Aryan immigrants—Gael and Briton—Earliest classical nomenclature—British Isles—Albion—Ierne—Cassiterides—Phoenician tin trade via Cadiz.
C. 1.—How or when the first swarms of the Aryan migration reached Britain is quite unknown. But they undoubtedly belonged to the Celtic branch of that family, and to the Gaelic (Gadhelic or Goidelic) section of the branch, which still holds the Highlands of Scotland and forms the bulk of the population of Ireland. By the 4th century B.C. this section was already beginning to be pressed northwards and westwards by the kindred Britons (or Brythons) who followed on their heels; for Aristotle (or a disciple of his) knows our islands as “the Britannic Isles.” That the Britons were in his day but new comers may be argued from the fact that he speaks of Great Britain by the name of Albion, a Gaelic designation subsequently driven northwards along with those who used it. In its later form Albyn it long remained as loosely equivalent to North Britain, and as Albany it still survives in a like connection. Ireland Aristotle calls Ierne, the later Ivernia or Hibernia; a word also found in the Argonautic poems ascribed to the mythical Orpheus, and composed probably by Onomacritus about 350 B.C., wherein the Argo is warned against approaching “the Iernian islands, the home of dark and noisome mischief.” This is the passage familiar to the readers of Kingsley’s ’Heroes.’
C. 2.—Aristotle’s work does no more than mention our islands, as being, like Ceylon, not pelagic, but oceanic. To early classical antiquity, it must be remembered, the Ocean was no mere sea, but a vast and mysterious river encircling the whole land surface of the earth. Its mighty waves, its tides, its furious currents, all made it an object of superstitious horror. To embark upon it was the height of presumption; and even so late as the time of Claudius we shall find the Roman soldiers feeling that to do so, even for the passage of the Channel, was “to leave the habitable world.”
C. 3.—But while the ancients dreaded the Ocean, they knew also that its islands alone were the source of one of the most precious and rarest of their metals. Before iron came into general use (and the difficulty of smelting it has everywhere made it the last metal to do so), tin had a value all its own. It was the only known substance capable of making, along with copper, an alloy hard enough for cutting purposes—the “bronze” which has given its name to one entire Age of human development. It was thus all but a necessary of life, and was eagerly sought for as amongst the choicest objects of traffic.