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that the feast never passed without one at least of the
priestesses being sacrificed in this fashion. Other wild rites
were performed by night, and the appearance of the ivy-
crowned women dancing in their tumultuous processions
was compared to that of the Maenads on the hills of

^ Dionys. Perieg. 570. Martin (Hist. France^ i. 6"^ considers all these
rituals to have belonged to convents of Druidesses engaged in the service of
Koridwen, the White Fairy or Moon-goddess, to whose cult the Celtic
priestesses were said to be devoted. " Strabo prend Koridwen pour Kore,
Proserpine." " Les nemedes (temples) des colleges ou monasteres de
druidesses, dont ils (les ecrivains grecs ou latins) nous revelent I'existence
sont situcs dans les iles les plus sauvages d'Armorique et de Bretagne.
Dans une de ces iles sacrees, voisine de la cote britannique se celebrent,
dit-on, des mysteres pareils a ceux de Samothrace et d'Eleusis, c'est-a-dire
les mysteres de Koridwen. Un ilot situe en face de I'embouchure de la
Loire est le theatre de mysteres plus redoutables encore. . . . Les pretresses
qui I'habitent, et qui appartiennent a la nation armoricaine des Nannetes,
sont marieesj mais leurs maris n'osent approcher de leur inviolable asilej
ce sont elles qui vont les visiter de nuit sur le rivage a des epoques determi-
nees. Le plus fameux de tons les colleges de druidesses est celui de File
de Sein ou de Sena, pres de la cote des Corisospites, Cornouaille Francjaise.
Sur un rocher presque inabordable jete dans la haute mer, en face du Raz
de Plogoff, do ce vaste promontoire de granit oil le continent europeen
vient mourir tristement dans un ocean sans homes, resident neuf
pretresses vouees comma les Vestales de Rome a une perpetuelle virginite.

Origins of English History. 25

Shortly after leaving the mouth of the Loire, the
travellers skirted the shores of the Morbihan, and found
themselves among the Celtic Islands. The mainland in
the vicinity of Vannes, as far as the extremity of Cape
Finisterre, was held by the " Ostimii," and tribes called
*' Osismici," or " Osistamnii," words which are either
corrupt and various readings of a manuscript, or the names
of different clans living near each other. The cape itself was
known to Pytheas as ''Calbion," or "Cabaion." Opposite
to this promontory they found an island then known as
"Axantos" or " Uxisama," and now called the Isle of
Ushant, which they described as being "three days' sail,"
or 1500 stadia, from the headland.^ Here they landed, and

On assure qu'elles guerissent les maladies qui echappent a la science des
Ovates, qu'elles soulevent et apaisent par leurs chants les vents et les flots,
qu'elles empruntent a volonte la figure de tous les animaux, qu'elles
dominant sur la Nature entiere, et savent les secrets de I'avenir, mais ne les
devoilent qu'aux seuls navigateurs embarques dans le but unique de
consulter les oracles. Ces neuf vierges semblent dans la croyance populaire
la plus grande puissance des Gaules." He adopts the best reading of
Pomponius Mela, iii. 6, " Galli Senas vocant," instead of Galliccnas or
Barrigenas, and interprets the root sen to denote awe and respect, " Le
radical sen exprime la veneration et I'autorite." The whole subject is very
uncertain, resting only on a faint report of what was said by Pytheas ; but
it may be fairly supposed that if there were two islands north of the Loire,
in which the Celtic rituals were practised, the one may be identified as
Ushant (Uxisama), and the other as I'lle des Saints (Sein), not far from

^ The length of the stadium, after some disputes, is now fixed at 600
Greek feet, which is equal to the 600th part of a degree or the tenth part of
a nautical mile (See Bunbury's Anc. Geog. i. 209). The calculation of
distance mentioned in the text was erroneous, and led Eratosthenes to make
a false estimate of the extension of Gaul and Britain to the west. Pytheas
considered Brittany to be 300 miles further west than the Straits of Gibraltar,
and to this was added " the headlands, including that of the Ostimii, called
Cabaeum, and the adjoining islands, the last of which, called Uxisama, was

2,6 Origms of English History.

found another temple, where nine virgin priestesses
maintained a perpetual fire and attended to a famous
oracle. These vestals professed to have magical powers,
to be able to transform themselves into the shapes of
animals, and to have fine weather and favouring winds on
sale for travellers, with a curious similarity in their
customs to the arts of the later Lapland witches/ Here,
without knowing it, Pytheas was at his nearest point to
the Cornish tin-country of which he was in search : and
there is no hint of any trade then existing between the
Bretons and the people of the opposite coast, such as
Posidonius soon afterwards found existing between the
insular Britons and the people of the neighbourhood of
Vannes; so that it seems probable that the regular mode
of communication was by coasting as far as the Straits of
Dover, where the passage was less perilous than a voyage
over the broad and stormy Channel. Pytheas himself at
all events was unaware of his vicinity to Cornwall, for he
sailed up the Channel as far as ''Caution," at the eastern
extremity of the island."

Pytheas remained for some time in Britain, the country
to which, as he said, he paid more attention than to any
other which he visited in the course of his travels ; and
he claimed to have visited most of the accessible parts of
the island and to have coasted along the whole length of

distant (according to Pytheas) a three days' sail " (Strabo. i. 64). All these
calculations were accordingly described as " inventions of Pytheas."

•^ Mela. iii. c. 6.

^ " Cantion " is usually identified with the North Foreland, but it is not
clear that the earlier writers did not give the name to Dover. Ccesar
described the south-eastern angle of the island as being at Cantium, "where
nearly all the ships from Gaul put in." De Bell. Gall. v. c. 13. This was
probably the " emporium " used by the Veneti. Strabo. iv. 194.

Origins of English History. 27

its eastern side.^ He appears to have taken a great
number of astronomical notes and measurements, which
became the foundation of the system of geography
started by Eratosthenes, and improved by the celebrated
Hipparchus. This was in time superseded by the Ptolemaic
system, which enjoyed a long popularity, until it was
over-set in its turn by the results of mediaeval discoveries.
The measurements of distance by the Greek travellers
appear to be all equally valueless. Their want of scientific
instruments led them to adopt a rough calculation of the
number of miles that a particular ship would go in an
hour, allowing as best they might for wind and currents
and other accidental sources of mistake. They employed
indeed the more scientific methods of calculating the
distance between particular points by the height of the
sun at the winter solstice, the length of the longest day,
the ratio of the gnomon to the solstitial shadow, and
other similar processes, but the results were not of a
valuable kind. Pytheas has left several of these calcula-
tions with reference to different stations in Britain, but
it does not seem to be worth while to examine them
minutely. His system, and those of the great geographers
who followed his methods, must be disregarded ; for w^e
are assured with regard to the more precise learning of
Ptolemy, that " the entire ignorance of the polarity of the

^ " Polybius," said Strabo, "told us in his Chorography, that it was not
his intention to examine the writings of the ancient geographers, but
the statements of their critics, such as Dicaearchus, Eratosthenes, and
Pytheas, by whom many have been deceived. It is this last writer who
states that he travelled all over Britain on foot^ and that the island is over
40,000 stadia in circumference." Strabo. ii. 104. It is clear that the word
t\i^aC(jv, " on foot," was used by mistake for i\i^aTov, referring to the parts
which were " accessible."

28 Origins of English History.

magnetic needle and of the use of the compass rendered
the most detailed itineraries of the Greeks and Romans
extremely uncertain, for a want of knowledge of the
direction or angle with the meridian." " The universal
geography of Ptolemy has the merit of presenting to us the
whole of the ancient world graphically in outlines, as well
as numerically in positions assigned according to longitude,
latitude, and length of day ; but often as he affirms the
superiority of astronomical results over itinerary estimates
by land and water, we are unfortunately without any means
of distinguishing among these assigned positions the nature
of the foundation on which each rests, or the relative
probability which may be ascribed to them according to
the itineraries then existing."^ For these reasons we need
not dwell very much upon those exaggerated estimates of
distance which led Pytheas to suppose that Britain was a
continent of enormous size, " a miniature world," or a
"new world," to use the phrases of those who relied upon
his authority. As far as we can judge by the extracts in
the works of Strabo and Diodorus, he more than doubled
some of the proper measurements. He considered that
the island of Britain was of a three-cornered shape,
something like the head of a battle-axe, the southern side,
lying obliquely near the coast of Gaul, being the shortest,
on the assumption that the whole line from Caution to the
westernmost promontory was about 750 miles in length ;
the eastern side he estimated at double that length ; and
the western side, which he had not visited in person, was
thought to be about 2,000 miles long. The total circuit
of Britain was therefore about 4,250 miles.^ In considering

^ Humb. Cosmos, ii. 190 (Sabine).

^ Pliny cites Pytheas as computing that Britain was distant from

Origins of English History. 29

these measurements we must remember at the same tune
that the whole habitable world was then believed to be
very small. The world was thought to be twice as long
as its own breadth : the total breadth, from the Spice
Countries and Ceylon to the frozen shores of Scythia, being
taken at about 3,000 miles ; the length, from Cape St.
Vincent to the ocean east of India, at double that amount.

These calculations were upset by the exaggerated
measurements of Pytheas, which (if correctly reported)
appear to have been inconsistent among themselves, as
well as contradictorv of the ideas which were then most
generally received. Pytheas had placed the south of
Britain at a point about 1,000 miles north of Marseilles,
and the northern point of the island at a distance of nearly
2,500 miles from that city, the distance from Cape Oreas in
Scotland to Thule being estimated at a further distance of
six days' and nights' sail to the northward. It is not
surprising therefore that considerable confusion resulted
from such new and revolutionary estimates, or that some of
the later geographers should have inveighed against the
traveller as a deceiver and detected impostor; but the
impartial student will probably discover a motive for a
more charitable estimate in the fact, that Strabo's own
measurements are as wild in their own way as any which
are ascribed to the older writer.

We may now leave these barren calculations, and con-
sider the few details of a more valuable kind which are
all that remain of the description of Britain by Pytheas,
He appears to have arrived in Kent in the early summer.

Gessoriacum (Boulogne) about 50 Roman miles, and that the whole circuit
of the island was 38,125 miles. Pliny. Hist. Nat. iv. c. 30.

30 Origins of English History.

and to have remained in this country until after the
harvest, returning for a second visit after his voyage to
the north. He estimated the length of the day at
Midsummer at 19 hours ; on the shortest day the sun
"ascended not more than 3 cubits in the sky"; and in
those parts of Gaul where the sun rose 4 cubits at the
winter solstice, he calculated the length of the longest day
at 18 hours; in the extreme north of the island the nights
were so short in summer that there was hardly any dimi-
nution of light between the sunset and the sunrise ; and
further north still, in the neighbourhood of Thule, "if
there are no clouds in the way, the splendour of the sun
can be seen through the night, for he does not rise or set
in the ordinary way, but moves along the horizon from
west to east."

In the southern districts he saw an abundance of w^heat
in the fields, and observed the necessity of thrashing it out
in covered barns, instead of using the unroofed floors to
which he was accustomed in the sunny climate of Mar-
seilles. "The natives," he said, "collect the sheaves in great
barns and thrash out the corn there, because they have
so little sunshine, that our open thrashing-places would be
of little use in that land of clouds and rain." He added,
that they made a drink "by mixing wheat and honey,"
which is still known as " metheglin " in some of our
countrv districts ; and he is probably the first authority
for the description of the British beer, which the Greek
physicians knew by a Welsh name, and against which
they warned their patients as a " drink producing pain in
the head and injury to the nerves." This last detail, how-
ever, may come from Posidonius, w4io visited the island in
a later generation, and who was perhaps the author of a

Oi'igins of English History. 31

description of harvest in another part of Britain, '' where
the people have mean habitations constructed for the most
part of rushes or sticks, and their harvest consists in cutting
off the ears of corn and storing them in pits under-ground:
they take out each day the corn which has been longest
stored, and dress the ears for food."^ To understand this
description one should compare with it a passage from
Martin's "Description of the Western Islands of Scotland,"
which was published in 1703 : — "A woman," he said,
" 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 ; for if she
miss of that, she must use the kiln ; but experience has
taught them the art to perfection. The corn may be so
dressed, winnowed, ground, and baked, within an hour after
reaping from the ground." We learn from a confused
passage of Strabo, that Pytheas described the different
forms of agriculture and modes of living in several parts of
the country: "for the celestial signs and scientific survey
he seems to have made ample use of the phenomena of the
Arctic zone, as that there are cultivated fruits, a great
abundance of some domestic animals and a scarcity of
others ; that the inhabitants feed on millet and other

^ Diod. V. 21. Posidonius appears to have visited the eastern parts of
^Britain, as well as the Cornish mining-districts. His description of the
Thames and the reflux of the tidal stream, " four days' journey from the
sea," appears in Priscianus Lydus. Solutionesad Chosroem (Bywater) 72.
'The description is used by Mela, without quoting the traveller's name.
Mela. iii. c. 6. Jornandes cites the same passage, with a reference to a lost
account of Britain in the Annals of Tacitus. Jornand. De Reb. Getic. c. 2.

Origins of English History

vegetables, and on fruit and the roots of plants ; that they
have wheat and honey, of which they make a beverage,"
with the other details already quoted as applicable to the
southern districts.^

Pvtheas appears to have known the eastern coasts from
the Shetland Islands to the North Foreland, but not to
have visited Ireland or even the western regions of
Britain ; and the ancient critics argued against his accuracy
from the fact that he described a great number of small
islands lying north of Scotland, but did not say anything
about Ireland. This place must in their view have come
under his notice, if he had been in those regions at all ; for
Ireland, as they thought, was an Arctic island, lying due
north of Britain, "where the savages find living very
difficult on account of the cold."

It has been supposed that he may have visited the west
of Britain, on account of the very early reports which
reached the Greeks of an immense round temple in Britain,
that was dedicated to the worship of the sun. Some of the
Greek travellers who followed him may have seen Stone-
henge, but the evidence is as^ainst the theorv that Pvtheas
was ever in those parts. Doubtless he learned something
about the tin-trade, the chief object of his visit to the island ;
and he was probably the originator of that commerce in
the metal which was established after his time on the route
between Marseilles and the Straits of Dover. Manv of
the ancient British coins, of which specimens exist which
are believed to be earlier than the second centurv B.C.,
are modelled on Greek money of the age of Philip
of Macedon ; but it is thought that these were copied

^ Strabo. iv, 201.

Origins of English History. 33

from Gaulish patterns, and that the Britons did not coin
for themselves earlier than 200 years before Christ.^

From the best modern accounts of the regions where
tin might have been produced at that time, we may
take them as being subdivided into the district of
Dartmoor and the country round Tavistock, at one
time a very fertile source of stream-tin : the parts round
St. Austell, including several valleys opening to the
southern coast of Cornwall: the St. Agnes district, on the
northern coast (where, however, the tin lies too deep for us
to attribute a knowledge of it to the primitive inhabitants):
and the rich country between Cape Cornwall and St. Ives,
to which the same remark seems to apply. " From the
search," says Sir Henrv De la Beche, "which has during
so many centuries been made for stream-tin in Cornwall
and Devon, it is difficult to obtain sections of unmoved
ground. Hence we can form a very inadequate idea of the
great accumulations which must have been first worked,
and consequently of the tin-stone pebbles swept into the
bottoms of valleys or into basin-shaped depressions by the
body of water which appears to have passed over this land.
Traces of stream-works (pits and 'burrows') are to be seen
from Dartmoor to the Land's End, often in depressions on
the higher grounds ; as, for example, on the former elevated
region, whence tin-pebbles have long ceased to be obtained,
being the w^orks of the 'old men,' as the ancient miners are
universallv termed in Devon and Cornwall."^

This evidence may help us to explain the meaning of

^ Evans, Coins of the Ancient Britons, 26. Rhys, Celtic Britain, 19.
Some of the coins, however, are said to have the appearance of being
'■'centuries older than Csesar's first expedition." Monumenta Historica
Britannica. introd. 151.

^ Geology of Cornwall, 401.


34 Origins of English History.

Timaeus, the contemporary of Pytheas, when he mentioned
"an island called ' Mictis ' (or 'Ictis'), at a distance of six
days' sail from Britain, ' in an inward direction,' from
which the tin comes : to which island the natives make
vova^es ' in their canoes of wickerwork sewn round with
hides.' " ^ Whatever the meaning may be of the phrase
"in an inward direction," and from whatever point these
natives may be supposed to have commenced their six
davs' voyage, the important fact remains that the tin was
dug up in West Devon and Cornwall, and was stored at
some place, which was supposed to have lain at sLx davs'
voyage from the mineral district; and it seems reasonable
to identify it with the Isle of Thanet, at which the marts
were established, from which the merchants made the
shortest passage to Gaul. The passage in this view must
be taken to mean, that the native boats took a week to
pass between the tin districts and the parts visited by
Pvtheas." The mineral region was described bv Posidonius,
whose travels have already been mentioned ; he drew a
lively picture of the inhabitants and the nature of their
commerce, which is preserved in the collections of
Diodorus. The account of his visit to Cornwall, which
he called " Belerium," a name afterwards appropriated

^ " Timseus Historicus a Britannia introrsus sex dierum navigatione
abesse dicit insulam Mictim, in qua candidum plumbum proveniat ; ad eam
Britannos vitilibus navigiis corio circumsutis navigare." Pliny. Hist. Xat. iv.
c. ,30. Professor Rhys considers it to be clear that this is a mere clerical error
for "Ictis." Celtic Britain. 299.

^ Pliny believed it to be a fable of the Greeks, that the tin -was fetched
from " islands in the Atlantic," and carried there in the "wicker-boats sewn
round with hides," Hist. Nat. xxxiv. c. t6: though such boats were still in
use among the Britons in his day. Hid. vii. c 57. Ceesar. De Bell. Civ. i.
c- 54-

Origins of English History. 35

by Ptolemy to the particular cliff now called Land's End,
is to the following effect: — "The inhabitants of that
promontory of Britain which is called Belerium are very
fond of strangers, and from their intercourse with foreign
merchants are civilized in their manner of life. They
prepare the tin, working very skilfully the earth in which
it is produced. The ground is rocky, but it contains earthy
veins, the produce of which is ground down, smelted, and
purified. They make the metal up into slabs shaped like
knuckle-bones, and carry it to a certain island lying in
front of Britain called Ictis. During the ebb of the tide
the intervening space is left dry, and to this place they
carry over abundance of tin in their waggons. And a very
singular thing happens with regard to the islands in these
parts lying between Europe and Britain ; for at the flood
the intervening passage is overflowed, and they seem like
islands ; but a large space is left dry at the ebb, and then
they seem to be peninsulas. Here, then, the merchants
buy the tin from the natives, and carry it over to Gaul ;
and after travelling overland for about thirty days, they
finally bring their loads on pack-horses to the outlet of the
Rhone." ^ He appears to refer in his last sentence to the
junction of the Rhone and Saone, where the wharves for
the tin-barges were erected.

^ Diod. V. c. 22. It will be noticed that the island is described in such a
way as to suggest that it was one of several lying between Britain and
Germany^ which were only separated from the mainland at high tide. The
passage in Mela, as to the islands " contra Germaniam vectce,'' is
important in this connection. Mela. iii. c. 6. Other names which may be
connected with Ictis are those of Vectis or the Isle of Wight, those of the
Itian port and promontory, the old Irish name of " Muir-n-Icht " for the
English Channel, and " Osericta," a German island, where amber was
produced, according to the account of Mithridates. l^liny. Hist. Nat.
xxxvii. c. 2.

36 Origins of EnglisJi History.

The port whence most of the traffic went to Gaul must
have been at the narrow part of the Channel, as it was
in the time of C^sar. It will be remembered that he
made his passage from the Portus Itius, supposed to be
the village of Wissant, and that this w^as not far from Cape
Grisnez, which, according to Ptolemy, was known as the
" Ician " or " Itian " Promontory. The island forming a
peninsula at low water, where the stores of tin were
collected, may easily have been the Isle of Thanet, which
has only been joined to the mainland in modern times.
Bede tells us, that in the 7th century there was a ferry
over the estuary between Thanet and Kent, which w^as
nearly half a mile across at high tide, and the broad
stream with ferry boats and people fording the passage at
low water is depicted on certain ancient maps which
belonged to Saint Augustine's Abbey at Canterbury. The
estuary, now represented by the slender stream of the
Wantsume River, was not completely silted up at any
point until the reign of Henry VIII., when a chronicler
cited the testimony of eight men then living, who had seen
barges and merchant vessels sail at high tide along the
whole channel from Richborough to Reculver.^ There
would probably have been no doubt about the identity of
the island of " Ictis " with the island lying so nearly
opposite to the " Itian Port," if it w^ere not for the silting
up of those channels, which in ancient times had made
the Kentish islands along the southern bank of the

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