Britannia, by William Camden

⌈The Cassiterides, or Silly Islands.⌉

Big F FROM hence I will set sail for our own Coast of Britain. As we steer along the Shore, after we have pass’d Ideston, Mousehole, and Long ships (which are rather infamous Rocks, than Islands,) we come within sight of Antoninus’s Lisia,Lisia. at the very utmost point of Cornwall;Scilly. which is call’d by the People thereabouts Lethowsow,The Gulf Lisia, by transposal makes Silia. and by others the Gulfe; and is only visible at low water. This I take to be that which the Antients call’d Lisia; because Lis (as I have heard) signifies the very same in British. For Liso implies a great sound and roaring, like that which is made by Whirlpools; and from this place the tide presses both to north and east with great noise and violence, being streighten’d between Cornwall and those Islands which Antoninus calls Sigdeles, Sulpitius Sillinae, Solinus Silures, the English Silly, the Dutch Seamen Sorlings, and the ancient Greeks Hesperides and Cassiterides. For Dionysius Alexandrinus calls them Hesperides (from their western situation) in those Verses:

Greek, Greek Greek,

Which Priscian translates thus:

Sed * * Sacrum promontorium.summan contra Sacram, cognomine dicunt
Quam caput Europæ, sunt stanni pondere plenæ

Hesperides, populus tenuit quas fortis Iberi.

Th’ Hesperides along the Ocean spread
With Mines of Tin and wealthy Hills abound;
And stout Iberians till the fertile ground.

Festus Avienus calls them the Ostrymnides, in his Poem De oris Maritimis, or the Sea-coasts; wherein he has these Verses, according to the Paris-edition, and the Notes on them:

In quo insulæ sese exerunt Oestrymnides,
Laxè jacentes, & metallo divites
Stanni atque plumbi: multa vis hic gentis est,
Superbus animus, efficax solertia

Negotiandi cura jugis omnibus
* * Non asque navibus, we read in the notes of Paris.Nolusque cumbis turbidam latè fretum
Et belluosi gurgitem Oceani secant;
Non hi carinas quippe pinu texere
Facere morem non abiete, ut usus est,
Curvant phasello: sed rei ad miraculum
Navigia junctis semper aptant pellibus,
Corioque vastum sæpe percurrunt salem

Where the wide Isles Oestrymnides are seen,
Enrich’d with deepest veins of Lead and Tin.
Stout are the Natives, and untam’d in war,
Gain is their study, Trade their only care.
Yet not in Ships they try the watry road,
And rouze the shapeless Monsters of the flood:
For neither Gallies of the lofty pine
They know to frame, nor weaker maple join
In shallow barks: but skins to skins they sew;
Secure in these to farthest parts they go,
And pathless Seas with keels of leather plow.

Such also were us’d in this Sea in the year 914. For we read of certain pious men transported from Ireland into Cornwal, in a Carab or Caroch, which was made of two hides and an half. Thus also the same Avienus speaks of these Islands, afterwards:

Tartesiisque in terminos Oestrymnidum
Negotiando mos erat, Carthaginis
Etiam colonis

Oft the Tartessians, thro’ the well known Seas,
Would sail for traffick to th’ Oestrymnides;
And Carthaginians too.—

Other Greek writers call’d these the Cassiterides, from their Tinne: as Strabo calls a certain place among the Drangi in Asia, Cassiteron, for the same reason; and Stephanus in his Book de Urbibus observes from Dionysius, that a certain Island in the Indian Sea was call’d Cassitera, from Tinne. Timaeus As for Mictis, which Pliny (upon the authority of Timæus) says is six days sail, * * Introrsum à Britanniâ.inward, from Britain, and produces white Lead; I dare not say it was one of these. Yet I am aware, that the learned Hermolaus Barbarus found some Manuscripts that have it Mitteris for Mictis, and thereupon would read it Cartiteris. However, I may (from the authority of the Ancients, from the situation, and from their veins of Tinn) warrant these to be the very Cassiterides, so much sought for. Over-against the Artabri, who are opposite to the west parts of Britain, says Strabo, and north of them, lie those Islands which they call Cassiterides, situate in effect in the same Climate with Britain. Thus also in another place. The Sea is much wider between Spain and the Cassiterides, than between the Cassiterides and Britain. The Cassiterides face the coast of Celtiberia, saith Solinus. Diodorus Siculus, In those Islands next the Iberian Sea, call’d from the Tinn, Cassiterides. Eustathius, The Cassiterides are Ten Islands lying close to one another, in the north. Now, considering that these Isles of Silly are opposite to the Artabri, i.e. Gallitia, in Spain; that they stand directly north of them; that they lie in the same Climate with Britain; that they face Celtiberia; that the Sea is much broader between them and Spain than between them and Britain; that they lie just upon the Iberian Sea, and close to one another, northward; that there are only ten of any note, viz. St. Maries, Annoth, Agnes, Sampson, Silly, Brefar, Rusco or Trescaw, St. Helens, St. Martins, and Arthur; again, considering, what is far more material, that they have veins of Tinn as no other Isle in these parts has; and lastly, that two of the lesser sort, Minan-Witham and Minuisisand, seem to derive their names from Mines: From so many concurring testimonies, I should rather conclude these to be the Cassiterides, than either the Azores which lie too far westward, or Cisarga (with Olivarius) which in a manner joins to Spain; or even Britain it self, with Ortelius; since there were many of the Cassiterides; and Dionysius Alexandrinus, after he has treated of the Cassiterides, gives a separate account of Britain.

Phoenicians Haebudes guinea aerea Phaenicians If any deny these to be the Cassiterides, because there are more than ten; let him also reckon the Hæbudes, and the Orcades: and if at the foot of his account he find the number of the Hæbudes * * Neither more, &c. C.more or less than five; and of the Orcades, than thirty, as Ptolemy reckons them; let him inquire for them in some other place, than where they are generally suppos’d to be, and I am pretty sure he will never find them by going this way to work. For the truth is, the ancient writers had no more certainty concerning these remote Parts and Islands, than we have of the Islands in the Streights of Magellan, and the Country of New Guiney.

It is not to be thought strange, that Heredotus knew nothing of them; for he freely confesses, that he had no certain knowledge of the more remote parts of Europe. Yet Lead was first transported from this Island into Greece. Lead (says Pliny,)L.8. De Rer’-Inventor.’ was first brought hither from the Isle of Cassiteris, by Midacritus. But concerning this matter, let us hear Strabo, towards the end of the third Book of his Geography. The Isles of Cassiterides are ten in number, close to one another, and situate in the main Ocean to the north of the Port of the Artabri. One of them is desert and unpeopl’d, the rest are inhabited. The People wear black cloaths and coats reaching down to their ankles, and girt about the breast, with a staff in their hand, like the Furies in Tragedies. They live by Cattle, and straggle up and down without any certain dwelling. They have Mines both of Tin and Lead; which Commodities, as also Skins, they exchange to the Merchants for earthen Vessels, Salt andÆrea opera.Instruments of Brass. At first, the Phænicians only traded hither from Gades; concealing these Voyages from others. The Romans, to find the place where they drove this trade, employ’d one to watch the master of a Vessel; but he run his Ship upon a shallow out of spight, and after he had brought them into the same danger, escap’d himself, and receiv’d the value of his Cargo out of the common treasury, by way of recompence. However, the Romans by many attempts, did at last find out this Trade. Afterwards, Publius Crassus having sail’d thither, and seen them work these Mines which were not very deep; and that the people lov’d Peace, and at their leisure Navigation also: instructed them how to carry it on; tho’ the Sea they had to cross, was wider than that between it and Britain.

Silly. But now concerning Silly. About a hundred and forty five Islands go by the name of Silly, all clad with grass, and cover’d with greenish moss; besides many hideous rocks and huge Stones above water, plac’d in a kind of circle, eight leagues from the utmost Promontory of Cornwal. Some of them afford good plenty of Corn; and all are stock’d with Rabbits, Cranes, Swans, Herons, and Sea-fowl. The largest is that which takes its name from St. Mary, where is a Castle and a Garrison. These are the Islands, which (as Solinus says) are sever’d from the coast of the Danmonii by a rough narrow Sea of two or three hours sail; the Inhabitants whereof live according to the old methods. They have no Markets, nor does money pass among them; they give and take one thing for another, and provide necessaries rather by exchange than price. barter They are very Religious. All, both men and women, pretend to the art of Divination. Eustathius, out of Strabo, calls the People Melanchlani, because they wore long black Coats as low as their ankle. Sardus was perswaded, that they liv’d till they were weary of life: for they threw themselves from a rock into the Sea, in hopes of a better life; which was certainly the Opinion of the British Druids. Hither the Roman Emperors us’d to send such as were condemn’d to the Mines. Sulpitius Severus. For Maximus the Emperor, having pass’d Sentence of death upon Priscillanus for Heresie, commanded Instantius, a Bishop of Spain, and Tiberianus, to be transported into the Silly-Islands, their goods being first confiscate: So also Marcus the Emperor banish’d one (for pretending to prophesie at the time of the insurrection of Cassius, and foretel things to come, as if he were inspir’d,) into this Island, as some imagin, who would read Sylia Insula for Syria Insula, since Geographers know no such Island as Syria. This Relegation, or Transportation to foreign Islands, was one kind of banishment in those days; and theUlp. lib.7. de Mathematicus. Governours of Provinces could banish in this manner, in case their Province had any Islands appertaining to it; if not, they wrote to the Emperor to assign some Island for the RelegationRelegation. of the condemn’d Party. Neither was it lawful to remove the body of the party thus exil’d, to any other place for burial, without special Licence from the Emperor.

We meet with nothing of these Islands, not so much as the name, in the writers of the middle-age; but only that King Athelstan conquer’d them, and after his return built theV. Cornwall, p.11, 12. Church of St. Beriana or Buriena, in the utmost Promontory of Britain westward, where he landed.

Over-against these on the Coast of France, just before the Osissimi or Britannia Armorica, lies the Island which Pliny calls Axantos,Axantos. and which retains the same name, being now call’d Ushant.Ushant. Antoninus calls it Uxantissena, which is a compound of the two names Uxantis, and Sena. For this last is an Island somewhat lower, which is now call’d Sayn, over-against Brest; in some Copies it is call’d Siambis,Siambis. and corruptly by Pliny Sounos; which, from east to west, for seven miles together, is encompass’d with Rocks rather than Islands, very close to one another. As for this Sayn,The Mariners call it the Seam. take what Pomponius Mela has said of it. Sena, situate in the British Sea, over-against the Coast of the Osissimi, is famous for the Oracle of a French God, whose Priests are said to be nine in number, all under a Vow of perpetual Virginity. Zenae Lenae Gallicenae Veneticae caesar Insulae The French call them Zenæ or Lenæ (for so I rather read it, with Turnebus, than Gallicenæ;) and they think them so strongly inspir’d, that they can raise the Sea or the Winds with their Songs, can transform themselves into what Creatures they please, cure Distempers that are beyond the skill of others, and know and foretel what is to come, &c. Beneath these, there lie other Islands, viz. Isles aux Mottons, near Pen-Marc, that is, the Horse-head; Gleran, over, against old Blavia (now Blavet;) Grois and Belle-Isle, which Pliny calls Veneticæ.Veneti Insulæ Veneticæ. For they lie over-against the Veneti in little Bretagne, and might perhaps take that name from their being Fishermen: for so Venna seems to signifie in the language of the old Gauls. Strabo takes these to have been the Ancestors of the Venetians in Italy; and says also, that they design’d to engage Cæsar by Sea, when he was about to make his expedition into Britain. Some, from Dionysius Afer, call these Insulæ Veneticæ, Nesides;Nesides. whereas in the Greek CopyVannes, Venna Caroli. 1. episcatio Caroli, as Helgardus says. we find it Greek, that is, a Tract of Islands. Of which, Priscian from him, writes thus:

Nec spatio distant Nessidum littora longè,
In quibus uxores * * Samnitum.Amnitum Bacchica sacra
Concelebrant hederæ foliis, tectæque corymbis.
Non sic Bistonides Absynthi ad flumina Thraces,
Exertis celebrant clamoribus

Here the Nessides shew their neighbouring shore,
Where Samnite Wives at sacred Orgies roar,
With Ivy-leaves and berries cover’d o’er.
Not with such cries the wild Bistonian dames,
Near fair Absinthus fill the Thracian streams.

This is also express’d in Festus Avienus,

Hinc spumosus item ponti liquor explicat æstum,
Et brevis è pelago vortex subit: hic chorus ingens
Fœminei cœtus pulchri colit Orgia Bacchi,
Producit noctem ludus sacer: aera pulsant
Vocibus, & crebris latè sola calcibus urgent.
Non sic Absynthi propè flumina Thraces, & almæ
Bistonides, non quà celeri ruit agmine Ganges,
Indorum populi stata curant festa Lyæo

Hence constant tides the foaming deep supplies,
And noisy Whirlpools on the Surface rise.
Here a great quire of Dames by custom meet,
And Bacchus Orgies every year repeat.
And spend in sacred Rites the joyful night.
Through all the air their tuneful voices sound,
Their nimble feet salute the trembling ground.
Not in such troops Bistonian Matrons croud
To the great Feast at fam’d Absinthus flood:
Nor so the Indians praise their drunken God.

Now, that Belle-Isle is one of these Nessidæ, Strabo’s authority, grounded upon the relations of others, is a sufficient proof. For it lies before the mouth of the river Loire; and Ptolemy places the Samnites on the Coast of France, over-against it. For thus Strabo. They say there is a small Island in the Ocean but not very far in, over-against the mouth of the Loir. It is inhabited by the Wives of the Samnites, who are inspir’d by Bacchus, and worship him with Ceremonies and Sacrifices. No men are suffer’d to come hither; but the Women take boat, and after they have lain with their husbands, return into the Island. It is also a custom here, to take off the roof of their Temple every year, and to cover it again the same day before Sun-set; every one of the women being oblig’d to bring in a burden to it; and whoever lets her burden fall, is torn in pieces by the rest. They never give over gathering the pieces dropt in carrying, till their fit of Frenzy is over. It always happens, that one or other is thus torn in pieces, for letting her burden fall. Thus did the Ancients, in treating of the more remote parts of the World, give them selves over to Lies and Fables. But he tells us; That as for those things which are said of Ceres and Proserpine, they are more probable. For the report is, that in an Island near Britain, they sacrifice to these Goddesses after the same manner as they do in Samothracia.

Lib.2. Since Mela (who was himself a Spaniard) makes the British Sea to reach as far as the Coast of Spain and the Pyrenees; it would fall within the compass of my design to treat of Normonstier, L’Isle de Dieu, and L’isle de Rey likewise; which are famous for their store of Bay Salt; but the bare mention of them is sufficient, since they are not taken notice of by the Ancient Geographers.

The next Island to this, now known by the name of OleronOleron. (but call’d Uliarus in Pliny)Uliarus. lies, as he says, in the Bay of Aquitain, at the mouth of the river Charonton, now Charente, and was endow’d with many Privileges by the Kings of England, when Dukes of Aquitain. In those days, it was so eminent for Shipping and naval Strength, that Laws were made in it for the regulation of these Seas in the year 1266, as there were in Rhodes heretofore for the government of the Mediterranean.

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