Book 1, Chapter 2, Pre 55 BC – The Early Britons – Continued
That the country was known by name to the Greeks, so far back as three hundred and sixty years before Christ, is certain and it is probable that they knew of it prior to that period. In a work ascribed to Aristotle, the British islands are mentioned as Albion and Ierne. The name Albion may have come from a fabled giant, a son of Neptune, or from the appearance of the cliffs opposite to the coast of Gaul. A hundred years before the time of Aristotle, Herodotus described the Cassiterides, or tin islands in the farthest parts of Europe, by which he is generally supposed to have designated Cornwall and the Scilly Islands. The country was known to the ancient Phoenicians, who traded thither for tin, which, mixed with copper, formed the well-known bronze, or brass, of early times. This metal was largely used in the construction of Solomon’s temple, and the chief worker was Hiram, a man of Tyre, who was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and cunning, to work all works in bronze. 1 Kings ch. vii. Tyre was one of the cities of the Phoenicians, who were the merchants of the then known world, and as bronze could not be made without tin, and as tin was only to be obtained at that period in Spain and Britain, it is almost certain that the latter country largely furnished one of the materials used in the building of that magnificent temple. When the prosperity of the Phoenicians declined, their descendants, the Carthaginians, continued their maritime and trading enterprise, and held commercial intercourse with Britain. So profitable was this that the knowledge was kept a profound secret, in order to retain a monopoly, and especially to prevent their formidable rivals, the Romans, sharing in it.
Strabo relates that the latter watched and followed the ships of the Carthaginians, as to discover whence the tin was obtained, and that on one occasion, in particular, a vessel was run aground by the captain, and abandoned, on finding that he could not outsail or elude the Roman galley. The loss of the vessel and cargo was made up out of the public treasury, as a reward for the captain’s public spirit. It was impossible, however, that such secrecy could be permanently maintained, and at length, the Roman colonists on the southern coast of Gaul opened up a vigorous and lucrative trade on their own account. Strabo also tells us that the inhabitants who live near the Belerian promontory (the Land’s End, Cornwall) prepare the tin and show much skill in working the earth which produces it. This being of a stony nature, and having earthy veins in every direction, they work their way into these veins, and by means of water separate the fragments. These they bruise into small pieces, and convey to an island which lies in front of Britain (probably some small islet off the Cornish coast) for at the great ebb of the tide the channel becomes dry, and they carry over the tin in large quantities on wagons. From Ictis the tin is purchased by native merchants, and transported to Gaul.
Chapter 2, The Early Britons
Country Known to the Greeks
Categories: Book 1