Charles Isaac Elton.

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great fortunes made by the guilds of amber-merchants
who had licences from the King of Poland and the Duke
of Prussia to collect the storm-tossed treasure " along the
Finnish and Livonian seas and the Pruthenic or North-
Prussian shore." The Duke of Prussia gained a con-
siderable revenue from a tax on several thousand casks of
amber which were yearly collected upon his coast-land.^

There was also an ancient British trade in amber with
the " Ostians " or Germans of the shore. The traffic was
regulated by the Romans in the first years of the Empire,
and converted into the source of a trifling revenue." But
the exploration of the funeral barrows in the counties south
of the Thames has shown that the commerce must have
dated from a much higher antiquity. An expert might tell
the place of production from the colour and quality of the

^ Olaus Magnus, Hist. Septent. xi. 9.

^ "The Britons bear moderate taxes on their exports and on their
imports from Celtica, which consist of ivory, bracelets, amber, glass, and
such-like petty merchandise." StrabOj iv. 278.

Origins of English History. 63

discs, beads, and rings which have been found in the Wilt-
shire tumnli. In one instance a necklace of a thousand
beads was discovered in the tomb of a chief ; in a Sussex
grave was found a cup carved from a solid block ; and in
another excavation a collar formed of two hundred beads
and large quadrangular dividing-plates : "The tablets were
perforated with a delicacy which indicates the use of a fine
metallic borer : the collar when worn must have extended
from shoulder to shoulder, hanging half-way down to the
waist." Amber was a charm supposed to protect the living
w^earer from evil influences, and, as we may suppose, to
help the dead man in his journey to the world of the dead.
Hence the custom of burying one bead at least in the
grave, which is generally found attached or lying near the
neck of the skeleton : hence the reference in the ancient
Welsh poem called the Gododin, in which the British
chiefs are described with Homeric minuteness : —

" Adorned with a wreath was the leader, the wolf of the holm ;
Amber-beads in ringlets encircled his temples ;
Precious was the amber, and worth a banquet of wine."-^

The amber found in the graves is of the red transparent
kind, and never of the blackish or honey-coloured varieties.
The product is found on our eastern coasts, as at Rams-
gate and Cromer, and in Holderness, and on some parts of
the Scotch coast near Aberdeen ; but the great abundance
of the remains in the tumuli^ especially in the southern
counties, favours the hypothesis that the main supply was
brought from over the sea.

•• Aneurin's Gododin, st. 4. The other instances will be found, with much
additional information, in Sir R. Hoare's Ancient Wilts, vol. i. ; Dr.
Thurnam's work on British Barrows in the Archeeologia, vols. 43, 43 ; and
Wright's " Celt, Roman, and Saxon," 489.

64 Origins of English History.

We must now mention the voyage to Thule, which has
given rise to such intricate and interminable controversies.
^^ Pythias a dej a fatigue dcs centaines d'ecrivains^ qui dans
Tespace dc 2,270 ans Tout conibattu avcc acharnement^ ou se
sont cfurccs dc V expliquer et dc lui rendre justiccr^

" Uhima Thule," the furthest of the " Britannic Isles,"
has been identified with all sorts of localities since the time
when Pytheas sailed with his Cimbric guides to the country
of the midnight sun. The controversy is boundless, and
its details are too tedious to be examined at length. But
we mav select sufficient evidence to show w^hv the storv of
the journev should be believed, and to justify the selection
of Lapland as the northern limit of the expedition.-

Most of our information on the subject is derived from
Strabo's querulous complaints, added to a few words
from the traveller's diary which have been preserved by
Cleomedes and Geminus. We will take Strabo's criticism
first, and add the other fragments in such order as seems

' Lelewel, Pytheas de Marseille, i.

^ Thule has been most commonly identified with Iceland. The earliest
passage to this effect is in the Mensura Orbis of the Irish monk Dicuil,
written about a.d. 825. Gassendi took the same view, and said, " Et in
Islandia tropicus pro arctico est," adopting the phrase of Pytheas. Columbus,
about A. D. 1477, speaks in his journal of "Thule or Friesland " (Iceland),
a country with which the Bristol merchants had a thriving trade. Among
the writers who have accepted the same theory may be mentioned Adam of
Bremen, Saxo Grammaticus, Arngrim Jonas in his Tract upon Iceland ;
Pontanus and Ramus in their descriptions of Northern Europe ; Cluver.
Germ. Antiqu. iii. '^o'i lt(TL Kin avroXai 'HeXjoto. — Odyss. xii. 4.

" Allen Gestirnen werden bestimmte Stiitten, Platze und Stiihle beigelegt,
auf denen sie Sitz und Wohnung nehmen : sie haben ihr Gestell und
Geriiste. Zumal gilt das von der Sonne die jeden Tag zu ihrem Sitz, oder
Sessel niedergeht." (Grimm. Deutsch. Myth. 66'^.')

^ This was the opinion of Athenodorus, cited in Strabo, iii. 17,3. See
also Seneca, Nat. Quaest. iii. 15. Mela. iii. c. i. Solinus. c. 23. The whole
subject is discussed by Martin in his ' Notions des Anciens sur Ics Marees
et les Euripes.' (Caen. 1866.) Pytheas seems to have been the first to
attribute the tidal movement to the action of the moon. Stobaeus.
(Gaisford). App. iv. 437. Plutarch. De Placit. Philosoph. iii. 17.

^ Strabo, ii. 142.

JO Origins of English History.

Others take the matter literally, and refer it to the inedusce,
so common about Norway and the North Sea, which may
have been familiar to Pytheas before he commenced his
journey.^ Gassendi, who took Thule for Iceland, explained
the matter as referring to the dense fumes from Hekla.
Others take it for a description of cold and clinging fogs ;
others, with Make Brun, as a picture of the quicksands
near the northern shores of Jutland.^

Many stories were afterwards told about the sluggish
waters described by Pytheas, and when the locality of
Thule was shifted to Shetland by the Roman writers, it
was duly noticed that " the waters are slow, and yield with
difficulty to the oar, and they are not even raised by the
wind like other seas."^

From the description of the " Mare Pigrum," which has
been alreadv cited from the "Germania," and the mention
in that place of the divine forms, and the head crowned
with rays, and strange sounds heard by night, we may
infer that the ancient travellers saw the Aurora Borealis.
The ray-crowned head may represent the dark segment of

^ For the abundance of these creatures in Norway, and also in the salt-
water lake of jNIortaigne, near Narbonne, see Pontopp. Nat. Hist. ii. 182,
and Kircher's Mundus Subterraneus, ii. 129, there cited. It is, perhaps,
worth noticing that the Frozen Sea is or was called by the Norwegians
" Leber Zee," or " sea of a substance like liver." Pontanus, Descr.
Dan. 747.

^ The different opinions are collected and compared in Arvedson's first
note, which is printed in the Appendix.

^ Tac. Agric. c. 10. "This agrees with the sea on the N.E. of Scotland,
not for the reason given by Tacitus, but because of the contrary tides,
which drive several ways and stop not only boats with oars, but ships under
sail " (Wallace, Essay concerning Thule, 31). "The tides in Orkney run
with such an impetuous current, that a ship is no more able to make way
against them than if it were hindered by a remora." (Wallace, Orkney, 4. 7.)

Origins of English History. 71

sky enclosed in the electric arch and the meteoric rays
which have given the name of the "Merry Dancers" to
the flickering Northern Lights.^

Pytheas did not, so far as appears, explore any part of
the mainland of Thule, nor do we know the point at which
he turned his ship for the southward voyage. We must
suppose that he never reached the ''ruddy-tinged granite"
of the cape that looks upon the Polar Sea. All that he
actually said was, that beyond the dead sea "Morimorusa"
was a sea called " Cronium," covered with a solid crust;
and, knowing nothing of the nature of the frozen ocean,
he conjectured, as we have seen, that the amber washed
upon the coast might perhaps be broken morsels of scum
or crust from the unknown sea.

Turning from Thule, they sailed south for six days and
nights before they reached the shores of Britain. They
probably touched at the Orkneys, of which the three
largest were then, or soon afterwards, known as Dumna,
Ocetis, and Pomona : the last name has remained till
modern times, and from its classical form has been the
origin of curious myths as to the fruitfulness of the
northern zone. Among the islands to the north of Britain
the travellers noticed an extraordinary rush of the tides in
tortuous and funnel-shaped channels between the cliffs : if
Pliny's quotation" is correct, the water rose 80 cubits or

^ The Aurora is called " the Morrice Dancers " in Shetland. The early-
writers on northern phenomena published some amusing speculations on
the origin of the Aurora, Some took it for the reflection of distant
volcanoes, or the refracted image of the sun ; and " the celebrated Wolfius
described it as immature lightning, or an imperfect tempest." Pontopp.
Nat. Hist. i. 7.

^ Pliny, Hist. Nat. ii. 897. See Buffon, Thcorie de la Terre. ii. 97, and
Humboldt. Cosmos. (Sabine) i. 298.

72 Origins of English History.

1 20 feet. This height of the tide is not greater than has
been measured in the Bay of Fundy, and it is probably
approached in the narrow inlets of the* Faroe Isles; but
the circumstance is so rare in any part of the world that
we must suppose some mistake to have been made in the
calculation or in the course of making the extract. We
know hardly anything of the remainder of the voyage.
He must have skirted the eastern shore of Britain as far
as Kent and the neighbourhood of Gaul, landing (as he
said) when he could, so as to explore the accessible parts
of the island. The expedition returned by the Channel
and the Bay of Biscay, as far as the mouth of the Gironde.
Pytheas appears to have been unwilling to repeat the
tedious journey round Spain ; and we may suppose that
he accordingly ascended the Garonne, and from the neigh-
bourhood of the modern Bordeaux succeeded in reaching
his native city by a journey over-land.

Here ended the voyage of Pytheas. Apart from later
criticisms and controversies we know nothing more of his
life or works, except that an early scholiast preserved an
isolated passage about the volcano of Stromboli from his
book on the Circuit of the World. ^

His discoveries were in the highest degree interesting
and important. His reputation at first rose high, and was
afterwards unjustly depreciated ; but his merits have been
fully recognized in modern times. " Vcnit iniJii Pytheas

^ The passage will be found in the Appendix. It embodies the well-
known legend about the forges where men left iron ore and a proper sum
of money, and next day would find the sword or weapon for which they
had bargained with the unseen workmen. The description is terse and
picturesque, like everything else that he wrote. " This seems to be the
home of Hephaestus, for one hears the roar of fire and a terrible bellowing,
and here the sea boils."

Origins of English History. 73

cornmendandiLS^'' said the scholar Gassendi ; and he de-
scribed the old traveller as "an honest man and a learned,
who said what he thought and distinguished what he had
seen from matters of guess-work or hearsay."^ ^^ Habile
astronome (added Bougainville),^ ingenienx physicien,geo-
graphe exacts hardi navigateiir, il rendit ses talents utiles
a sa patrie : ses voyages^ en fray ant de noiivelles routes
an commerce^ ont enrichi Ihistoire naturclle, ct contribue
a perfectionner la connaissance dn globe terrestre^

^ Gassendi. Opera, iv, ^30.

^ Bougainville, in the Memoires de I'Academie des Inscriptions, xix. 146.

The best sources of information about Pytheas, besides the authors quoted
in the text, are the Fragments published by Arvedson at Upsala, in 18245
the Essay on Pytheas by Lelewel, published in Polish (182 1), in German at
Berlin (183 1), and in French at Paris (1836) ; Mannert's Geographic, vols. i.
and ii. ; Fuhr's Pytheas (Darmstadt, 1842)5 Redslob's " Thule " (Leipzig,
1855) and Bessell's Pytheas von Massilien (Gottingen, 1858). We may
conclude the subject with a passage selected by Arvedson. " Pytheas war
ein Humboldt seines Zeitalters, nur als soldier kann er im Zukunft
betrachtet werden. Ein Mann, der schon drei Jahrhunderte vor unserer
Zeitrechnung als Mathematiker, Astronom und als Muster der Nachahmung
glanzte, verdiente schon durch den Besitz dieser Wissenschaften das
grosste Zutrauen, noch mehr, wenn er, entflammt durch Liebe zu diesen,
weder Aufwand noch Gefahr scheute, und zur Bereicherung seiner Kentniss
und der Erdkunde, die damals einen wichtigen Zweig der Astronomic
ausmachte, sich auf feme Reisen wagte, die Niemand vor ihm und Niemand
nach ihm unter den gebildeten Volkern des Alterthums unternahm. Pytheas
war ein Mann, der weit liber seinen Zeitgenossen stand, und dem die
Himmelskunde nicht weniger zu verdanken scheint als die Erdkunde "
(Brehmer, Entdeckungen im Alterthum, ii. p. 345).

74 Origins of English History.



Imaginary travels based on discoveries of Pytheas. — Their confusion with records of
real travel. — Beginning of scepticism on the subject. — Criticism by Dicsearchus.
— The acceptance of Pytheas by Eratosthenes.— Euhemerus the rationalist. —
The Land of Panchaia. — Argument based on his fictions. — Reply of Eratosthenes.
— Criticisms by Polybius and Strabo. — Geographical romances.— Plato's use of
the Carthaginian traditions. — Atlantis. — Origin of the stories of monstrous men.
— " The wonders beyond Thule." — The epitome of Photius. — Plot of the
romance. — Stories of Germany and Thule. — Of the Germans and the Hercynian
Forest. — Stories about Britain. — The legend of Saturn and Briareus. — The
Northern Pygmies. — Story preserved by Procopius. — Island of Brittia. — The
conductors of the dead. — The communism of Thule. — The King of the Hebrides.
— Modern variations of the legend. — Evan the Third and his law. — Mediaeval use
of the legend. — The romance of " The Hyperboreans." — Description by Lelewel.
— Stories of the Arctic Ocean. — Britain described as " Elixoia." — The Circular
Temple. — The Boread kings. — Solar legends. — A description of the Hyperborean
customs. — The suicides of the old men. — Historical weight of the legend. —
Family-cliffs and family-clubs. — Barbarous practices of northern nations. —
Mention of other romances. — " The Attacori." — The description of the Fortunate
Islands by Jambulus — His accounts of strange kinds of men. — Fictions rejected
by Tacitus.

IT is proposed to deal in this chapter with certain
romances and vokunes of imaginary travel which

Online LibraryCharles Isaac EltonOrigins of English history → online text (page 7 of 38)