Charles Isaac Elton.

Origins of English history online

. (page 20 of 38)
Online LibraryCharles Isaac EltonOrigins of English history → online text (page 20 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Malmesbury, and widening perhaps to the south to take in Wareham."
Welsh Philology, 185. Against this exception he sets the Cornavii, whose
territory seems to have consisted of a strip of land " running from the
neighbourhood of the Worcestershire Avon, along the eastern bank of the
Severn, and continued in a sort of an arc of a circle dipping into the sea
between the Dee and the Mersey." Celtic Britain, 219, 224.

2 Stubbs, Const. Hist. i. 62.

Origins of English History. 227

and some have even distinguished the presence in our
literature of a bright colouring and a romantic note, which
they ascribe to an abiding Celtic influence.

Judging by the distribution of local names we can trace
the Gaelic or "Goidelic" settlements in almost all parts
of Britain and Ireland. The Ptolemaic map of Britain
(Map VI.) will furnish sufficient examples of similar or
identical names appearing in widely separated districts.
But care must be taken to distinguish between the forms
which belong to the Gaelic idioms and those which are
either ambiguous or clearly to be traced to a Gaulish
source. We know, for instance, that the Britons of the
interior had no towns before the commencement of the
Roman invasions ; and we can therefore attach but little
importance to the fact that " Lindum " was the name of
the places which are now called Lincoln and Linlithgow,
or to the appearance of a "Venta" among the Iceni, at
Winchester in the territory of the Belgse, and at " Venta
Silurum " in Monmouthshire.^

The same caution is required in dealing with the words
for such natural objects as mountains and promontories,
or with the river-names which are so continually repeated,
such as " Stour " "Avon " and "Dee," or " Alaunus " and
"Alauna," which are found in every quarter. In such
cases it is clear that words belonging to several nations

^ The "Venta Icenorum " seems to have been at or near Caistor in
Norfolk. The name of the " Venta Belgarum " is preserved in the word
''Winchester." The Silurian "Venta "gave a name not only to " Caer-
Went " but to several divisions of Monmouthshire. Leland, for instance,
divides the county into Low Middle and High Vinceland : " the principal
town of Low Gwentland is Chepstow about two miles from Severn shore."
Compare Guest's Early English Settlements in the Archceologia (Salisbury.
1849), ^^d Taylor, Topogr. Eastern Counties, 4, 22.

15 *

228 Origins of English History.

might have been derived from some common Celtic
source. A cape might be called "the Height," or a
stream "the Divine," in a number of cognate dialects,
without our being able to trace the name with certainty to
an insular or a continental language.-^ The safer method
lies in the comparison of national names. We find
"Cantse" in Ross-shire and " Cornabii " in Caithness:
there were " Vennicones " in Forfarshire and " Vennicnii"
on the Western Coast of Ireland ; and the Brigantes appear
in Wexford as well as in the great British kingdom which
stretched from the Lothians to the line of the Humber
and Mersey. There were Damnonians, or " Dumnonians,"
not only in Cornwall and Devon but all over Central
Scotland, from the sea above Galloway to the mouth of
the Tay.^ The limits of a third Damnonia can be traced
in the midland and western parts of Ireland. The Kings
of Connaught and the famous dynasty of Tara traced their
descent from the "Fir-Damnann," whose remembrance has
survived in old Celtic names for the Malahide River near
Dublin and the Damnonian Peninsula on the western
coast of Mayo.^ Another home of the race was founded

1 Many of the names of hills and promontories are taken from a word
meaning " high." It appears in O. Welsh as uchel, in O. Irish as uasal,
and in Gaulish as iixel in compound words. Compare the British form in
such names as Ocelum for Flamborough Head, Tunnocelum. for Bowness,
Ochiltree and the Ochil Hills, with the Gaulish Uxella, the UxeLlodunum near
Carlisle, and a place with an identical name in Gaul. Caesar, De Bell. Gall,
viii. 32; Rhys, Lectures, 181. For the names of rivers see Rhys, Welsh
Philology, Revue Celtique, i. 299, ii. i. Joyce, Irish Names, 434.

^ Skene, Celtic Scotland, i. 127 ; Robertson, Early Kings of Scotland,
ii. 231.

^ Adamnan's Life of St. Columba (Reeves), 31. Robertson, Early Kings
of Scotland, ii. 2,SS' 388.

Origins of English History. 229

in a later age when the exiles from Britain carried the old


" Et parvam Trojam simulataque magnis

to the wild district between the shore of Brittany and the
Forest of Broceliande/

It will be useful to give separate descriptions of several
of the principal nations, since it is clear that the difference
in their local circumstances must have prevented them
from attaining to any uniform standard of culture.

We shall first deal with the Western Tribes, the
Damnonians of Devon and Cornwall, and their neighbours
the " Durotriges," who have left a vestige of their name
in the modern "Dorchester" and "Dorset." Their territory
mav be taken as extendins: from the Land's End to the
Belgian frontier in the neighbourhood of the Southampton
Water, Their eastern limit stretched from the New
Forest to the neighbourhood of " Ischalis," or Ilchester,
and to the great marshes in which the stream of the
Parret was lost in those early times. The lines of old sea-
beaches about Sedgmoor, the remains found far inland
of " islands where the sands were drifted and a shingle
beach thrown up," and the Roman antiquities found in the
embankments and silt of the marshes, show that much of
the land has been reclaimed within the historical period.^
It is probable that these Damnonian tribes were isolated
from their eastern neighbours by a wide march of woods
and fens. It may be that these natural causes helped to

^ Valroger, Gaule Celtique, 288 ; De Coursons, Hist. Bret. i. 200 j
Halleguen, Armorique, i. 17 ; Revue Celtique, ii. 74.
^ De la Beche, Geology of Cornwall, 421, 422.

230 Origins of English History.

preserve for them that superiority of culture which
distinguished them from the inland tribes.

Diodorus has shown us that these southern nations had
been taught to live "in a very hospitable and polite
manner " by their intercourse with the foreign merchants.
Some of their ports and markets can even now be
identified. The discovery of a huge " knuckle-bone " of
tin, dredged up near Falmouth in 1823, marks the station
on the Truro River called by Ptolemy "the Outlets of
Cenion"; a deposit of weapons and gold coins at Oreston
in Plymouth Sound shows the position of the ancient
"Tamara"; and the emporium at " Isaca " cannot have
been far from the site which the Romans selected for
their permanent camp at Exeter. The course of the
metal-trade may be indicated by the names of places on
the coast-road leading eastward from the Exe, as Stansa
Bay and Stans Ore Point in Hampshire. The Greeks
came for minerals, the Gauls for furs and skins and for the
great wolf-dogs which they used in their domestic wars.
There must have been manv other sources of information
by which the natives could learn what was passing abroad.
There were students constantly crossing to take lessons in
the insular Druidism ; the slave-merchants followed the
armies in time of war, the pedlars explored the trading-
roads to sell their trinkets of glass and ivory, and the
travelling sword-smiths and bronze-tinkers must have
helped in a great degree to spread the knowledge of the
arts of civilised society.

The Damnonians had the advantages of trade and travel.
It appears from a passage in Caesar's Commentaries that
their young men were accustomed to serve in foreign
fleets, and to take part in the Continental wars. The

Origins of English History, 231

nation had entered into a close;alliance with the "Veneti,"
or people of Vannes, whose powerful navy had secured
the command of the Channel. A squadron of British
ships took part in the great sea-fight which was the
immediate cause of Caesar's invasion of the island ; and
his description of the allied fleet shows the great advance
in civilisation to which the Southern Britons had attained.
"The enemy," he said, "had a great advantage in their
shipping : the keels of their vessels were flatter than
ours and were consequently more convenient for the
shallows and low tides. The forecastles were very high
and the poops so contrived as to endure the roughness of
those seas. The bodies of the ships were built entirely of
oak, stout enough to withstand any shock or violence.
The banks for the oars were beams of a foot square,
bolted at each end with iron pins as thick as a man's
thumb. Instead of cables for their anchors they used iron
chains. The sails were of untanned hide, either because
they had no linen and were ignorant of its use, or as is
more likely because they thought linen sails not strong
enough to endure their boisterous seas and winds. "^ We

^ Csesar, De Bell. Gall. iii. 9, 13 ; Vegetlus, De Re Milit. iv. 37. See
Hawkins, Tin-trade of the Ancients, 50. We may compare the description
of the boats which at various times have been found in the silt at Glasgow.
"Two were built of planks, and one was very elaborately constructed. It
was 18 feet in length. Its prow was not unlike the prow of an antique
galley : its stem, formed of a triangular piece of oak, fitted in exactly like
those of our day. The planks were fastened to the ribs partly by
singularly- shaped oaken pins and partly by what must have been nails of
some kind of metal ; these had entirely disappeared, but some of the oaken
pins remained. In one of the canoes a beautifully polished axe of green-
stone was found, and in the bottom of another a plug of cork which could
only have come from the latitudes of Spain, Southern France, or Italy.'
Lyell, Antiquity of Man, 48.

232 Origins of English History.

are told by Vegetius that the ships and their sails were
painted blue for the purpose of making them less con-
spicuous at a distance.

We say nothing about the Belgas, the neighbours of the
Damnonians to the eastward, because they were a Gaulish
people whose conquests may have been of a date later
than the age of Julius Caesar. We therefore pass to the
Silurians across the Severn Sea, to the "Dobuni" of the
Cotswolds and the Vale of Gloucester, the " Coritavi " of the
central region, and the great confederacy of the Brigantes.

These tribes do not appear to have shared in the culture
which the Damnonians had gained from their intercourse
with foreigners. What little commerce they undertook
was carried on in frail " curraghs," in which the peoples of
the western coast were so bold as to cross the Irish Sea.
Boats of that kind are still used in Ireland with the substi-
tution of tarred canvass for the original covering of bull's
hide. The method of building these boats appears from
an anecdote of Caesar's Spanish campaign. Being in want
of vessels for transport, we are told that he remembered
the pattern of the canoes which he had seen on the
British rivers. The keel and principal timbers were cut
from thin planking and nailed together : then the sides
were filled in with basket-work of willows or hazels plaited
in and out, and the whole was covered with stout coats of
hide.^ There are figures on the tessellated pavements,

^ Caesar, De Bell. Civil, i. 545 Solinus, Polyhist. c. 24. Compare
Lucan : —

" Primum cana salix madefacto vimine parvam
Texitur in puppim, caesoque inducta juvenco
Vectoris patiens tumiduni superenatat amnem.
Sic Venetus stagnante Pado, fusoque Britannus
Navigat Oceano." — Pharsal. iv. 131.

Origins of English History. 233

found at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire, which show the
British fishermen paddling in little coracles about the
mouth of the Severn, and one figure "enveloped in a
hooded frieze mantle" is drawn in the act of catching a
large salmon which he is pulling into the leather canoe.
These native boats are still to be seen in use upon the
Dee : " they were made of wicker, and were not oblong
or pointed, but rather triangular in shape, and were
covered both inside and outside with hides. "^

These tribes were probably of a mixed race, if we may
judge from the persistence of the Silurian features among
the modern population of the district. Their neighbours
the " Ordovices," from whom the Cornavians were sepa-
rated by the shifting waters of the Dee," are now thought
to have been a " Brythonic " people, who intruded into
the district of Powys, and eventually spread as far west-
ward as Cardigan Bay.^ They are sometimes described
as holding all North Wales : but this is inconsistent with
what is known of their physical appearance as well as
with the plain words of a passage in the Life of Agricola.
' A tribe of the Ordovices ' in the year a.d. 78, had
destroyed a regiment of cavalry which was quartered upon
their territory. The general made haste to collect an

1 Girald. Cambr. Descr. Cambr. i. 18. He adds that "when a salmon
thrown into one of these boats struck hard with its tail, it would overset the
boat and endanger both the vessel and navigator." See King's Roman
Antiquities of Lydney Park.

- " The inhabitants of these parts (says Giraldus) assert that the waters
of this river change their fords every month, and as it inclines more
towards England or Wales they can prognosticate which nation \\\\\ be
successful or unfortunate during the year." Itin. Cambr. ii. c. 11.

' Rhys, Cehic Britain, 81, 218, 302. See also, De Bclloguct, Ethnog.
Gaul. 263, and Giraldus Cambrensis, Descr. Cambr. i. c. 6, and ii. c. 15.

234 Origins of English History.

army and at once made war upon the whole nation of
which the tribe formed part ; the Ordovices abandoned
the flat country and retired into their mountains, but were
followed and defeated by the Romans, and we are told
that "almost the whole nation was put to the sword."
Immediately afterwards Agricola determined to attack the
people of Anglesea : and it is clear from the words of
Tacitus that the new undertaking was regarded as dan-
gerous and important, so that we can hardly suppose that
the army was dealing with a mere residue or fragment of
the nation which had been so nearly exterminated/

Passing from the western districts we come to a central
region bounded on the south by the Gaulish kingdoms and
on the north by the Brigantian territories, and belonging
to a mixed assemblage of tribes who became known under
one name as the nation of the Coritavi." They consisted
in part of Celtic clans and in part of the remnants of a
ruder people. The mixture of races is distinctly shown in
the pictures which Cassar and Strabo drew of the rude
aborigines of the interior.

"The men," said Strabo, "are taller than the Celts of
Gaul : their hair is not so vellow and their limbs are more
loosely knit. To show how tall they are I may say that
I saw myself some of their young men at Rome, and they
were taller by six inches than any one else in the City ;
but they were bandy-legged and had a clumsy look."^
Their customs, he said, were in part like those of the Celts

^ Tac. Agric. c. i8.

^ In Ptolemy's time their principal towns were in the neighbourhood of
the modern Lincoln and Leicester. " Next to the Cornavii are the Coritavi
whose towns are Lindum and Rhage (or Ratse)." See Map VI.

^ Strabo, iv. 278.

Origins of English History. 235

and in part more simple and barbarous, a remark which
can only be interpreted as referring to a mixture of races.
Some were quite ignorant of agriculture and did not know
anything of the management of a garden : and some could
not even make cheese, though their supply of milk was

Caesar's description is to much the same effect. " Most
of the inland people grow no corn at all, but live off meat
and milk, and are clad in the skins of beasts."^ They
disfigured themselves with woad, and this fashion seems to
have survived in the districts conquered by the Gauls.
The men used it as a war-paint, staining their faces and
limbs blue and green to look more ghastly and terrible :
they thought perhaps, like the savages on the Vistula, that
an enemy could never withstand an army of such grim

Long after Caesar's time the Romans observed that
some of the British tribes were too careless to trouble
themselves with agriculture,^ as if they had no patience to
wait for the turn of the seasons, and preferred to trust to
the chances of war for food and plunder.

The Celts in the midland districts may have lived in

^ CcEsar, De Bell. Gall. v. c. 14.

^ Tac. Germ, c, 43 ; Mela. iii. 3 ; Pliny, Hist. Nat. xxii. c. 12. Compare
the " Virides Britannos " of Ovid, Amor. ii. 16, 39 ; the " Ceerulum Saxona"
of Sidonius, viii. 9 ; and the vermilion-painted Goths described by Isidore
of Seville, Orig. xix. 23 5 Grupen, De Uxore Theotisca, 173; Robertson,
Early Kings, ii. 225. The woad-plant, called vitrum from its use in the
manufacture of glass, has properties like those of indigo. " The herb
usually yields a blue tint, but when partially de- oxidated it has been found
to yield a fine green 5 the black colour was a third preparation, made by the
application of a greater heat." Herbert, Britannia after the Romans, Ivi.

^ Tac. Ann. xiv. c. 38.

236 Origins of English History.

permanent villages, raising crops of oats or some rougher
kind of grain for food, and weaving for themselves garments
of hair, or of coarse wool, from their puny many-horned
sheep. But the ruder tribes, who subsisted entirely by
their cattle, would naturally follow the herd, living through
the summer in booths on the higher pasture-grounds, and
only returning to the valleys to find shelter from the
winter-storms. There is a line of dry chalk-dow^ns running
transversely from the Yorkshire Wolds to the coast of
Dorset. " This is the region of the tumuli^ and on its
surface are seen the foundations of the British huts. On
the hills are their long boundary-fences ; below the edges
of the hills rise innumerable bright streams, and by these
springs no doubt were the settled habitations."^

To the north of the Coritavi stretched a confederacv or
collection of kingdoms to which the Romans applied the
single name of " Brigantia." We first hear of these confe-
derated states about the year a.d, 50, when their combined
territories extended on one coast from Flamborough Head
to the Firth of Forth, and on the other from the Dee or
Mersey to the valleys on the upper shore of the Solway.
" A line," says Mr. Skene, " drawn from the Solway
Firth across the island to the Eastern sea exactly
separates the great nation of the Brigantes from the
tribes on the north, the ' Gadeni ' and the 'Otadeni':
but this is obviously an artificial separation, as it closely
follows the line of Hadrian's Wall : otherwise it would
imply that the southern boundary of these barbarian tribes

^ Relations of Archaeology (Phillipps), in the 39th vol. of the Archaeological

Origins of English History. 237

was precisely on a line where nature presents no physical

The people seem to have been comparatively rich and
prosperous. They were so eminent in war that they
repeatedly repulsed the advance of the Imperial legions.
Seneca boasted that the Romans had bound with chains
of iron the necks of the blue-shielded Brigantes : but it
was long before the turbulent mountaineers were actually
subdued, and even in the second century they seem to
have preserved some remains of their ancient liberty.
Pausanias, writing at that time, has noticed one incident of
a forgotten war, and tells us how the Emperor Antoninus
*' cut off more than half of the territory of the Brigantes,"
because they had attacked a tribe who were living under
the protection of Rome.^

The story of Queen Cartismandua is the best illustra-
tion of the character and habits of her people. The luxury
of her court may have had no existence except in the
fancy of Tacitus : but the barbarian queen was doubtless
rich in her palace of wicker-work, in a herd of snow-white
cattle covering the pastures of the royal tribe, an enamelled
chariot, a cap or a corselet of gold. She was the chief

^ Skene, Celtic Scotland, i. 71. When Antoninus advanced the limit of
the province to the Firths of Forth and Clyde he was said to have taken
land from the Brigantes. Pausan. viii. 43. The chief tribes of the Brigan-
tians appear to have been the " Setantii," whose port was not far from
Lancaster, the " Gadeni " and " Otadeni " of Cumberland and Northum-
berland and the districts immediately to the north, the " Selgovae " extend-
ing along the northern shore of the Solway as far as Nithsdale, and the
" Gabrantovici " of the North Riding of Yorkshire.

^ Pausanias, viii. 43. The Brigantes had invaded the lands of the
" Genuni," a people who are identified by Professor Rhys with tlie
Attacotti, who appear later as the Picts of Galloway. Celtic Britain, 90,

238 Origins of English History.

of one of the many tribes of which the Brigantian nation
was composed. In a time when every valley had its king,
with an army of villagers, an ale-house council, and a
precarious treasure of cattle gained and held by the law of
the strongest, it was seldom possible for the nation to unite
in any common design, even for the purpose of resisting
the peril of a foreign invasion. The gathering of a
national army was an affair of meetings, and treaties, and
solemn sacrifices to the gods. When the sacred rites were
fulfilled, the blood tasted, and the rival deities and chief-
tains united by a temporary bond, the noblest and bravest
of the tribal leaders was chosen as a war-king or general in
command. But as often as not the treaty failed and the
clans fought or submitted as each might feel inclined.
"Our greatest advantage," says Tacitus, "in dealing with
such powerful nations is that they cannot act in concert :
it is seldom that even two or three tribes will join in
meeting a common danger ; and so while each fights for
himself they are all conquered together."^

Cartismandua was of such noble blood that she was
chosen to lead the national armies. She was married to
Venusius, the chieftain of a neighbouring tribe, who was
himself remarkable for his skill in the arts of war ; but the
alliance seems in no way to have diminished her domestic
power, and she still made wars and alliances on her own
account. The queen was far-seeing enough to understand
the hopelessness of a contest with Rome. She knew that
a firm and extended sovereignty, and a share of the
plunder which seemed like unbounded riches, would be
secured to her as the price of submission.

Caractacus, the Gaulish prince who for nine years
^ Tac. Agric. c. 12,

Origins of English History. 239

had led the armies of the West, sought refuge in the
Brigantian territory. The queen entrapped him with all
his family and delivered them in chains to the invaders.
Caractacus was carried to Rome and shown to the people
with a pomp of which the details are still preserved. First
came his officers and body-guard carrying his jewels and
collars, the harness of his horses and chariot-trappings, and
the treasures which he had gained in the wars. Next
came his brothers, and his wife and daughter, and lastly
the chieftain himself ; and it was observed that he alone
was calm and proud while the others were wxeping and
praying for their lives.

Cartismandua attained the height of fame when it was
allowed that she had gained a triumph for Cassar. But
her arrogance increased with her riches, and she began to
think herself exempt from the laws of her tribe and nation.
Her husband was cast off for an armour-bearer, and in the
civil war that followed she lost her crown and countrv.
She held out against the army of Venusius until her
Roman allies could arrive, and even succeeded with a
savage skill in capturing her husband's family as hostages ;
but the kingdom was lost after a long and doubtful
struggle, though the queen herself was rescued. We hear
little more of the Brigantes from that time until they
adopted the Roman customs, and ceased to be distin-
guishable from the foreign population which was collected
round the camps and fortresses on the line of Hadrian's

Tacitus, or perhaps Agricola, who was fond of discuss-
ing with him the projects for the conquest of Ireland,

1 For the story of Cartismandua, see Tac. Ann. xii. c. '^6; Hist. iii.
c. 45, and compare Agric. cc. 12, 24.

240 Origins of English History.

thought that the Brigantes were very Hke the Irish in
their character and habits of Hfe.^ We find in the ' Poly-

Online LibraryCharles Isaac EltonOrigins of English history → online text (page 20 of 38)