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BELGAE, A British population, is first mentioned under the name of Belgae by Ptolemy (2.3.28). Caesar's notice extends only to the fact of the interior of the island being inhabited “by those who are recorded to have been born in the island itself; whereas the sea-coast is the occupancy of immigrants from the country of the Belgae, brought over for the sake of either war or plunder. All these are called by names nearly the same as those of the states they came from--names which they have retained in the country upon which they made war, and in the land whereon they settled.” (B. G. 5.12.)

How far do Caesar and Ptolemy notice the same population? Ptolemy's locality, though the exact extent of the area is doubtful, is, to a certain degree, very definitely fixed. The Belgae lay to the south of the Dobuni, whose chief town was Corineum (Cirencester). They also lay to the east and north of the Durotriges of Dor-setshire. Venta (Winchester) was one of the towns, and Aquae Sulis (Bath) another. Calleva (Silehester) was not one of them: on the contrary, it belonged to the Attrebatii. This coincides nearly with the county of Wilts, parts of Somerset and Hants being also included. It must be observed that the Belgae of Ptolemy agree with those of Caesar only in belonging to the southern part of Britain. They are chiefly an inland population, and touch the sea only on the south and west; not on the east, or the part more especially opposite Belgium. It must also be observed that Wilts is the county where the monumental remains of the ancient occupants of Britain are at once the most numerous and characteristic. [p. 1.388]

But the Belgic area of Britain may be carried further eastwards by considering the Attrebatii as a Belgic population; in which case Belgae is a generic term, and Attrebatii the specific name of one of the divisions it includes; and by admitting the evidence of Richard of Cirencester we may go further still. [BIBROCI.] To this line of criticism,however, it may be objected, that it is as little warranted by the text of Caesar as by that of Ptolemy.

The Belgae of Caesar require Kent and Sussex as their locality: those of Ptolemy, Wilts and Somerset. The reconciliation of these different conditions has been attempted. An extension westward between the times of the two writers has given one hypothesis. But this is beset with difficulties. To say nothing about the extent to which the time in question was the epoch of conquests almost exclusively Roman, the reasons for believing the sources of Ptolemy to have been earlier than the time of Caesar are cogent.

In the mind of the present writer, the fact that Ptolemy's authorities dealt with was the existence in Britain of localities belonging to populations called Belgae and Attrebatii; a fact known to Caesar also. Another fact known to Caesar was, the existence of Belgic immigrants along the shores of Kent and Sussex. Between these there is as little necessary connection as there is between the settlements of the modern Germans in London, and the existence of German geographical names in -sted,--hurst, &c., in Kent. But there is an apparent one; and this either Caesar or his authorities assumed. Belgae and Attrebates he found in Kent, just as men from Delmen-horst may probably be found at present; and populations called Belgae and Attrebates he heard of in parts not very distant just as men of Gould-hurst or Mid-hurst may be heard of now. He connected the two as nine ethnologists out of ten, with equally limited data, would have done,--logically, but erroneously.

The professed Keltic scholar may carry the criticism further, and probably explain the occurrence of the names in question--and others like them--upon the principle just suggested. He may succeed in showing that the forms Belg-and Attrebat-, have a geographical or political signification. The first is one of importance. The same, or a similar, combination of sounds occurs in Blatum Bulg-ium, a station north of the Solway ; in the Numerus A-bul-corum stationed at Anderida; and in the famous Fir-bolgs of Ireland. Two observations apply to these last. Like the Attacotti [ATTACOTTI], they occur only in the fabulous portion of Irish history. Like the--libet in such words as quod-libet, quibus-libet, the Bolg is unflected, the fir-only being declined--so that the forms are Fir-Bolg (Belgae), Feroib-Bolg (Belgis). This is against the word being a true proper name. Lastly, it should be added, that, though the word Belgae in Britain is not generic, it is so in Gaul, where there is no such population as that of the Belgae, except so far as it is Nervian, Attrebatian, Menapian, &c.

That the Belgae of Britain were in the same ethnological category with the Belgae of Gaul, no more follows from the identity of name, than it follows that Cambro-Briton and Italian belong to the same family, because each is called Welsh. The truer evidence is of a more indirect nature, and lies in the fact of the Britannic Belgae being in the same category with the rest of the Britons, the rest of the Britons being as the Gauls, and the Gauls as the continental Belgae. That the first and last of these three propositions has been doubted is well known; in other words, it is well known that good writers have looked upon the Belgae as Germans. The Gallic Belgae, however, rather than the Britannic, are the tribes with whom this question rests. All that need be said here is, that of the three Belgic towns mentioned by Ptolemy (Ischalis, Aquae Sulis, and Venta), none is Germanic in name, whilst one is Latin, and the third eminently British, as may be seen by comparing the Venta Silurum and the Venta Icenorum with the Venta Belgarum.


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    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 2.3
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