From the book "Celt, Druid
Isabel Hill Elder
COMMERCE AND DRESS
Tacitus (the Roman Historian - Keith Hunt) and Strabo describe
Londinium as famous for the vast number of merchants who resorted
to it for its widely extended commerce, for the abundance of
every species of commodity which it could supply, and they make
note of British merchants bringing to the Seine and the Rhine
shiploads of corn and cattle, iron and hides, and taking back
iron, ivory and brass ornaments.(1)
That Londinium was considered by the Romans as the metropolis of
Britain is further established by the fact that it was the
residence of the Vicar of Britain!(2) The abode of such an office
clearly marks London as having been a seat of justice, of
government and of the administration of the finances which
consequently contributed to its extent, its magnificence and its
wealth.(3) Britain was, in fact, from at least 900 B.C. to the
Roman invasion, the manufacturing centre of the world.
The Abbe de Fontenu proved that the Phoenicians, the name by
which the tribe of Asher was known after the Conquest of the
Phoenician territory, had an established trade with Britain
before the Trojan war, 1190 B.C.(4) Admiral Himilco of Carthage,
who visited Britain about the sixth century B.C. to explore 'the
outer parts of Europe', records that the Britons were 'a powerful
race, proud-spirited, effectively skilful in art, and constantly
busy with the cares of trade.(5)
Nor was Ireland less forward than Britain, for from the ancient
Greek records it would appear that trade routes both by sea and
land existed in these very early times, the latter route being
across Europe through the territories of the Scythians. A most
curious belief of the Greeks was that the inspiration which led
to the institution of the Olympic Games was derived from the
observance of ancient Irish festivities.(6)
The British farmer had a market for his produce beyond the shores
of Britain. We learn from Zosimus that in the reign of Julian,
A.D.363, eight hundred pinnaces were built in order to supply
Germany with corn from Britain.(7)
When the Romans invaded Britain in A.D. 43 they found the
inhabitants in possession of a gold coinage, wrought shields of
bronze(8) and enamelled ornaments.(9) Fine specimens of richly
enamelled horses' trappings may be seen in the British Museum,
and the bronze shield found in the Thames, near Battersea,
adorned with enamelled designs, Rice Holmes describes as 'the
noblest creation of late Celtic art.'(10)
The beautiful brooches discovered in different parts of these
islands clearly demonstrated that the Britons were skilful and
artistic metal workers, and in the centuries of Roman
domination(more like "occupation" than "domination" - Keith Hunt)
The Celtic patterns did not die out. A peculiarly Celtic type is
the 'dragon' brooch 'representing a conventionalized writhing
dragon often magnificently inlaid with enamel, and recalling in
its vigorous design and curvilinear motives all the essential
qualities of late Celtic art'. Thus the native tradition of metal
work continued under Roman rule to flourish and to produce types
which were not merely Roman but recognizably Celtic.(11) In a
further description Mr. Collingwood says. 'In the true Celtic
spirit the ornament on the trumpet head is often made with eyes
and nostrils to resemble the head of an animal, but however the
brooch is finished in detail it is always a masterpiece of both
design and manufacture.'(12)
Enamelling was an art unknown to the Greeks until they were
taught it by the Celts.(13)
Dr.Arthur Evans tells us that the Romans carried off some of the
Britons to Rome to teach them the art of enamelling as well as
that of glass-making.
Stukeley, giving an account of a glass urn discovered in the Isle
of Ely in the year 1757,observes the Britons were famous for
The early Britons were workers in pottery, turnery, smeltings and
glasswork.(15) In the excavations at Glastonbury well-made
instruments of agriculture were found such as tools, files,
safety-pins and also the remains of wells and bridges.
The British tin mines were, from the earliest times, world
renowned. Diodorus Siculus states, 'These people obtain the tin
by skilfully working the soil which produces it.'(16)
Herodotus speaks of the British Isles under the general term
'Cassiterides or the Tin Islands.(17) Bede mentions copper,
iron, lead and silver. 'Gold, too, was mined on a small scale in
Wales, and on a large scale in Ireland where was situated in
early times the centre of the goldmining industry.' Bede mentions
also, as semi-precious, the jet for which Whitby is famous even
The lead mines of Britain were worked long before the Roman
occupation, and it is believed that during the partial domination
by Rome, the mining continued to be carried out by Celtic
Dr.John Phillips, the geologist, stated in 1855 that without due
consideration being given to the lead-mining industry, our ideas
'of the ancient British people would be altogether conjectural,
derogatory and erroneous'(20)
Derbyshire was the chief centre of lead-mining, and is so
mentioned in Domesday Book.
Eumemus, A.D.266, private secretary to Constantius Chlores,
states, Britain is full of skilled craftsmen.(21)
The coins of ancient Britain are worthy of more than passing
notice. (Yes, I have a personal friend here in Calgary, Alberta,
who is probably the world's foremost expert on Celtic coinage.
His Website is world famous if you are in that line of study, or
Celtic research in any way. His Website is: writer2001.com and
go to the link which he tells me you cannot miss - Keith Hunt).
Numismatists tell us that our ancient British types cannot amount
to many less than four hundred in number, of which possibly two
hundred may have inscriptions,(22) this variety is to be
accounted for by the fact that each tribe had its own stamped
currency in gold silver and bronze.(my friend John who I have
just talked to on the phone says the number 400 is now way out of
date. He tells me there were at least 1,000 coins that were
"struck" or "used" [some coming from the Europe Celts] in the
Britain - Keith Hunt).
Canon Lysons state, 'It is to be remembered that the earliest
British coins are not imitations of the Roman coinage, they much
resemble the coinage of Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great,
and the Greek and Eastern mintage.(23)
Dr.Borlase in his Antiquities of Cornwall asserts that the wheel
under the horse seen on Cornish coins intimated the making of a
highway for carts, and that the wheel is common on the coins of
Cunobelinus, 14 B.C., on those of Cassebelinus, 51 B.C., and also
on the Cornish coins which from their character appear to be
older than the rest.
Sir John Evans devotes sixty-four pages of his standard work
"Ancient British Coins" to the coins of Cunobelinus and the
history of his reign.
That Cunobelinus, the Cymbeline of Shakespeare, was a man of
education and refinement is well borne out by his coins,
universally considered to be a true index and reflection of the
mind. Numismatists tell us that the Cunobelinus types are by no
means a Roman type and could hardly have been struck except by
The coins of Arviragus, son of Cunobelinus, are, where they are
included, the gems of every collection. The horse, sometimes
thought to have been introduced as a national emblem by the
Saxons, is one of the most common types upon the coins of the
M. de la Saussaye, in describing the old coin assigned to the
British Druid Abaris, who visited Greece, mentioned by Hecataeus,
states, 'I have been induced to modify my assertion on more than
one point and I particularly recognize religious ideas peculiar
to the Celts expressed on their monetary uninscribed types.(24)
The palm trees on the coins of the Southern Belgae, who settled
in Kent, Sussex, Hants, Wits, Dorset and Devon proclaim the
Eastern origin of these people.
From them modern pictorial representation of our ancestors we are
expected to believe that their dress consisted of an animal skin
fastened round the waist, and that they wandered, thus scantily
clad, about their island home, living on nuts and berries.
Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni (the inhabitants of Norfolk and
Suffolk), was described by Dion Cassius as a woman of commanding
appearance. 'Her stature exceeded the ordinary height of women;
her aspect was calm and collected, but her voice had become deep
and pitiless. Her hair falling in long golden tresses as low as
her hips was collected round her forehead by a golden coronet;
she wore a "tartan" dress fitting closely to the bosom, but below
the waist expanding in loose folds, as a gown; over it was a
chlamys or military cloak. In her hand she bore a spear.'(26)
In these descriptions of native dress it is interesting to note
the early use of the tartan. A British hooded cloak was evidently
regarded by the Romans as a superior garment, for in
Diocletian's Edict of Prices issued in A.D.301, the price of the
British cloak was the highest on the list, with the exception of
the Gallic. If the price was high on account of the quality of
the wool, the statement of the epigrammatist, Martial, A.D.60, is
given as substantiating that among other attractions, Britain was
'for wool past compare.'(27)
Ireland kept pace with Britain in the farming for wool, both for
export and domestic use; the Irish cottiers were always warmly
clad in their own home spun.(28)
The Briton in battledress was an impressive figure being clad
precisely as were the men of Gaul; clean-shaven, save for long
moustaches, with fair skins, fair hair, gorgeously clad in
breeches, bright-colored tunics and woollen cloaks dyed crimson
and often a chequered pattern with torques, armlets and bracelets
of gold, shields of enamelled bronze, and swords of fine
workmanship, they presented a splendid spectacle when prepared
The Britons appear to have been also importers of cloth.
According to one authority, Phoenician cloths of Beyrout were
largely worn by the inhabitants of ancient Britain. At Beyrout
our Patron Saint George held for a time an important post under
the Roman Government.(29)
A torque or gold collar was worn by the wealthier inhabitants and
worn also as a distinguishing sign of eminence.(30) Specimens of
these torques have been discovered from time to time, and may be
seen in various museums, notably Dublin National Museum, and in
private collections. A very good example acquired by the late
Duke of Westminster and deposited at Eaton Hall was found at Bryn
Sion Caerwys Mill; it is thirty-two inches long and weighs
1. Strabo, Geogr. III,175; IV,199.
2. A Roman office.
3. Amm. Marcell, Lib.15, Chaps.8,9.
4. Mem. de Littirature, tome VII, p.126.
5. Fragment preserved by Festus Avienus, Ora Maritama, V, 98-100.
6. C. F. Parker, On the Trail of Irish Identity. National
Message, March 8, 1939.
7. Zosimus, Lib. III, p.43 (Ed. Bas.).
8. Philostratus. A Greek sophist (third century) who resided at
Court of Julia Domna, describes the British process.
9. Gilbert Stone, England from Earliest Times, p.9
10.Anc. Brit., p.244..
11.R.C Collingwood, Roman Britain, p. 76.
12.Archaeology of Roman Britain, p.253.
13.J. Romilly Allen, Celtic Art, p.136.
14.Minutes of Antiq. Soc., March 1762.
15.Gallic Antiq.,p.64 (J. Smith).
16.Bk. V, Chap. X
17.Thalia, Section C, XV (Bel.ed).
18.Gilbert Stone, England from Earliest Times, p.15.
19.Gordon Home, Roman York, p.27
20.YorkPhilos. Soc., Vol.1, p.92
21.Panegyric Constanteus, C, 111.
22.J.Evens, Coins of the Anc.Brit., O, 171.
23.Our British Ancestors, p.41.
24.Coins of Cunobelinus and of the Ancient Britons, p.26
25.La Revue Numismatique, for 1842, p.165
26.Dion Cassius (Xiphilinus Excerpta), p.176, See Strabo,
27.Martial, Lib, 1, ep. 2; and Lib.111, ep.20.
28.Stephen Gwynn, History of Ireland, p.330
29.Rev.Canon Parfitt, M.A., St. George of Merry England, 1917
30.Gibon's Camden, p.653. Hoare, Ancient Wilts,Vol.1,p.202
The next chapter looks at the Roman Invasion, again, not as most
have thought or been taught.