HumanitiesWeb HumanitiesWeb
Sort By Author Sort By Title

Sort By Author
Sort By Title


Get Your Degree!

Find schools and get information on the program that’s right for you.

Powered by Campus Explorer

& etc

All Rights Reserved.

Site last updated
26 June, 2013
Early Britain--Roman Britain
Pre-Roman Britain
by Conybeare, Edward


Palaeolithic Age—Extinct fauna—River-bed men—Flint implements—Burnt stones—Worked
bones—Glacial climate.

A. 1.—All history, as Professor Freeman so well points out, centres round the great name of Rome. For, of all the great divisions of the human race, it is the Aryan family which has come to the front. Assimilating, developing, and giving vastly wider scope to the highest forms of thought and religion originated by other families, notably the Semitic, the various Aryan nationalities form, and have formed for ages, the vanguard of civilization. These nationalities are now practically co-extensive with Christendom; and on them has been laid by Divine Providence "the white man's burden"—the task of raising the rest of mankind along with themselves to an ever higher level—social, material, intellectual, and spiritual.

A. 2.—Aryan history is thus, for all practical purposes, the history of mankind. And a mere glance at Aryan history shows how entirely its great central feature is the period during which all the leading forces of Aryanism were grouped and fused together under the world-wide Empire of Rome. In that Empire all the streams of our Ancient History find their end, and from that Empire all those of Modern History take their beginning. "All roads," says the proverb, "lead to Rome;" and this is emphatically true of the lines of historical research; for as we tread them we are conscious at every step of the Romani Nominis umbra, the all-pervading influence of "the mighty name of Rome."

A. 3.—And above all is this true of the history of Western Europe in general and of our own island in particular. For Britain, History (meaning thereby the more or less trustworthy record of political and social development) does not even begin till its destinies were drawn within the sphere of Roman influence. It is with Julius Caesar, that great writer (and yet greater maker) of History, that, for us, this record commences.

A. 4.—But before dealing with "Britain's tale" as connected with "Caesar's fate," it will be well to note briefly what earlier information ancient documents and remains can afford us with regard to our island and its inhabitants. With the earliest dwellers upon its soil of whom traces remain we are, indeed, scarcely concerned. For in the far-off days of the "River-bed" men (five thousand or five hundred thousand years ago, according as we accept the physicist's or the geologist's estimate of the age of our planet) Britain was not yet an island. Neither the Channel nor the North Sea as yet cut it off from the Continent when those primaeval savages herded beside the banks of its streams, along with elephant and hippopotamus, bison and elk, bear and hyaena; amid whose remains we find their roughly-chipped flint axes and arrow-heads, the fire-marked stones which they used in boiling their water, and the sawn or broken bases of the antlers which for some unknown purpose6 they were in the habit of cutting up—perhaps, like the Lapps of to-day, to anchor their sledges withal in the snow. For the great Glacial Epoch, which had covered half the Northern Hemisphere with its mighty ice-sheet, was still, in their day, lingering on, and their environment was probably that of Northern Siberia to-day. Some archaeologists, indeed, hold that they are to this day represented by the Esquimaux races; but this theory cannot be considered in any way proved.

A. 5.—Whether, indeed, they were "men" at all, in any real sense of the word, may well be questioned. For of the many attempts which philosophers in all ages have made to define the word "man," the only one which is truly defensible is that which differentiates him from other animals, not by his physical or intellectual, but by his spiritual superiority. Many other creatures are as well adapted in bodily conformation for their environment, and the lowest savages are intellectually at a far lower level of development than the highest insects; but none stand in the same relation to the Unseen. "Man," as has been well said, "is the one animal that can pray." And there is nothing amongst the remains of these "river-bed men" to show us that they either did pray, or could. Intelligence, such as is now found only in human beings, they undoubtedly had. But whether they had the capacity for Religion must be left an unsolved problem. In this connection, however, it may be noted that Tacitus, in describing the lowest savages of his Germania [c. 46], "with no horses, no homes, no weapons, skin-clad, nesting on the bare ground, men and women alike, barely kept alive by herbs and such flesh as their bone-tipped arrows can win them," makes it his climax that they are "beneath the need of prayer;"—adding that this spiritual condition is, "beyond all others, that least attainable by man."


Neolithic Age—"Ugrians"—Polished flints—Jadite—Gold ornaments—Cromlechs—Forts—Bronze
Age—Copper and tin—Stonehenge.

B. 1.—Whatever they were, they vanish from our ken utterly, these Palaeolithic savages, and are followed, after what lapse of time we know not, by the users of polished flint weapons, the tribes of the Neolithic period. And with them we find ourselves in touch with the existing development of our island. For an island it already was, and with substantially the same area and shores and physical features as we have them still. Our rivers ran in the same valleys, our hills rose with the same contour, in those far-off days as now. And while the place of flint in the armoury of Britain was taken first by bronze and then by iron, these changes were made by no sudden breaks, but so gradually that it is impossible to say when one period ended and the next began.

B.2.—It is almost certain, however, that the Neolithic men were not of Aryan blood. They are commonly spoken of by the name of Ugrians,7 the "ogres"8 of our folk-lore; which has also handed down, in the spiteful Brownie of the wood and the crafty Pixie of the cavern, dimly-remembered traditions of their physical and mental characteristics. Indeed it is not impossible that their blood may still be found in the remoter corners of our land, whither they were pushed back by the higher civilization of the Aryan invaders, before whom they disappeared by a process in which "miscegenation" may well have played no small part. But disappear they did, leaving behind them no more traces than their flint arrow-heads and axes (a few of these being of jadite, which must have come from China or thereabouts), together with their oblong sepulchral barrows, from some of which the earth has weathered away, so that the massive stones imbedded in it as the last home of the deceased stand exposed as a "dolmen" or "cromlech." But an appreciable number of the earthworks which stud our hill-tops, and are popularly called "Roman" or "British" camps, really belong to this older race. Such are "Cony Castle" in Dorset, and the fortifications along the Axe in Devon.

B. 3.—During the neolithic stage of their development the Ugrians were acquainted with but one metal, gold, and some of their stone weapons and implements are thus ornamented. For gold, being at once the most beautiful, the most incorruptible, the most easily recognizable, and the most easily worked of metals, is everywhere found as used by man long before any other. But before the Ugrian races vanish they had learnt to use bronze, which shows them to have discovered the properties not only of gold, but of both tin and copper. All three metals were doubtless obtained from the streams of the West. They had also become proficients, as their sepulchral urns show, in the manufacture of pottery. They could weave, moreover, both linen and woollen being known, and had passed far beyond the mere savage.

B. 4.—The race, indeed, which could erect Avebury and Stonehenge, as we may safely say was done by this people,9 must have possessed engineering skill of a very high order, and no little accuracy of astronomical observation. For the mighty "Sarsen" stones have all been brought from a distance,10 and the whole vast circles are built on a definite astronomical plan; while so careful is the orientation that, at the summer solstice, the disc of the rising sun, as seen from the "altar" of Stonehenge, appears to be poised exactly on the summit of one of the chief megaliths (now known as "The Friar's Heel"). From this it would seem that the builders were Sun-worshippers; and amongst the earliest reports of Britain current in the Greek world we find the fame of the "great round temple" dedicated to Apollo. But no Latin author mentions it; so that it is doubtful whether it was ever used by the Aryan, or at least by the Brythonic, immigrants. These brought their own worship and their own civilization with them, and all that was highest in Ugrian civilization and worship faded before them, such Ugrians as remained having degenerated to a far lower level when first we meet with them in history.


Aryan immigrants—Gael and Briton—Earliest classical nomenclature—British Isles—Albion—Ierne
—Cassiterides—Phoenician tin trade viâ Cadiz.

C. 1.—How or when the first swarms of the Aryan migration reached Britain is quite unknown.11 But they undoubtedly belonged to the Celtic branch of that family, and to the Gaelic (Gadhelic or Goidelic) section of the branch, which still holds the Highlands of Scotland and forms the bulk of the population of Ireland. By the 4th century B.C. this section was already beginning to be pressed northwards and westwards by the kindred Britons (or Brythons) who followed on their heels; for Aristotle (or a disciple of his) knows our islands as "the Britannic12 Isles." That the Britons were in his day but new comers may be argued from the fact that he speaks of Great Britain by the name of Albion, a Gaelic designation subsequently driven northwards along with those who used it. In its later form Albyn it long remained as loosely equivalent to North Britain, and as Albany it still survives in a like connection. Ireland Aristotle calls Ierne, the later Ivernia or Hibernia; a word also found in the Argonautic poems ascribed to the mythical Orpheus, and composed probably by Onomacritus about 350 B.C., wherein the Argo is warned against approaching "the Iernian islands, the home of dark and noisome mischief." This is the passage familiar to the readers of Kingsley's 'Heroes.'13

C. 2.—Aristotle's work does no more than mention our islands, as being, like Ceylon, not pelagic, but oceanic. To early classical antiquity, it must be remembered, the Ocean was no mere sea, but a vast and mysterious river encircling the whole land surface of the earth. Its mighty waves, its tides, its furious currents, all made it an object of superstitious horror. To embark upon it was the height of presumption; and even so late as the time of Claudius we shall find the Roman soldiers feeling that to do so, even for the passage of the Channel, was "to leave the habitable world."

C. 3.—But while the ancients dreaded the Ocean, they knew also that its islands alone were the source of one of the most precious and rarest of their metals. Before iron came into general use (and the difficulty of smelting it has everywhere made it the last metal to do so), tin had a value all its own. It was the only known substance capable of making, along with copper, an alloy hard enough for cutting purposes—the "bronze" which has given its name to one entire Age of human development. It was thus all but a necessary of life, and was eagerly sought for as amongst the choicest objects of traffic.

C. 4.—The Phoenicians, the merchant princes of the dawn of history, succeeded, with true mercantile instinct, in securing a monopoly of this trade, by being the first to make their way to the only spots in the world where tin is found native, the Malay region in the East, Northern Spain and Cornwall in the West. That tin was known amongst the Greeks by its Sanscrit name Kastira14 [kassiteros], shows that the Eastern source was the earliest to be tapped. But the Western was that whence the supply flowed throughout the whole of the classical ages; and, as the stream-tin of the Asturian mountains seems to have been early exhausted, the name Cassiterides, the Tin Lands, came to signify exclusively the western peninsula of Britain. Herodotus, in the 5th century B.C., knew this name, but, as he frankly confesses, nothing but the name.15 For the whereabouts of this El Dorado, and the way to it, was a trade secret most carefully kept by the Phoenician merchants of Cadiz, who alone held the clue. So jealous were they of it that long afterwards, when the alternative route through Gaul had already drawn away much of its profitableness, we read of a Phoenician captain purposely wrecking his ship lest a Roman vessel in sight should follow to the port, and being indemnified by the state for his loss.


Discoveries of Pytheas—Greek tin trade viâ Marseilles—Trade routes—Ingots—Coracles
—Earliest British coins—Lead-mining.

D. 1.—But contemporary with Aristotle lived the great geographer Pytheas; whose works, unfortunately, we know only by the fragmentary references to them in later, and frequently hostile, authors, such as Strabo, who dwell largely on his mistakes, and charge him with misrepresentation. In fact, however, he seems to have been both an accurate and truthful observer, and a discoverer of the very first order. Starting from his native city Massilia (Marseilles), he passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and traced the coast-line of Europe to Denmark (visiting Britain on his way), and perhaps even on into the Baltic.16 The shore of Norway (which he called, as the natives still call it, Norgé) he followed till within the Arctic Circle, as his mention of the midnight sun shows, and then struck across to Scotland; returning, apparently by the Irish Sea, to Bordeaux and so home overland. This truly wonderful voyage he made at the public charge, with a view to opening new trade routes, and it seems to have thoroughly answered its purpose. Henceforward the Phoenician monopoly was broken, and a constant stream of traffic in the precious tin passed between Britain and Marseilles.17

D. 2.—The route was kept as secret as possible; Polybius tells us that the Massiliots, when interrogated by one of the Scipios, professed entire ignorance of Britain; but Pytheas (as quoted by his contemporary Timaeus, as well as by later writers) states that the metal was brought by coasters to a tidal island, Ictis, whence it was shipped for Gaul. This island was six days' sail from the tin diggings, and can scarcely be any but Thanet. St. Michael's Mount, now the only tidal island on the south coast, was anciently part of the mainland; a fact testified to by the forest remains still seen around it. Nor could it be six days' sail from the tin mines. The Isle of Wight, again, to which the name Ictis or Vectis would seem to point, can never have been tidal at this date. But Thanet undoubtedly was so in mediaeval times, and may well have been so for ages, while its nearness to the Continent would recommend it to the Gallic merchants. Indeed Pytheas himself probably selected it on this account for his new emporium.

D. 3.—In his day, as we have seen, the tin reached this destination by sea; but in the time of the later traveller Posidonius18 it came in wagons, probably by that track along the North Downs now known as the "Pilgrims' Way." The chalk furnished a dry and open road, much easier than the swamps and forests of the lower ground. Further west the route seems to have been viâ Launceston, Exeter, Honiton, Ilchester, Salisbury, Winchester, and Alton; an ancient track often traceable, and to be seen almost in its original condition near "Alfred's Tower," in Somerset, where it is known as "The Hardway." And this long land transit argues a considerable degree of political solidarity throughout the south of the island. The tale of Posidonius is confirmed by Caesar's statement that tin reached Kent "from the interior," i.e. by land. It was obtained at first from the streams of Dartmoor and Cornwall, where abundant traces of ancient washings are visible, and afterwards by mining, as now. And when smelted it was made up into those peculiar ingots which still meet the eye in Cornwall, and whose shape seems never to have varied from the earliest times. Posidonius, who visited Cornwall, compares them to knuckle-bones19[astrhagaloi]

D. 4.—The vessels which thus coasted from the Land's End to the South Foreland are described as on the pattern of coracles, a very light frame-work covered with hides. It seems almost incredible that sea-going craft could have been thus constructed; yet not only is there overwhelming testimony to the fact throughout the whole history of Roman Britain, but such boats are still in use on the wild rollers which beat upon the west coast of Ireland, and are found able to live in seas which would be fatal to anything more rigidly built. For the surf boats in use at Madras a similar principle is adopted, not a nail entering into their construction. They can thus face breakers which would crush an ordinary boat to pieces. This method of ship-building was common all along the northern coast of Europe for ages.20 Nor were these coracles only used for coasting. As time went on, the Britons boldly struck straight across from Cornwall to the Continent, and both the Seine and the Loire became inlets for tin into Gaul, thus lessening the long land journey—not less than thirty days—which was required, as Polybius tells us, to convey it from the Straits of Dover to the Rhone. (This journey, it may be noted, was made not in wagons, as through Britain, but on pack-horses.)

D. 5.—Thus it reached Marseilles; and that the trade was founded by the Massiliot Pytheas is borne testimony to by the early British coins, which are all modelled on the classical currency of his age. The medium in universal circulation then, current everywhere, like the English sovereign now, was the Macedonian stater, newly introduced by Philip, a gold coin weighing 133 grains, bearing on the one side the laureated head of Apollo, on the other a figure of Victory in a chariot. Of this all known Gallic and British coins (before the Roman era) are more or less accurate copies. The earliest as yet found in Britain do not date, according to Sir John Evans, our great authority on this subject,21 from before the 2nd century B.C. They are all dished coins, rudely struck, and rapidly growing ruder as time goes on. The head early becomes a mere congeries of dots and lines, but one horse of the chariot team remains recognizable to quite the end of the series.

D. 6.—These coins have been found in very large numbers, and of various types, according to the locality in which they were struck. They occur as far north as Edinburgh; but all seem to have been issued by one or other of the tribes in the south and east of the island, who learnt the idea of minting from the Gauls. Whence the gold of which the coins are made came from is a question not yet wholly solved: surface gold was very probably still obtainable at that date from the streams of Wales and Cornwall. But it was long before any other metal was used in the British mints. Not till after the invasion of Julius Caesar do we find any coins of silver or bronze issued, though he testifies to their existence. The use of silver shows a marked advance in metallurgy, and is probably connected with the simultaneous development of the lead-mining in the Mendip Hills, of which about this time we first begin to find traces.


Pytheas trustworthy—His notes on Britain—Agricultural tribes—Barns—Manures—Dene
Holes—Mead—Beer—Parched corn—Pottery—Mill-stones—Villages—Cattle—Pastoral tribes
—Savage tribes—Cannibalism—Polyandry—Beasts of chase—Forest trees—British clothing
and arms—Sussex iron.

E. 1.—The trustworthiness of Pytheas is further confirmed by the astronomical observations which he records. He notices, for example, that the longest day in Britain contains "nineteen equinoctial hours." Amongst the ancients, it must be remembered, an "hour," in common parlance, signified merely the twelfth part, on any given day, of the time between sunrise and sunset, and thus varied according to the season. But the standard hour for astronomical purposes was the twelfth part of the equinoctial day, when the sun rises 6 a.m. and sets 6 p.m., and therefore corresponded with our own. Now the longest day at Greenwich is actually not quite seventeen hours, but in the north of Britain it comes near enough to the assertion of Pytheas to bear out his tale. We are therefore justified in giving credence to his account of what he saw in our country, the earliest that we possess. He tells us that, in some parts at least, the inhabitants were far from being mere savages. They were corn-growers (wheat, barley, and millet being amongst their crops), and also cultivated "roots," fruit trees, and other vegetables. What specially struck him was that, "for lack of clear sunshine22," they threshed out their corn, not in open threshing-floors, as in Mediterranean lands, but in barns.

E. 2.—From other sources we know that these old British farmers were sufficiently scientific agriculturalists to have invented wheeled ploughs,23 and to use a variety of manures; various kinds of mast, loam, and chalk in particular. This treatment of the soil was, according to Pliny, a British invention24 (though the Greeks of Megara had also tried it), and he thinks it worth his while to give a long description of the different clays in use and the methods of their application. That most generally employed was chalk dug out from pits some hundred feet in depth, narrow at the mouth, but widening towards the bottom. [Petitur ex alto, in centenos pedes actis plerumque puteis, ore angustatis; intus spatiante vena.]

E. 3.—Here we have an exact picture of those mysterious excavations some of which still survive to puzzle antiquaries under the name of Dene Holes. They are found in various localities; Kent, Surrey, and Essex being the richest. In Hangman's Wood, near Grays, in Essex, a small copse some four acres in extent, there are no fewer than seventy-two Dene Holes, as close together as possible, their entrance shafts being not above twenty yards apart. These shafts run vertically downwards, till the floor of the pit is from eighty to a hundred feet below the surface of the ground. At the bottom the shaft widens out into a vaulted chamber some thirty feet across, from which radiate four, five, or even six lateral crypts, whose dimensions are usually about thirty feet in length, by twelve in width and height. When the shafts are closely clustered, the lateral crypts of one will extend to within a few feet of those belonging to its neighbours, but in no case do they communicate with them (though the recent excavations of archaeologists have thus connected whole groups of Dene Holes). Many theories have been elaborated to account for their existence, but the data are conclusive against their having been either habitations, tombs, store-rooms, or hiding-places; and, in 1898, Mr. Charles Dawson, F.S.A., pointed out that, in Sussex, chalk and limestone are still quarried by means of identically such pits. The chalk so procured is found a far more efficacious dressing for the soil than that which occurs on the surface, and moreover is more cheaply got than by carting from even a mile's distance. At the present day, as soon as a pit is exhausted (that is as soon as the diggers dare make their chambers no larger for fear of a downfall), another is sunk hard by, and the first filled up with the débris from the second. In the case of the Dene Holes, this débris must have been required for some other purpose; and to this fact alone we owe their preservation. It is probable that the celebrated cave at Royston in Hertfordshire was originally dug for this purpose, though afterwards used as a hermitage.

E. 4.—Pytheas is also our authority for saying that bee-keeping was known to the Britons of his day;25 a drink made of wheat and honey being one of their intoxicants. This method of preparing mead (or metheglin) is current to this day among our peasantry. Another drink was made from barley, and this, he tells us, they called [kourmi], the word still used in Erse for beer, under the form cuirm. Dioscorides the physician, who records this (and who may perhaps have tried our national beverage, as he lived shortly after the Claudian conquest of Britain), pronounces it "head-achy, unwholesome, and injurious to the nerves": [kephalalges esti kai kakhochymon, kai tou neurou].

E. 5.—Not all the tribes of Britain, however, were at this level of civilization. Threshing in barns was only practised by those highest in development, the true Britons of the south and east. The Gaelic tribes beyond them, so far as they were agricultural at all, stored the newly-plucked ears of corn in their underground dwellings, day by day taking out and dressing [katergazomenous] what was needed for each meal. The method here referred to is doubtless that described as still in use at the end of the 17th century in the Hebrides.26 "A woman, sitting down, takes a handful of corn, holding it by the stalks in her left hand, and then sets fire to the ears, which are presently in a flame. She has a stick in her right hand, which she manages very dexterously, beating off the grains at the very instant when the husk is quite burnt.... The corn may be thus dressed, winnowed, ground, and baked, within an hour of reaping."

When kept, it may usually have been stored, like that of Robinson Crusoe, in baskets;27 for basket-making was a peculiarly British industry, and Posidonius found "British baskets" in use on the Continent. But probably it was also hoarded—again in Crusoe fashion—in the large jars of coarse pottery which are occasionally found on British sites. These, and the smaller British vessels, are sometimes elaborately ornamented with devices of no small artistic merit. But all are hand-made, the potter's wheel being unknown in pre-Roman days.

E. 6.—Nor does the grinding of corn, even in hand-mills, seem to have been universal till the Roman era, the earlier British method being to bruise the grain in a mortar.28 Without the resources of civilization it is not easy to deal with stones hard enough for satisfactory millstones. We find that the Romans, when they came, mostly selected for this use the Hertfordshire "pudding-stone," a conglomerate of the Eocene period crammed with rolled flint pebbles, sometimes also bringing over Niederendig lava from the Rhine valley, and burr-stone from the Paris basin for their querns.

E. 7.—These tribes are described as living in cheap [euteleis], dwellings, constructed of reeds or logs, yet spoken of as subterranean.29 Light has been thrown on this apparent contradiction by the excavation in 1889 of the site of a British village at Barrington in Cambridgeshire. Within a space of about sixty yards each way, bounded by a fosse some six feet wide and four deep, were a collection of roughly circular pits, distributed in no recognizable system, from twelve to twenty feet in diameter and from two to four in depth. They were excavated in the chalky soil, and from each a small drainage channel ran for a yard or two down the gentle slope on which the settlement stood. Obviously a superstructure of thatch and wattle would convert these pits into quite passable wigwams, corresponding to the description of Pytheas. This whole village was covered by several feet of top-soil in which were found numerous interments of Anglo-Saxon date. It had seemingly perished by fire, a layer of incinerated matter lying at the bottom of each pit.

E. 8.—The domestic cattle of the Britons were a diminutive breed, smaller than the existing Alderney, with abnormally developed foreheads (whence their scientific name Bos Longifrons). Their remains, the skulls especially, are found in every part of the land, with no trace, in pre-Roman times, of any other breed. The gigantic wild ox of the British forests (Bos Primigenius) seems never to have been tamed by the Celtic tribes, who, very possibly, like the Romans after them, may have brought their own cattle with them into the island. According to Professor Rolleston the small size of the breed is due to the large consumption of milk by the breeders. (He notes that the cattle of Burmah and Hindostan are identically the same stock, and that in Burmah, where comparatively little milk is used, they are of large size. In Hindostan, on the contrary, where milk forms the staple food of the population, the whole breed is stunted, no calf having, for ages, been allowed its due supply of nutriment.) The Professor also holds that these small oxen, together with the goat, sheep, horse, dog, and swine (of the Asiatic breed), were introduced into Britain by the Ugrian races in the Neolithic Age; and that the pre-Roman Britons had no domestic fowls except geese.30

E. 9.—If these considerations are of weight they would point to an excessive dependence on milk even amongst the agricultural tribes of Britain. And there were others, as we know, who had not got beyond the pastoral stage of human development. These, as Strabo declares, had no idea of husbandry, "nor even sense enough to make cheese, though milk they have in plenty."31 And some of the non-Aryan hordes seem to have been mere brutal savages, practising cannibalism and having wives in common. Both practices are mentioned by the latest as well as the earliest of our classical authorities. Jerome says that in Gaul he himself saw Attacotti (the primitive inhabitants of Galloway) devouring human flesh, and refers to their sexual relations, which more probably imply some system of polyandry, such as still prevails in Thibet, than mere promiscuous intercourse. Traces of this system long remained in the rule of "Mutter-recht," which amongst several of the more remote septs traced inheritance invariably through the mother and not the father.

E. 10.—These savages knew neither corn nor cattle. Like the "Children of the Mist" in the pages of Walter Scott,32 their boast was "to own no lord, receive no land, take no hire, give no stipend, build no hut, enclose no pasture, sow no grain; to take the deer of the forest for their flocks and herds," and to eke out this source of supply by preying upon their less barbarous neighbours "who value flocks and herds above honour and freedom." Lack of game, however, can seldom have driven them to this; for the forests of ancient Britain seem to have swarmed with animal life. Red deer, roebuck, wild oxen, and wild swine were in every brake, beaver and waterfowl in every stream; while wolf, bear, and wild-cat shared with man in taking toll of their lives. The trees of these forests, it may be mentioned, were (as in some portions of Epping Forest now) almost wholly oak, ash, holly, and yew; the beech, chestnut, elm, and even the fir, being probably introduced in later ages.

E. 11.—Of the British tribes, however, almost none, even amongst these wild woodlanders, were the naked savages, clothed only in blue paint, that they are commonly imagined to have been. On the contrary, they could both weave and spin; and the tartan, with its variegated colours, is described by Caesar's contemporary, Diodorus Siculus, as their distinctive dress, just as one might speak of Highlanders at the present day.33 Pliny mentions that all the colours used were obtained from native herbs and lichens,34 as is still the case in the Hebrides, where sea-weed dyes are mostly used. Woad was used for tattooing the flesh with blue patterns, and a decoction of beechen ashes for dyeing the hair red if necessary, whenever that colour was fashionable.35 The upper classes wore collars and bracelets of gold, and necklaces of glass and amber beads.

E. 12.—This last item suggests an interesting question as to whence came the vast quantities of amber thus used. None is now found upon our shores, except a very occasional fragment on the East Anglian beaches. But the British barrows bear abundant testimony to its having been in prehistoric times the commonest of all materials for ornamental purposes—far commoner than in any other country. Beads are found by the myriad—a single Wiltshire grave furnished a thousand—mostly of a discoid shape, and about an inch in diameter. Larger plates occasionally appear, and in one case (in Sussex) a cup formed from a solid block of exceptional size. If all this came from the Baltic, the main existing source of our amber,36 it argues a considerable trade, of which we find no mention in any extant authority. Pytheas witnesses to the amber of the Baltic, and says nothing, so far as we know, of British amber. But, according to Pliny,[37] his contemporary Solinus speaks of it as a British product; and at the Christian era it was apparently a British export.38 The supply of amber as a jetsom is easily exhausted in any given district; miles of Baltic coast rich in it within mediaeval times are now quite barren; and the same thing has probably taken place in Britain. The rapid wearing away of our amber-bearing Norfolk shore is not unlikely to have been the cause of this change; the submarine fir-groves of the ancient littoral, with their resinous exudations, having become silted over far out at sea.39 The old British amber sometimes contained flies. Dioscorides40 applies to it the epithet [pterugophoron] ["fly-bearing"].

E. 13.—The chiefs were armed with large brightly-painted shields,41 plumed (and sometimes crested) helmets, and cuirasses of leather, bronze, or chain-mail. The national weapons of offence were darts, pikes (sometimes with prongs—the origin of Britannia's trident), and broadswords; bows and arrows being more rarely used. Both Diodorus Siculus [v. 30] and Strabo [iv. 197] describe this equipment, and specimens of all the articles have, at one place or another, been found in British interments.42 The arms are often richly worked and ornamented, sometimes inlaid with enamel, sometimes decorated with studs of red coral from the Mediterranean.43 The shields, being of wood, have perished, but their circular bosses of iron still remain. The chariots, which formed so special a feature of British militarism, were also of wood, painted, like the shields, and occasionally ironclad.44 The iron may have been from the Sussex fields. We know that in Caesar's day rings of this metal were one of the forms of British currency, so that before his time the Britons must have attained to the smelting of this most intractable of metals.


Celtic types—"Roy" and "Dhu"—Gael—Silurians—Loegrians—Basque peoples—Shifting of
clans—Constitutional disturbances—Monarchy—Oligarchy—Demagogues—First inscribed coins.

F. 1.—Our earliest records point to the existence among the Celtic tribes in Britain of the two physical types still to be found amongst them; the tall, fair, red-haired, blue-eyed Gael, whom his clansmen denominate "Roy" (the Red), and the dark complexion, hair and eyes, usually associated with shorter stature, which go with the designation "Dhu" (the Black). Rob Roy and Roderick Dhu are familiar illustrations of this nomenclature. In classical times these types were much less intermingled than now, and were characteristic of separate races. The former prevailed almost exclusively amongst the true Britons of the south and east, and the Gaelic septs of the north, while the latter was found throughout the west, in Devon, Cornwall, and Wales. The Silurians, of Glamorgan, are specially noted as examples of this "black" physique, and a connection has been imagined between them and the Basques of Iberia, an idea originating with Strabo.

F. 2.—That a good deal of non-Aryan blood was, and is, to be found in both regions is fairly certain; but any closer correlation must be held at any rate not proven. For though Strabo asserts that the Silurians differ not only in looks but in language from the Britons, while in both resembling the Iberians, it is probable that he derives his information from Pytheas four centuries earlier. At that date non-Aryan speech may very possibly still have lingered on in the West, but there is no trace whatever to be found of anything of the sort in the nomenclature of the district during or since the Roman occupation. All is unmitigated Celtic. We may, however, possibly find a confirmation of Strabo's view in the word Logris applied to Southern Britain by the Celtic bards of the Arturian cycle. The word is said to be akin to Liger (Loire), and tradition traced the origin of the Loegrians to the southern banks of that river, which were undoubtedly held by Iberian (Basque) peoples at least to the date when Pytheas visited those parts. The name, indeed, seems to be connected with that of the Ligurians, a kindred non-Aryan community, surviving, in historical times, only amongst the Maritime Alps.

F. 3.—It is probable that the status of each clan was continually shifting; and what little we know of their names and locations, their rise and their fall, presents an even more kaleidoscopic phantasmagoria than the mediaeval history of the Scotch Highlands, or the principalities of Wales, or the ever-changing septs of ancient Ireland. Tribes absorbed or destroyed by conquering tribes, tribes confederating with others under a fresh name, this or that chief becoming a new eponymous hero,—such is the ceaseless spectacle of unrest of which the history of ancient Britain gives us glimpses.

F. 4.—By the time that these glimpses become anything like continuous, things were further complicated by two additional elements of disturbance. One of these was the continuous influx of new settlers from Gaul, which was going on throughout the 1st century B.C. Caesar tells us that the tribes of Kent, Sussex, and Essex were all of the Belgic stock, and we shall see that the higher politics of his day were much influenced by the fact that one and the same tribal chief claimed territorial rights in Gaul and Britain at once; just like so many of our mediaeval barons. The other was the coincidence that just at this period the British tribes began to be affected by the turbulent stage of constitutional development connected, in Greece and Rome, with the abolition of royalty.

F. 5.—The primitive Aryan community (so far, at least, as the western branch of the race is concerned) everywhere presents to us the threefold element of King, Lords, and Commons. The King is supreme, he reigns by right of birth (though not according to strict primogeniture), and he not only reigns but governs. Theoretically he is absolute, but practically can do little without taking counsel with his Lords, the aristocracy of the tribe, originally an aristocracy of birth, but constantly tending to become one of wealth. The Commons gather to ratify the decrees of their betters, with a theoretical right to dissent (though not to discuss), a right which they seldom or never at once care and dare to exercise.

F. 6.—In course of time we see that everywhere the supremacy of the Kings became more and more distasteful to the Aristocracy, and was everywhere set aside, sometimes by a process of quiet depletion of the Royal prerogative, sometimes by a revolution; the change being, in the former case, often informal, with the name, and sometimes even the succession, of the eviscerated office still lingering on. The executive then passed to the Lords, and the state became an oligarchical Republic, such as we see in Rome after the expulsion of the Tarquins. Next came the rise of the Lower Orders, who insisted with ever-increasing urgency on claiming a share in the direction of politics, and in every case with ultimate success. Almost invariably the leaders who headed this uprising of the masses grasped for themselves in the end the supreme power, and as irresponsible "Dictators," "Tyrants," or "Emperors" took the place of the old constitutional Kings.

F. 7.—Such was the cycle of events both in Rome and in the Greek commonwealths; though in the latter it ran its course within a few generations, whilst amongst the law-abiding Romans it was a matter of centuries. And the pages of Caesar bear abundant testimony to the fact that in his day the Gallic tribes were all in the state of turmoil which mostly attended the "Regifugium" period of development. Some were still under their old Kings; some, like the Nervii, had developed a Senatorial government; in some the Commons had set up "Tyrants" of their own. It was this general unrest which contributed in no small degree to the Roman conquest of Gaul. And the same state of things seems to have been begun in Britain also. The earliest inscribed British coins bear, some of them the names of Kings and Princes, others those of peoples, others again designations which seem to point to Tyrants. To the first class belong those of Commius, Tincommius, Tasciovan, Cunobelin, etc.; to the second those of the Iceni and the Cassi; to the last the northern mintage of Volisius, a potentate of the Parisii, who calls himself Domnoverus, which, according to Professor Rhys,[45] literally signifies "Demagogue."


Clans at Julian invasion—Permanent natural boundaries—Population—Celtic settlements—"Duns"
—Maiden Castle.

G. 1.—The earliest of these inscribed coins, however, take us no further back than the Julian invasion; and it is to Caesar's Commentaries that we are indebted for the first recorded names of any British tribes. It is no part of his design to give any regular list of the clans or their territories; he merely makes incidental mention of such as he had to do with. Thus we learn of the four nameless clans who occupied Kent (a region which has kept its territorial name unchanged from the days of Pytheas), and also of the Atrebates, Cateuchlani, Trinobantes, Cenimagni, Segontiaci, Ancalites, Bibroci, and Cassi.

G. 2.—To the localities held by these tribes Caesar bears no direct evidence; but from his narrative, as well as from local remains and later references, we know that the Trinobantes possessed Essex, and the Cenimagni (i.e. "the Great Iceni" as they were still called,46 though their power was on the wane), East Anglia; while the Cateuchlani, already beginning to be known as the Cassivellauni (or Cattivellauni), presumably from their heroic chieftain Caswallon (or Cadwallon),47 corresponded roughly to the later South Mercians, between the Thames and the Nene. The Segontiaci, Ancalites, Bibroci, and Cassi were less considerable, and must evidently have been situated on the marches between their larger neighbours. The name of the Cassi may still, perhaps, cling to their old home, in the Cashio Hundred and Cassiobury, near Watford; while conjecture finds traces of the Ancalites in Henley, and of the Bibroci in Bray, on either side of the Thames.

G. 3.—The Atrebates, who play a not unimportant part (as will be seen in the next chapter) in Caesar's connection with Britain, were apparently in possession of the whole southern bank of the Thames, from its source right down to London—the river then, as in Anglo-Saxon times, being a tribal boundary throughout its entire length. This would make the Bibroci a sub-tribe of the Atrebatian Name, and also the Segontiaci, if Henry of Huntingdon (writing in the 12th century with access to various sources of information now lost) is right in identifying Silchester, the Roman Calleva, with their local stronghold Caer Segent.

G. 4.—But the whole attempt to locate accurately any but the chiefest tribes found by the Romans in Britain is too conjectural to be worth the infinite labour that has been expended upon the subject by antiquaries. All we can say with certainty is that forest and fen must have cut up the land into a limited number of fairly recognizable districts, each so far naturally separated from the rest as to have been probably a separate or quasi-separate political entity also. Thus, not only was the Thames a line of demarcation, only passable at a few points, from its estuary nearly to the Severn Sea, but the southern regions cut off by it were parted by Nature into five main districts. Sussex was hemmed in by the great forest of Anderida, and that of Selwood continued the line from Southampton to Bristol. Kent was isolated by the Romney marshes and the wild country about Tunbridge, while the western peninsula was a peninsula indeed when the sea ran up to beyond Glastonbury. In this region, then, the later Wessex, we find five main tribes; the men of Kent, the Regni south of the Weald, the Atrebates along the Thames, the Belgae on the Wiltshire Avon, and the Damnonii of Devon and Cornwall, with (perhaps) a sub-tribe of their Name, the Durotriges, in Dorsetshire.

G. 5.—Like the south, the eastern, western, and northern districts of England were cut off from the centre by natural barriers. The Fens of Cambridgeshire and the marshes of the Lea valley, together with the dense forest along the "East Anglian" range, enclosed the east in a ring fence; within which yet another belt of woodland divided the Trinobantes of Essex from the Iceni of Norfolk and Suffolk. The Severn and the Dee isolated what is now Wales, a region falling naturally into two sub-divisions; South Wales being held by the Silurians and their Demetian subjects, North Wales by the Ordovices. The lands north of the Humber, again, were barred off from the south by barriers stretching from sea to sea; the Humber itself on the one hand, the Mersey estuary on the other, thrusting up marshes to the very foot of the wild Pennine moorlands between. And the whole of this vast region seems to have been under the Brigantes, who held the great plain of York, and exercised more or less of a hegemony over the Parisians of the East Riding, the Segontii of Lancashire, and the Otadini, Damnonii, and Selgovae between the Tyne and the Forth. Finally, the Midlands, parcelled up by the forests of Sherwood, Needwood, Charnwood, and Arden, into quarters, found space for the Dobuni in the Severn valley (to the west of the Cateuchlani), for the Coritani east of the Trent, and for their westward neighbours the Cornavii.48

G. 6.—All these tribes are given in Ptolemy's geography, but only a few, such as the Iceni, the Silurians, and the Brigantes, meet us in actual history; whilst, of them all, the Damnonian name alone reappears after the fall of the Roman dominion. Thus the accepted allotment of tribal territory is largely conjectural. North of the Forth all is conjecture pure and simple, so far as the location of the various Caledonian sub-clans is concerned. We only know that there were about a dozen of them; the Cornavii, Carini, Carnonacae, Cerones, Decantae, Epidii, Horestae, Lugi, Novantae, Smertae, Taexali, Vacomagi, and Vernicomes. Some of these may be alternative names.

G. 7.—The practical importance of the above-mentioned natural divisions of the island is testified to by the abiding character of the corresponding political divisions. The resemblance which at once strikes the eye between the map of Roman and Saxon Britain is no mere coincidence. Physical considerations brought about the boundaries between the Roman "provinces" and the Anglo-Saxon principalities alike. Thus a glance will show that Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda, Maxima Caesariensis, and Flavia Caesariensis correspond to the later Wessex, Wales, Northumbria, and Mercia (with its dependency East Anglia).49 And even the sub-divisions remained approximately the same. In Anglo-Saxon times, for example, the Midlands were still divided into the same four tribal territories; the North Mercians holding that of the British Cornavii, the South Mercians that of the Dobuni, the Middle Angles that of the Coritani, and the South Angles that of the Cateuchlani. So also the Icenian kingdom, with its old boundaries, became that of the East Angles, and the Trinobantian that of the East Saxons.

G. 8.—What the entire population of Britain may have numbered at the Roman Conquest is, again, purely a matter of guess-work. But it may well have been not very different in amount from what it was at the Norman Conquest, when the entries in Domesday roughly show that the whole of England (south of the Humber) was inhabited about as thickly as the Lake District at the present day, and contained some two million souls. The primary hills, and the secondary plateaux, where now we find the richest corn lands of the whole country, were in pre-Roman times covered with virgin forest. But in the river valleys above the level of the floods were to be found stretches of good open plough land, and the chalk downs supplied excellent grazing. Where both were combined, as in the valleys of the Avon and Wily near Salisbury, and that of the Frome near Dorchester, we have the ideal site for a Celtic settlement. In such places we accordingly find the most conspicuous traces of the prehistoric Briton; the round barrows which mark the burial-places of his chiefs, and the vast earthworks with which he crowned the most defensible dun, or height, in his territory.

G. 9.—These fortified British duns are to be seen all over England. Sometimes they have become Roman or mediaeval towns, as at Old Sarum; sometimes they are still centres of population, as at London, Lincoln, and Exeter; and sometimes, as at Bath and Dorchester, they remain still as left by their original constructors. For they were designed to be usually untenanted; not places to dwell in, but camps of refuge, whither the neighbouring farmers and their cattle might flee when in danger from a hostile raid. The lack of water in many of them shows that they could never have been permanently occupied either in war or peace.50 Perhaps the best remaining example is Maiden51 Castle, which dominates Dorchester, being at once the largest and the most untouched by later ages. Here three huge concentric ramparts, nearly three miles in circuit, gird in a space of about fifty acres on a gentle swell of the chalk ridge above the modern town by the river. A single tortuous entrance, defended by an outwork, gives access to the levelled interior. All, save the oaken palisades which once topped each round of the barrier, remains as it was when first constructed, looking down, now as then, on the spot where the population for whose benefit it was made dwelt in time of peace. For English Dorchester is the British town whose name the Romans, when they raised the square ramparts which still encircle it, transliterated into Durnovaria. Durnovaria in turn became, on Anglo-Saxon lips, Dornwara-ceaster, Dorn-ceaster, and finally Dorchester.

G. 10.—We have already, on physical grounds, assigned these Durotriges to the Damnonian Name. There were certainly fewer natural obstacles between them and the men of Devon to the west than between them and the Belgae to the northward. Caesar, however, distinctly states that the Belgic power extended to the coast line, so the Britons of the Frome valley may have been conquered by them. Or the Durotriges may be a Belgic tribe after all. For, as we have pointed out, our evidence is of the scantiest, and there is every reason to suppose that the era of the Roman invasion was one of incessant political confusion in the land.


Religious state of Britain—Illustrated by Hindooism—Totemists—Polytheists—Druids—Bards — —Seers—Druidic Deities—Mistletoe—Sacred herbs—"Ovum Anguinum"—Suppression of Druidism—Druidism and Christianity.

H. 1.—The religious state of the country seems to have been in no less confusion than its political condition. The surviving "Ugrian" inhabitants appear to have sunk into mere totemists and fetish worshippers, like the aboriginal races of India; while the Celtic tribes were at a loose and early stage of polytheism, with a Pantheon filled by every possible device, by the adoration of every kind of natural phenomenon, the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, the winds and clouds, the earth and sea, rivers, wells, sacred trees, by the creation of tribal divinities, gods and goddesses of war, commerce, healing, and all the congeries of mutually tolerant devotions which we see in the Brahmanism of to-day. And, as in Brahmanism, all these devotions were under the shadow of a sacerdotal and prophetic caste, wielding vast influence, and teaching, esoterically at least, a far more spiritual religion.

H. 2.—These were the Druids, whose practices and tenets fortunately excited such attention at Rome that we know more about them by far than we could collect concerning either Jews or Christians from classical authors. And though most of our authorities refer to Druidism as practised in Gaul, yet we have the authority of Caesar for Britain being the special home and sanctuary of the faith, to which the Gallic Druids referred as the standard for their practices.52 We may safely, therefore, take the pictures given us by him and others, as supplying a representation of what took place in our land ere the Romans entered it.

H. 3.—The earliest testimony is that of Julius Caesar himself, in his well-known sketch of contemporary Druidism ('De Bello Gallico,' vi. 14-20). He tells us that the Druids were the ministers of religion, the sacrificial priesthood of the nation, the authorized expounders of the Divine will. All education and jurisprudence was in their hands, and their sentences of excommunication were universally enforced. The Gallic Druids were under the dominion of a Primate, who presided at the annual Chapter of the Order, and was chosen by it; a disputed election occasionally ending in an appeal to arms. As a rule, however, Druids were supposed not to shed blood, they were free from all obligation to military service, and from all taxation of every kind. These privileges enabled them to recruit their ranks—for they were not an hereditary caste—from the pick of the national youth, in spite of the severe discipline of the Druidical novitiate. So great was the mass of sacred literature required to be committed to memory that a training of twenty years was sometimes needed. All had to be learnt orally, for the matter was too sacred to be written down, though the Druids were well acquainted with writing, and used the Greek alphabet,53 if not the Greek language,54 for secular purposes. Caesar's own view is that this refusal to allow the inditing of their sacred books was due to two causes: first, the fear lest the secrets of the Order should thus leak out, and, secondly, the dread lest reading should weaken memory, "as, in fact, it generally does." Even so, amongst the Brahmans there are, to this day, many who can not only repeat from end to end the gigantic mass of Vedic literature, but who know by heart also with absolute accuracy the huge and complicated works of the Sanscrit grammarians.

H. 4.—Caesar further tells us that the Druids taught the doctrine of transmigration of souls, and that their course of education included astronomy, geography, physics, and theology. The attributes of their chief God corresponded, in his view, with those of the Roman Mercury. Of the minor divinities, one, like Apollo, was the patron of healing; a second, like Minerva, presided over craft-work; a third, like Jupiter, was King of Heaven, and a fourth, like Mars, was the War-god.55 Their calendar was constructed on the principle that each night belongs to the day before it (not to that after it, as was the theory amongst the Mediterranean nations), and they reckoned all periods of time by nights, not days, as we still do in the word "fortnight." For this practice they gave the mystical reason that the Celtic races were the Children of Darkness. At periods of national or private distress, human sacrifices were in vogue amongst them, sometimes on a vast scale. "They have images [simulacra] of huge size, whose limbs when enclosed [contexta] with wattles, they fill with living men. The wattles are fired and the men perish amid the hedge of flame [circumventi flamma exanimantur homines]." It is usually supposed that these simulacra were hollow idols of basket-work. But such would require to be constructed on an incredible scale for their limbs to be filled with men; and it is much more probable that they were spaces traced out upon the ground (like the Giant on the hill above Cerne Abbas in Dorset), and hedged in with the wattles to be fired.

H. 5.—From the historian Diodorus Siculus, whose life overlapped Caesar's, we learn that Druid was a native British name. "There are certain philosophers and theologians held in great honour whom they call Druids."56 Whether this designation is actually of Celtic derivation is, however, uncertain. Pliny thought it was from the Greek affected by the Druids and connected with their oak-tree worship. Professor Rhys mentions that the earliest use of the word in extant Welsh literature is in the Book of Taliesin, under the form Derwyddon,57 and that in Irish is to be found the cognate form Drui. But these are as likely to be derived from the Greek [drouides], as this from them. Diodorus adds that they have mighty influence, and preside at all sacred rites, "as possessing special knowledge of the Gods, yea, and being of one speech [homophônôn] with them." This points to some archaic or foreign language, possibly Greek, being used in the Druidical ritual. Their influence, he goes on to say, always makes for peace: "Oft-times, when hosts be arrayed, and either side charging the one against the other, yea, when swords are out and spears couched for the onset, will these men rush between and stay the warriors, charming them to rest [katepasantes], like so many wild beasts."

H. 6.—With the Druids Diodorus associates two other religiously influential classes amongst the Britons, the Bards [bardoi] and the Seers [manteis]. The former present the familiar features of the cosmopolitan minstrel. They sing to harps [organôn tais lurais homoiôn], both fame and disfame. The latter seem to have corresponded with the witch-doctors of the Kaffir tribes, deriving auguries from the dying struggles of their victims (frequently human), just as the Basuto medicine-men tortured oxen to death to prognosticate the issue of the war between Great Britain and the Boers in South Africa. Strabo, in the next generation, also mentions together these three classes, Bards, Seers, [Ouateis] = Vates and Druids. The latter study natural science and ethics [pros tê phusiologia kai tên êthikên philosophian askousin]. They teach the immortality of the soul, and believe the Universe to be eternal, "yet, at the last, fire and water shall prevail."

H. 7.—Pomponius Mela, who wrote shortly before the Claudian conquest of Britain, says that the Druids profess to know the shape and size of the world, the movements of the stars, and the will of the Gods. They teach many secrets in caves and woods, but only to the nobles of the land. Of this esoteric instruction one doctrine alone has been permitted to leak out to the common people—that of the immortality of the soul—and this only because that doctrine was calculated to make them the braver in battle. In accordance with it, food and the like was buried with the dead, for the use of the soul. Even a man's debts were supposed to pass with him to the shades.

H. 8.—Our picture of the Druids is completed by Pliny,58 writing shortly after the Claudian conquest. Approaching the subject as a naturalist he does not mention their psychological tenets, but gives various highly interesting pieces of information as to their superstitions with regard to natural objects, especially plants. "The Druids," he says, "(so they call their Magi) hold nothing so sacred as the mistletoe and that tree whereon it groweth, if only this be an oak. Oak-groves, indeed, they choose for their own sake, neither do they celebrate any sacred rite without oak-leaves, so that they appear to be called Druids from the Greek word for this tree. Whatsoever mistletoe, then, groweth on such a tree they hold it for a heaven-sent sign, and count that tree as chosen by their God himself. Yet but very rarely is it so found, and, when found, is sought with no small observance; above all on the sixth day of the moon (which to this folk is the beginning of months and years alike),59 and after the thirtieth year of its age, because it is by then in full vigour of strength, nor has its half-tide yet come. Hailing it, in their own tongue, as 'Heal-all,' they make ready beneath the tree, with all due rites, feast and sacrifice. Then are brought up two bulls of spotless white, whose horns have never ere this known the yoke. The priest, in white vestments, climbeth the tree, and with a golden sickle reapeth the sacred bough, which is caught as it falls in a white robe [sagum]. Then, and not till then, slay they the victims, praying that their God will prosper this his gift to those on whom he hath bestowed the same."

H. 9.—A drink made from mistletoe, or possibly the mere insertion of the branch into drinking water, was held by the Druids, Pliny adds, as an antidote to every kind of poison. Other herbs had like remedial properties in their eyes. The fumes of burning "selago"60 were thus held good for affections of the eyesight, only, however, when the plant was plucked with due ceremonies. The gatherer must be all in white, with bare and washen feet, and must hallow himself, ere starting on his quest, with a devotional partaking of bread and wine [sacro facto ... pane vinoque]. He must by no means cut the sacred stem with a knife, but pluck it, and that not with bare fingers, but through the folds of his tunic, his right hand being protruded for this purpose beneath his left, "in thievish wise" [velut a furante]. Another herb, "samolum," which grew in marshy places, was of avail in all diseases both of man and beast. It had to be gathered with the left hand, and fasting, nor might the gatherer on any account look back till he reached some runlet [canali] in which he crushed his prize and drank.

H. 10.—Pliny's picture has the interest of having been drawn almost at the final disappearance of Druidism from the Roman world. For some reason it was supposed to be, like Christianity, peculiarly opposed to the genius of Roman civilization, and never came to be numbered amongst the religiones licitae of the Empire. Augustus forbade the practice of it to Roman citizens,61 Tiberius wholly suppressed it in Gaul,62 and, in conquering Britain, Claudius crushed it with a hand of iron. Few pictures in the early history of Britain are more familiar than the final extirpation of the last of the Druids, when their sacred island of Mona (Anglesey) was stormed by the Roman legionaries, and priests and priestesses perished en masse in the flames of their own altars.63 Their desperate resistance was doubtless due to the fact that Rome was the declared and mortal enemy of their faith. So baneful, indeed, did Druidism come to be considered, that to hold even with the least of its superstitions was treated at Rome as a capital offence. Pliny tells us of a Roman knight, of Gallic birth, who was put to death by Claudius for no other reason than that of being in possession of a certain stone called by the Druids a "snake's egg," and supposed to bring good luck in law-suits.64

H. 11.—This stone Pliny himself had seen, and describes it (in his chapter on the use of eggs) as being like a medium-sized apple, having a cartilaginous shell covered with small processes like the discs on the arms of an octopus. This can scarcely have been, as most commentators suppose, the shell of an echinus (with which Pliny was well acquainted), even if fossil. His description rather seems to point to some fossil covered with ostrea sigillina, such as are common in British green-sands. He adds an account of the Druidical view of its production, how it is the solidified poison of a number of serpents who put their heads together to eject it, and how, even when set in gold, it will float, and that against a stream. This "egg," it will be seen, was from Gaul. The British variant of the superstition was that the snakes thus formed a ring of poison matter, larger or smaller according to the number engaged, which solidified into a gem known as Glain naidr, "Adder's glass."65 The small rings of green or blue glass, too thick for wear, which are not uncommonly found in British burial-places, are supposed to represent this gem. So also, possibly, are the much larger rings of roughly-baked clay which occur throughout the Roman period. For superstitions die hard, and Gough assures us that even in 1789 such "adder-beads" or "snake-stones" were considered "lucky" in Wales and Cornwall, and were still ascribed to the same source as by the Druids of old.

H. 12.—After its suppression by Claudius, Druidism still lingered on in Britain beyond the Roman pale, and amid the outlaws of the Armorican forests in Gaul, but in a much lower form. The least worthy representatives of the Brahmanic caste in India are those found in the least civilized regions, whose tendency is to become little better than sorcerers.66 And in like manner it is as sorcerers that the later Druids of Scotland and Ireland meet us in their legendary encounters with St. Patrick and St. Columba. They are called "The School of Simon the Druid" (i.e. Simon Magus), and a 9th-century commentary designates Jannes and Jambres as "Druids." But the word did not wholly lose its higher associations. It is applied to the Wise Men in an early Welsh hymn on the Epiphany; and in another, ascribed to Columba himself, the saint goes so far as to say, "Christ, the Son of God, is my Druid."67

[6]In the British (?) village near Glastonbury the bases of shed antlers are found hafted for mallets.

[7] This name is simply given for archaeological convenience, to indicate that these aborigines were non-Aryan, and perhaps of Turanian affinity.

[8] Skeat, however, traces "ogre" (the Spanish "ogro") to the Latin Orcus.

[9]The latest excavations (1902) prove Stonehenge to be a Neolithic erection. No metal was found, but quantities of flint implements, broken in the arduous task of dressing the great Sarsen monoliths. The process seems to have been that still used for granite, viz. to cut parallel channels on the rough surface, and then break and rub down the ridges between. This was done by the use of conical lumps of Sarsen stone, weighing from 20 to 60 lbs., several of which were discovered bearing traces of usage, both in pounding and rubbing. The monoliths examined were found to be thus tooled accurately down to the very bottom, 8 or 9 feet below ground. At Avebury the stones are not dressed.

[10] Sarsen is the same word as Saracen, which in mediaeval English simply means foreign (though originally derived from the Arabic sharq = Eastern). Whence the stones came is still disputed. They may have been boulders deposited in the district by the ice-drift of the Glacial Epoch.

[11] Professor Rhys assigns 600 B.C. as the approximate date of the first Gadhelic arrivals, and 200 B.C. as that of the first Brythonic.

[12] Whether or no this word is (as some authorities hold) derived from the Welsh Prutinach (=Picts) rather than from the Brythons, it must have reached Aristotle through Brythonic channels, for the Gadhelic form is Cruitanach.

[13] A certain amount of British folk-lore was brought back to Greece, according to Plutarch ('De defect. orac.' 2), by the geographer Demetrias of Tarsus about this time. He refers to the cavern of sleeping heroes, so familiar in our mediaeval legends.

[14] The word is said to be derived from the root kâsh, "shine." Some authorities, however, maintain that it came into Sanscrit from the Greek.

[15] 'Hist.' III. 112.

[16] See p. 48.

[17] For a full notice of Pytheas see Elton, 'Origins of English History,' pp. 13-75. See also Tozer's 'Ancient Geography,' chap. viii.

[18] Posidonius of Rhodes, the tutor of Cicero, visited Britain about 100 B.C., and wrote a History of his travels in fifty volumes, only known to us by extracts in Strabo (iii. 217, iv. 287, vii. 293), Diodorus Siculus (v. 28, 30), Athenaeus, and others. See Bake's 'Posidonius' (Leyden, 1810).

[19] The ingots of bronze found in the recent [1900] excavations at Gnossus, in Crete, which date approximately from 2000 B.C., are of this shape. Presumably the Britons learnt it from Phoenician sources.

[20] Saxon coracles are spoken of even in the 5th century A.D. See p. 245.

[21] 'Coins of the Ancient Britons,' p. 24.

[22] This familiar feature of our climate is often touched on by classical authors. Minucius Felix (A.D. 210) is observant enough to connect it with our warm seas, "its compensation," due to the Gulf Stream.

[23] 'Nat. Hist.' xviii. 18.

[24] Ibid. xvii. 4.

[25] Solinus (A.D. 80) adds that bees, like snakes, were unknown in Ireland, and states that bees will even desert a hive if Irish earth be brought near it!

[26] Matthew Martin, 'Western Isles,' published 1673. Quoted by Elton ('Origins of English Hist.,' p. 16), who gives Martin's date as 1703.

[27] Strabo, iv. 277. The word basket is itself of Celtic origin, and passed into Latin as it has passed into English. Martial ('Epig.' xiv. 299) says: "Barbara de pictis veni bascauda Britannis." Strabo wrote shortly before, Martial shortly after, the Roman Conquest of Britain.

[28] One of these primitive mortars, a rudely-hollowed block of oolite, with a flint pestle weighing about 6 lbs., was found near Cambridge in 1885.

[29] Diod. Siculus, 'Hist.' v. 21.

[30] 'British Barrows,' p. 750.

[31] 'Geog.' IV.

[32] 'Legend of Montrose,' ch. xxii.

[33] Diod. Sic. v. 30: "Saga crebris tessellis florum instar distincta." This sagum was obviously a tartan plaid such as are now in use. The kilt, however, was not worn. It is indeed a comparatively quite modern adaptation of the belted plaid. Ancient Britons wore trousers, drawn tight above the ankles, after the fashion still current amongst agricultural labourers. They were already called "breeches." Martial (Ep. x. 22) satirizes a life "as loose as the old breeches of a British pauper."

[34] Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.' viii. 48.

[35] Id. xxviii. 2. Fashions about hair seem to have changed as rapidly amongst Britons (throughout the whole period of this work) as in later times. The hair was sometimes worn short, sometimes long, sometimes strained back from the forehead; sometimes moustaches were in vogue, sometimes a clean shave, more rarely a full beard; but whiskers were quite unknown.

[36] Tozer ('Ancient Geog.' p. 164) states that amber is also exported from the islands fringing the west coast of Schleswig, and considers that these rather than the Baltic shores were the "Amber Islands" of Pytheas.

[37] 'Nat. Hist.' xxxvii. 1.

[38] See p. 128.

[39] A lump weighing nearly 12 lbs. was dredged up off Lowestoft in 1902.

[40] A.D. 50.

[41] Seneca speaks of the blue shields of the Yorkshire Brigantes.

[42] See Elton, 'Origins of English History,' p. 116.

[43] Thurnam, 'British Barrows' (Archaeol. xliii. 474).

[44] Propertius, iv. 3, 7.

[45] 'Celtic Britain,' p. 40.

[46] This seems the least difficult explanation of this strange name. An alternative theory is that it = Cenomanni (a Gallic tribe-name also found in Lombardy). But with this name (which must have been well known to Caesar) we never again meet in Britain. And it is hard to believe that he would not mention a clan so important and so near the sphere of his campaign as the Iceni.

[47] See p. 109.

[48] These tribes are described by Vitruvius, at the Christian era, as of huge stature, fair, and red-haired. Skeletons of this race, over six feet in height, have been discovered in Yorkshire buried in "monoxylic" coffins; i.e. each formed of the hollowed trunk of an oak tree. See Elton's 'Origins,' p. 168.

[49] This correspondence, however, is wholly an antiquarian guess, and rests on no evidence. It is first found in the forged chronicle of "Richard of Cirencester." The names are genuine, being found in the 'Notitia,' though dating only from the time of Diocletian (A.D. 296). But, on our theory, the same administrative divisions must have existed all along. See p. 225.

[50] General Pitt Rivers, however, in his 'Excavations in Cranborne Chase' (vol. ii. p. 237), proves that the ancient water level in the chalk was fifty feet higher than at present, presumably owing to the greater forest area. "Dew ponds" may also have existed in these camps. But these can scarcely have provided any large supply of water.

[51] The word is commonly supposed to represent a Celtic form Mai-dun. But this is not unquestionable.

[52] 'De Bello Gall.' vi. 13.

[53] 'De Bell. Gall.' vi. 14.

[54] Jerome ('Quaest. in Gen.' ii.) says that Varro, Phlegon, and all learned authors testify to the spread of Greek [at the Christian era] "from Taurus to Britain." And Solinus (A.D. 80) tells of a Greek inscription in Caledonia, "ara Graecis literis scripta"—as a proof that Ulysses (!) had wandered thither (Solinus, 'Polyhistoria,' c. 22). See p. 248.

[55] 'De Bell, Gall.' vi. 16.

[56] 'Hist.' v. 31.

[57] 'Celtic Britain,' p. 69.

[58] 'Nat. Hist.' xvi. 95.

[59] So Caesar, 'De Bell. Gall.' vi. 17.

[60] Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.' xxiv. 62. Linnaeus has taken selago as his name for club-moss, but Pliny here compares the herb to savin, which grows to the height of several feet. Samolum is water-pimpernel in the Linnaean classification. Others identify it with the pasch-flower, which, however, is far from being a marsh plant.

[61] Suetonius (A.D. 110), 'De xii. Caes.' v. 25.

[62] Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.' xxx. 3.

[63] Tacitus, 'Annals,' xiv. 30. See p. 154.

[64] Pliny, 'Nat. Hist.' xxix. 12.

[65] See Brand, 'Popular Antiquities,' under Ovum Anguinum. He adds that Glune is the Irish for glass.

[66] Lampridius, in his life of Alexander Severus, tells us of a "Druid" sorceress who warned the Emperor of his approaching doom. Another such "Druidess" is said to have foretold Diocletian's rise. See Coulanges, 'Comme le Druidisme a disparu,' in the Revue Celtique, iv. 37.

[67] See Professor Rhys, 'Celtic Britain,' p. 70. The Professor's view that the "schismatical" tonsure of the Celtic clergy, which caused such a stir during the evangelization of England, was a Druidical survival, does not, however, seem probable in face of the very pronounced antagonism between those clergy and the Druids. That tonsure was indeed ascribed by its Roman denouncers to Simon Magus [see above], but this is scarcely a sufficient foundation for the theory.


Terms Defined

Referenced Works