History

Britania by Pliny

BRITANNIA

From: The Natural History-Pliny the Elder-77 CE

Opposite to this coast is the island called Britannia, so celebrated in the records of Greece(1) and of our own country. It is situate to the north-west, and, with a large tract of intervening sea, lies opposite to Germany, Gaul, and Spain, by far the greater part of Europe. Its former name was Albion; but at a later period, all the islands, of which we shall just now briefly make mention, were included under the name of “Britanniæ.” This island is distant from Gesoriacum, on the coast of the nation of the Morini, at the spot where the passage across is the shortest, fifty miles. Pytheas and Isidorus say that its circumference is  miles.

It is barely thirty years since any extensive knowledge of it was gained by the successes of the Roman arms, and even as yet they have not penetrated beyond the vicinity of the Caledonian forest. Agrippa believes its length to be miles, and its breadth 300; he also thinks that the breadth of Hibernia is the same, but that its length is less by 200 miles. This last island is situate beyond Britannia, the passage across being the shortest from the territory of the Silures, a distance of thirty miles. Of the remaining islands none is said to have a greater circumference than miles. Among these there are the Orcades, forty in number, and situate within a short distance of each other, the seven islands called Acmodæ, the Hæbudes, thirty in number, and, between Hibernia and Britannia, the islands of Mona, Monapia, Ricina, Vectis, Limnus, and Andros. Below it are the islands called Samnis and Axantos, and opposite, scattered in the German Sea, are those known as the Glæsariæ, but which the Greeks have more recently called the Electrides, from the circumstance of their producing electrum or amber. The most remote of all that we find mentioned is Thule, in which, as we have previously stated, there is no night at the summer solstice, when the sun is passing through the sign of Cancer, while on the other hand at the winter solstice there is no day. Some writers are of opinion that this state of things lasts for six whole months together.

Timæus the historian says that an island called Mictis is within six days’ sail of Britannia, in which white lead is found; and that the Britons sail over to it in boats of osier, covered with sewed hides. There are writers also who make mention of some other islands, Scandia(2) namely, Dumna, Bergos, and, greater than all, Nerigos, from which persons embark for Thule. At one day’s sail from Thule is the frozen ocean, which by some is called the Cronian Sea.


1-Britain was spoken of by some of the Greek writers as superior to all other islands in the world. Dionysius, in his Periegesis, says, “that no other islands whatsoever can claim equality with those of Britain.”

2-Brotier, with many other writers, takes these names to refer to various parts of the coast of Norway. Scandia he considers to be the same as Scania, Bergos the modern Bergen, and Nerigos the northern part of Norway. On the other hand, Gosselin is of opinion that under the name of Bergos the Scottish island of Barra is meant, and under that of Nerigos, the island of Lewis, the northern promontory of which is in the old maps designated by the name of Nary or Nery. Ptolemy makes mention of an island called Doumna in the vicinity of the Orcades.

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