Early Britain—Roman Britain eBook

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

D. 2.—­The route was kept as secret as possible; Polybius tells us that the Massiliots, when interrogated by one of the Scipios, professed entire ignorance of Britain; but Pytheas (as quoted by his contemporary Timaeus, as well as by later writers) states that the metal was brought by coasters to a tidal island, Ictis, whence it was shipped for Gaul.  This island was six days’ sail from the tin diggings, and can scarcely be any but Thanet.  St. Michael’s Mount, now the only tidal island on the south coast, was anciently part of the mainland; a fact testified to by the forest remains still seen around it.  Nor could it be six days’ sail from the tin mines.  The Isle of Wight, again, to which the name Ictis or Vectis would seem to point, can never have been tidal at this date.  But Thanet undoubtedly was so in mediaeval times, and may well have been so for ages, while its nearness to the Continent would recommend it to the Gallic merchants.  Indeed Pytheas himself probably selected it on this account for his new emporium.

D. 3.—­In his day, as we have seen, the tin reached this destination by sea; but in the time of the later traveller Posidonius[18] it came in wagons, probably by that track along the North Downs now known as the “Pilgrims’ Way.”  The chalk furnished a dry and open road, much easier than the swamps and forests of the lower ground.  Further west the route seems to have been via Launceston, Exeter, Honiton, Ilchester, Salisbury, Winchester, and Alton; an ancient track often traceable, and to be seen almost in its original condition near “Alfred’s Tower,” in Somerset, where it is known as “The Hardway.”  And this long land transit argues a considerable degree of political solidarity throughout the south of the island.  The tale of Posidonius is confirmed by Caesar’s statement that tin reached Kent “from the interior,” i.e. by land.  It was obtained at first from the streams of Dartmoor and Cornwall, where abundant traces of ancient washings are visible, and afterwards by mining, as now.  And when smelted it was made up into those peculiar ingots which still meet the eye in Cornwall, and whose shape seems never to have varied from the earliest times.  Posidonius, who visited Cornwall, compares them to knuckle-bones[19] [Greek:  astrhagaloi]

D. 4.—­The vessels which thus coasted from the Land’s End to the South Foreland are described as on the pattern of coracles, a very light frame-work covered with hides.  It seems almost incredible that sea-going craft could have been thus constructed; yet not only is there overwhelming testimony to the fact throughout the whole history of Roman Britain, but such boats are still in use on the wild rollers which beat upon the west coast of Ireland, and are found able to live in seas which would be fatal to anything more rigidly built.  For the surf boats in use at Madras a similar principle is adopted, not a nail entering into their construction.  They can thus face breakers which would crush an ordinary

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