Early Britain—Roman Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 242 pages of information about Early Britain—Roman Britain.

C. 4.—­The Phoenicians, the merchant princes of the dawn of history, succeeded, with true mercantile instinct, in securing a monopoly of this trade, by being the first to make their way to the only spots in the world where tin is found native, the Malay region in the East, Northern Spain and Cornwall in the West.  That tin was known amongst the Greeks by its Sanscrit name Kastira[14] ([Greek:  kassiteros]) shows that the Eastern source was the earliest to be tapped.  But the Western was that whence the supply flowed throughout the whole of the classical ages; and, as the stream-tin of the Asturian mountains seems to have been early exhausted, the name Cassiterides, the Tin Lands, came to signify exclusively the western peninsula of Britain.  Herodotus, in the 5th century B.C., knew this name, but, as he frankly confesses, nothing but the name.[15] For the whereabouts of this El Dorado, and the way to it, was a trade secret most carefully kept by the Phoenician merchants of Cadiz, who alone held the clue.  So jealous were they of it that long afterwards, when the alternative route through Gaul had already drawn away much of its profitableness, we read of a Phoenician captain purposely wrecking his ship lest a Roman vessel in sight should follow to the port, and being indemnified by the state for his loss.


Discoveries of Pytheas—­Greek tin trade via Marseilles—­Trade routes—­Ingots—­Coracles—­Earliest British coins—­Lead-mining.

D. 1.—­But contemporary with Aristotle lived the great geographer Pytheas; whose works, unfortunately, we know only by the fragmentary references to them in later, and frequently hostile, authors, such as Strabo, who dwell largely on his mistakes, and charge him with misrepresentation.  In fact, however, he seems to have been both an accurate and truthful observer, and a discoverer of the very first order.  Starting from his native city Massilia (Marseilles), he passed through the Straits of Gibraltar and traced the coast-line of Europe to Denmark (visiting Britain on his way), and perhaps even on into the Baltic.[16] The shore of Norway (which he called, as the natives still call it, Norge) he followed till within the Arctic Circle, as his mention of the midnight sun shows, and then struck across to Scotland; returning, apparently by the Irish Sea, to Bordeaux and so home overland.  This truly wonderful voyage he made at the public charge, with a view to opening new trade routes, and it seems to have thoroughly answered its purpose.  Henceforward the Phoenician monopoly was broken, and a constant stream of traffic in the precious tin passed between Britain and Marseilles.[17]

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Early Britain—Roman Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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