The Celtic Literature Collective

Natural History
Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE)

Book 4: Countries

Chapter 30: Britannia.
Opposite to this coast is the island called Britannia, so celebrated in the records of Greece 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,1 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 4875 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 800 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.2 Of the remaining islands none is said to have a greater circumference than 125 miles. Among these there are the Orcades,3 forty in number, and situate within a short distance of each other, the seven islands called Acmodæ, the Hæbudes,4 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,5 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,6 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 Mictis7 is within six days' sail of Britannia, in which white load 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 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.

Chapter 31: Gallia Belgica.
The whole of Gaul that is comprehended under the one general name of Comata, is divided into three races of people, which are more especially kept distinct from each other by the following rivers. From the Scaldis to the Sequana it is Belgic Gaul; from the Sequana to the Garumna it is Celtic Gaul or Lugdunensis; and from the Garumna to the promontory of the Pyrenæan range it is Aquitanian Gaul, formerly called Aremorica. Agrippa makes the entire length of the coast of Gaul to be 1800 miles, measured from the Rhine to the Pyrenees: and its length, from the ocean to the mountains of Gebenna and Jura, excluding there from Gallia Narbonensis, he computes at 420 miles, the breadth being 318.

Beginning at the Scaldis, the parts beyond are inhabited by the Toxandri, who are divided into various peoples with many names; after whom come the Menapii, the Morini, the Oromarsac, who are adjacent to the burgh which is known as Gesoriacum, the Britanni, the Ambiani, the Bellovaci, the Hassi, and, more in the interior, the Catoslugi, the Atrebates, the Nervii, a free people, the Veromandui, the Suæuconi, the Suessiones, a free people, the Ulmanetes, a free people, the Tungri, the Sunuci, the Frisiabones, the Betasi, the Leuci, a free people, the Treveri, who were formerly free, and the Lingones, a federal state, the federal Remi, the Mediomatrici, the Sequani, the Raurici, and the Helvetii. The Roman colonies are Equestris and Rauriaca. The nations of Germany which dwell in this province, near the sources of the Rhine, are the Nemetes, the Triboc, and the Vangiones; nearer again, the Ubii, the Colony of Agrippina, the Cugerni, the Batavi, and the peoples whom we have already mentioned as dwelling on the islands of the Rhine.

Chapter 32: Gallia Lugdunensis.
That part of Gaul which is known as Lugdunensis contains the Lexovii, the Vellocasses, the Galeti, the Veneti, the Abrincatui, the Ossismi, and the celebrated river Ligeris, as also a most remarkable peninsula, which extends into the ocean at the extremity of the territory of the Ossismi, the circumference of which is 625 miles, and its breadth at the neck 125. Beyond this are the Nannetes, and in the interior are the Ædui, a federal people, the Carnuti, a federal people, the Boii, the Senones, the Aulerci, both those surnamed Eburovices and those called Cenomanni, the Meldi, a free people, the Parisii, the Tricasses, the Andecavi, the Viducasses, the Bodiocasses, the Venelli, the Cariosvelites, the Diablinti, the Rhedones, the Turones, the Atesui, and the Secusiani, a free people, in whose territory is the colony of Lugdunum.

Chapter 33: Gallia Aquitanica.
In Aquitanica are the Ambilatri, the Anagnutes, the Pictones, the Santoni, a free people, the Bituriges, surnamed Vivisci, the Aquitani, from whom the province derives its name, the Sediboviates, the Convenæ, who together form one town, the Begerri, the Tarbelli Quatuorsignani, the Cocosates Sexsignani, the Venami, the Onobrisates, the Belendi, and then the Pyrenæan range. Below these are the Monesi, the Oscidates a mountain race, the Sibyllates, the Camponi, the Bercorcates, the Pindedunni, the Lassunni, the Vellates, the Tornates, the Consoranni, the Ausci, the Elusates, the Sottiates, the Oscidates Campestres, the Succasses, the Tarusates, the Basabocates, the Vassei, the Sennates, and the Cambolectri Agessinates. Joining up to the Pictones are the Bituriges, a free people, who are also known as the Cubi, and then the Lemovices, the Arverni, a free people, and the Gabales.

Again, adjoining the province of Narbonensis are the Ruteni, the Cadurci, the Nitiobriges, and the Petrocori, separated by the river Tarnis from the Tolosani. The seas around the coast are the Northern Ocean, flowing up to the mouth of the Rhine, the Britannic Ocean between the Rhine and the Sequana, and, between it and the Pyrenees, the Gallic Ocean. There are many islands belonging to the Veneti, which bear the name of "Veneticæ," as also in the Aquitanic Gulf, that of Uliarus.

Chapter 34: Nearer Spain, Its Coast Along the Gallic Ocean.
At the Promontory of the Pyrenees Spain begins, more narrow, not only than Gaul, but even than itself in its other parts, as we have previously mentioned, seeing to what an immense extent it is here hemmed in by the ocean on the one side, and by the Iberian Sea on the other. A chain of the Pyrenees, extending from due east to south-west, divides Spain into two parts, the smaller one to the north, the larger to the south. The first coast that presents itself is that of the Nearer Spain, otherwise called Tarraconensis. On leaving the Pyrenees and proceeding along the coast, we meet with the forest ranges of the Vascones, Olarso, the towns of the Varduli, the Morosgi, Menosca, Vesperies, and the Port of Amanus, where now stands the colony of Flaviobriga. We then come to the district of the nine states of the Cantabri, the river Sauga, and the Port of Victoria of the Juliobrigenses, from which place the sources of the Iberus are distant forty miles. We next come to the Port of Blendium, the Orgenomesci, a people of the Cantabri, Vereasueca their port, the country of the Astures, the town of Noega, and on a peninsula, the Pæsici. Next to these we have, belonging to the jurisdiction of Lucus, after passing the river Navilubio, the Cibarci, the Egovarri, surnamed Namarini, the Iadoni, the Arrotrebæ, the Celtic Promontory, the rivers Florius and Nelo, the Celtici, surnamed Neri, and above them the Tamarici, in whose peninsula are the three altars called Sestianæ, and dedicated to Augustus; the Capori, the town of Noela, the Celtici surnamed Præsamarci, and the Cilen: of the islands, those worthy of mention are Corticata and Aunios. After passing the Cileni, belonging to the jurisdiction of the Bracari, we have the Heleni, the Gravii, and the fortress of Tyde, all of them deriving their origin from the Greeks. Also, the islands called Cicæ, the famous city of Abobrica, the river Minius, four miles wide at its mouth, the Leuni, the Seurbi, and Augusta, a town of the Bracari, above whom lies Gallæcia. We then come to the river Limia, and the river Durius, one of the largest in Spain, and which rises in the district of the Pelendones, passes near Numantia, and through the Arevaci and the Vaccæi, dividing the Vettones from Asturia, the Gallæci from Lusitania, and separating the Turduli from the Bracari. The whole of the region here mentioned from the Pyrenees is full of mines of gold, silver, iron, and lead, both black and white.

Chapter 35: Lusitania.
After passing the Durius, Lusitania begins. We here have the ancient Turdul, the Pæsuri, the river Vaga, the town of Talabrica, the town and river of Æminium, the towns of Conimbrica, Collippo, and Eburobritium. A promontory then advances into the sea in shape of a large horn; by some it has been called Artabrum, by others the Great Promontory, while many call it the Promontory of Olisipo, from the city near it. This spot forms a dividing line in the land, the sea, and the heavens. Here ends one side of Spain; and, when we have doubled the promontory, the front of Spain begins. On one side of it lie the North and the Gallic Ocean, on the other the West and the Atlantic. The length of this promontory has been estimated by some persons at sixty miles, by others at ninety. A considerable number of writers estimate the distance from this spot to the Pyrenees at 1250 miles; and, committing a manifest error, place here the nation of the Artabri, a nation that never was here. For, making a slight change in the name, they have placed at this spot the Arrotrebæ, whom we have previously spoken of as dwelling in front of the Celtic Promontory.

Mistakes have also been made as to the more celebrated rivers. From the Minius, which we have previously mentioned, according to Varro, the river Æminius is distant 200 miles, which others14 suppose to be situate elsewhere, and called Limæa. By the ancients it was called the "River of Oblivion," and it has been made the subject of many fabulous stories. At a distance of 200 miles from the Durius is the Tagus, the Munda lying between them. The Tagus is famous for its golden sands. At a distance of 160 miles from it is the Sacred Promontory, projecting from nearly the very middle of the front of Spain. From this spot to the middle of the Pyrenees, Varro says, is a distance of 1400 miles; while to the Anas, by which we have mentioned Lusitania as being separated from Bætica, is 126 miles, it being 102 more to Gades.

The peoples are the Celtici, the Turduli, and, about the Tagus, the Vettones. From the river Anas to the Sacred Promontory are the Lusitani. The cities worthy of mention on the coast, beginning from the Tagus, are that of Olisipo, famous for its mares, which conceive from the west wind; Salacia, which is surnamed the Imperial City; Merobrica; and then the Sacred Promontory, with the other known by the name of Cuneus, and the towns of Ossonoba, Balsa, and Myrtili.

The whole of this province is divided into three jurisdictions, those of Emerita, Pax, and Scalabis. It contains in all forty-six peoples, among whom there are five colonies, one municipal town of Roman citizens, three with the ancient Latin rights, and thirty-six that are tributaries. The colonies are those of Augusta Emerita, situate on the river Anas, Metallinum, Pax, and Norba, surnamed Cæsariana. To this last place of jurisdiction the people of Castra Servilia and Castra Cæcilia resort. The fifth jurisdiction is that of Scalabis, which also has the name of Præsidium Julium. Olisipo, surnamed Felicitas Julia, is a municipal city, whose inhabitants enjoy the rights of Roman citizens. The towns in the enjoyment of the ancient Latin rights are Ebora, which also has the name of Liberalitas Julia, and Myrtili and Salacia, which we have previously mentioned. Those among the tributaries whom it may not be amiss to mention, in addition to those already alluded to among the names of those in Bætica, are the Augustobrigenses, the Ammienses, the Aranditani, the Arabricenses, the Balsenses, the Cesarobricenses, the Caperenses, the Caurenses, the Colarni, the Cibilitani, the Concordienses, the Elbocorii, the Interannienses, the Lancienses, the Mirobrigenses, surnamed Celtici, the Medubrigenses, surnamed Plumbarii, the Ocelenses or Lancienses, the Turduli, also called Barduli, and the Tapori. Agrippa states, that Lusitania, with Asturia and Gallæcia, is 540 miles in length, and 536 in breadth. The provinces of Spain, measured from the two extreme promontories of the Pyrenees, along the sea-line of the entire coast, are thought to be 3922 miles in circumference; while some writers make them to be but 2600.

Chapter 36: The Islands in the Atlatnic Ocean.
Opposite to Celtiberia are a number of islands, by the Greeks called Cassiterides, in consequence of their abounding in tin: and, facing the Promontory of the Arrotrebæ, are the six Islands of the Gods, which some persons have called the Fortunate Islands. At the very commencement of Bætica, and twenty-five miles from the mouth of the Straits of Gades, is the island of Gadis, twelve miles long and three broad, as Polybius states in his writings. At its nearest part, it is less than 700 feet distant from the mainland, while in the remaining portion it is distant more than seven miles. Its circuit is fifteen miles, and it has on it a city which enjoys the rights of Roman citizens, and whose people are called the Augustani of the city of Julia Gaditana. On the side which looks towards Spain, at about 100 paces distance, is another long island, three miles wide, on which the original city of Gades stood. By Ephorus and Philistides it is called Erythia, by Timæus and Silenus Aphrodisias, and by the natives the Isle of Juno. Timæus says, that the larger island used to be called Cotinusa, from its olives; the Romans call it Tartessos; the Carthaginians Gadir, that word in the Punic language signifying a hedge. It was called Erythia because the Tyrians, the original ancestors of the Carthaginians, were said to have come from the Erythræn, or Red Sea. In this island Geryon is by some thought to have dwelt, whose herds were carried off by Hercules. Other persons again think, that his island is another one, opposite to Lusitania, and that it was there formerly called by that name.

Book 5: Countries

Chapter 42: Galatia and the Adjoining Nations.
On this occasion also it seems that we ought to speak of Galatia, which lies above Phrygia, and includes the greater part of the territory taken from that province, as also its former capital, Gordium. The Gauls who have settled in these parts, are called the Tolistobogi, the Voturi, and the Ambitouti; those who dwell in Mæonia and Paphlagonia are called the Trocmi. Cappadocia stretches along to the north-east of Galatia, its most fertile parts being possessed by the Tectosages and the Teutobodiaci. These are the nations by which those parts are occupied; and they are divided into peoples and tetrarchies, 195 in number. Its towns are, among the Tectosages, Ancyra; among the Troemi, Tavium; and, among the Tolistobogi, Pessinus. Besides the above, the best known among the peoples of this region are the Actalenses, the Arasenses, the Comenses, the Didienses, the Hierorenses, the Lystreni, the Neapolitani, the Œandenses, the Seleucenses, the Sebasteni, the Timoniacenses, and the Thebaseni. Galatia also touches upon Carbalia in Pamphylia, and the Milyæ, about Baris; also upon Cyllanticum and Oroandicum, a district of Pisidia, and Obizene, a part of Lvcaonia. Besides those already mentioned, its rivers are the Sangarius and the Gallus, from which last the priests of the Mother of the gods have taken their name.

Book 16: The Natural History of the Forest Trees.

Chapter 95: Historical Facts Connected with the Mistletoe.
Upon this occasion we must not omit to mention the admiration that is lavished upon this plant by the Gauls. The Druids--for that is the name they give to their magicians -- held nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, supposing always that tree to be the robur. Of itself the robur is selected by them to form whole groves, and they perform none of their religious rites without employing branches of it; so much so, that it is very probable that the priests themselves may have received their name from the Greek name for that tree. In fact, it is the notion with them that everything that grows on it has been sent immediately from heaven, and that the mistletoe upon it is a proof that the tree has been selected by God himself as an object of his especial favour.

The mistletoe, however, is but rarely found upon the robur; and when found, is gathered with rites replete with religious awe. This is done more particularly on the fifth day of the moon, the day which is the beginning of their months and years, as also of their ages, which, with them, are but thirty years. This day they select because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable power and influence; and they call her by a name which signifies, in their language, the all-healing. Having made all due preparation for the sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring thither two white bulls, the horns of which are bound then for the first time. Clad in a white robe the priest ascends the tree, and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, which is received by others in a white cloak. They then immolate the victims, offering up their prayers that God will render this gift of his propitious to those to whom he has so granted it. It is the belief with them that the mistletoe, taken in drink, will impart fecundity to all animals that are barren, and that it is an antidote for all poisons. Such are the religious feelings which we find entertained towards trifling objects among nearly all nations.

Book 22: The Properties of Plants and Fruits.

Chapter 1: The Properties of Plants.
Nature and the earth might have well filled the measure of our admiration, if we had nothing else to do but to consider the properties enumerated in the preceding Book, and the numerous varieties of plants that we find created for the wants or the enjoyment of mankind. And yet, how much is there still left for us to describe, and how many discoveries of a still more astonishing nature! The greater part, in fact, of the plants there mentioned recommend themselves to us by their taste, their fragrance, or their beauty, and so invite us to make repeated trials of their virtues: but, on the other hand. the properties of those which remain to be described, furnish us with abundant proof that nothing has been created by Nature without some purpose to fulfil, unrevealed to us though it may be.

Chapter 2: Plants Used by Nations for the Adornment of the Person.
I remark, in the first place, that there are some foreign nations which, in obedience to long-established usage, employ certain plants for the embellishment of the person. That, among some barbarous peoples, the females stain the face by means of various plants, there can be little doubt, and among the Daci and the Sarmatæ we find the men even marking their bodies. There is a plant in Gaul, similar to the plantago in appearance, and known there by the name of "glastum:" with it both matrons and girls among the people of Britain are in the habit of staining the body all over, when taking part in the performance of certain sacred rites; rivalling hereby the swarthy hue of the Æthiopians, they go in a state of nature.

Book 24: The Remedies Derived from the Forest Trees.

Chapter 62: Selago: Two Remedies.
Similar to savin is the herb known as "selago." Care is taken to gather it without the use of iron, the right hand being passed for the purpose through the left sleeve of the tunic, as though the gatherer were in the act of committing a theft. The clothing too must be white, the feet bare and washed clean, and a sacrifice of bread and wine must be made before gathering it: it is carried also in a new napkin. The Druids of Gaul have pretended that this plant should be carried about the person as a preservative against accidents of all kinds, and that the smoke of it is extremely good for all maladies of the eyes.

Chapter 63: Samolus: Two Remedies.
The Druids, also, have given the name of "samolus" to a certain plant which grows in humid localities. This too, they say, must be gathered fasting with the left hand, as a preservative against the maladies to which swine and cattle are subject. The person, too, who gathers it must be careful not to look behind him, nor must it be laid anywhere but in the troughs from which the cattle drink.

Book 29: Remedies Derieved from Living Creatures.

Chap. 12: Serpents' Eggs
In addition to the above, there is another kind of egg, held in high renown by the people of the Gallic provinces, but totally omitted by the Greek writers. In summer time, numberless snakes become artificially entwined together, and form rings around their bodies with the viscous slime which exudes from their mouths, and with the foam secreted by them: the name given to this substance is "anguinum." The Druids tell us, that the serpents eject these eggs into the air by their hissing, and that a person must be ready to catch them in a cloak, so as not to let them touch the ground; they say also that he must instantly take to flight on horseback, as the serpents will be sure to pursue him, until some intervening river has placed a barrier between them. The test of its genuineness, they say, is its floating against the current of a stream, even though it be set in gold. But, as it is the way with magicians to be dexterous and cunning in casting a veil about their frauds, they pretend that these eggs can only be taken on a certain day of the moon; as though, forsooth, it depended entirely upon the human will to make the moon and the serpents accord as to the moment of this operation.

I myself, however, have seen one of these eggs: it was round, and about as large as an apple of moderate size; the shell of it was formed of a cartilaginous substance, and it was surrounded with numerous cupules, as it were, resembling those upon the arms of the polypus: it is held in high estimation among the Druids. The possession of it is marvellously vaunted as ensuring success in law-suits, and a favourable reception with princes; a notion which has been so far belied, that a Roman of equestrian rank, a native of the territory of the Vocontii, who, during a trial, had one of these eggs in his bosom, was slain by the late Emperor Tiberius, and for no other reason, that I know of, but because he was in possession of it. It is this entwining of serpents with one another, and the fruitful results of this unison, that seem to me to have given rise to the usage among foreign nations, of surrounding the caduceus with representations of serpents, as so many symbols of peace--it must be remembered, too, that on the caduceus, serpents are never represented as having crests.

Book 30: Remedies Derieved from Living Creatures.

Chapter 4: The Druids of the Gallic Provinces.
The Gallic provinces, too, were pervaded by the magic art, and that even down to a period within memory; for it was the Emperor Tiberius that put down their Druids, and all that tribe of wizards and physicians. But why make further mention of these prohibitions, with reference to an art which has now crossed the very Ocean even, and has penetrated to the void recesses of Nature? At the present day, struck with fascination, Britannia still cultivates this art, and that, with ceremonials so august, that she might almost seem to have been the first to communicate them to the people of Persia. To such a degree are nations throughout the whole world, totally different as they are and quite unknown to one another, in accord upon this one point!

Such being the fact, then, we cannot too highly appreciate the obligation that is due to the Roman people, for having put an end to those monstrous rites, in accordance with which, to murder a man was to do an act of the greatest devoutness, and to eat his flesh was to secure the highest blessings of health.

1. Gesoriacum

2. This would be the isle of Anglesey

3. The Orkneys

4. Acmodæ: ; Hæbudes: Hebrides

5. Mona: Anglesey; Monapia: Isle of Man; Ricina: Rathlin?; Vectis: Wight; Limnus: Lambay?; Andros: Bardsey?; Samnis: Sian, off Britanny?; Axantos: Ushant, next to Sian?; Glæsariæ: some part of Denmark?

6. Thule: possibly Iceland, if Cunliff is correct about Pytheas' voyages

7. Mictis: sometimes identified as St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall. Called Ictis in Diodorus' Bibliotheka.

Pliny the Elder, The Natural History (eds. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S., H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A.) London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855. From the Tufts Perseus site:

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