Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Phœnicians and Greeks

The most civilised nations of the ancient world were those which dwelt round the Mediterranean Sea. It was long supposed that the Phœnicians came to Britain from the coast of Syria, or from their colonies at Carthage and in the south of Spain, for the tin which they needed for the manufacture of bronze. The peninsula of Devon and Cornwall is the only part of the island which produces tin, and it has therefore been thought that the Cassiterides, or tin islands, which the Phœnicians visited, were to be found in that region. It has, however, been recently shown that the Cassiterides were most probably off the coast of Galicia, in Spain, and the belief that Phœnicians visited Britain for tin must therefore be considered to be very doubtful.

The first educated visitor who reached Britain was Pytheas, a Greek, who was sent by the merchants of the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseilles) about 330 B.C. to make discoveries which might lead to the opening across Gaul of a trade-route between Britain and their city. It was probably in consequence of the information which he carried to Massalia on his return that there sprang up a trade in British tin.

Another Greek, Posidonius, who came to Britain about two centuries after Pytheas, found this trade in full working order. The tin was brought by land from the present Devon or Cornwall to an island called Ictis, which was only accessible on foot after the tide had ebbed. This island was probably Thanet, which was in those days cut off from the mainland by an arm of the sea which could be crossed on foot at low water. From Thanet the tin was carried into Gaul across the straits, and was then conveyed in waggons to the Rhone to be floated down to the Mediterranean.

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