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 Trade Routes

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"Travel and transport by water was usually faster and much cheaper. This was especially so in the case of the long-distance movement of bulk goods, such as grain, for example. The expense of feeding draught-oxen, drovers and carters, paying tolls, together with the slow rate of movement of ox-carts, added very considerably to the price of the goods being transported, generally well beyond the price of ordinary subjects of the emperors. It was really only the government and the army, and to a certain extent the Church and a few wealthy individuals, who could pay for this. In contrast, shipping was much more cost effective, since large quantities of goods could be transported in a single vessel, handled by a small crew, relatively inexpensively, once the capital investment in vessel and cargo had been made."  -  John Haldon

 

 

Geography defines trade routes. Trade routes define a country.

Trade routes generate traffic, traffic needs transport, land routes need roads, sea routes need safe harbours,  markets and settlements and tax collectors thrive at the crossroads and harbours. 

When trade flourishes the markets and settlements grow and the tax collectors grow fat.

When trade slackens, or fails, markets and settlements dwindle and the tax collectors starve ( as if! but a pleasant thought. )

In the British Isles there's a saying 'All roads lead to London' and a look at any map of the UK confirms that. But it wasn't always so.

 The current UK road network was created by the Roman military during their conquest of Britain. They moved radially out from their foothold in the south-east of the island. Establishing a centre at London to service their administrators.

 

The Tin Trade 

Around 900BC the Phoenicians founded their colony of Carthage on the coast of North Africa. (Phoenicia was the name given to the city-states of the narrow coastal strip that corresponds roughly to northern Lebanon.) Some 300 years later the Greeks from Phocia in Asia Minor founded the colony of Massilia on the South of France. The Phoenicians expanded along the southern western Meditteranean founding a colony at Gadir (Cadiz) in Southern Spain and thus the Atlantic. The Greeks spread from Massilia around the northern coast of the Western Meditteranean from Nice to the east to Santa Polo in southern Spain and including Agde which lay at the mouth of the River Aude which by following a route via the Carcasonne Gap to the Garonne  and the Gironde provided a link to the Atlantic. Thus both the Greeks and the Phoenicians gained access to the Atlantic seaboard and southwestern Britain.

Trade Routes

The main Greek and Phoenician settlements.

Antioch 1),  Cyprus 2), Crete 3), Sicily 4), Carthage - Cyrenia 5), Massilia (Marseilles) 7), Sardinia 6), Gadir (Cadiz) - Spain 8) and ultimately Southwest Britain 9).

 

The Greek settlements, Massilia, Santa Polo et al, were built at the mouths of rivers providing them with routes into the interiors of Spain and France, each of which were trade routes. The colonies themselves were the links between the land and sea routes.

'The great ports of the Mediterranean were the nerve centres of the Greek world; they were the nodes through which people passed in some number bringing with them knowledge of the world - personal observations ranging from atories they had heard of curious tribes and bizarre behaviour, to commercially valuable intelligence of the whereabouts of rare resources and precise details of the routes to be taken to acquire them.' - Barry Cunliffe; The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek.

The Phoenician colonies were often based on offshore islands. Around the beginning of the eighth century BC. the Phoenicians established a colony on an island outside the Pillars of Hercules on the south coast of the Iberian Peninsula. They called it Gadir, the Romans called it Gades, we call it Cadiz. From here voyages of exploration and trade were undertaken south down the coast of Africa and north up the Iberian coast of the Atlantic.

 

 

In ancient, and not so ancient, times the mines of south-western Britain were the source of the world's supply of tin and the coming of the Phoenicians to Cornwall to trade for tin is well attested to.

Most historians, Sir John Evans and Lord Avebury among them, believe that the trade existed as early as 1500 BC.

The trade routes were certainly established by 1000 BC. 

In his 'History of England' Sir Edward Creasy writes that 'the British mines mainly supplied the glorious adornment of Solomon's Temple.'

With trade also go ideas, colonists, travelers, refugees.

 

 

Phoenicia was the name given to the city-states of the narrow coastal strip that corresponds roughly to modern northern Lebanon 

Their chief cities were Byblos, Tyre and Sidon. 

As they expanded Phoenician / Jewish settlements were to be found on every coast. 

The city of Tarsus in Cilicia (birthplace of St. Paul) was Phoenician. 

Phoenice or Phoenix on Crete was named after them. 

After rebuilding the harbour at Larnaca (Citium) on Cyprus they thoroughly colonised the island.

 Phoenician colonies on Sicily included Palermo (Panormus), Motya, Eryx and Soloeis. Most of the coast of Africa and much of the hinterland was Phoenician. 

Cagliari ( Caralis ) in Sardinia and most of the more fertile south of the island was Phoenician. 

They had numerous colonies in the Iberian peninsula, including Gades ( Cadiz ) and Tartesh. 

Great trading centres on the maritime trade routes to Britain and also to the Baltic. The late Roman writer, Avienus, quoted from a sixth century BC nautical log from Marseilles (Massilia) as describing the trade between Tartessos (the Biblical Tarshish) and the peoples of southwestern Britain, Ireland and Brittany.

Egyptian blue faience beads have been found in Neolithic tombs.

Among the traders were the ships of King Solomon and his ally King Hiram of Tyre. 

'For the king (Solomon) had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram; once in three years came the navy of Tarshish bringing gold and silver, ivory and peacocks' (1 Kings 10:22).

'Tarshish .... with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded in thy fairs' (Ezek. 27:12)

 In those days the mines of south-western Britain were the source of the world's supply of tin, and its export to Phoenicia provided the most suitable outlet for its use in the civilised Greek world

Diodorus Siculus ( 8th.C BC) gives us a detailed description of the trade. 

The tin was mined, beaten into squares and carried to centres such as Ictis ( St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall ) where it was loaded on to ships 

At that time, and for centuries to come, travel and transport by water was usually faster and much cheaper, Especially for the long distance movement of bulk goods. ( until the sixth / seventh century communication in western Europe was essentially maritime. )

Then the tin followed one of two alternative routes between the southwest of Britain and the Eastern Mediterranean. One was by sea via the Atlantic coast of Spain through the Pillars of Hercules past Tarshish across the Mediterranean to it's final destination in Phoenicia.

The other was overland across Brittany to the Greek settlement of Massilia (Marseilles) as described by Diodorus Siculus.

The land route started by sea across the Channel to Morlaix (France).  From Morlaix it was carried across France on pack horses to Marseilles where the tin was loaded on to ships for the last stage of the journey to Phoenicia. 

By the first century AD the Bristol Channel was a well established trading centre.

Writing circa 445 BC Herotodus speaks of the British Isles as the Tin Isles or Casserides. The veracity of Herodotus' dedication to recording exactly what he had heard, irrespective of whether he believed it or not is demonstrated in his account of a Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa around 600BC. The Phoenicians reported that 'as they sailed around Africa they had the sun on their right.'  Herodotus doesn't believe this possible, but adds 'perhaps others may.'

The great city of Carthage also participated in the tin trade with Britain, both the 'gens Hiernorum' and the 'insula Albionum' are mentioned in connection with a voyage by Himilco, a Carthaginian, circa 424 BC. 

Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians around 700 BC. A large part of the wealth of Carthage came from the ore mines of Spain

Professor Loomis believed that the earliest British coinage was derived directly from the gold stater of Phillip II of Macedoni (382-336 BC)

In 352-323 BC Pytheas mentions the tin trade, as does Polybius 160 BC. 

When Phoenicia came under the protection of Rome in 65 BC there seems to have been a resurgence of trading activity. 

The ships of Phoenicia could trade from port to port all over the known world with less danger than at any other time. 

"The collapse of Roman Communications. during the first half of the fifth century was followed by the resumption of the Irish Sea trade routes of the later prehistoric periods. The Irish Sea became a unifying factor between Ireland, South Wales, south-west Britain and Brittany with contacts reaching as far as the East Mediterranean. This is shown particularly by the importation of jars of wine or oil from the Eastern Mediterranean to south-west Britain; sherds of these vessels have already been found at Tintagel, Lundy, Glastonbury Tor, and in South Wales at Dinas Powys. This Trade in luxuries implies the existence of a wealthy and well connected aristocracy.'' The Archaeology of Exmoor'

Three of these sites are acknowledged to have been the citadels of native princes; Tintagel, Glastonbury Tor (1964-5 excavations conducted by Philip Rhatz) and Dinas Powys. 

'We are compelled ..... to assume a direct long-distance influence between the Mediterranean world and Britain.' (Nils Aberg, 'The Occident and the Orient.) 

Lundy, with its central position in the Bristol Channel, would have provided a safe haven, a secure base for the merchants.

All this indicates that Northwestern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean were in close commercial contact from the before the sack of Troy by the Greeks until the fall of Tyre and Sidon in the devastation of the Middle East that was the Crusades. 

Some three thousand years, give or take the odd century. 

With trade also go ideas, colonists, travellers, refugees. 

According to an Irish martyrology 'Disert Ulidh' in Ulster is the site of the grave of seven Egyptian monks. 

Irish monks are known to have visited Egypt. 

The labyrinth design carved on a stone in the Wicklow Mountains echoes Cretan coins made between 200 and 67 BC.

The similarity of the Greek and Celtic conceptions of that Otherworld has been convincingly demonstrated by several eminent scholars. Both goddesses are heroines of a seasonal abduction story, they are mistresses of the moon, they are mistresses of the vegetation, they can change from glorious radiant beauty to being hideous hags, both are guides or messengers to the Otherworld, both are associated with maimed gods.

'The report preserved by Strabo that in an island near Britain sacrifices were offered to Demeter and Kore like those of Samothrace finds an incredible amount of corroboration in the Grail Legends and Arthurian romances.'

'We might be inclined to dismiss this story if we had not already realised that the statements of Plutarch and Pomponius Mela regarding the supernatural beliefs of the inhabitants of the western world were amply confirmed. '

There is a quite overwhelming array of evidence to confirm this statement from archaeological sources, from literature and from folk traditions. 

We know that the abduction of and the search for the earth goddess formed part of the Samothracian festivals. 

Even as far away as 'an island near Britain' any cult of Demeter and Kore which resembled that of Samothrace would certainly retain this feature. 

The abduction story is one of the most firmly established traditions of Celtic and Arthurian legend. (Give examples). Significant resemblance's in the heroic legends, especially the Homeric and Arthurian traditions, have been demonstrated at great length by many scholars. 

There is reason to believe that other cults besides the Samothracian, including early Christianity,  were carried by merchants or colonists into the Atlantic isles

The route of the earliest missions from Jerusalem follows the path of Phoenician colonisation. First from the cities and the towns along the Phoenician / Syrian coast from ( somewhere) to Antioch. Then at all the main Phoenician settlements Cyprus, Crete, Sicily, Cyrenia, Sardinia, Spain and Cornwall.

"All this points to the fact that Europe and the Middle East formed a very small world, and were much closer to each other than some previous centuries have supposed." from 'The Ancient Secret'

There can be no doubt that there was a flourishing trade relationship between the west of Britain and the Mediterranean from ancient times until the middle ages. There are many similarities between the beliefs of the Celts and those of the Egyptians and the Greeks. 

The fame of the temples in Britain dedicated to the sun god, Apollo, spread throughout the ancient world. One of the temples was Stonehenge the other was on Lundy

The connection between Lundy, Stonehenge and the Preseli Mountains, home of the bluestones, has been made by Robert Graves and (Triangle)

The legends of Atlas, Hercules, Chronus among others all contain references to an island near Britain. 

The Greek writer Ptolemy called Lundy the 'island of Hercules.'

There is convincing evidence that when the Stonehenge II was being built, around 1700 BC, the builders were in commercial contact with, what Gerald S.Hawkins (p.76) calls 'the great contemporary Mediterranean civilisations of Minoan Crete, Mycenaean Greece, Egypt, and the ancestors of the travelling-trading Phoenicians.' Archaeologists have found items of Mediterranean origin in burials at Stonehenge.

 

6th Century AD

'In the western part of the British Isles, in fact in western Europe as a whole, sixth and seventh-century communications were maritime.' Paul Johnson - A History of Christianity

That the Mediterranean trade routes were still in existence in the 6thC is evident both from the words of Gildas,writing in the 6thC;-

". It (Britain) is enriched by the mouths of two noble rivers, the Thames and the Severn, as it were two arms, by which foreign luxuries were of old imported, "

and from artefacts uncovered at Tintagel and other sites in the Southwest during archaeological  excavations.

'The collapse of Roman Communications. during the first half of the fifth century was followed by the resumption of the Irish Sea trade routes of the later prehistoric periods. The Irish Sea became a unifying factor between Ireland, South Wales, south-west Britain and Brittany with contacts reaching as far as the East Mediterranean. This is shown particularly by the importation of jars of wine or oil from the Eastern Mediterranean to south-west Britain; sherds of these vessels have already been found at Tintagel, Lundy, Glastonbury Tor, and in South Wales at Dinas Powys. This Trade in luxuries implies the existence of a wealthy and well connected aristocracy.'    'The Archaeology of Exmoor'

'The Visigothic kingdoms may have also dominated a small part of northern Morocco in the late 7th century AD just as the Arabs were advancing from the east. The Visigothic kingdom was similarly in close cultural and economic contact by sea with the Celtic regions of Ireland, western Britain and Brittany. Though Celtic naval power declined in the 7th century AD, this link seems to have survived the Islamic conquest (of the Iberian peninsula), not least because of the importance of Cornish tin, which was exported to at least the western half of the Islamic world.' Poitiers AD 732 - Charles Martel turns the Islamic Tide - David Nicolle - Osprey Campaign Series 190.

 

Ireland

Southwestern Britain not only traded goods with Ireland but several waves of migration of people are recorded in both directions.

The Irish 'Book of Ballymote' compiled by monks in the late tenth or early eleventh century, contains an alphabet which is described as 'African.' Until the early 1960ís this alphabet was considered by most leading authorities to be either some sort of cipher or more probably just nonsense. However recent research has proved that this was actually an ancient North African alphabet, in use around 1000 BC.

 

related pages

Hercules

Hercules Island

Temples of Apollo
 
Hercules Labours

Phoenicia

Atlantis, the Lost Land?

 

 

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