Yes, I'm fully Ashkenazi, but this test shows that 29% of my genome is distinct to the Ashkenazi people.

The K36 test under Eurogenes, which does not include Ashkenazi, says I'm 15% Italian, 14% Near Eastern, 12% East Mediterranean, 8% Arabian, 7% East Balkan, 6% Armenian, 6% North Caucasian, and the rest Europe.

MDLP K23b says 12% of my DNA comes from the Near East, 37% come from the Caucasus, 8% from North Africa, and the rest Europe.

One cool feature of GEDMatch is the "spreadsheet" feature which shows you the average percentages different modern populations get when their DNA is analyzed through these tests. My results are consistent with other Ashkenazi Jews. In these spreadsheets, you will find that Levantine populations also have a big chunk of their ancestry in Southern Europe as well as the Caucasus. This is also true for Sephardic/North African Jews.

All of these tests show different results, and most don't state how far back in time or how many generations ago these estimates apply to, but what is consistent is that Ashkenazi Jews definitely have a large chunk of ancestry that did not come from Eastern Europe. This debunks the story that all Ashkenazi Jews are merely descendants of Khazar converts, which is mostly brought up by Jew-hating conspiracy theorists.

I disagree with you that the Ashkenazi Jews have no roots in the Middle East. We do, but the distinctive Middle Eastern ancestry is <15% according to DNA.

multicaruana said...

Dear Don't Mind Me,
Well, the Khazar theory , which I don't subscribe to, was proposed by a Jewish historian; I don't feel it is a conspiracy theory but rather an explanation for the origin of a group of people whose actual roots are shrouded in mystery.
I am not sure about the K36 test,(or the other one) as it seems formulaic , based on odds and probability. You have so many different things showing up that it impossible to say what you are.
It is obvious to me, that even if we had roots in the Middle East, it was, through time, pretty much wiped out through intermarriage, conversion, and in some populations actual extinction. Without any infusions of Middle Eastern DNA into Europe after the Roman Jewish wars and the age of Bar Kochba, the Jews, as I see it, more or less lost their Middle eastern DNA. I mean no harm, but I don't see us a Middle Eastern people, despite the religion which originated in the Middle East.
If my Living DNA results show any Middle Eastern I will let you know!!!Harry Katz


The theory based on current DNA research is that Ashkenazi Jews from the levant admixed with southern europeans at the turn of the first millenium. That although Jews were in Europe from BCE, the big influx was not after the Roman war but almost one thousand years later. Shortly afterwards there was a severe extermination event (bottleneck) that left only about 350 -400 people "founder" population which resulted in recessive attributes, and similar traits distinctive to Ashkenazi Jews. The population also had outside mix with central europeans. The next admix was with eastern europeans but to a much lesser degree and that wasfollowed by yet another bottleneck decrease in population but not catastrophic like the first one. That caused more similarities between Ashkenazi Jews. My broadest Living DNA result shows generally 70% European and 30% Near Eastern.

Alberto Paolini said...

I thought there is a lack of IBD Sharing between Italians and Jews.

multicaruana said...

I think it is just the opposite, Mr. Paolini,.at least, according to many sources including this one. My own theory is that the "Ashkenazim" of whom I am one are basically an Italian people(particularly on the maternal side) who had been converting to Judaism since late antiquity. The flow of Italian genes probably ceased after the "Ashkenazim" coalesced into their own ethnic group with heavy inbreeding about a thousand years ago. With only about 300 to 400 founding members, the Ashkenazim had to be something and I seriously doubt it was "Middle Eastern" or "Caucasus." Jews flourished in Italy long after they were expelled or left Palestine. The most "ancient of minorities"- the Jews of Italy- and the Ashkenazim- were, I truly believe, grafted from an Italian rather than a Judean trunk.

Alberto Paolini said...

Well, how do you explain the inscriptions found in the ancient Jewish catacombs in Rome?

Most were in Greek, with only a few in Latin, Hebrew or Aramaic.


There were Jews in Italy from 200 BCE. And also in central europe. The ashkenazi Jews are believed from dna tests to come from an influx from the levan to southern europe around 900-1000 years ago, not from the population that was already in Italy who may have been from Greece. The Italian Jews are ethnic group called Romaniote and also resided in Greece. They have a different background. The Romaniote are not Ashkenazi, although all the Jewish ethnic groups are related.

multicaruana said...

Well, in replying to Mr. Paolini and Ms. Neidoff I would agree that there were Jews in Italy from, at least, 200 B.C. I don't why some of the inscriptions ion the tombs were in Greek, but I also know that some were in Latin. That Hebrew was not that widespread testifies to the European(Italian/Greek)roots of these Jews.I disagree with Ms. Neidoff that there was a major influx of Jews from the Levant 1000 years ago.I would like to know what the source of this information is. I do know, having finished Roth's History of the Jews of Italy that people who called themselves Jews were living all over Italy for the first thousand years of the Common Era. I know that "Jews" were sent as slaves or fled to Sicily following the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. but I have never heard of a major influx of Jews into southern Europe from Palestine as recently as 1000 years ago.Also, there were according to Roth Jews identified as "Ashkenazi" living in Italy in the Middle Ages, not only "Romaniote" Jews.Finally- and I wish not to hurt anyone's feelings here- I do not believe I am , in any meaningful way, ethnically related to Yemeni Jews for example. Unless my Living DNA results show otherwise, I do not think I share any more DNA with Yemeni Jews than Trump does.In fact our rabbi who is Yemeni has far closer DNA to my wife , whose paternal ancestry is from the Levant(non-Jewish)than to me. Please, no hard feelings here.

multicaruana said...

Hi Madeleine,

I just got back my Living DNA results and I came out as 67 % European and 33% "Near East." However, I am very suspicious of Living DNA. So much of the material they present is "boiler plate." They say they can go back 20 generations, but when I attempted to get a timeline for my family's ancestry there was nothing that recent. The various associations they posted with regard to my DNA were so random and unconvincing as to be of no value. They also said I was one of their first customers. Perhaps as they get more data they will fill in their missing links but I am totally unconvinced. I have no idea how they arrived at their conclusions either. Poor. Very poor. Why did their findings deviate from all the other DNA tests which had me as 92% Jewish European and 8 % non-Jewish European.?
Also, on my mother's side no Italian connection despite family history and other tests which testify to the contrary/


What does it show your European make- up to be? How do they break it down? I came out with mostly Italian and the rest scattered, Eastern European, Central, some Baltic and some Scandinavian. This made perfect sense. Since the ashikenazie Jews were originally a small founding group that were an admix of Italian and Levant. Why does that not make sene to you? they go into the more specific regions. They do not use the "jewish" allels in their findings. Your mother's haploid should be the exact same in all your tests. Did they find a different haploid group? How is that even possible? That does not interchange.


Did you click on the plus sign? When you hit the plus sign it breaks it down, goes down another two levels - global - regions - sub regions. under each category, standard, complete and cautious. You only refer to the 'global level"

multicaruana said...

Hi Madeleine,

I must say you have opened up a whole new world for me with this Living DNA. Now, I think I understand what you have been talking about- it made no sense before. It seems that somehow Living DNA is able to trace the ancestry of the Ashkenazim, and it seems to be mostly southern Europe(Italy and Spain) and the Levant. And Tuscany in both our cases. This is a fascinating revelation, yet I am not surprised. Am I reading this right: our Ashkenazim heritage actually is a composite of many other groups including - for both of us- the Levant? Why do you think they chose not to consider the "Ashkenazim" as an ethnic group with its own DNA, for the purposes of their analyses?
I can't thank you enough, Madeleine, for bringing "Living DNA" to my attention and both confirming and totally changing the way I look at my ancestry. Your insights and suggestions have made my day!!!! Thanks again. Harry Katz

wh1902020902 said...

Since my 23 and Me results I have been anxious to find a place with knowledgeable laymen and this site seems to fit the bill.

My female haplogroup is N1b2. I have no Ashkenaz DNA present. It does, however, show a 0.2 % Sardinian ancestry and a 0.5 "broadly southern European"

I have solid ancestral records on my mothers side which is what matters in this case. There seems to be little to no chance of an adoption.

Since my wife is Jewish we were more than casually interested in the results of course. Apparently N1b2 is found exclusively in Ashkenaz Jewish populations and from rather causal reading resulted in a random mutation about the time of the diaspora in Italy. In fact we consulted with an orthodox rabbi who said to us that my being N1b2 made me "more Jewish" than her was.... genetically speaking of course.

As a historian my first reaction would have been this "founding mother" must have been the wife or daughter of a zealot who was sent back to Rome as a slave and who subsequently had a female descendant who would have been isolated from the Jewish community in Europe and intermarried with a Gentile prior to the mass migration into the Rhine valley around 700 AD. I had not considered what some have mentioned concerning a conversion and marriage by a Jewish male to a Roman female.

I would appreciated any and all comments connected to this discovery. Especially so since it will have bearing on whether or not I am considered Jewish according to Rabbinical law. This is important as both my wife and I getting along in years and our ability to be buried together in a Hebrew cemetery is important to us.

Thank you

Unknown said...

As for why Jews in Sicily and Italy wrote in Greek. Remember, these are Diaspora Jews and could be correctly called Hellenistic Jews. While not trying to get into Catholic Theology, the Diaspora Jews being cut off from Jerusalem were culturally Greek. Thus, around circa 250 BC, some 70 Jewish Scholars fluent in both Greek and Hebrew translated the Old Testament into Greek. This OT is called the Septuagint and is also referred to by the Roman Numerals (LXX) since it was translated by the 70 scholars mentioned above. This version of the OT has the 46 book canon included in the Catholic Canon of the Old Testament and of course was the primary version used by the Apostles in the NT when a passage from the OT was quoted (roughly 70% are directly citing the LXX).

So the reason Greek was used by disapora Jews and used in for tombstones was because it was a language that they were familiar with longer than Latin and by 200 AD was the language they were reading the OT Scriptures if they were living outside of Jerusalem, etc.