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Early Britain—Roman Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 195 pages of information about Early BritainRoman Britain.
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.  Dioscorides[40] applies to it the epithet [Greek:  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.

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