In the preceding lecture, I have claimed to show that, so far as positive knowledge goes, the period of Celtic expansion from Mid-Europe lies between the years 600 B.C. and 250 B.C. The spread of the Celtic peoples and of their power was arrested by a movement of German expansion on the north, beginning perhaps about 200 B.C., and by the growth of the Roman Empire, for which a starting point may be found in the final subjugation of Etruria, 265 B.C. I have also claimed to show that there was a large northward expansion of the Celts, resulting in a partial fusion of Celts and Germans, and that this Celto-Germanic population was afterwards for the most part, but not all, forced westward across the Rhine by the more purely German population, and was represented by the Belgae of Cæsar’s time.
From the objects discovered at Hallstatt, the early period of Celtic art in the Iron Age is called by archæologists the Hallstatt period. It is succeeded by a later stage and higher development of ornamental art, exemplified in discoveries at La Tène in Switzerland. The period in which this higher development is found has been named the La Tène period; but the same stage of Celtic art is exemplified by objects discovered in the valley of the Marne in northern France, and the term “Marnian period” is used by French archæologists as an equivalent of “La Tène period.” So far as I am aware these Marnian remains represent the earliest known substantial appearance of Celtic work, of Celtic activities of any kind, in the north-western parts of Europe. The La Tène or Marnian period is estimated to begin about 400 B.C., and not earlier than 500 B.C. This estimated date is an important part of the evidence that goes to establish the date of the Celtic migrations to Britain and Ireland.
Before going more fully into the evidence, it is necessary to deal with the theory which at present holds the field in British archæology, and which is based principally on the authority of the late Sir John Rhys. So completely has his theory dominated, that we find it stated in summary in books for general instruction. I find a good exemplification in the volume on Lincolnshire of the Cambridge County Geographies, a series devised for school study and general information. The following paragraph purports to tell us how Britain was peopled before the Roman occupation:
“We may now pause for a moment,” says the writer, “to consider who these people were who inhabited our land in these far-off ages. Of Palæolithic man we can say nothing. His successors, the people of the Later Stone Age, are believed to have been largely of Iberian stock—people, that is, from south-western Europe—who brought with them their knowledge of such primitive arts and crafts as were then discovered. How long they remained in undisturbed possession of our land we do not know, but they were later conquered or driven westward by a very different race of Celtic origin—the Goidels or Gaels, a tall light-haired people, workers in bronze, whose descendants and language are to be found to-day in many parts of Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. Another Celtic people poured into the country about the fourth century b.c.—the Brythons or Britons, who in turn dispossessed the Gaels, at all events as far as England and Wales are concerned. The Brythons were the first users of iron in our country.”
So far the quotation. The writer is a man of scientific education, a master of arts, a doctor of medicine, and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. This is the age of science, not of credulity, and in matters of science men of scientific education are believed to require scientific proof before they state anything as a fact. If it is the age of science, it is also the age of invention. The statements made in the passage I have quoted are definite enough. In fairness to their writer, however, I shall quote his next paragraph, in which this definite assurance is somewhat qualified:
“The Romans,” he writes, “who first reached our shores in B.C. 55, held the land till about A.D. 410; but in spite of the length of their domination they do not seem to have left much mark on the people. After their departure, treading close on their heels, came the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles. But with these, and with the incursions of the Danes and Irish, we have left the uncertain region of the Prehistoric Age for the surer ground of History.”
From what is said just afterwards on the surer ground of History, we are prepared in some measure to assess the value of what has been said, very definitely indeed, in the uncertain region of the Prehistoric Age:
“Of the Celtic population of this county [Lincolnshire],” we are told in continuation, “at the time of the Roman invasion, but few traces are left, thus contrasting greatly with what has happened in counties such as Somerset, Cornwall, and the wilder parts of Wales, and the Lake district, where the Brythons (hence the name Britain) fled before the Roman advance and later from the Saxons. These Celts, belonging to the tribe of Coritani, have left little impression on the names of places (Lincoln itself being an exception), and probably none on the actual people of Lincolnshire. On the other hand, the Saxon invasion and settlement must have been complete early in the sixth century.”
Now let us consider first what the English reader and student is asked to believe in regard of the effect of strictly historical movements on the population of an English county. “The Romans,” we are told, during about four centuries of occupation, “do not seem to have left much mark on the people.” The writer’s object is to show from what early population elements the modern population is composed. By what tokens does he assure us that the prolonged Roman occupation left no permanent element behind? Is it by the scarcity of Roman noses in the Lincolnshire of to-day? Let us regard the facts.
For generation after generation, the Romans sent legion after legion of their soldiers into Britain. These legionaries were not all Italians. They were recruited from various parts of the Roman Empire. We know that one of the Roman emperors, holding command in Britain, took a woman of British birth to wife, and that Constantine the Great was their child. Are we asked to believe that the thousands upon thousands of Roman legionaries in Britain lived a life of celibacy, and left no descendants after them? The city of Lincoln was itself no mere military station but a Roman colony, Lindi Colonia, and the volume from which I quote shows that Lincolnshire has produced very extensive traces of its Roman occupation, civil as well as military. The county appears to have contained no fewer than six Roman military stations, and was traversed by four Roman roads.
In the preceding lecture, I have alluded to that common illusion of popular history through which people are led to imagine that the migratory conquests of ancient times led to the extermination of the older inhabitants by the newcomers. On this same illusion, lodged in the mind of a man of scientific education, is based the notion that the Roman occupation left no mark, in the ethnographical sense, on the later population. We find the definite expression of this illusion in the words in which the writer professes to account for the total disappearance of the Celtic population of Lincolnshire, on whose people, he says, still speaking ethnographically, the Celts have probably left no impression. “The Brythons,” he tells us, “fled before the Roman advance.” Bear well in mind that we are now on the surer ground of history. The Roman conquest of Britain was completed by Agricola in the year 80 of the Christian era. We have the account of this conquest from a contemporary authority, Tacitus, who was son-in-law to the conqueror, Agricola. In a remarkable passage, Tacitus tells how the Britons behaved after Agricola had warred down their pride:
“During the following winter,” he writes, “Agricola was occupied in carrying out a most salutary policy. The Britons were a rude people, dwelling in the open country, and for that reason they were readily disposed to war. Agricola’s aim was to reduce them to peace and a life of ease by ministering to their pleasures. He exhorted them in private and assisted them in public to build temples, places of assembly, and houses. [He means, in the Roman manner, and obviously refers especially to the noble and wealthy of the Britons.] Those who were quick to act in this way he praised, those who were reluctant he punished; so that they could not avoid competing with each other for distinction. He set about providing the culture of a liberal education for the sons of their chief men, and he used to award the Britons the palm of excellence over the Gauls in their studies, so that those who not long before refused to speak the Roman tongue were now actually eager to exhibit their eloquence in Latin. Even our fashion of dress became honourable among them, and the toga was quite generally worn. By degrees they yielded to the attractive apparatus of vices, lounging in covered walks, frequenting public baths, and enjoying elegant banquets.” The comment of the Imperial historian on the real aim and character of this “salutary policy” carried out by his father-in-law has a cynical frankness which is quite refreshing in comparison with the studied attitude of moral justification that we might expect from a modern Tacitus: “And this,” he says, “was called civilisation by the ignorant Britons, whereas it was in fact an element of their enslavement.”
We have here a graphic picture of the British nobility, under distinguished patronage, making themselves familiar with the luxuries and vices of Imperial Rome, and their sons at school learning to become eloquent Dempseys in the conqueror’s tongue. Compare it with Dr. Sympson’s statement on the surer ground of History: “The Brythons fled before the Roman advance,” to take refuge in the remoter and wilder parts of the island. Having already fled before the Romans, they again fled, we are told, before the Saxons. There is just as much historical foundation for the one statement as for the other. I remember reading, in one of Archbishop Trench’s works on the origin and growth of the English language, a list of words which passed from the ancient British tongue into Anglo-Saxon—most of them being names of things used in ordinary rural industry, and the conclusion drawn from this class of words, that, under the Anglo-Saxon conquest and occupation, the menial work of the country continued to be done by the conquered Britons. There is an old yarn about a whaling crew in the northern seas. The cold was so intense that, when the seamen tried to speak, the words were frozen hard as they came from their lips and could be heard falling on the deck. It must have been under the operation of some similarly marvellous phenomenon, shall we say the excessive coolness of the Anglo-Saxons, that they were able to capture and preserve the vocabulary of the fugitive Britons.
In my first lecture, I have attempted to trace the somewhat academic origin and growth of the modern Celtic consciousness. The Anglo-Saxon consciousness has a very similar history. It begins in learned circles of the reign of Elizabeth, when, under the stimulus of the Anglican controversy and the special patronage of Archbishop Parker, a keen interest was aroused in the remains of Anglo-Saxon literature. The Anglo-Saxon craze appears to reach its high-water mark in some American universities. I wonder if it will survive the war. The compiler of the Cambridge Geography of Lincolnshire has outdone Attila himself in extermination. He has completely wiped out five successive populations to make Lincolnshire an exclusive habitat for pure-blooded Low Germans.
Let us now return to the paragraph which summarizes Sir John Rhys’s theory of the peopling of prehistoric Britain. Its first article is this: “Of Palæolithic man we can say nothing,” and we pass on to “his successors.” The people who inhabited Britain in the Early Stone Age are extirpated in a phrase of six words. It is a less interesting, if less appalling fate than that which overtook Parthalon’s people in the Book of Invasions. They all died of a plague, and then apparently the dead buried their dead in “the plague-cemetery of Parthalon’s people”—Támhlacht Mhuinntire Parthalóin, now called Tallaght.
Let us take up another current handbook of popular instruction, the volume entitled “Prehistoric Britain,” by Dr. Munro, in the Home University Library series. The date of writing is 1913; the same as the date of the Cambridge volume on Lincolnshire. Dr. Munro discusses a certain type of skulls found in various parts of England. “All of these,” he says (p. 234), “are usually assigned to the Neolithic period (the later Stone Age), and represent the prevailing type of Englishman at the commencement of that period, and probably also in the latter part of the Palæolithic period (the Early Stone Age). The skulls mentioned may represent British men and women living thousands of years apart. They clearly belong to the same race, which, for lack of a better, we may name ‘the river-bed race.’ It is the prevailing type in England to-day, and from the scanty evidence at our disposal we may presume that it has been the dominant form many thousands of years…. All trace of this race has disappeared in Switzerland, whereas in England, in spite of invasion of Saxon, Jute, Dane and Norman, it still thrives abundantly.” And further he says (p. 235): “According to Dr. Keith, Palæolithic blood is as rife in the British people of to-day as in those of the European continent—a conclusion,” adds Dr. Munro, “which entirely meets with the present writer’s views.”
Thus we see that, according to two eminent British authorities, the race which inhabited Britain in the Early Stone Age is still the prevalent type in that island, and has not been displaced by Celt or Roman or Anglo-Saxon.
[It is, however, due to Dr. Sympson to say that a year earlier, in 1912, Dr. Munro, as he himself observes, thought it “possible that (at the close of the Early Stone Age) the Palæolithic people would shrink back to Europe and thus, for a time, leave a gap in the continuity of human life in Britain” (p. 236); and this, he says, was formerly the general idea.]
The second population of Britain, “the people of the Later Stone Age,” says Dr. Sympson, “are believed to have been largely of Iberian stock—people, that is, from south-western Europe.”
Before the discovery of “the law of gravity” and of the operation of atmospheric pressure, the old-fashioned scientists used to explain the rising of water in a pump by saying that “Nature abhors a vacuum.” There is no doubt that when the human mind becomes interested in any department of knowledge and inquiry, it abhors a vacuum, and this very laudable abhorrence often leaves the mind a victim to almost any plausible and positive effort to fill the vacuum. That is why such a very precise and particular term as Iberian comes so handy and brings so much satisfaction. Ethnologists, however, are agreed that in prehistoric times, before the Celts had invaded south-western Europe, there were already at least two very distinct races in that region, and that both are still well represented in it. To speak of them as one race, and to call that race Iberian, or to use the term “Iberian” without distinguishing between them, is merely filling the vacuum. Rhys has succeeded in popularising the term “Iberian” as a name for the population which occupied Britain and Ireland before the first coming of the Celts, and he has identified the Picts with this Iberian stock. Politics, as well as war, is eager to turn to account the services of science. There is, perhaps, no more acute and more highly educated mind in England of to-day than that of Mr. Arthur Balfour. I wish to remark here that I am only dealing with certain prevalent views about ancient history, and that I am not arguing politically one way or the other. But Mr. Balfour, in a written document supporting certain political views of his with regard to the political claims of a certain proportion of the Irish people, gave it as a reason for rejecting the claims in question, that the people of Ireland were in a large degree of the Iberian race, descendants of the primitive inhabitants during the Later Stone Age. As for any political controversy on that point, I have nothing at all to say. I should prefer to hear it discussed between Mr. Balfour and the Portuguese ambassador to London. I do confess that I am very curious to know what political conclusion Mr. Balfour would derive from the scientific conclusion of Dr. Keith and Dr. Munro, that the prevailing type in the English population of to-day represents something still more primitive than Sir John Rhys’s Iberians, and is the survival of that “river-bed race” who, in the words of Dr. Munro, were “miserable shell-eaters.”
In Sir John Rhys’s theory, the Iberians of the Later Stone Age are succeeded by the Goidels or Gaels, of Celtic origin, who introduced the Bronze Age in Britain and also in Ireland. Many centuries after these came the Brythons, who introduced the Iron Age, and drove the Gaels out of the greater part of England. Dr. Sympson says that the Brythons of that invasion drove the Gaels out of Wales also, but for this he has no warrant from Sir John Rhys. According to Rhys, the Gaels continued to occupy the more westerly parts of the island, even after the Roman occupation.
Rhys’s theory is still more elaborate. The three divisions of Gaul with which Cæsar begins the account of his Gallic war are familiar to students of Latin. Rhys equates his Neolithic Iberians of Britain and Ireland with the Iberian element in Aquitanian Gaul and Spain, his Bronze-Age Goidels or Gaels with the Celtae of Cæsar’s Gallia Celtica, and his Iron-Age Brythons of England with the Belgae of Cæsar’s Gallia Belgica. He goes still farther with this process of equation. Finding that the consonant Q, where it occurs in the most ancient forms of the Irish language, is replaced by P in the corresponding forms of the British or ancient Welsh language, he divides the Celts into two linguistic groups which he labels the Q-Celts and the P-Celts, and this division he makes to correspond to the other classification into Celtae and Belgae. In this way, he produces a most interesting and symmetrical set of equations showing the successive stages of population-change in Britain.
First, there are the people of the Early Stone Age, not named.
Secondly, the people of the Later Stone Age, Iberians.
Thirdly, the people of the Bronze Age, Goidels or Gaels, or Celtae, or Q-Celts.
Fourthly, the people of the Iron Age, Brythons or Britons, or Belgae, or P-Celts.
For the present, let us pass away from the Iberians, and consider the theory as it concerns the Celtic migrations to Britain and Ireland. The earliest known habitat of the Celts is the region to the north of the Alps. The earliest definitely known migration of the Celts is their southward movement into Northern Italy. For this migration no earlier date than 600 B.C. is assigned.
The chief authority on the Bronze Age in Ireland belongs to the late Mr. George Coffey. In his book on the subject, “The Bronze Age in Ireland,” he hesitates to date the close of the Stone Age and the introduction of the Copper Period as far back as 2500 B.C., which is the approximate date estimated by Montelius. He puts the close of the Copper Period between 2000 and 1800 B.C. and the first period of the true Bronze Age between 1800 and 1500 B.C. Now, according to the theory prevalent in Britain, the first Celtic invaders introduced the Bronze Age, and these were the Gaels or Goidels. If we accept this view and combine it with the best archæological authority, we shall conclude that the Celts reached Ireland at least 1,200 years before they are known to have entered Italy—that they pushed out to a distant island in the ocean more than a millennium before they occupied the fertile and attractive plains which lay on their very borders.
But, it may be objected, is it not possible that the Celts of the Bronze Age had settled far away from the Alps, on the coasts of north-western Europe. Possible, perhaps, but what is the value of mere possibilities? We have seen it stated, and the Cambridge handbook is only a specimen of many publications that accept the view, stated most definitely that the Gaelic branch of the Celts introduced the Bronze Age to Britain and Ireland. Surely something more than a mere possibility, some shade or degree of probability should appear in support of teaching so positive.
Now let us suppose that the dominant Bronze Age population of Britain and Ireland were Celts, as we are instructed to believe. Let us see what would follow from this position. It would follow, beyond question, that the peculiar art and works of the Bronze Age in Britain and Ireland would be mainly connected with the art and works of the Bronze Age in those parts of Europe which were likewise inhabited by Celts, rather than with other parts of the Continent. I cannot find that any such connection has been established or is believed in by archæologists.
The Brythons, we are told, were Belgic invaders who introduced the Iron Age. Not the faintest probability has been brought forward to establish this very precise and positive doctrine. Coffey places the close of the Bronze Age in Ireland and the coming of iron into general use at about 350 B.C. It is admitted that the Celts of central Europe were in possession of iron about four centuries earlier. This affords a most cogent argument that, during the intervening four centuries, there was no such social and industrial continuity between central Europe and these islands as must undoubtedly have been if both regions and the intervening parts of the Continent had been occupied by Celtic populations.
Again, if the Brythons or Belgic Celts, armed with iron, were able to cross the channel and displace the western Celts in Britain, it would surely have been much easier for them to cross the Marne and the Seine and displace the western Celts in Gaul. The theory seems to presuppose that an invasion was necessary to bring the Iron Age into Britain, but the same theory would have it that the Iron Age found its way into Ireland without any invasion, for it leaves the Bronze Age Goidels of Ireland to learn the use of iron in some more pleasant way than by meeting iron-headed spears in the hands of Belgic conquerors.
It is certain that after the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain and after the Anglo-Saxon invasions, there were Gaelic populations in various parts of western Britain, in Argyllshire, North and South Wales, and the Cornish peninsula. Rhys supposed these to be the remnants of the Gaelic population which, in his view, had occupied all England during the Bronze Age. There is sufficient evidence to show that they were fresh settlements made by the Irish of Ireland during and after the collapse of the Roman power in Britain.
The “P and Q” element in the theory is equally unsound. It is certain that, where the Irish Celts retained the consonant Q in their language, the British Celts replaced it by P. But no such distinction has been shown to have existed between the language of the western Celts and the language of the Belgic Celts on the Continent. Such phonetic changes as the substitution of P for Q spread in an almost mysterious way through languages. Their spread may be arrested by a geographical barrier so considerable as the Irish Sea, but it was not at all likely to have been brought to a stand by the waters of the Seine and Marne. Nor can a phonetic change of the kind be taken as necessarily corresponding to any racial or political boundaries. In all the western dialects of Latin which grew into the Romance languages, the initial W of Germanic words was changed into GW, and this identical change also took place in the Welsh language, but not in Irish. It took place in Spanish, yet that does not appear to prove that the Welsh are more near akin to the Spaniards than they are to the Irish, nor, if history happened to be silent, would it prove that Britain after the Roman occupation was peopled by a Spanish invasion which did not extend to Ireland.
There is one serious argument which has been adduced in support of the view that Britain was in Celtic occupation during the Bronze Age. The existence of the word kassiteros, meaning “tin,” is traced in the Greek language as far back as about 900 B.C. There seems very good reason for thinking that kassiteros was a Celtic word adopted into Greek. From this it is argued that the metal itself came from the Celts to the Greeks, which seems reasonable enough. It is further argued that the Celts must accordingly have been in possession of the country which produced the metal, and that this country was Britain. The conclusion is that the Celts were in occupation of Britain earlier than 900 B.C. It seems to me, however, that the fact, granting it to be a fact, that the metal tin reached the Greeks bearing a Celtic name is by no means proof that it came from a country inhabited at the time by Celts. If you visit the Zoological Gardens in the Phœnix Park, you will be invited, before you reach the entrance, to purchase for the delectation of the monkeys a certain vegetable product, the name of which, upon inquiry, you will learn to be “pea-nuts.” No one will be rash enough to deny that “pea-nuts” is an English word. I have not the least idea where pea-nuts grow, but I am quite certain that the fact of their being named “pea-nuts” is no proof that they grow in England or in any English-speaking country. It is very good proof, however, if proof were needed, that the trade in pea-nuts has passed through the hands of English-speaking people. If kassiteros is a Celtic word, as I think it very probably is, it proves no more than that, when the Greeks learned this Celtic name for tin, the trade in tin passed towards them through the hands of a Celtic-speaking people. If it was British tin, which again is not improbable, I suggest that it came to Greece by an overland route through the Celtic region in Mid-Europe, probably along the Rhine and the Danube or to the head of the Adriatic. As a matter of fact, the Greek writer Poseidonios states that in his time British tin reached the Mediterranean by an overland route. “It is brought,” he says, “on horses through the interior of the Celtic country to the people of Massilia and to the city called Narbon.”
There is, then, no evidence from archæology, history, or language, sufficient to establish even a moderate degree of probability for the theory of a Celtic occupation of Ireland or Britain during the Bronze Age.
On the other hand, taking Coffey’s approximate date of 350 B.C. as the beginning of the period of the general use of iron in Ireland, we shall, I think, find sufficient evidence to warrant the belief that the Celts reached Britain and Ireland about that time, and not earlier, at all events not considerably earlier than that time.
Why not earlier? I think we have conclusive grounds for believing that the Celtic migrations to Ireland cannot have begun very much, if at all, sooner than the fourth century B.C. Before stating these grounds, let us ask is there any discoverable reason for supposing that the Gaels inhabited Ireland from a time many centuries farther back. I think it possible that those who in modern times have entertained this view have been influenced by the dates assigned to the Gaelic immigration by Irish writers like the Four Masters and Keating. These dates may be taken to correspond closely enough with the estimates of archæological authorities for the commencement of the insular Bronze Age, and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it might be imagined that they were founded on some basis of tradition.
It is not the habit of popular tradition to encumber itself with chronology. There is no known instance of ancient reckoning in years and periods of years that is not based on some era, on the accepted date of some real or supposed event or events. Nowhere in Irish tradition has any trace been found of the existence of a native system of chronology before the introduction of Christian learning. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (July, 1910), I have shown how the extant written chronology of the Irish Invasions was first originated. The method was not unlike Sir John Rhys’s series of equations.
The Irish historian found in Latin histories a set of definite epochs by which antiquity was divided: the beginning of the Assyrian empire, the beginning of the Median empire, the beginning of the Persian empire, the usurpation of the Magi in Persia, and the beginning of Alexander’s empire. The chronology of the Irish Invasions was settled by the easy process of making each invasion coincide exactly in time with each of these epochs. It is evident that no traditional value can be attached to a chronological system of this kind.
But, it may be objected, the very remoteness of the time assigned to the Gaelic invasion by Irish historians may reflect the popular belief in its remoteness. If that be so, then the earlier the historian is the more near he is to the popular tradition. In the paper just cited, I have shown that, in the earliest known version of this chronology of the Invasions, the Gaelic migration to Ireland coincides with the date of Alexander’s empire, 331 B.C. That is not very far from the date assigned by Coffey for the end of the Bronze Age in Ireland, about 350 B.C. For my own part, I attach no traditional value to this coincidence, but if it pleases anyone to insist that Irish prehistoric chronology has a traditional value, then it must be conceded that tradition, as far as it is valid, is altogether favourable to the view that the Gaelic occupation of Ireland belongs to the end, and not to the beginning, of the Bronze Age.
The migratory movements of the Celts on the Continent have a bearing which cannot be ignored on the time of the Celtic migrations to Britain and Ireland. So far as I am aware, no modern investigator has suggested that the Celts were not already in the Iron Age at the time of their expansion into Italy and Spain. Why then should it be imagined, in the absence of any positive indication to the purpose, that they occupied these islands more than a thousand years earlier?
If I am not mistaken, the archæological evidence is fairly decisive on the point. Archæologists are agreed in dividing the Celtic Iron Age into two main periods, the Early Celtic or Hallstatt period, and the Late Celtic or La Tène period, also called the Marnian period. Each of these periods is taken to consist roundly of about four centuries, and the two periods on the Continent together correspond roughly to the last eight or nine centuries before the Christian Era. The Late Celtic period is abundantly represented in the antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland, but the objects that have been found in either country belonging to the Early Celtic Period are extremely rare. On this head Coffey writes as follows (“Bronze Age in Ireland,” page 5):
“It must be remembered that the Continental Hallstatt period is not at present well represented in Great Britain and Ireland, and though, under Hallstatt influence, certain Continental Iron-Age types such as bronze caldrons, trumpets, round shields, etc., found their way into Ireland, we cannot as yet definitely separate this period from the end of the Bronze Age.”
In fact, “sporadic finds” are all that represent the Early Celtic period in Ireland, in Britain, and even in the neighbouring regions of the Continent. It will not be questioned that during the Hallstatt period there was quite sufficient intercourse of trade between the islands and the Continent to explain these sporadic finds as importations.
The main fact is that, so far as archæological research has ascertained, the Early Celtic period of the Iron Age is substantially absent from Ireland and Britain, whereas the Late Celtic period is abundantly represented. The Bronze Age in Ireland comes down to about 350 B.C., and its Continental affinities are not specially or notably Celtic. The Bronze Age is succeeded in both Britain and Ireland by the Late Celtic period of the Iron Age. The inference, to my mind, is obvious, that the Celts did not reach either Britain or Ireland until the Late Celtic period, i.e., until the fourth or fifth century B.C. This conclusion agrees well with all that is known of the migratory movements of the Celts on the Continent.
Let us now revert to the Belgic migrations and consider their bearing on the matter of the Celtic colonisation of Ireland. The Belgae, we have seen, were a Celto-Germanic group which, according to Cæsar and Tacitus, occupied the lands stretching from the Rhine to the Seine and Marne, and expelled from that region the Celtae proper. There is no indication in what Cæsar says that in his time this movement was one of remote antiquity. In fact, it is perfectly clear that it was a movement by no means exhausted but still in active progress when he took command of the Roman armies in Gaul. The attempted migration of the Helvetii in the first year of his command, B.C. 58, was a part of this movement. A little later, Cæsar had to repel similar attempts of the Usipetes and the Tencteri to cross the middle Rhine and settle in Gaul; and these, according to Dio, were two Celtic peoples. Still later, in the time of Augustus, the Ubii migrated from the eastern to the western side of the Rhine. From all this it is clear that the Belgic migration was a continuous movement and that its force was far from being spent at the time of the Roman conquest of the country west of the Rhine. Cæsar indicates that there were powerful Belgic settlements west of the Rhine during the great wandering movement of the Cimbri and the Teutones, i.e., about half a century before he began his Gallic campaigns. There is nothing, however, to show that these settlements were of earlier date than the second century B.C., and I have seen no reason for thinking that they could have been much earlier.
We now come to the question of the Belgic invasion of Britain and its probable date. In Rhys’s theory, which is still accepted in England, the Belgic invaders were the first to establish the Iron Age in Britain. I claim to have shown good grounds for believing that there was no Celtic occupation of Britain before the Iron Age. I have already suggested that, if this Celto-Germanic movement was brought to a standstill on the banks of the Marne, it was not likely to have succeeded in over-running all England at the commencement of the Iron Age in England. It will be seen that the Celto-Germanic migrations extended not merely to Britain but also to Ireland, and I suggest that if these Celto-German Belgae had been the first people to come over armed with iron, they would have made an easy conquest of Ireland as well as of England.
Let us look at the actual evidence of the Belgic conquest of England. The sole historical witness on the point is Julius Cæsar, and this is his testimony:
“The interior of Britain is inhabited by those who say that, according to tradition they are natives of the island; the maritime part by those who had crossed over from Belgium [meaning Belgic Gaul] for the sake of plunder, nearly all of whom are called by the same names of states as the states from which they originated and came thither, and having made war they settled permanently there and began to till the land.”
From this it is clear that Cæsar was informed of two populations in Britain, one which was more ancient and claimed to be native, another which resulted from comparatively recent invasion. The older population he assigned to the interior, the more recent to the seaboard. What did Cæsar mean by the seaboard, the maritime part? Sir John Rhys has no difficulty in supposing that Cæsar did not mean the whole seaboard of Britain or if he did mean it that he was not fully informed, for according to Rhys’s theory, the older population, which he supposed to be Gaelic, continued to inhabit the western seaboard of England and Wales. I also agree that, whatever Cæsar may have understood, his statement about the maritime part must be taken in a restricted sense, for no one believes that the Celtic occupation in Cæsar’s time extended to the seaboard of the northern parts of the island. I agree also with the view that the traditional natives of whom Cæsar speaks probably included the earlier Celtic colonists, whose settlements dated, according to my argument, from the fourth century B.C., about three centuries before Cæsar’s time. The more recent maritime settlements, in that case, would have been very recent in his time, and I think that his statement leads us to that conclusion. These later settlers on the seaboard, he tells us, are known collectively by the same names as the states on the Continent from which they originated. Now this is a statement about a fact likely to be within Cæsar’s personal knowledge. He was certainly well acquainted with the names of the states of Belgic Gaul, and there is no reason why he should have said that populations retaining the same names existed in his time on the British coast if he did not know it to be a fact. His testimony on this point, touching a matter within the scope of his personal observation, is of higher evidential value than any other part of the statement quoted. Cæsar does not himself name these states, but in the two following centuries the names of the various states of Britain are given by Ptolemy and other writers, and when we compare these names with those of the states of Belgic Gaul, we find that they coincide only in three instances. These are the Parisii on the foreland north of the Humber, the Atrebatii in the district of Berkshire, and the Belgae, eastward from these to the Bristol Channel. There are some eighteen other states enumerated in Britain, so that the coincidence of names amounts to only one in seven, a proportion which by no means corresponds to Cæsar’s words, fere omnes, “nearly all.” Except for the Parisii, who occupied the promontory north of the Humber, the states bearing names also found in Belgic Gaul are located in southern England, south of the Thames and the Bristol Channel. One of these, and the most extensive, bears the general name Belgae, which certainly does not suggest that the remainder of the population was also Belgic. Now the fere omnes, “nearly all,” in Cæsar’s statement cannot refer to such a small minority of the states of Britain. Therefore, either Cæsar was grossly in error, in which case there is not much to be built on his whole statement, or, if he stated the truth, which is much more likely, then there were Belgic settlements on the British seaboard in his time which had lost their identity and passed into insignificance a century later. This I take to be true, for it will be seen that there were also Belgic settlements on the Irish coast after Cæsar’s time and that as states they had disappeared a few centuries later. It is indeed quite possible that the Belgae so named, in southern England, consisted of a collection of colonies from various states of Belgic Gaul, whose names were preserved in Cæsar’s time, but not one of which was sufficiently populous or otherwise considerable to be worth naming by later writers. There may have been similar Belgic colonies on other parts of the southern and eastern seaboard of Britain, none of them considerable enough to be reckoned as a state. At all events, I submit that Cæsar’s statement, far from justifying the assumption of a Belgic conquest on a grand scale, comprising the greater part of Celtic Britain, is rather contrary to that assumption; also, that it cannot reasonably be taken to refer to settlements made in Britain at the close of the Bronze Age three or four centuries before Cæsar’s time.
I have referred to the existence at one time of Celto-Germanic settlements on the coast of Ireland. The authority on the point is Ptolemy the geographer, who flourished about A.D. 150. In the south-eastern angle of Ireland, the region of Wexford, he places a population named Brigantes. There was a very extensive state of this name in the north of Roman Britain. Its territory extended across the country from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. Whether the Brigantes were or were not Belgic colonists in Britain and Ireland, I find no means to determine. North of the Brigantes, on the Leinster coast, Ptolemy locates the Manapii. It can hardly be doubted that these were a Belgic people, a branch of the Menapii, whose territory on the Continent lay in parts of the countries now called Belgium and Holland. North of the Manapii on the Leinster coast, Ptolemy places the Cauci. The topography of Ireland from the time of Saint Patrick onward is very copious and minute, but no trace has been discovered in it of these three peoples in the location ascribed to them by Ptolemy. It seems to me possible that the Manapii may be represented in later times by a scattered people called the Monaigh or Manaigh. Some of these dwelt in eastern Ulster, near Belfast. Another branch of them dwelt in the west of Ulster, and their name is preserved in that of the county Fermanagh. It is interesting to note that the Irish genealogists derive the origin of both from Leinster. The only trace known to me in Irish tradition of a people similarly named on the south-eastern seaboard is found in the name of Forgall Monach, the father of Emer who was wife of Cú Chulainn. Who were the Cauci? Their name, in the Germanic form Chauci, was that of a people of the German seaboard bordering on the North Sea, who are described in Smith’s Ancient Geography as “skilful navigators and much addicted to piracy.” Tacitus praises them for their love of justice and says that, though ready for war, they do not provoke war. It must be remembered, however, that Tacitus was an extreme “pro-German.” Elsewhere, he tells of incursions made by them against neighbouring peoples. We find, then, two peoples, the Menapii and the Chauci, on the Belgic and German shores of the North Sea, and also on the Leinster shores of the Irish Sea; and this shows that in Ireland as well as in Britain there were Celto-Germanic settlements about the beginning of the Christian era.
Cæsar is the earliest known writer to give the name Brittania to the island of Britain and the name Brittani to its people. In earlier writings the name of the island is Albion. In Cæsar’s term Brittani, there seems to be a confusion of two existing names, one Brittani, the name of a small local population, the other Pretani which is recognised to be a British and probably Gaulish equivalent of the Irish name for the Picts, Cruithin, more anciently Qreteni. Cæsar fixed the name Brittani in Latin usage, but the form Pretanoi continued after his time to be used by Greek writers. Polybius and Ptolemy apply the adjective Pretanic to the two islands, and a still later geographical tract in Greek says, “the Pretanic islands are two in number one called Albion and the other Ierne.” The Pretanic islands means the Pictish islands, and this name for them must have been taken from the Gauls. It points to a time before the Celtic occupation, when the Pretani or Picts were still regarded as the principal people of both islands. Here we have another indication of the relatively late period of the Celtic occupation. Cæsar learned that the natives of Britain had some curious marital customs which he did not observe among the Gauls, including the Belgae, on the Continent. A later writer, Solinus, in whose time the customs of the Britons were more intimately known to the Romans, ascribes a similar custom, not to the Britons but to the inhabitants of the Hebrides. Both accounts are based on a well-established fact, recorded also in Irish writings, the custom of matriarchy which was peculiar to the Picts. Cæsar’s statement is readily explained, if we understand that the Gauls, from whom his information was likely to have been derived, still spoke of Britain and Ireland as the Pictish islands, and regarded this social custom, which was foreign to them, as a Pictish custom. In the time of Solinus, the Romans knew that the Picts were limited to the northern parts of Britain, and the story is accordingly told of the people of the Hebrides. If a custom peculiar to the Picts was spoken of in Cæsar’s time as common to the inhabitants of Britain, and if Britain and Ireland were then still regarded in Gaul as Pictish islands, I suggest that this was because the Celts of Gaul did not look upon the two islands as having been mainly occupied from any remote period by a people akin to themselves.
The conclusions which I wish to draw in this lecture are: that neither Britain nor Ireland was colonised by the Celts until the Late Celtic period, corresponding to the period which followed the Bronze Age in these countries; that the Belgic or Celto-Germanic settlements were of still later date, and extended to Ireland as well as Britain; that the Belgic settlements in England were not so widespread as they are represented in modern British writers; and that the distinction between the ancient Gaels and Britons does not correspond to the distinction between the Celtae and Belgae of Gaul in Cæsar’s time.
[2.] The syllables en and an are found interchangeable in many Celtic words, perhaps varying according to dialect.