Britannia, by William Camden

The Manners of the
BRITAINS.

Big AAS for the Affairs of the Britains in elder times, their State and Government, their Laws and Customs; we were promised a treatise of them by Mr. Daniel Rogers, an excellent Person and particularly eminent for learning, and to whom I had great Obligations: but he being taken away in the flower of his age, before he had done any thing upon that subject, I will present the Reader with these few MemoirsManners and Customs of the Britains. concerning their Customs, taken, word for word, out of ancient Authors.

Cæsar.caesar money The mony us’d by the Britains is Brass; or iron * * Annulis in the text: some read laminis.rings at a certain weight, instead of it. They think it unlawful to eat hares, hens, and geese; however, they keep them for their Pleasure. The most civiliz’d by far, are those who inhabit Kent, a country which lies upon the sea-coast, where they are not much different from the Gauls in their way of Living. Most of the inland People sow no corn, but live upon milk and flesh; and are cloathed with skins. All the Britains dye themselves with Woad; which makes them of a skie colour, and thereby the more terrible in Battle. They wear their hair long upon the head, but close and bare in all parts of the Body except the head and the upper-lip. TheySeld. Præf. ad Polyolb. have, ten or twelve of them, Wives together in common, especially brothers with one another, and parents with children; but if any of the Women bring forth, the child is counted his only who first married her. In Battle, their way is generally to fight in * Way of fighting in Chariots. * Essedis.Chariots: First, they scour up and down in them, and fling darts, and many times disorder the enemy’s ranks by the terrour of their Horses and the noise of their Chariot-wheels. When they have wound themselves in among the Horse, they skip from their chariots, and fight on foot. The charioteers in the mean time retire, and place themselves so, that their masters may readily mount again, in case they are overpower’d by the number of the enemy. Thus they answer both the speed of the Horse, and the steadiness of the Foot, and by daily use and practice are so expert in it, that upon the side of a steep hill, they can stop and check their horses at full speed; can turn, and run upon the beam, rest upon the yoke, and from thence whip presently into their chariots. They often give ground and retreat on purpose; and when they are at a little distance from our Legions, they come out of their chariots, and fight the enemy at disadvantage. The way of their Cavalry was such, that it proved equally dangerous, to pursue or to be pursued by them. Moreover, they never fought close, and in Bodies, but thin, and at some considerable distance; having others so posted that one party might succour another, and the weary might be reliev’d by fresh supplies.

Strabo. The Britains exceed the Gauls in stature, and their Hair is not so yellow, nor their bodies so well set. Let this be a sufficient argument of their tallness, that I my self have seen at Rome some of their Youth taller by half a foot than other men. Yet their legs were but weak, and the other parts of the Body not well made nor handsome. In their ways and Customs, they partly resemble the Gauls, but are in some things more simple and barbarous: so that some have not the art of making Cheese, tho’ they abound with milk; others know neither gardening, nor any other part of Husbandry. They have many Potentates among them. In battle, they use Chariots in great numbers, as some of the Gauls also do. WoodsBritish towns. with them are instead of Cities; for having cut down trees, and enclosed a large round plot of ground with them, there they build huts to live in, and make folds for their Cattle; which are not design’d to endure long.

Cæsar likewise. It is call’d a Town among the Britains, when some thick wood is fenc’d round with a trench and rampire; where, to avoid incursions, they retire and take refuge.

Diodorus Siculus. The Britains live in the same manner that the ancients did; they fight in chariots, as the ancient heroes of Greece are said to have done in the Trojan wars. Their houses, for the most part, are made of reeds or wood. They inn their corn in the ear, and thresh out no more at a time than may serve for one day. They are simple and upright in their dealings, and far from the craft and subtilty of our Countrey-men. Their food is plain and natural, and has nothing of the dainties of the rich. The Island is very populous.

Pomponius Mela. Britain has its Nations, and its Kings over them; but all are barbarous. And as they are at a great distance from the Continent, they are more unacquainted with the wealth and riches of other Places; their’s consisting wholly in cattle and the extent of their Grounds. They * *  Ultro Corporæ infecti. But in the margin glasto vel vitro.paint their Bodies; whether for show and beauty, or some other reason, is uncertain. They make war upon the slightest occasions, with frequent incursions upon one another; prompted chiefly by an ambition of Sovereignty, and of enlarging their territories. They fight, not only on horseback and on foot, but also in their wagons and chariots, armed after the way of the Gauls: they call them Covins, withFalcatis axibus.hooks and scythes at the axle-trees.

Cornelius Tacitus, The Britains are nearest to the Gauls, and like them; either by reason of the same original, or because, in Countries opposite to one another, a like climate gives a like make and complexion. However, all things consider’d, it is probable this neighbouring Country was peopled by the Gauls. One finds the same Religious rites and superstitions among them. Their language is not much different, and they are alike bold and forward in any dangerous Enterprise; and, upon an encounter, alike cowardly. Yet the Britains shew more heat and fierceness than the other, as being not yet soften’d and effeminated by peace. For we find, that the Gauls likewise were once famous in war, till Cowardice came in with Peace, and their Valour and Liberty sunk together. Which very thing has befallen those of the Britains who have been conquer’d; whereas the rest continue such as the Gauls were. The strength of their Arms consists in their Infantry; and some of their Nations fight in chariots. The greatest person among them drives, and his servants defend him. Heretofore they were govern’d by Kings, but now they are drawn, under petty Princes, into parties and factions. Nor was there any thing of greater advantage to the Romans, against the most powerful among them; than their not concerting one common interest. It is seldom that above one or two Cities unite against a common enemy; so that whilst every one fights single, all are conquer’d.

In another place. It is common among the Britains to consult the Gods, by surveying the entrails of beasts, and to go to war under the conduct of Women. They make no distinction of sex in point of Government. And therefore some learned men think that Aristotle spoke of the Britains, where he takes notice of some warlike nations beyond the CeltæCeltae, subject to the Government of Women.

Dio NicæusNicaeus, out of Xiphilin’s Epitome, concerning the Britains in the North part of the Island. They till no ground, but live upon prey and hunting, and the fruit of trees: Fish (though they have it in very great plenty) they will not taste. They dwell in tents, naked, and without shoes. They use their wives in common, and bring up all the children among them. They are in a great measure a Democracy. They take mighty pleasure in robbery and plunder; and fight in chariots. Their horses are small and swift. They themselves run at a great rate. When they are engag’d, they are firm and immoveable. Their weapons are a shield and a short spear, in the lower end whereof is a piece of brass like an Apple, that, by shaking it, they may terrifie the enemy. They have daggers also: and they endure hunger, cold, and all kinds of hardships with wonderful patience. For in the bogs they wll continue many days without food, up to their very heads. In the woods, they live upon barks of trees and roots. They have a certain kind of meat ready upon all occasions, of which if they take but the quantity of a bean, they are neither hungry nor dry.

Herodian, They know not the use of cloaths; but about their necks and bellies they wear iron (thinking it an ornament and a sign of great Riches) as other Barbarians do gold. They paint their bodies with sundry colours and with all kinds of animals represented in them; and therefore they wear no cloaths, lest they should hide and cover it. The people are warlike and bloody, arm’d only with a narrow shield, and a spear, and a sword hanging by their naked bodies. They are altogether strangers to a coat of mail or helmet; supposing it would prove but a burthen to them, in their march over bogs and mosses; from which so much fog and vapour is exhaled, that the air in those parts is always thick and cloudy.

What remains (which is but little) I will pick up here and there, and set down as briefly as I can. Pliny of Magick.Magick in Britain. But why should I take notice of these things, in an Art which hath travers’d the Ocean, and reach’d the utmost bounds of Nature? Britain at this dayCelebrat.exercises it with so much pomp and ceremony, that one would imagin the Persians had been taught it by them.

The same Author. There grows in Gaul an herb like plantane, call’d Glastum,Glastum Woad. wherewith the British wives and virgins dye their bodies all over, and so, like Blackamoors, they are wont at certain Sacrifices to go naked. The choicest food among them is the Chenerotes,Chenerotes. a kind of fowl less than a wild Goose. The Britains wear rings upon their middle finger; they manure their ground with * * Marga.Marle.

Solinus tells us,Manner of Painting. That they painted themselves with certain marks, which Tertullian calls Britonum stigmata. He says farther, The Country is partly possess’d by Barbarians; who have the shapes of several beasts artfully cut on the bodies in their youth, that the prints in the flesh may grow and increase as the bodies do. Nor is there any thing reckon’d a greater sign of patience and courage among these Barbarous Nations, than to make such scars in their limbs, as may receive the deepest dye.

Dio. They worship’d Andates,Andates. that is to say, the Goddesses Victoria andAndrastes.

CæsarCaesar and Lucan. Shipping of the Britains. They had Ships, the keel and mast whereof were made of light wood; the other parts were cover’d over with leather. Solinus. Sailors did never eat, till their voyage was finish’d. Their drink was made of Barley (and so it is by us at this day,) as Dioscorides says; who mis-names it CurmiCurmi. for Kwrw; for so the Welch term what we call Ale. Most of them had only one wife, as Eusebius says, Præpar. 6. Plutarch writes, That some of them would live an hundred and twenty years; the natural heat of the body being preserv’d by the coldness of the Country.

AsThe British Tyrants. for those ancient Days of inhuman Tyrants, which Gildas speaks of, I know not what he means by them, unless it be those who took upon them the Government here, in opposition to the Romans, and were call’d at that time Tyranni. For he presently adds from S. Jerome, Porphyry raging in the east like a mad dog against the Church, proceeds after this vain and wild manner; calling Britain a Province plentiful in Tyrants.

I shall say nothing of their ancient Religion, since it was not really a Religion, but a confused heap of Superstitions. For after the Devil had bury’d the true Religion in darkness, Gildas tells us,Religion of the Britains. That the spectres of Britain were purely hellish, more numerous almost than those of ÆgyptAEgypt egypt, of which some are yet remaining, strangely featur’d and ugly, and to be seen within and without their forsaken walls, looking stiff and grim, after their usual manner.

As for the Britains being at the rape of Hesione with Hercules (which is inferr’d from those verses of Cornelius, supposed by some to be the same with Nepos, where he describes the marriage of Telemon and Hesione:

——Et in aurea pocula fusi
Invitant sese pateris plebs mixta Britanni, &c
.

With generous wine the golden Vessels flow’d,
And well-fill’d bowls went round the undistinguish’d crowd;
Britains among the rest.——)

this is plainly poetical; and, that the Author of it was not Cornelius Nepos, as the Germans will have it, but Josephus Iscanus, I can clearly demonstrate. For he makes mention of our Henry II, and of Thomas Archbishop of Canterbury.

Whether or no Ulysses Brodæus, l.3. c.4. Miscel.
Ulysses never in Britain.
came thus far (of whom Solinus says, it is manifest from an Altar with an inscription of Greek letters on it, that he landed in Caledonia,) is question’d by BrodæusBrodaeus: and (a) I should rather imagine it erected in honour of Ulysses, than that it was raised by him; tho’ they would have this Ulysses to be Elizza, Japhet’s grandson. For it appears by history (what we have likewise already observ’d) that the ancient Greeks were great Travellers both by sea and land; and therefore it ought not to seem strange, if we find their names and monuments in several places. And they took those names, not so much from their own Ancestors, as from Heroes, who were equally honour’d, if not more, than Confessors and Martyrs among Christians. As therefore the Countries newly found out, have their names from St. John, St, Dominic, St. Francis, and many other Saints; so none will deny, but the same was practis’d among the Greeks. And, of all their Heroes, which of them made Voyages, either more frequently, or more long and tedious, than Ulysses? No wonder then that Mariners should generally make their Vows to him, and consecrate the places of their Arrival to his name. Thus Ulyssipo, upon the mouth of the river Tagus, had its name; and thus in other places came those monuments of Ulysses, Laertes, and their Companions; which are not to be ascribed to Ulysses as the founder, but, as we may suppose, were dedicated to that Hero by Grecian Travellers, who himself was of all others the greatest.

(a) See Mr. George Carleton’s opinion of this matter, in a letter to Mr. Camden, publish’d in his Epistles, p.112.

John Tzetzes, in his Variæ HistoriæVariae Historiae, writes, That our British Kings made Cato the elder (that noted enemy to the vice and debauchery of the Romans) many Presents, in honour to his Virtue; and this, long before the name of Britain was known at Rome. I leave him to make good the truth of this story; but how fabulous an Author he is, the Learned are sufficiently aware.

Nor would I have the Reader believe, that AlexanderAlexander the Great never in Britain. the Great came from the East-Indies to the Streights of Gibraltar, and to Britain; upon the authority of Cedrenus, against other Historians: (From thence being come into Aphasis, * * Greek text.Gades, and the British nation, and having furnish’d himself with a thousand hulks, &c.) That of Trithemius out of Hunnibald, is just as true, That King Bassanus put away his wife, the King of the Orcades’s daughter, in the year before Christ 284, and that thereupon he made war against Bassanus with the auxiliaries which he had from the King of the Britains.

Eclogae Neither would I have anyone imagin, that HannibalHannibal never in Britain. carry’d on a War in Britain, because of that passage of Polybius, in the Eclogæ, of the XI Book. Greek text Greek text Greek text Greek text Greek text Greek text. For the place is corrupted, and it should be read Greek text for Greek text; as it is also in the 42 Book of Dio; and in both places, they are speaking of the Brutii in Italy. And yet I will not deny, but the Greeks about this time might arrive in our Island. For AthenæusAthenaeusHiero’s Ship., describing from Moschion a very ancient Author, that ship of Hiero which was thought a miracle for greatness and workmanship, tells us, That the Main-mast of it was, with much difficulty, found by a Swine-herd in the mountains of Britain, and from thence convey’d into Sicily by Phileas Taurominites, a Mechanick: But I fear the Criticks will here also read Greek text for Greek text, and refer it to the Brutian-Hills in Italy.

Yet it is likely, that some of the BritainsThe Britains in expeditions with the Cimbrians. went with the Cimbrians and Gauls in those Expeditions into Greece and Italy. For, besides the name common to both; in the ancient British Book of the TriadesTriadum Liber., where we find mention of three great armies rais’d in Britain, it is said, that a certain foreign Captain drew a mighty army out of this kingdom; which, having destroy’d great part of Europe, at last settled upon the Grecian sea; I suppose, meaning Galatia. And that Brennus, so famous both in Greek and Latin Authors, was a Britain; some think may be easily made out. For my part, I know only thus much, that the name is not yet quite lost among the Britains, who in their language call a King Brennin.

However, that BritomarusBritomarus, a Britain. a warlike Captain among them, and mention’d by Florus and Appian, was a Britain, is plain from the word it self, which signifies a Great Britain. I will not here wrest that of Strabo (who says that Brennus was by birth a Prausian,) so as to make him a Britain; and whereas Otho FrisingensisLib. 2. c.13. writes, that the Briones, a race of the Cimbri, settled themselves towards the head of the Drave, I will not venture to change Briones into Britones; though the Criticks of our age seldom stick at such things.

ToBritain known but late to the Greeks and Romans. give my own opinion once for all: As the Romans, notwithstanding they were so great and eminent, were not known to Herodotus nor the ancient Greeks; and the Gauls and Iberians were for a long time utterly unknown to the ancient Historians; (b) so I have always thought, that it was late before the name of the Britains was heard of by the Greeks and Romans. As for that Tract De Mundo, which goes for Aristotle’s, and makes mention of the Britains, and Albion, and Hierna; it is not so old as Aristotle, but of a much later date, as the learned think. For certain, this part of the world was not known to the noble Historian Polybius, who, in company with the famous Scipio, travell’d a great part of Europe about 370 years before Christ. (c) He tells us, That whatever tract lies north-ward between the Tanais and Narbo, is unknown to this day; and that whatever is said or written of it, is all idle and fictitious. Much after the rate that some at this day may be thought to do, who perswade themselves that Hamilco, being sent by the Carthaginians to discover the western coasts of Europe, arriv’d here many years before; when all the while there is no other ground for this voyage, but a verse or two in Festus Avienus.

(b) See what our Author has observ’d upon this head, under the title, Name of Britain, where he seems to allow the Greeks a greater acquaintance with the affairs of this Island, than here he does.

(c) The circumstances of Polybius’s words seem to imply no more, than that as it was doubtful whether the sea encompassed the South parts of Africa, (which he tells us in the very same clause;) so was it, whether the North parts of Europe above Narbo, were encompass’d too. But that he could not mean it in so great a latitude as our Author takes it, is plain from his own description of the Fountains of Rhodanus and Corbilo or Ligeris, with many other places of France, which lay above Narbo: and also from his own promise in the third Book, to write of the Outer or West-sea, and even of the British Islands; which he calls the Bretanick.

And that it was so late e're Britain was known, might well be occasion’d by the situation, as disjoyn’d from the Continent; and because the old Britains were then barbarous (like the other Nations in this part of the world,) and, living much at home, had no great commerce with other Countries. Dio is of the same opinion in this matter, saying, That it was not so much as known to the * * Primis.more ancient Greeks and Romans, whether there was such a place as Britain in the world; and the more modern of them question’d whether it were Continent or Island; That much was written on both sides by some who had no certain knowledge, (as having neither seen the Country, nor learn’d the nature of it from the Inhabitants) but who rely’d on their own Conjectures, according as they had time or inclination to frame them. The first Latin Author that I know of, who mentions Britain, is Lucretius, in those verses of his about the difference of Airs.

Nam quid Britannum cœlum differre putamus,
Et quod in Ægypto est, quâ mundi claudicat axis
,

How different is the air oth’ British Isle
From that which plays upon the wand'ring Nile.

Now, it is granted on all hands, that Lucretius liv’d a little before Cæsar: about which time, Divitiacus King of the † † Suessiones.Soissons, and the most potent Prince in Gaul, govern’d the Britains; as Cæsar himself informs us. But this is to be understood of the sea-coast. For the same Cæsarcaesar affirms, that no other part of Britain besides the sea-coast and what lay over-against France, was known to the Gauls. And yet Diodorus Siculus writes, That Britain was never subject to any Foreigner; neither Dionysius, nor Hercules, nor any God or Hero, have (for ought appears) ever attempted to conquer it. C. Cæsar, for his great exploits sirnamed Divus, is the first that ever subdu’d the Britains, and forc’d them to pay tribute.

Here then our HistorianCensorinus de die Natali. (whoever he be) must begin his history, and not higher: duly weighing what the learned Varro hath said, and I have already hinted; Namely, That there are threeThree Periods of Time. distinct Periods of time; the first, from man’s creation to the deluge,Unknown. which (by reason we know nothing of it) is called Greek text. The second, from the deluge to the first Olympiad, in the year of the world 3189, which (because much of that History is false and fabulous) is call’d Greek text.Fabulous. TheHistorical. third, from the first Olympiad to our own times, call’d Greek text, because the transactions of that Period are related by very good Historians. But though no Nation, how learned soever, except the Jews only, had any true historical relations before that age; yet I know very well that the British history of Geofrey begins three hundred and thirty years before the first Olympiad, that rude and ignorant Period, especially as to those parts, which Varro calls fabulous. Hence therefore (lest I lay a bad foundation, and the whole Building be accordingly weak) I will begin the history of the Romans in Britain; (which seems to be requisite in this place, and may give great light to that which is to follow:) Not collecting it from Fables, which would argue the Author’s vanity in writing, as well as his folly in believing; but from the genuine monuments of Antiquity. And this I will do with as much brevity as I can, for it is not my design to rob any one of the glory of a larger treatise upon this subject.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06