Wednesday, 26 October 2016

#Agricola wonders - was #Pytheas right?

#Welcome Wednesday greetings! 
My blog has been quiet of late since I'm trying very hard to devote as much free time as I have energy for to new writing. 

As I’m typing away about General Gnaeus Julius #Agricola making decisions on where to place his next marching camps on his northern campaigns in Britannia, in Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series, I’ve been wondering where he got advance information from. He was determined to conquer every Roman foot of the land, yet he was just as determined to have his navy, the Classis Britannica, circumnavigate the whole island of Britannia. I’ve also read (somewhere) that he wanted to corroborate information written about the Greek explorer #Pytheas (c.380 B.C. - c.300 B.C.)

There isn’t a lot of research material to go on regarding Agricola’s campaign plans, nor is there much documented about the travels of Pytheas, but part of the desire of them both was to venture to pastures new and see what natural deposits they could exploit—either for their country, or probably more in the case of Pytheas for commercial gain for an employer.

Pytheas, it appears, wasn’t rich enough to fund his own voyages and depended on richer ship owners to give him the opportunity to go exploring. Whether he really was the first seafarer to ply the seas around Britain or not, doesn’t really matter to me, his observances give me useful information for my writing. 

Agricola was campaigning in Britannia about 300 years after Pytheas would have made his voyages and probably not all that much had changed in the interim- apart from the Ancient Romans having already invaded and stabilised the southern part of the island of Britannia

But back to Pytheas…
One of Pytheas’ main tasks was probably seeking supplies of tin (Greek: kassiteros), in his time very valued, along with copper, as a constituent of bronze: bronze being the main ‘metal’ used for weapons, tools, ornamentation and coins across Europe. Of course, he wasn’t looking to be the first to ship tin from ‘Britannia’ back to his native Marseilles (Greek colony/Massalia) because that had already been done centuries earlier. The southern shores of Britannia (Cornwall) had long been known to the Phonecians who had written about trading tin with the people of the area. e.g. The Greek historian, Herodotus (484 - 425 B. C.), wrote about the valuable tin that could be acquired in the Kassiterides.

So, by the time Pytheas was sailing past the southern shores of Kassiterides (Cornwall) the deposits in Cornwall may have already been quite exploited which meant travelling on along the Britannic shores to find more deposits. Essentially, though, Pytheas was an intrepid explorer who was thirsty for knowledge of new horizons. (Yes, by then he knew the world really was round and not a rectangle with an edge that silly sailors might fall off!) It may also have been his observations of the people Pytheas encountered on his journey around Britain that sparked Agricola's determination to venture to the extremities of Britannia. Agricola maybe didn't manage that but he certianly got to Aberdeenshire, where I live, and about a hundred more miles further north after that.  

It's also interesting to read that it may be from Pytheas' observations that the first references of Bretannike appears. Etymological changes are made, mistakes in copying the name are made and we eventually get...Britain!

Historically speaking, there certainly does seem to have been information available to Agricola from people writing about Pytheas, even if the writing of Pytheas didn't survive. Pytheas was a mathematician and competent astronomer, his use of the gnomen (~ships's compass) fairly precise an his figures were hotly debated and disputed for centuries.

It may even have been the doubts raised later by Pliny, Strabo or Diodorus of Sicily that sparked Agricola’s enthusiasm and curiosity.

I’m currently imagining how Agricola’s conversation is going with his trusted trierarchi- his ship captains.

Of course, I’m struggling just a wee bit to decide if Agricola’s Classis Britannica mainly consisted of triremes, or was it liburnians, or maybe more of the navis actuaria? I think I might feel a blog post coming on sometime soon about the Roman Navy.

Ah, the joys of a historical author. (*smiley face here ) 


No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for reading my blog. Please pop your thoughts about this post in the comment box. :-)