|2500 BC||700 BC||55 BC||43-47 AD||122-126 AD||
|The Iberians||Stonehenge||Celtic invasion||Julius Caesar invaded Britain||Roman Conquest under Claudius||Hadrian’s Wall||Roman departure|
From 12000 to 2000 BC – From Stone Age to the Celts
The pre-historic development of Britain is characterised by a number of migrations. During the STONE AGE Britain was still connected to the European continent by a strip of land that people crossed to install the first human settlements; what today would be defined as migration. Eventually the sea water level rose considerably and Britain slowly bacame the Island that we know today, as a consequence those first settlers were progressively isolated from the rest of the continent and from the rest of the other populations. They lived mainly on hunting and fishing.
From 8000 to 2500 BC – The Iberians
At approximaltely the Neolithic period a new population coming from the Mediterrenean area of Europe settled in Britain. These were the Iberians, skilled craftsmen who practiced agriculture and worshipped the Sun. This deduction comes from the presence of megalithic stones at STONEHENGE near Salisisbury. It must be said that that this moument is still a mistery as no one yet has been able to explain how such huge stones were transported to its actual site since they geologically belong to other areas as the grey-bluish hue might suggest. Nor has anyone yet explained how it was possible to set them in the upright position considering their weight and the of lack of technology, at the time, that would have allowed such an extraordinary achievement. Furthermore, archeologists still haven’t disclosed the actual use that, supposedly Iberians, made of Stonehenge, as of yet we are still in the realm of hypothesis, therefore it may have been a temple, a market place or a site where to administer justice, settle disputes or even all of the above. It is indeed a fact that today it attracts a great number of tourists possibly due to its still standing mistery.
The Iberians mostly settled near areas rich in streams and rivers from which they would extract gold, tin and copper that they used to create fine jewellery, weapons and utensils. as Britain entered the IRON AGE, at approximately 2500 BC this population that had, in the mean time, increased in number began to divide into tribes and developped permanent farming which in turn caused disputes for the need of each tribe to saveguard its territory thus leading them to build fortified defence structures for protection.
From 900 to 500 BC – The Celts
After the Iberians, in 700 BC, roughly, it was time for the Celts’ migrations. The Celts (the correct pronunciation is Kelt because their name Keltoi has Greek origins, however “Selt” is also accepted), came from Central Europe and travelled through Germany, Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy, France, some reached Britain and even Ireland. their arrival disrupted the lives of Iberians who were violently chased away from their homes and farmed lands and hid on the mountains or were conquered and forced to work for the new invaders.
The Britons, as the British Celts were called, just like the Gauls – the French Celts – or the Iberians, were divided in tribes or clans and each was ruled by a prince or leader. their society however was somewhat more advanced than that of the Iberians.
Economy and Art
The Celts were industrious farmers and skilled craftsmen as well, they used bronze, gold, copper and iron, they build chariots, created elaborate jewellery as ornaments, adorned their weapons and shields with refined art that was also employed in the creation of sophisticated pottery that they not only used for every day utensils but with which they also created impressive animal figures in clay and metal works too, these were so well made and realistic that they seemed to come to life. moreover their cultural richness was also displayed in their lyrical verses sung at special occasions to celebrate their heroes and idols. this was a very intense and cultivated oral tradition that unfortunately was never recorded in writing and very little of it survives today. Their Language, though, is still spoken today in Wales and Ireland (Welsh and Irish Gaelic).
The Celts’ religion is known as Druidism; they believed that the human soul was immortal and that it transmigrated from one person to the other, they also believed that life after death was still spent on Earth wandering from forests to caves thus shedding magic and mystery to nature and its elements, water being its most cherished and worshipped by the Celts who, like many other primitive and pagan civilizations, praciticed sacrifice to praise their gods and, when necessary, to subdue their anger. These ceremonies and rites were officiated by their priests, the Druids who offered sacrifices, the more precious the object sacrificed the more important the plea addressed to their divinity, so the sacrifice of priced jewellery or even domestic animals and humans was proportionate to the grace and benefit hoped for the entire community. The Druid, though, was not only a priest interceding with the supernatural on behalf of the community, he was also a man of law, of medicine and a mentor for most. Thus it can be said that he detained great power.
From 55 BC to 409 AD – The Romans
55 BC – Julius Caesar and Britain
Julius Caesar invaded Britain in 55 BC, probably to punish the Britons for helping the Gauls (as we’ve said these were the Celts of France) against the Romans, but also because of their advanced agriculture and flourishing trades was coveted by the Romans. A year later, after imposing taxes on the local populations, Julius Caesar left and for nearly a century after that Britain remaind virtually free.
43 AD – The Emperor Claudius
In 43 AD the Emperor Claudius launched another conquering campaign of Britain which never went beyond the Scotish border where the warring population of the Picts lived. To protect Roman Britain from Picts’ incursions the Romans, during the time of Emperor Hadrian’s rule built a wall as fortification, the Hadrian Wall, still standing. The Romans never tempted to conquer Ireland and after approximately 350 years they were forced to leave Britain as the empire fell under the siege of the Barbarian invasions of which Britain was not spared either.
The Roman Legacy in Britain
The most important hereditary traits that the Romans left behind were, probably, their administration, in the first place, with its well organised and efficient bureacracy that helped them rule their incredibly vast empire without almost a flaw, and secondly their advanced law system. Yet what strikes mostly contemporary bystanders is undoubtedly Roman architecture and engineering accomplishments still well functioning today such as roads and acqueducts which are probably also the best known, however the set up of towns as we know them come from the Romans as well, towns like military camps where all the most strategic activities of residents took place within a fortified concentrical set of circles. The Latin word “CASTRA” for camp is an important and widespread ending of many British city names such as Colchester, Leicester, Winchester.
WRITING AND THE BEGINNING OF HISTORY The end of pre-history can be identified with the invention of writing. In fact it is thanks to written records that a civilization can trace back its developments and progress, therefore written records are precious documents for historians who can interpret past events. As far as Britain is concerned, although its territory had been inhabited for thousands of years prior to the Roman Conquest none of those people had a written language therefore all the information regarding them and their culture has been deducted solely by arecheological findings. The very first written record on Britain and its inhabitants was recorded by the Greek navigator Pytheas, who explored its coasts around 325 BC.
© L. R. Capuana