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BRITANNICAE INSULAE (Νῆσοι Βρεταννικαὶ, Aristot. de Mund. 3; Ptol. 2.2.1, 3.1; Νῆσοι Βρεττανικαὶ, Plb. 3.57; Strab. ii. p.93; Βρεττανία, D. C. 59.21; Βριτταννία, Paus. 8.43.4; Νῆσοι Βρετάννιδες, Dionys. Per. 566; Βρεταννοί, Ibid. 283; Πρεταννικαὶ Νῆσοι, Marcian.: in Lat. Britannia, Britanni).


Assuming that the texts represent the best MSS., the orthography seems to be with the double τ in the Greek, and with the single t in the Latin classics, at least amongst the prose writers. In verse there is a slight difference. Though the Brĭtannia of the Latin is always short, the Greek form is not always long; on the contrary, Dionysius Periegetes gives--

---------------ἔνθα Βρεταννοὶ

Λεύκα τε φῦλα, κ.τ.λ. (283.)

Δισσαὶ νῆσοι ἔασι Βρετάννιδες, κ.τ.λ. (566.)

It must be remembered, however, that the earliest Greek poets who give us the name of the British Isles in any form are later than the majority of the Roman ones.


A statement in Procopius gives us a more equivocal form than any above-mentioned--Brittia (Βριττία and Βρεττία). The extent to which it is distinguished from Britannia may be seen in the extract itself; besides which there are several other passages to the same effect, i. e. distinguishing the Britanni of Britannia from the Brittones of Brittia. “About this time, war and contest arose between the nation of the Varni and the insular soldiers, who dwell in the island called Brittia, from the following cause. The Varni are seated beyond the river Ister, and they extend as far as the Northern Ocean and the river Rhine, which separates them from the: Franks and the other nations situated in this quarter. The whole of those, who formerly dwelt on either side of the river Rhine, had each a peculiar name, of which one tribe is called Germans, a name commonly applied to all. In this (northern) ocean lies the island Brittia, not far from the continent, but as much as 200 stadia, right opposite to the outlets of the Rhine, and is between Britannia and the island Thule. For Britannia lies somewhere towards the setting sun, at the extremity of the country of the Spaniards, distant from the continent not less than 4,000 stadia. But Brittia lies at the hindermost extremity of Gaul, where it borders on the ocean, that is to say, to the north of Spain and Britain; whereas Thule, so far as is known to men, lies at the farthest extremity of the ocean towards the north; but matters relating to Britain and Thule have been discoursed of in our former narrative. Three very numerous nations possess Brittia, over each of which a king presides, which nations are named Angili, Phrissones, and those surnamed from the island Britones; so great indeed appears the fecundity of these nations, that every year vast numbers migrating thence with their wives and children go to the Franks, who colonize.them in such places. as seem the most desert parts of their country; and upon this circumstance, they say, they formed a claim, to the island. Insomuch indeed, that not long since, the king of the Franks dispatching some of his own people on an embassy to the Emperor Justinian at Byzantium, sent them also certain of the Angili; thus making a show as though this island also was ruled by him. Such, then, are the [p. 1.431]matters relating to the island called Brittia.” (Procop. de Bell. Goth. 4.20.)

Brittia, then, was not Britannia. As little was it Thule. The Thule of Procopius seems to have been Scandinavia: “Thule is extremely large, being ten times larger than Britain, from which it is very far distant to the north.” (Bell. Goth. 2.15.)

The following passage engenders fresh complication:--“ Moreover, in this isle of Brittia, men of ancient time built a long wall, cutting off a great portion of it; for the soil and the men, and all other things, are not alike on both sides; for on the eastern side of the wall, there is an wholesomeness of air in conformity with the seasons, moderately warm in summer, and cool in winter. Many men inhabit here, living much as other men. The trees with their appropriate fruits flourish in season, and their corn lands are as productive as others; and the district appears sufficiently fertilized by streams. But on the western side all is different, insomuch indeed that it would be impossible for a man to live there even half an hour. Vipers and serpents innumerable, with all other kinds of wild beasts, infest that place; and what is most strange, the natives affirm, that if any one, passing the wall, should proceed to the other side, he would die immediately, unable to endure the unwholesomeness of the atmosphere; death also attacking such beasts as go thither, forth--with destroys them. But as I have arrived at this point of my history, it is incumbent on me to record a tradition very nearly allied to fable, which has never appeared to me true in all respects, though constantly spread abroad by men without number, who assert that themselves have been agents in the transactions, and also hearers of the words. I must not, however, pass it by altogether unnoticed, lest when thus writing concerning the island Brittia, I should bring upon myself an imputation of ignorance of certain circumstances perpetually happening there. They say, then, that the souls of men departed are always conducted to this place; but in what manner I will explain immediately, having frequently heard it from men of that region who relate it most seriously, although I would rather ascribe their asseverations to a certain dreamy faculty which possesses them.

On the coast of the land over against this island Brittia, in the ocean, are many villages, inhabited by men employed in fishing and in agriculture, and who for the sake of merchandize pass over to this island. In other respects they are subject to the Franks, but they never render them tribute; this burden, as they relate, having been of old remitted to them for a certain service which I shall immediately describe. The inhabitants declare that the conducting of souls devolves on them in turn. Such of them, therefore, as on the ensuing night are to go on this occupation in their turn of service, returning to their dwellings as soon as it grows dark, compose themselves to sleep, awaiting the conductor of the expedition. All at once, at night, they perceive that their doors are shaken, and they hear a certain indistinct voice, summoning them to their work. Without delay, arising from their beds, they proceed to the shore, not understanding the necessity which thus constrains them, yet nevertheless compelled by its influence. And here they perceive vessels in readiness, wholly void of men; not, however, their own, but certain strange vessels, in which embarking they lay hold on the oars, and feel their burden made heavier by a multitude of passengers, the boats being sunk to the gunwale and rowlock, and floating scarce a finger above the water. They see not a single person; but having rowed for one hour only, they arrive at Brittia; whereas, when they navigate their own vessels, not making use of sails, but rowing, they arrive there with difficulty, even in a night and a day. Having reached the island, and been released form their burden, they depart immediately, the boats quickly becoming light, suddenly emerging from the stream, and sinking in the water no deeper than the keel. These people see no human being either while navigating with them, nor when released from the ship. But they say that they hear a certain voice there, which seems to announce to such as receive them the name of all who have crossed over with them, and describing the dignities which they formerly possessed, and calling them over by their hereditary titles. And also if women happen to cross over with them, they call over the. names of the husbands with whom they lived. These, then, are the things which men of that district declare to take place; but I return to my former narrative.

” (Procop. Bell. Goth. 4.20, seq.; the translation from the Monumenta Britannica, pp. lxxxiv., seq.)

A reference to the article AESTUI will suggest the notion that one author of antiquity, at least, confounded the Prutheni (Prussians) of the Baltic with the Britanni of Britain, and that the language of the amber-country of East Prussia and Courland, which Tacitus calls Britannicae propior, was really Pruthenian. How far will the hypothesis of a similar confusion on the part of Procopius explain the difficult passages before us? It will not do so without the further alteration of certain minor details. In the first place, the locality of the Varni requires alteration. The Rhine of Procopius was probably the Elbe; on the northern bank of which, in the present duchies of Lauenburg and Mecklenburg Schwerin, we find the Varnavi, Warnabi, and Varnahi of the Carlovingian historians (Adam of Bremen, Helmoldus, &c.).

Two islands then claim notice, Heligoland and Rugen. The former lies more in conformity with the description of Procopius, and was almost certainly peopled by Frisians and Angles (in the eyes of whom it was a holy island), but not so certainly by any population akin to the Pruthenian, and, as such, likely to be confounded with the Britanni. Rugen, on the other hand, might easily have been so peopled, or, at least, it might be resorted to by the Pruthenians of Prussia and their allied populations. To the Angle and Frisian it would be less accessible, though by no means an impossible, locality. Each island, then, has its claims; but we may go a step further towards reconciling them.

Rugen and Heligoland are the two islands which have, upon different degrees of evidence, been supposed to represent the holy island, with its sacred grove (castum nemus) of the Germania of Tacitus,--an object of respectful visitation to the various tribes of Reudigni, Angli, Aviones, Varini, Eudoses, Suardones, and Nuithones (100.40); and the preceding remarks have led to the notion that the Brittia of Procopius and island of Tacitus are one and the same. Its relations to the Angli and Varini, its relations to Britain and Thule, its mysterious and holy character, all indicate this. So that what applies to the one applies to the other also. Yet the. statement of Tacitus is difficult. The very fact of [p. 1.432]some commentators identifying his island with Rugen, and others with Heligoland, shows this.

Now, the following are the reasons for believing that the Brittia of Procopius and the Island of the Sacred Grove of Tacitus, was neither Rugen exclusively, nor Heligoland exclusively; but a tertium quid, so to say, arising out of a confusion between the attributes of the two. The parts about the Lower Elbe were really in the neighbourhood of two holy islands; i. e., Rugen was as truly a holy island as Heligoland, and vice versâ. Heligoland, when the full light of history first illustrates its mythology, was the sacred isle of the Angles and Frisians, Germanic tribes whose worship would be that of the goddess Hertha. Rugen, when similarly illustrated, is just as sacred; sacred, however, not with the Germanic Angli, but with the Slavonic Varnahi ( Varini), near neighbours of the Angles, and not distant ones of the Prutheni. Now this, in the case of so good a writer as Tacitus, and, à fortiori, with one like Procopius, gives us the elements of a natural and excusable error,--since the holy islands with corresponding casta nemora were two in number, at no great distance from each other, and visited, respectively, by neighbouring nations. How easily would the writer, when he recognised the insular character of the two modes of cultus, refer them to one and the same island; how easily, when he knew the general fact that the Angli and Varini each worshipped in an island, be ignorant of the particular fact that each worshipped in a separate one.

The hypothesis, then, that explains the Brittia of Procopius, separates it from Britannia, identifies it with the island of the castumn nemus of Tacitus, and sees in the latter an island so far real as to be either Heligoland or Rugen, but so far unreal as to be made out of a mixture of the attributes of the two.

Lest the suggested confusion between the ancient names of Britain and Prussia be considered unlikely, the reader is reminded that the ss in the latter word represents the combination ts, or tsh, as is shown by the name Bruteno, the eponymus of the ancient Prussians:--“duces fuere duo, nempe Bruteno et Wudawutto, quorum alterum Bruteno sacerdotem crearunt, alterum scilicet Wudawutto in regem elegerunt.” (Fragment from the Borussorum Origo ex Domino Christiano, Voigt, vol. i. p. 621.)

Again, when we investigate the language in which the ultimate sources of the information of Tacitus lay, we find that it must have been either German or Slavonic. Now, in either case, the terms for British and Prussian would be alike, e.g.:--

English, British, Prussian.
German, Bryttisc, Pryttisc.
Slavonic, Britskaja, Prutskaja.


The term British Isles is an older name than Britannia; and the British Isles of the writers anterior to Caesar are the two large ones of Albion and Ierne, along with the numerous smaller ones that lie around and between them. Albion means England and Scotland; Ierne, Ire-land. The distinction between Britannia (== Great Britain), as opposed to Ierne, begins with Caesar; the distinction between Britannia (== South Britain),as opposed to Caledonia, is later still. The Greek writers keep the general powers of the term the longest.

Herodotus, as may be expected, is the earliest author who mentions any country that can pass for our island, writing, “that of the extremities of Europe towards the west” he “cannot speak with certainty. Nor” is he “acquainted with the islands called Cassiterides, from which tin is brought” (3.115). A refinement upon this passage will be found in the sequel, embodying a reason, more or less valid, for believing that between the Azores and the British Isles a confusion may have arisen.--the one being truly the Cassiterides (or Tin Islands), and the other the Oestrymnides, a different group. However, as the criticism stands at present, the two words are synonymous, and the knowledge of the one group implies that of the other,--the designation only being varied.

Still, taking the text of Herodotus as it stands, the real fact it embodies is that the tin country of western Europe was known to him; though, whether all the statements that apply to it are unequivocal, is doubtful. His sources were, of course, Phoenician.

So are those of Aristotle:--“Beyond the Pillars of Hercules the ocean flows round the earth; in this ocean, however, are two islands, and those very large, called Bretannic, Albion and Ierne, which are larger than those before mentioned, and lie beyond the Kelti; and other two not less than these, Taprobane beyond the Indians, lying obliquely in respect of the main land, and that called Phebol, situate over against the Arabic Gulf; moreover, not a few small islands, around the Bretannic Isles and Iberia, encircle as with a diadem this earth, which we have already said to be an island.” (De Mundo, 100.3.)

Polybius' notice contains nothing that is not involved in those of Aristotle and Herodotus, special mention being made of the tin (3.57).

The assertion that Herodotus is the first author who mentions the British Isles, merely means that he is the first author whose name, habitation, and date are clear, definite, and unequivocal. What if a notice occur in the Orphic poems, so-called? In such a case the date is earlier or later according to the views of the authorship. This may be later than the time of Herodotus, or it may not. It is earlier, if we refer the extract to any of the Onomacratean forgeries. Be this as it may, the ship Argo, in a so-called Orphic poem, is made to say (1163):--

Νῦν γὰρ δὴ λυγρῇ τε καὶ ἀλγεινῇ κακότητι

Ἔρχομαι ἤν νήσοισιν Ἰερνίσιν ἆσσον ῾ίκωμαι, κ.τ.λ.

And again (1187):-- ἵν᾽ εὐρέα δώματ᾽ ἀνάσσης Δημητρός.

Now, nothing is more certain than that, when we get to notices of Britain which are at one and the same time Roman in origin, and unequivocal in respect to the parts to which they apply, nothing explanatory of these Demetrian rites appears. And it is almost equally certain, that when we meet with them--and we do so meet with them--in writers of the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, the passages in which the allusion occurs must by no means be considered as independent evidence; on the contrary, they are derived from the same source with the Orphic extracts, and may possibly [see CASSITERIDES and OESTRYMNIDES] have their application elsewhere.

Strabo and Diodorus, though later than Caesar, are more or less in the same predicament. Their authorities were those of Herodotus and Aristotle.

Caesar himself must be criticised from two points of view. It may be that, in nine cases out of ten, he [p. 1.433]writes as Caesar the personal observer; yet in the tenth, perhaps oftener, he writes as Caesar the scholar. This is better shown in Gaul than in Britain. His specific details are his own. His generalities are taken from the Alexandrian geographers.

Strabo's authority, in respect to the similarity of the British rites to those of Ceres, was also an Alexandrian, Artemidorus (iv. p. 277).

Ptolemy's notices are important. He specially quotes Marinus Tyrius, and, generally, seems to speak on the strength of Phoenician authorities. His account of Great Britain, both in respect to what it contains and what it omits, stands in contrast to those of all the Roman authors; and, besides this, he is as minute in the geography of Hibernia, as in that of Britannia and Caledonia. Now Ireland was a country that, so far as it was known at all, was known through the Greeks, the Iberians, and the Phoenicians (Punic or Proper Phoenician, as the case might be), rather than through the Britons, Gauls, and Romans.

How far were the Oestrymnides and Cassiterides exclusively Britannic?--A question has been suggested which now claims further notice. Just as a statement that applies to Brittia may not apply to Britain, a statement that applies to the Cassiterides may not always apply to the Tin Country. The true tin country was Cornwall, rather than the Scilly Isles; the Cassiterides, “ten in number, lying near each other in the ocean, towards the north from the haven of the Artabri” (Strab. iii. p.239), are the Scilly Isles rather than Cornwall. Again, “one of them is a desert, but the others are inhabited by men in black cloaks, clad in tunics reaching to the feet, and girt about the breast, walking with staves, and bearded like goats. They subsist by their cattle, leading for the most part a wandering life.” This may or may not be Cornish; it may or may not be British. The following is both: viz., that “they have metals of tin and lead.” Hence, some part of Strabo's account is undoubtedly, some part probably, British. In the next writer, however, we find, side by side with something that must be British, something that cannot be so. That writer is Festus Avienus. The islands he notices are the Oestrymnides; his authority, Phoenician. His language requires notice in detail.

Sub hujus autem prominentis vertice
Sinus dehiscit incolis Oestrymnicus
In quo Insulae sese exserunt Oestrymnides,
Laxe jacentes, et metallo divites
Stanni atque plumbi.

Thus far the Oestrymnides are Britannic. Then follows a sketch of their occupants, equally Britannic. So is the geographical notice as to their relations to Ireland:

Ast hinc duobus in Sacram (sic Insulam

Dixere prisci) solibus cursus rati est.
Haec inter undas multa cespitem jacet,
Eamque late gens Hibernorum colit.
Propinqua rursus insula Albionum patet.

The term Sacra Insula shows two things:--1st, that the name Eri is of great antiquity; 2nd, that it passed from the Phoenician language to the Greek, wherein Eri became Ἱέρα (Νῆσος).

What follows is any but British:--

Tartessiisque in terminos Oestrymnidum.
Negotiandi mos erat; Carthaginis
Etiam coloni, et vulgus, inter Herculis
Agitans columnas haec adibat aequora:
Quae Himilco Poenus mensibus vix quatuor, Ut ipse semet re probasse retulit
Enavigantem, posse transmitti adserit,
* * * * * * *
Adjicit et illud plurimum inter gurgites
Exstare fucum, et saepe virgulti vice
Retinere puppim; dicit hie nihilominus
Non in profundum terga demitti maris
Parvoque aquarum vix supertexi solum.
Orae Maritim. Descript. 1. 94, et seq.

This, as already stated, is not Britannic; yet is not a fiction. The fucus that checked the hardy mariners of Himilco was the floating Sargassum of the well-known Sargasso Sea. In the eyes of the naturalist this floating fucus fixes the line of Himilco's voyage as definitely as the amber-country fixes. the Aestui of Tacitus. Yet the Cassiterides are not simply and absolutely the Azores, nor yet are the Oestrymnides simply and absolutely the Scilly Isles. As in the supposed case of the isles of Rugen and Heligoland, there is a confusion of attributes--a confusion of which the possibility must be recognised, even by those who hesitate to admit the absolute fact,--a confusion which should engender caution in our criticism, and induce us to weigh each statement as much on its own merits as on the context. That there were orgies in Britain, and that there was tin, stand upon the same testimony, since Strabo mentions both. Yet the certainty of the two facts is very different. The orgies--and even the black tunics and long beards--may, possibly, be as little British as the fucus of the Sargasso Sea. The fucus of the Sargasso Sea belongs to the Azores. Its notice is a great fact in the history of early navigation. The orgies and the bearded men may go with it, or go with the tin.

Upon the whole, the notices of certain isles of the west, as often as they occur in authors writing from Phoenician sources, are only unimpeachably Britannic when they specially and definitely speak to the tin-country and the tin-trade, and when they contain British names, or other facts equally unequivocal. The Britannic locality of the Demetrian orgies (in the later writers they become Bacchic) is only a probability.

The Roman authorities will be considered when the historical sketch of Roman Britain is attempted. The point that at present requires further notice is the extent to which the two sources differ.

As a general rule, the Greek authorities differ from the Roman in being second-hand (i. e. derived from Phoenicia), in dealing with the western parts of the island, in grouping their facts around the leading phenomena of the tin trade, in recognising the existence of certain orgies, and in being, to a certain extent, liable to the charge of having confused Britain with the Azores, or the true Cassiterides with the Oestrymnides: the Roman authorities, so far as they are based upon Greek ones, being in the same category. Josephus, who alludes incidentally to Britain, is à fortiori Phoenician in respect to his sources.

The Phoenician origin of the Greek evidence is the general rule; but it is only up to a certain date that the Greek authorities are of the kind in question; i. e. Phoenician in their immediate origin. It is only up to the date of the foundation of the colony of Massilia (Marseilles), when commerce had developed itself, and when there were two routes of traffic--one viâ the Spanish ports and in the hands of the Phoenicians, the other overland. [p. 1.434]

Of the latter Diodorus gives an account. It was probably the Massilian Greeks that converted Ιερ-νη into Ἱέρα Νῆσος. See HIBERNIA

The Byzantine historians will be noticed in the sequel.


Supposing the Phoenicians to have been the first who informed the Greeks of a country named Britain, who informed the Phoenicians? in other words, in what language did the names Britanni and Britannia originate? The usual doctrine is that these were native terms; i. e. that the occupants of the British Islands called themselves so, and were therefore so called by their neighbours. Yet this is by no means certain.

The most certain fact connected with the gloss is that it was Greek before it was Roman. Whence did the Greeks get it? From one of two sources. From the Phoenicians, if they had it anterior to the foundation of Marseilles, and from the population of the parts around that city in case they got it subsequent to that event. Now, if it were Phoenician, whence came it originally? More probably from Spain than from either Gaul or Britain--in which case Britannia is the Iberic name, for certain British islanders rather than the native one. It may, of course, have been native as well: whether it were so is a separate question.

And if it were Massilian (i. e. from the neighbourhood of Marseilles), whence came it? Probably from the Gauls of the parts around. But this is only a probability. It may have been Iberic even then; since it is well known that the Iberians of the Spanish Peninsula extended so far westward as the Lower Rhone. Hence, as the question stands at present, the presumption is rather in favour of the word being Iberic.

Again, the form is Iberic. The termination -tan, comparatively rare in Gaul, abounds in the geography of ancient Iberia; e. g. Turde-tan-i, Carpe-tan-i, &c.

In all speculations. upon the etymology of words, the preliminary question as to the language to which the word under notice is to be referred is of importance. In the present instance it is eminently so. If the root Brit. be Gallic (or Keltic), the current etymologies, at least, deserve notice. If, however, it be Iberic, the philologist has been on the wrong track altogether, has looked in the wrong language for his doctrine, and must correct his criticism by abandoning the Keltic, and having recourse to the Basque. Again, if the word be Iberic, the t is no part of the root, but only an inflexional element. Lest, however, we overvalue the import of the form--tan being Iberic, we must remember that the similarly-formed name Aqui-tan-ia, occurs in Gaul; but, on the other hand, lest we overvalue the import of this, we must remember that Aquitania itself may possibly be Iberic.

Probably the word was Iberic and Gallic as well. It was certainly Gallic in Caesar's time. But it may have been Gallic without having been native, i. e. British. And this was probably the case. There is not a shadow of evidence to the fact of any part of the population of the British Isles having called themselves Britons. They were called so by the Gauls; and the Gallic name was adopted by the Romans. This was all. The name may have been strange to the people to whom it was so applied, as the word Welsh is to the natives of the Cambro-Briton principality.

Probably, too, it was only until the trade of Massilia had become developed that the root Brit. was known at all. As long as the route was viâ Spain, and the trade exclusively Phoenician, the most prominent of the British isles was Ireland. The Orphic extract speaks only to the Iernian Isles, and Herodotus only to the Cassiterides.


One of the instruments in the reconstruction of the history of the early commerce and the early civilising influences of Britain is to be found in the fact of its being one of the few localities of a scantily-diffused metal--tin. This, like the amber of the coasts of Prussia and Courland, helps us by means of archaeology to history. Yet it is traversed by the fact of the same metal being found in the far east--in Banca and the Malayan peninsula. Hence, when we find amongst the antiquities of Assyria and Egypt--the countries of pre-eminent antiquity--vessels and implements of bronze, the inference that the tin of that alloy was of British origin is by no means indubitable. It is strengthened indeed by our knowledge of an actual trade between Phoenicia and Cornwall; but still it is not unexceptionable. When, however, writers so early as Herodotus describe tin as a branch of Phoenician traffic in the fifth century B.C., we may reasonably carry its origin to an earlier date; a date which, whatever may be the antiquity of the Aegyptian and Assyrian alloys, is still reasonable. An early British trade is a known fact, an equally early Indian one a probability. In round numbers we may lay the beginning of the Phoenician intercourse with Cornwall at B.C. 1000.

The next question is the extent to which the metallurgic skill thus inferred was native. So far as this was the case, it is undoubtedly a measure of our indigenous civilisation. Now if we remember that it was almost wholly for tin that the Phoenicians sought the Cassiterides, we shall find it difficult to deny to the earliest population of the tin-districts some knowledge and practice--no matter how slight--of of metallurgic art; otherwise, it must have been either an instinct or an accident that brought the first vessel from the Mediterranean to the coast of Cornwall. Some amount, then, of indigenous metallurgy may be awarded to its occupants.

Perhaps they had the art of smelting copper as well--though the reasoning in favour of this view is of the à priori kind. Copper is a metal which is generally the first to be worked by rude nations; so that whenever a metal less reducible is smelted, it is fair to assume that the more reducible ore is smelted also. On the other hand, however, the absence of pure copper implements in the old tumuli suggests the notion that either the art of alloying was as old as that of smelting, or else that tin was smelted first.

From the knowledge of reduction and alloys, we may proceed to the question as to the knowledge of the art of casting. The main fact here is the discovery of moulds, both of stone and bronze, for the casting of axes and spear-heads. The former we can scarcely suppose to have been imported, whatever opinion we may entertain respecting the latter. Whether the invention, however, of either was British, or whether the Phoenicians showed the way, is uncertain. The [p. 1.435]extent to which the moulds of different countries--France, Germany, Scandinavia--resemble each other, even in points of apparently arbitrary detail, is (to a certain extent) against the native claim.

The uniformity of the alloy is no more than what we expect from the chemical conditions necessary for the achievement of a good implement--indeed it is rather less. It varies from one of tin and seven of copper, to one of tin and twelve of copper; whilst it is the opinion of experienced metallurgists that the best alloy (one tin to ten copper) could easily be hit upon by different artists wholly independent of intercommunication.

The Damnonian Britons sold tin. What did they take in payment? In all histories of commerce these questions are correlative. Dr. Wilson (Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, p. 196) truly remarks that Strabo's account of the Cassiterides is not greatly to be relied on. For their tin and lead they took in exchange salt, skins, and bronze vessels (χαλκώματα). This latter is a strange article of import for a country of tin, copper, and moulds.

The earliest gloss that has a bearing upon the geography of Britain is the word Cassiterides; for it must be observed that whilst the word Britannia is non-existent in Herodotus, the Orphic extract knows only the Irish (Iernian) isles. Now this, though bearing upon Britain, is no British word. It is the oriental term Kastîra.

This distinction is important. Were the word British in origin, we should be enabled to enhance the antiquity of the Cornish tin-trade--since the word κασσίτερος occurs both in Homer and Hesiod. Who, however, shall say that, however much the probabilities may be in favour of the Homeric and Hesiodic tin having been Cornish, it was not Indian--i. e. Malayan? The name, at least, is in favour of the greater antiquity of the Eastern trade. The two trades may have been concurrent; the Eastern being the older--at least this is what is suggested by the name.


We may now deal with the proper British portion of the British isles, i. e. South Britain and Caledonia.


When the archaeological period ceases and the true and proper civil history of Britain begins, we find that a portion of the island, at least, was in political relations with Gaul--Divitiacus, the king of the Suessiones, a Belgic tribe, holding the sovereignty. In the following year these relations are also Gallic, and the Veneti, of the parts about the present town of Vannes, obtain assistance against Caesar from the Britons. Thus early are our maritime habits attested. In chastisement of this, Caesar prepares his first invasion (B.C. 55); Volusenus, one of his lieutenants, having been sent on beforehand, to reconnoitre.

We may measure the intercourse between Britain and Gaul by some of the details of these events. His intended invasion is known almost as soon as it is determined on, and ambassadors are sent from Britain to avert it. These are sent back, and along with them Commius the Attrebatian, of whose influence in Britain Caesar made use. Having embarked from Gessoriacum, lands; is opposed; conquers; and again receives an embassy. His fleet suffers during the high tides of the month of August, and in September he returns to Gaul. His successes (such as they are) are announced by letter at Rome, and honoured with a twenty-day festival.

His second expedition takes place in the May of the following year. He is opposed on landing by Cassivelaunus. The details of this second expedition carry us as far westward as the present county of Herts,--wherein the Hundred of Cassio is reasonably supposed to give us the stockaded village, or head-quarters of Cassivelaunus, with whom the Trinobantes, Cenomagni, Ancalites, and Bibroci are in political relations. The reduction of Cassivelaunus is incomplete, and Caesar, when he departs from the island, departs with the whole of his army, and with the real independence of the country unimpaired. The boundary between the counties of Oxford and Berks seems to have been the most western part of the area affected, either directly or indirectly, by the second invasion of Caesar. The first was confined to the coast.

The best evidence as to the condition of Britain under Augustus is that of the Monumentum Ancyranum:


The commentary on this comes no earlier than Dio Cassius. From him we learn, that although it was the intention of the emperor to have reduced Britain, he proceeded no farther than Gaul, where he received an embassy. So late a writer as Jornandes is our authority for believing that he exercised sovereignty over it,--“servire coegit, Romanisque legibus vivere” (De Regn. Success.)--for the inscription only shows that certain Britons sought the presence of Augustus at Rome. The further statement that tribute was taken is from the utterly uncritical Nennius, whose evidence seems to rest upon the scriptural expression that “all the world was taxed,” and upon the inference that, if so, à fortiori, Britain. His text is

tenente Octaviano Augusto Monarchiam totius mundi; et censure ex Britannia ipse solus accepit; ut Virgilius,

Purpurea intexti tollunt aulaea Britanni.

The use of the word census instead of tributum is important. The original word is κῆνσος; and, Nennius, who uses it, took his English history from the Evangelists.

A single event is referrible to the reign of Tiberius. The petty kings (reguli) sent back to Germanicus some of his soldiers, who had been either thrown on the coast of Britain by stress of weather, or sold. (Tac. Ann. 2.24.) Friendly relations is all that is proved by this passage. The notion that Tiberius succeeded to the empire, and (amongst other nations) ruled Britain, rests on a passage of Henry of Huntingdon, evidently an inference from the likelihood of the successor of Augustus exercising the same sway as Augustus himself.--“Tiberius, privignus Augusti, post eum regnavit annos xxiii, tam super Britannianm quam super alia regna totius mundi.”

The evidence of Caligula's intentions is essentially the same as that of Augustus: namely, Dio Cassius. Caligula having passed the Rhine, “seemed to meditate an attack upon Britain, but retreated from the very ocean.” (59.21.) Then follows the account [p. 1.436]of his giving orders that the shells of the sea-shore should be picked up, and a conquest over the sea itself be announced (100.25). The story appears in Suetonius also: as do the details concerning Adminius, the son of Cynobelin. Expelled from Britain by his father, he crossed the channel with a few followers, and placed himself under the power of Caligula, who magnified the event into a cession of the whole island. (Suet. Cal. 44.)

It is safe to say that the bonâ fide reduction of Britain begins no earlier than the reign of Claudius; the tribute that was paid to Augustus being wholly unhistorical, and the authority of Tiberius a mere inference from a notice of it. In simple truth, the reign of Cynobelin, coinciding with that of the last-named emperor, gives us the measure of the early British civilisation--civilisation which was of native, of Gallic, of Gallo-Roman, of Phoenician, and Ibero-Phoenician origin.

The reign of Cynobelin is illustrated by coins. Whether these were struck in Gaul or Britain is uncertain. Neither is the question important. Wherever the mint may have been, the legend is in Roman letters; whilst numerous elements of the classical mythology find place on both sides of the coins; e. g. a Pegasus, a Head of Ammon, a Hercules, a Centaur, &c.: on the other hand, the names are British; TASCIOVANUS, with SEGO-; ibid, with VER-; ibid, with CYNOBELIN ; CYNOBELIN alone; CYNOBELIN with CAMVL-; ibid, with SO-LIDV-; ibid, with A . ., or V . .; ibid, with VERULUMUM. Of course, the interpretations of these legends have been various; the notion, however, that Tasciovanus, sometimes alone, and sometimes conjointly with a colleague, was the predecessor of Cynobelin, and that Cynobelin, sometimes alone and sometimes with a colleague, was the successor of Tasciovanus, seems reasonable.

The reduction of Britain by the Romans begins with the reign of Claudius: on coins we find the name of that emperor, and on inscriptions those of his generals Plautius and Suetonius.

The next earliest coins to those of Claudius bear the name of Hadrian. Wales westwards and Yorkshire northwards (the Silures, Ordovices, and Brigantes) were more or less completely reduced before the accession of Nero.

By Nero, Suetonius Paulinus is sent into Britain, and under him Agricola takes his first lessons in soldiership. A single inscription preserves the name of Paulinus. The next in point of date belongs to the reign of Nerva. The Agricola, however, of Tacitus has the historical value of contemporary evidence. From this we learn that the work of Nero's general was the recovery and consolidation of the conquests made under Claudius rather than the achievement of new additions. The famous queen of the Iceni (Norfolk and Suffolk) is the centre of the groupe here. Subordinate to her are the Druids and Bards of the Isle of Anglesey, their chief stronghold, where they are reduced by Paulinus. Lastly comes the usurious philosopher Seneca, who, having lent a large sum in Britain, suddenly calls it in. The distress thus created is the cause of the revolt--a measure of the extent to which Roman habits (either directly from Italy, or indirectly from Romanised Gaul) had established themselves.

Reduction and consolidation, rather than acquisition, seems to have been the rule during the short reigns of Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, and the first ten years of the reign of Vespasian.

These objects employed Agricola during his first two campaigns. In the third, however (A.D. 80), he advanced from the northern boundaries of the Brigantes to the Firth of Tay; and the five next years were spent in the exploration of parts before unknown, in new conquests more or less imperfect, in the formation of ambitious designs (including the reduction of Ireland), and in the circumnavigation of Great Britain. A line of forts between the Firths of Forth and Clyde was the limit of the Roman Empire in Britain, as left by Agricola. What had been done beyond this had been done imperfectly. The battle on the Grampian Range, against the Caledonians of Galgacus, had ended in the Horesti giving hostages. The reduction of the Orkneys is mentioned by Tacitus in a general and somewhat lax manner--not as a specific historical fact, in its proper place, and in connection with other events, but as an obiter dictum arising out of the notice of the circumnavigation of the Island,--“incognitas, ad id tempus, insulas, Orcadas invenit domuitque. Despecta est et Thule.”

A revolt under Arviragus is incidentally mentioned as an event of the reign of Domitian.

For the reign of Trajan we have inscriptions; for that of Hadrian inscriptions and coins as well: coins, too, for the reigns of the two Antonines, and Commodus,--but no contemporary historian. It is the evidence of Spartianus (Hadr. 11) upon which the belief that “a wall eighty miles in length, dividing the Romans from the barbarians, was first built by Hadrian” is grounded. Dion, as he appears in the compendium of Xiphilinus, merely mentions a “wall between the Roman stations and certain nations of the island.” (72.8.) This raises a doubt. The better historian, Dion, may as easily mean the wall of Agricola as aught else: the inferior one, Spartianus, is evidently wrong in his expression “primus duxit,” and may easily be wrong in his account altogether. The share that different individuals took in the raising of the British walls and ramparts is less certain than is usually believed. We have more builders than structures.

That Antoninus (Pius) deprived the Brigantes of a portion of their land because they had begun to overrun the country of the Genuini, allied to Rome, is a statement of Pausanias (8.43.4.) No one else mentions these Genuini. Neither is it easy to imagine who they could have been. Genuini, independent enough to be allies rather than subjects, and Brigantes, who could be free to conquer them, are strange phenomena for the reign of Antoninus. The possibility of German or Scandinavian settlers, thus early and thus independent, is the only clue to the difficulty. The evidence, however, to the fact is only of third-rate value.

The Vallum Antonini seems to have been a reality. Its true basis is the following inscription:






MMM CCXL P. (Monumnenta Britannica, No. 48.)

Others give the name of his Lieutenant Lollius Urbicus; but this alone mentions the OPUS VALLI. The author nearest the date of the event commemorated is Capitolinus. By him we are told that the rampart was of turf, and that it was a [p. 1.437]fresh one,--“Britannos--vicit, alio muro cespiticio--ducto.” (Anton. Pius, 5.)

Coercion and consolidation are still the rule; the notices for the reigns of Commodus and Pertinax, though brief and unimportant, being found in so good an historian as Dion. Dion, too, is the chief authority for the reign of Severus. He would have been sufficient single-handed; but he is supported by both coins and inscriptions. At the same time, he never attributes the erection of any wall to Severus. On the contrary, he speaks of one as already existing. Spartianus is the authority for the usual doctrine. (Sever. 18.)

When Caledonia--as opposed to Britain in general--comes under notice, a further reference to the text of Dion respecting the actions of Severus will be made.

A.D. 211, on the fourth of February, Severus dies at York. British history, never eminently clear, now becomes obscurer still. An occasional notice is all that occurs until the reign of Diocletian. This begins A.D. 284. The usurpers Carausius and Allectus now appear in the field. So do nations hitherto unnoticed--the Franks and the Saxons. Whatever may be the value of the testimony of Gildas, Beda, and the other accredited sources of Anglo-Saxon history, in respect to the fact of Hengist and Horsa having at a certain time, and in a certain place, invaded Britain; the evidence that they were the first Germans who did so is utterly insufficient. The Panegyric of Eumenius--and we must remember that, however worthless the panegyrists may be as authors, they have the merit of being contemporary to the events they describe--contains the following remarkable passage:--“By so thorough a consent of the Immortal Gods, O unconquered Caesar, has the extermination of all the enemies, whom you have attacked, and of the Franks more especially, been decreed, that even those of your soldiers, who, having missed their way on a foggy sea, reached the town of London, destroyed promiscuously and throughout the city the whole remains of that mercenary multitude of barbarians, that, after escaping the battle, sacking the town, and, attempting flight, was still left--a deed, whereby your provincials were not only saved, but delighted by the sight of the slaughter.” (Eumen. Panegyr. Constant. Caes.

The Franks and Picts are first mentioned in Britain in the reign of Diocletian: the Attacotts and Scots under that of Julian (A.D. 360). The authorities now improve--being, chiefly, Ammianus Marcellinus and Claudian. It will, nevertheless, be soon seen that the ethnology of Britain is as obscure as its archaeology. The abandonment of the isle by the Romans, and its reduction by the Saxons, are the chief events of the 5th and 6th centuries, all obscure. It is even more difficult to say how the Germanic populations displaced the Roman, than how the Roman displaced the Keltic.

And this introduces a new question, a question already suggested, but postponed, viz.: the value of the writers of the beginning of the Byzantine and the end of the proper Roman period. It is evident that no author much earlier than the times of Honorius and Arcadius can tell us much about the decline and fall of the Roman supremacy in the west. It is evident, too, that the literature passes from Paganism to Christianity. Procopius is the most important of the Pagans. The little he tells us of Britain is correct, though unimportant; for it must be remembered, that his blunders and confusion are in respect to Brittia. This, as aforesaid, he separates from Britannia. Those who confound the two are ourselves--the modern writers.

To Jornandes we refer in vain for anything of value; although from the extent to which he was the historian of certain nations of Germanic extraction, and from the degree to which Britain was in his time Germanised, we expect more than we find. Hence from the time of Ammianus to the time of Gildas--the earliest British and Christian writer of our island--from about A.D. 380 to A.D. 550--we have no author more respectable than Orosius. He alone, or nearly so, was known to the native historians, and what he tells us is little beyond the names of certain usurpers. When Britain is next known to the investigator, it has ceased to be Roman. It is German, or Saxon, instead. Such is the sketch of the history of Roman Britain, considered more especially in respect to the authorities on which it rests. The value of the only author who still demands notice, Richard of Cirencester, is measured in the article MORINI.


It is well known that the bulk of the South Britons of Caesar's time belonged to the same stock as the Gauls, and that the Gauls were Kelts. But whether the North Britons were in the same category; whether the Britons of Caesar were descended from the first occupants of the islands; and, lastly, whether the population was wholly homogeneous, are all points upon which opinions vary. A reference to the article BELGAE shows that, for that population, a Germanic affinity has been claimed; though, apparently, on insufficient grounds. The population of North Britain may have been, such as it is now, Gaelic. Occupants, too, earlier than even the earliest Kelts of any kind, have been assigned to the island by competent archaeologists. Nothing less than an elaborate monograph specially devoted to the criticism of these complicated points, would suffice for the exhibition of the arguments on both sides. The present notice can contain only the result of the writer's investigations.

Without either denying or affirming the existence of early Iberian, German, or Scandinavian settlements in particular localities, he believes them to have been exceedingly exceptional; so that, to all intents and purposes, the population with which the Phoenicians traded and the Romans fought were Kelts of the British branch, i. e. Kelts whose language was either the mother-tongue of the present Welsh, or a form of speech closely allied to it.

The ancestors of this population he believes to have been the earliest occupants of South Britain at least. Were they so of North Britain? There are points both of internal and external evidence in this question. In the way of internal evidence it is certain, that even in those parts of Scotland where the language is most eminently Gaelic, and, as such, more especially connected with the speech of Ireland, the oldest geographical terms are British rather than Erse. Thus, the word for mountain is ben, and never sliabh, as in Ireland. Again, the words aber and inver, in such words as Aber-nethy and Inver-nethy, have long been recognised as the Shibboleths (so to say) of the British and Gaelic populations. They mean the same thing--a mouth of a river, sometimes the junction of two. Now whilst aber [p. 1.438]is never found in the exclusively and undoubtedly Gaelic country of Ireland, inver is unknown in Wales. Both occur in Scotland. But how are they distributed? Mr. Kemble, who has best examined the question, finds that the line of separation “between the Welsh or Pictish, and the Scotch or Irish, Kelts, if measured by the occurrence of these names, would run obliquely from SW. to NE., straight up Loch Fyne, following nearly the boundary between Perthshire and Argyle, trending to the NE. along the present boundary between Perth and Inverness, Aberdeen and Inverness, Banf and Elgin, till about the mouth of the river Spey.” On the one side are the Aber-corns, Aber-deens, and Aber-dours, which are Welsh or British ; on the other the Inver-arys and Inver-aritys, which are Irish and Gaelic. Now, assuredly, a British population which runs as far north as the mouth of Spey, must be considered to have been the principal population of Caledonia. How far it was aboriginal and exclusive is another question. The external evidence comes in here, though it is not evidence of the best kind. It lies in the following extract from Beda : “procedente autem tempore, Britannia, post Brittones et Pictos, tertiam Scotorum nationem in Pictoram parte recepit, qui duce Reuda de Hibernia progressi vel amicitia vel ferro sibimet inter eos sedes quas hactenus habent vindicarunt: a quo videlicet duce usque hodie Dalreudini vocantur; nam lingua eorum ‘Dal’ partem significat.” (Hist. Eccles. i.) This passage is generally considered to give us either an Irish or a Scotch tradition. This may or may not be the case. The text nowhere connects itself with anything of the kind. It is just as likely to give us an inference of Beda's own, founded on the fact of there being Scots in the north-east of Ireland and in the south-west of Scotland. It is, also, further complicated by the circumstance of the gloss dal being not Keltic, but Norse, i. e. Danish or Norwegian.

The evidence, then, of the present Gaelic population of Scotland being of Irish origin, and the corresponding probability of the earliest occupancy of Caledonia having been British, lies less in the so-called tradition, than in the absence of the term sliabh == mountain; the distribution of the forms in aber; and, above all, the present similarity between the Irish and Scotch Gaelic--a similarity which suggests the notion that the separation is comparatively recent. They are far, however, from deciding the question. That South Briton was British, and Ireland Gaelic, is certain. That Scotland was originally British, and afterwards Gaelic, is probable.

The Gaels and Britons are the fundamental populations of the British Isles. The Picts were either aboriginal or intrusive. If aboriginal, they were, like the Gaels and Britons, Keltic. Whether, however, they were Gaelic Kelts or British Kelts, or whether they constituted a third branch of that stock, is doubtful.

If it were absolutely certain that every word used on Pictish ground belonged to the Pict form of speech, the inference that they were aborigines rather than intrusive settlers, and Britons rather than Gaels, would be legitimate. The well-known gloss penn fahel == caput valli is a gloss from the Pict district, of which the first part is British. In Gaelic, the form == pen == head is ceann. Neither does this stand alone. The evidence in favour of the British affinities can be strengthened. But what if the gloss be Pict, only in the way that father or mother, &c. are Welsh; i. e. words belonging to some other tongue spoken in the Pict country? In such a case the Picts may be Gaels, Germans, Scandinavians, &c. Now the word dal, to which attention has already been drawn, was not Scottish, i. e. not Gaelic. It probably was strange to the Scottish language, notwithstanding the testimony of Beda. If not Scot, however, it was almost certainly Pict. Yet it is, and was, pure Norse. Its existence cannot be got over except by making either the Scots or Picts Scandinavian. Each alternative has its difficulties: the latter the fewest. Such are the reasons for believing that the Picts are less unequivocally British than the researches of the latest and best investigators have made them. And Beda, it should be remembered, derives them from Scythia; adding that they came without females. This, perhaps, is only an inference; yet it is a just one. The passage that he supplies speaks to an existing custom: “Cumque uxores Picti non habentes peterent a Scottis, ea solum conditione dare consenserunt, ut ubi res perveniret in dubium, magis de foeminea regum prosapia quam de masculina regem sibi eligerent: quod usque hodie apud Pictos constat esse servatum.” (Hist. Eccles. i.) Now, whatever may be the value of this passage, it entirely neutralises the evidence embodied in a well-known list of Pict kings. Here the names are Keltic,--chiefly British,--but,in two or three cases, Gaelic. Whichever they were, they were not Pict.

The Picts, then, may or may not have been intrusive rather than aboriginal. The ancestors of the present English were certainly in the former category. Whence were they? When did their intrusion begin? They were Germans. This is certain. But how were they distributed amongst the different divisions and subdivisions of the German populations? The terms Saxon and Frank tell us nothing. They were general names of a somewhat indefinite import. It is, perhaps, safe to say, that they were Frisians and Angles, rather than aught else; and, next to these, Scandinavians. This they may have been to a certain extent, even though the Picts were Keltic.

The date of their intrusion, in some form or other, was long earlier than the aera of Hengist and Horsa; and it is only by supposing that an author in the unfavourable position of Gildas was likely to be correct in the hazardous delivery of a negative assertion, and that in the very face of the notice of Eumenius and others, that the usual date can be supported. In proportion as their invasions were early their progress must have been gradual. In the opinion of the present writer, the Saxons and Franks of the later classics are certainly the lineal predecessors of the Angles of England; the Picts possibly the lineal predecessors of the Northmen,--i. e. on the father's side.

The ethnology, then, of Britain takes the following forms:--

  • 1. In Hibernia, a Gaelic basis suffers but slight modification and admixture; whereas,--
  • 2. In Britannia,--
    • a. South Britain is British, and Britanno-Roman, with Phoenician, Gaelic, and Germanic elements,--the latter destined to replace all the others; whilst,
    • b. North Britain is British, and Gaelic, with Pict elements--whatever they were--of admixture in larger proportions than South Britain, and Roman elements in smaller.

The Roman element was itself complex; and, in minute ethnology, it may, perhaps, be better to speak of the Legionary population rather than of the Latin. This is because a Roman population might be anything [p. 1.439]but native to Rome. It might be strange to Italy, strange to the Italian language. What might thus have been the case, actually was so. The imperial forces which occupied Britain, and supplied what is usually called the Roman element to the original Keltic basis, were Germans, Gauls, Iberians, &c., as the case might be; rarely pure Roman. The Notitia Utriusque Imperii, a document referrible to some time subsequent to the reign of Valens,--inasmuch as it mentions the Province of Valentia,--gives us, as elements of our Legionary population,--

  • 1. Germans, i. e. Tungricani, Tungri, Turnacenses, Batavi.
  • 2. Gauls: Nervii (in three quarters), Morini (see in voc.), Galli.
  • 3. Iberians: Hispani.
  • 4. Probable Slavonians: Dalmatae, Daci, Thraces, Thaifalae.
  • 5. Syri;
  • 6. Mauri.

Of these the non-Roman character is the most patent; and these, at least, we may separate from the occupants of Italian blood. Of others, the foreign extraction is more uncertain. Sometimes the reading of the MSS. is doubtful, sometimes the term inexplicable. Thus, whilst it is difficult to say who the Solenses or Pacenses were,--opinions being different,--the authenticity of such a text as Tribunus cohortes primae Frixagorum Vindobala is doubtful. In such a case, the assumption that it meant Frisians, and the speculation as to the presence of a Frisian cohort, are unsatisfactory.

The analysis of the German populations, out of which the present nationality of England has grown, scarcely belongs to classical Britain. As far as it goes, however, it is to be sought under the heads ANGLI, FRISII, SAXONES.

The extent to which the native population, whether exclusively Keltic or mixed, was uniform in manners and appearance, is chiefly to be measured by the remark of Tacitus, that the “physical appearance varied;” that the “Caledonians were red-haired, and large-limbed;” that the “Silurians were high-coloured and curly-haired;” and, lastly, that the natives of the parts nearest Gaul were Gallic in look and manner. The text in full has given rise to considerable speculation. It stands thus: “Habitus corporum varii; atque ex eo argumenta. Namque rutilae Caledoniam habitantium comae, magni artus, Germanicam originem adseverant. Silurum colorati vultus, et torti plerumque crines, et posita contra Hispania, Iberos veteres trajecisse, easque sedes occupasse fidem faciunt.” (Agric. 11.) The words in Italics show that both the Germanic and the Iberic hypotheses were not historical facts, but only inferences. The only facts that Tacitus gives us is the difference of appearance in different parts of the island. This is undoubted. At the present moment the inhabitants of South Wales have florid complexions and dark hair; whilst the Scotch Highlanders, though of uncertain and irregular stature, are, on the whole, red; or, at least, sandy-haired. The inference from this is as free to the inquirer of the present century as it was to Tacitus. In respect to the opinions on this point, it is safe to say that the Germanic hypothesis is wholly, the Iberic nearly, unnecessary. The Scotch conformation is equally Keltic and Germanic: that of the South-Welsh is less easily explained. It re-appears, however, in certain parts of England--oftener on the coal-measures than elsewhere, but still elsewhere. The fact still requires solution.


A continuation of the previous extract gives us the standard text respecting the language of Britain--“sermo haud multum diversus,” (i. e. from that of Gaul). What does this apply to? Not necessarily to the Britons altogether--only to those nearest Gaul. Yet it by no means excludes the others. It leaves the question open for the north and western parts of the island. The belief that the speech of Western Britain was essentially that of the eastern parts, rests partly upon the principle of not multiplying causes unnecessarily, and partly upon the present existence of the Welsh language. The Welsh of Wales and the Bretons of Brittany, are closely allied. This, however, is valid only in the eyes of the inquirer, who admits that the present Breton represents the ancient Gallic. It has no weight against the belief that it is of British origin--derived from the Bretons of the southern coast, who, at the Saxon invasion, transplanted themselves and their speech to the opposite shore of Armorica. The advocate of this view requires further evidence. Nor is it wanting. It has been shown more than once--by no one better than the late Mr. Garnett in the Transactions of the Philosophical Society--that the old Gallic glosses are not only significant in the Keltic language of western and northern Britain, but that they are most so in the Welsh or British branch of it. Contrary to the criticism of the time of Tacitus, it is the British language which now illustrates that of Gaul, and not the Gallic which explains the British. The proper British glosses are few. Two of them, however, are still existent with the island. Κοῦρμι (Dioscorid. Mat. Med. 2.110), as the name of the British beverage, is the Welsh cwrrw==cerevisia==beer; and ἀγασσαῖος, the British species of hound, is the present word gaze-hound (Oppian, Cyneget. 1.471.)

The geographical terms in the ancient British are numerous; and one class of them illustrates a deflection from the Gallic form of speech. In Gaul the compounds of the root dur-invariably take that combination as an affix (e. g. Marco-durum): in Britain it is as invariably a pre-fix (e. g. Duro-vernum).


These fall into two clear and definite classes: 1. the Proper British; 2. the Roman. A third--the German--is less certain. A fourth is possible; but, in the opinion of the present writer, unnecessary. The last two will be considered first.

In such sepulchral monuments as bear the marks of the greatest antiquity, the implements and ornaments are of stone, to the exclusion of metal. The skulls, also, are of a small average magnitude, with certain peculiarities of shape. The inference that has been drawn from this is, that the population. who worked without metals was of a different stock from those that used them. Again, the. doctrine suggested by Arndt, expanded by Rask, and admitted in its very fullest extent by the Scandinavian school of philologists, ethnologists, and antiquarians, and which is known as the “Finn hypothesis,” goes the same way. This means that, before the spread of the populations speaking the languages called Indo-European--before the spread of the Slavonians, Germans, Kelts, and Brahminic Hindus--an earlier population extended from Cape Comorin to Lapland, [p. 1.440]from Lapland to Cape Clear, from Archangel to the Straits of Gibraltar, continuously. The Finns of Finland now best represent this--a population with which the Basks of the Pyrenees were once continuous. In this class, enormous displacements on the part of the so-called Indo-Europeans have obliterated the aborigines of the British Isles, Central Europe, and Northern Hindostan. If so, the Finn hypothesis coincides with the evidence of the older tumuli. Suggestive as this view is, it has still to stand the full ordeal of criticism.

The German hypothesis depends upon the extent to which certain antiquities of North Britain are, at one and the same time, of great antiquity in respect to date, and Germanic in origin. The Scandinavian doctrine as to the origin of the Picts support this: or, denying this, such independent evidence as can be brought in favour of any Germans or Northmen having made settlements on any part of Britain anterior to the expulsion of the Romans, helps to confirm it. Such settlements it is as hard to prove as to deny. Possibly, perhaps probably, the Shetland Isles, the Orkneys, the northern parts of Scotland, the Hebrides, parts of Ulster, the Isle of Man, and the coast of Galloway, may give us an area along which the Northmen of Norway spread themselves, and left memorials, at an epoch of any antiquity. Again, it would be over-bold to assert that certain parts of Britain, now eminently Danish (e. g. Lincolnshire), and which cannot be proved to have been at once Keltic and Roman (i. e. Roman on a Keltic basis) were not Norse equally early.

The two classes in question, however, are uncertain; and this leads us to the other two.

  • 1. British.--The extent of this division is subject to the validity of the Finn and German hypotheses. If the former be true, the oldest tumuli are prae-Keltic; if the latter, the remarkable remains of Orkney and the North of Scotland (their antiquity being admitted) are German,--and, if German, probably Scandinavian. But, independent of these, we have the numerous temuli, or barrows, of later date, in all their varieties and with all their contents; we have earth-mounds, like Silbury Hill; and vast monolithic structures, like those of Stonehenge. We have also the cromlechs and cairns. We have no inscriptions; and the coins are but semi-Britannic, i. e. wherever the mint may have been, the letters and legend represent the civilisation of the classical rather than the Keltic populations. Iron was a metal during part of this period, and, à fortiori, gold and bronze.
  • 2. Roman.--The Keltic remains in Britain are a measure of the early British civilisation; the Roman ones merely give us a question of more or less in respect to the extent of their preservation. They are essentially the Roman antiquities of the Roman world elsewhere:--pavements, altars, metallic implements and ornaments, pottery (the specimens of the Samian ware being both abundant and beautiful), earthworks, encampments, walls, roads, coins, inscriptions. A few of these only will be noticed.

Of the inscriptions, the Marmor Ancyranum, although referring to Britain, is not from a British locality. Neither are those of the reign of Claudius. They first predominate on British ground in the reign of Trajan. Thenceforward they bear the names of Hadrian, Severus, Gordian, Valerian, Gallienus, Tetricus, Numerian, Diocletian, Constantine, and Julian. Next to the names of the emperors, those of certain commanders, legions, and cohorts are the most important, as they are more numerous; whilst such as commemorate particular events, and are dedicated to particular deities, are more valuable than either. One with another, they preserve the names, and give us the stations, of most of the legions of the Notitia. One of them, at least, illustrates the formation of the Vallum. One of them is a dedication



a clear proof that the religion of the Roman Legionaries was no more necessarily Roman than their blood.

The chronological range of the coins varies in many points from that of the inscriptions. They often speak where the latter are silent, and are silent where the latter speak. The head and legend of Antoninus (Caracalla) and Geta are frequent; but then, there are none between them and the reign of Diocletian. Then come the coins, not of that emperor himself, but of the usurpers Carausius and Allectus, more numerous than all the others put together. And here they end. For the later emperors there is nothing.

None of our Roman roads are known under their Roman names. The Itinerarium Antonini, a work of uncertain date, and, as will be explained in the sequel [see MURIDUNUM], of doubtful value in its current form, merely gives the starting-places and the termini; e. g. Iter a Londinio ad Portum Dubris M. P. lxvii, &c. The itinera, however, are fifteen in number, and, in extent, reach from Blatum Bulgium, in Dumnfrieshire, to Regnum, on the coast of Sussex, north and south; and from Venta Icenorum (Norwich) to Isca Damnoniorum (Exeter), east and west. In North Wales, Cornwall, and Devonshire, the Wealds of Sussex and Kent, Lincolnshire, and the district of Craven in Yorkshire, the intercommunication seems to have been at the minimum. In the valleys of the Tyne and Solway, the Yorkshire Ouse, the Thames, the Severn, in Cheshire, South Lancashire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and the parts round the Wealds of Kent and Sussex, it was at its maximum.

Mr. Kemble draws a clear contrast between the early British oppida, as described by Caesar, and the true municipia and coloniae of the Romans. The oppidum of Cassivelaunus was a stockaded village, in some spot naturally difficult of access. The municipia and coloniae, of which Camelodunum was the earliest, were towns whose architecture and whose civil constitution were equally Roman. So was their civilisation. The extent, however, to which the sites of British oppida and the Roman municipalities coincided, constitutes a question which connects the two. It is safe to assume that they did so coincide,--not exactly, but generally. The Keltic oppida were numerous, were like those of Gaul, and--a reasonable inference from the existence of the warchariot--were connected by roads. Hence, “when less than eighty years after the return of the Romans to Britain, and scarcely forty after the complete subjugation of the island by Agricola, Ptolemy tells us of at least fifty-six cities in existence here, we may reasonably conclude that they were not all due to the efforts of Roman civilisation.” Certainly not. The Roman origin of the Hibernian πολεῖς (Ptolemy's term) is out of the question: neither is it certain that some of the Ptolemaean notices may not apply to an ante-Roman period. The Roman municipality, then, as a general rule, presupposes a British oppidum. How far does the English town imply a Roman municipality? The writer just quoted believes [p. 1.441]the Saxons adopted the Roman sites less than the Romans did those of the Britons, the Germanic condition of a city being different from the Roman. As such, it directed the architectural industry of the Anglo-Saxon towards the erection of independent towns out of the materials supplied by the older ones, in the neighbourhood--but not on the absolute site--of the pre-existent municipality. Without admitting this view in its full integrity, we may learn from it the necessity of determining the ancient sites of the Roman cities on the special evidence of each particular case; it being better to do this than to argue at once from the present names and places of the English towns of the present time. Place for place, the old towns and the new were near each other, rather than on absolutely identical spots.

London, St. Albans, Colchester, Gloucester, Winchester, Norwich, Cirencester, Bath, Silchester, York, Exeter, Dorchester, Chichester, Canterbury, Wroxeter, Lincoln, Worcester, Leicester, Doncaster, Caermarthen, Caernarvon, Portchester, Grantchester, Carlisle, Caerleon, Manchester, have the best claims to represent the old Roman cities of England, the lists of which, considering the difference of the authorities, are not more discrepant from each other than is expected. The number of Ptolemy's πολεῖς is 56, all of which he names. Marcianus Heracleota, without naming any, gives 59. Nennius, at a later period, enumerates 34; the Saxon invasion having occurred in the interval.

The valla are described in a separate article. [VALLUM.]


The divisions of the British Isles are only definite where they are natural, and they are only natural where the ocean makes them. Hibernia is thus separated from Albion simply by its insular condition--ex vi termini. So are the smaller islands, Vectis, the Orcades, &c.; all of which were known to the ancients. But this is not the case with the ancient analogies of North and South Britain--if such analogies existed. No one can say where Britannia ended and Caledonia began--or rather no one can say how far Britannia and Caledonia are the names of natural and primary divisions. In the way of ethnology, it is safe to say that all the Caledonii were comprised within the present limits of North Britain, except so far as they were intrusive invaders southwards. It is safe to say the same of the Scots. But it is not safe to say so of the Picts; nor yet can we affirm that all the Britons belonged to the present country of England. In Ptolemy the Caledonii are a specific population, forming along with Cornabii, Creones, and others, the northern population of Albion--the name having no generality whatever. Dion's Caledonii are certainly beyond the wall, but between them and the wall are the Meatae. In Tacitus the Caledonii are either the political confederacy of Galgacus, or the natives of the district around the Grampians. The wider extent to the word is a point in the history of the term, less than a point in the history of the people.

The practical primary division which can be made is that between Roman Albion and Independent Albion; the former of which coincided more or less closely with Britannia in the restricted sense of the term, and with the area subsequently named England; the latter with Caledonia and Scotland.

Britannia appears to have been constituted a Roman province after the conquest of a portion of the island in the reign of Claudius. The province was gradually enlarged by the conquests of successive Roman generals; but its boundary on the south was finally the wall which extended from the Solway Frith (Ituna Aestuarium) to the mouth of the river Tyne. Britain continued to form one Roman province, governed by a consular legatus and a procurator, down to A.D. 197, when it was divided into two provinces, Britannia Superior and Inferior, each, as it appears, under a separate Praeses (Herodian, 3.8.2; Dig. 28. tit. 6. s. 2.4). It was subsequently divided into four provinces; named Maxima Caesariensis, Flavia, Britannia prima, Britannia secunda (S. Rufus, Brev. 6), probably in the reign of Diocletian or of Constantine. To these a fifth province, named Valentia, was added in A.D. 369 (Amm. Marc. 28.3.7), so that at the beginning of the fifth century, Britain was divided into five provinces; two governed by Consulares, namely, Maxima Caesariensis and Valentia; and three by Praesides, namely, Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda, and Flavia Caesariensis. All these governors were subject to the Vicarius Britanniae, to whom the general government of the island was entrusted. The Vicarins appears to have usually resided at Eboracum (York), which may be regarded as the seat of government during the Roman dominion. (Not. Dig. Occ. 100.22: Böcking, ad loc. p. 496, seq.; comp. Marquardt, in Becker's Handbuch der Römisch. Alterth. vol. iii. pl. i. p. 97, seq.)

The distribution and boundary of these five provinces we do not know--though they are often given.

Respecting the next class of divisions we do not know even this. We do not know, when talking of (e. g.) the Ordovices, the Iceni, or the Novantae, to what class the term belongs. Is it the name of a natural geographical division, like Highlands and Lowlands, Dalesmen or Coastmen? or the name of a political division, like that of the English counties? that of a confederacy? that of a tribe or clan? Is it one of these in some cases, and another in another? Some of the terms are geographical. This is all that it is safe to say. Some of the terms are geographical, because they seem to be compounded of substantives significant in geography; e. g. the prefixes car-, and tre-, and dur-.

The only systematic list of these divisions is Ptolemy's; and it gives us the following names, each of which is noticed separately. They are enumerated, however, at present, for the sake of showing the extent to which, not only Roman but Independent Albion was known to the writers of the second century, and also because some of them illustrate the general geography of the British Isles.

  • 1. North of the Clyde and Forth, the line of defences drawn by Agricola, lay the Epidii, Cerones, Creones Carnonacae, Careni, Cornabii, Caledonii, Cantae, Logi, Mertae, Vacomagi, Venecontes, Taizalae,--in all thirteen. The apparently Keltic elements in these names are printed in Italics. They are British rather than Gaelic; and, as such, evidence in favour of the oldest population of Scotland, having belonged to that division. This inference, however, is traversed by the want of proof of the names having been native. Hence, when such truly British names as Cantae and Cornabii (compare Cantinm and Cornubii) appear on the extreme north of Scotland, they may have been the names used by the British informants of Ptolemy's [p. 1.442]authorities, rather than the true Caledonian designations in use among the Caledonians themselves. They may, in other words, have belonged to Caledonia, just as Welsh and Wales belong to the Cambro-British principality, i. e. not at all.
  • 2. Between the Clyde and Forth, and the Tyne and Solway, i. e. between the two valla, lay the Novantae, the Selgovae, the Gadeni, the Ottadini, and the Damnii, five in number. This was, afterwards, the chief Pict area.
  • 3. South of the Tyne and Solway, i. e. in the thoroughly Roman Britannia, were the Brigantes, the Parisi, the Cornavii, the Coritavi, the Catyeuchlani, the Simeni, the Trinoantes (Trinobantes), the Dobuni, the Attrebates, the Cantii, the Regni, the Belgae, the Durotriges, the Damnonii, all English rather than Welsh; and the Silures, Dimetae, and Ordovices, Welsh rather than English. Total seventeen.

All these names apparently belong to one language, that being the British branch of the Keltic.

The list of Roman colonize and municipia can scarcely be given with confidence. The distinction between them and mere military stations or post-houses is difficult, often impracticable. The specific histories of given towns have nowhere come down to us. The clear and definite prominence that such cities as Treves and Arles take in the history of Gaul belongs to no town of Britain, and few facts only are trustworthy Camelodunum (Colchester) was the earliest municipality: Londinium and Eboracum the most important. Then came Verulamium, Glevum (Gloucester), Venta Belgarum (Winchester), Venta Icenorum (Norwich), Corinium (Cirencester), Calleva Attrebatum (Silchester), Aquae Solis (Bath), Durnovaria (Dorchester), Regnum (Chichester?), Durovernum (Canterbury), Uriconium (Wroxeter), Lindurn (Lincoln). To these may, probably, be added the more important harbours; such as Rutupae (Richborough), Portus Dubris (Dover), Portus Lemanis (Lymnpne), Portus Adurni (Aldrington), all to the south of the Thames. Of these towns the notices are variously and most irregularly distributed. Some, such as Londinium, Lindum, Eboracum, Camelodunum, Corineum, Aquae Salis (Ὕδατα Θερμὰ), appear in Ptolemy; whereas the majority are taken from later sources--the Antonine Itinerary and the Notitia. No town, however, throughout the whole length and breadth of Britannia is known to us in respect to its internal history, and the details of its constitution; in other words, there are no notices whatever of the Curiales, the Decuriones, the Ordo, or the Senatus of any town in Britain. That such existed is a matter of inference--inference of the most legitimate kind, but still only inference.

For all the towns above mentioned we have (a) a notice in some Latin or Greek author, (b) an identification of the site, and (c) the existence of Roman remains at the present time; in other words our evidence is of the highest and best kind. In the majority of cases, however, there is a great falling off in this respect. Sometimes there is the ancient name, without any definite modern equivalent; sometimes the modern without an ancient one; sometimes Roman remains with a name; sometimes a name without remains. Sometimes the name is only partially Roman--being a compound. Such is the case with the forms in -coln (colonia) and -chester (castra). In the Danish part of the island this becomes -caster (An-caster). Even this class is occasionally equivocal; since the element -wich, as in Green-wich, &c., may either come directly from the Latin vicus or from the Norse vik. Compounds of villa are in. a similar category. They may have come direct, from the Latin, or they may simply represent the French ville. The element street, as in Strat-ford, denotes a road rather than a town. The extent of these complications maybe measured by a comparison: of the ancient and modern maps of (e. g.) Norfolk. The localities of which the ancient names are known are four--Brannodunum (Bran-caster), Venta Icenorum, Gariannonum (Burgh Castle), and ad Taum (Taesburg). The spots marked in Mr. Hughes' map of Britannia Romana (vid. Monumenta Britannica), as the localities of Roman remains (over and above the four already mentioned) are fifteen--Castle Rising, Sth. Creake, Cromer, Burgh, Oxnead, Castle Acre, Narborough, Osburg, Ixburg, Colney, Whetacre, Burgh St. Peter, Caistor, Holme, North Elmham--all unnamed, or, if capable of being provided with an ancient designation, so provided at the expense of some other locality.

Upon the whole, it is not too much to say that the parallel which has frequently been drawn between Britain and Dacia, in respect to the late date of their reduction, and the early date of the loss, holds good in respect to the details of their history during the Roman and ante-Roman period. In each case we have obscurity and uncertainty--names without a corresponding description, sometimes without even a geographical position; remains without a site, and sites without remains to verify them.

The chief complementary notices to this article are CALEDONIA, FRISII, HIBERNIA, MORINI, SAXONES, VALLUM. (Camden's Britannia; Horseley's Britannia Romana; Stukely's Stonehenge and Abury; Stuart's Caledonia Romana; Wilson's Prehistoric Annals of Scotland; Wright, The Kelt, The Roman, and The Saxon; Kernble's Saxons in England; Monumenta Britannica.)


hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.43.4
    • Polybius, Histories, 3.57
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 44
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.24
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 28.3.7
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 2.2
    • Claudius Ptolemy, Tetrabiblos, 2.3
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