Thursday, 17 August 2017

#FolkloreThursday ~ The Tin Islands #Cornwall #ancienthistory #Romans

It is that time of the week again.

Let’s take a journey back in time to the year c.100BC

The Phoenicians were fearless explorers. They sailed the High Seas looking for new lands and new items in which they could trade. It so happened that they came upon an island that was rich in a seemingly endless supply of tin.

Phoenician Merchants and Traders ~ Wikipedia

The Phoenicians became the primary traders of tin, but they kept the whereabouts of this island to themselves for it was a rich source of income. Tin was in high demand, especially from The Roman Empire. It would be bad for business if the Roman’s found out where the tin came from. They had to keep the location of the Island a secret at all costs.

The Romans were desperate to find the place that the Phoenicians merchants referred to as Cassiterides. As it was, the Phoenician merchants could charge what they wanted for their commodity. Tin was much sought after, and prices were rising. One Roman captain decided enough was enough. He was going to find these Tin Islands, and then they could cut out the middleman once and for all.



The Roman captain had the harbour watched, and when one Phoenician merchant set sail, the Roman captain followed. The Roman vessel kept its distance, for it did not want to alarm the crew of the Phoenician vessel, but they kept a steady course, always in the Phoenician boat's shadow.

The Phoenician merchant wasn’t stupid. He knew they were being followed. But there was no way he was going to let the Romans know where their endless source of tin came from. He took the Roman vessel on quite a merry chase. The Roman boat was built for the calm waters of the Mediterranean. The Phoenician boat could cope with the extremes of the Atlantic. But try as he might, the Phoenician captain could not lose them. No matter what he did, no matter where he steered his boat, the Roman vessel continued to follow.


The Phoenician captain had tried to lose the Roman vessel in the dangerously wild seas of the Atlantic, but now he decided to change tactics. He was close to Cassiterides, but that didn’t matter for he had a cunning plan. The Romans in the ship that was following him would indeed discover the location of the Tin Islands, but the Phoenician captain would make sure that they were never going to tell anyone else where the Island was. Cassiterides' coast was dangerous. In amongst the shallow waters were submerged rocks. The Phoenician captain deliberately steered his boat towards the shallows. He felt safe in the knowledge that the Roman vessel would follow him. And follow it did.



The crew of the Roman ship watched in horror as the Phoenician ship ran aground. The Roman's tried desperately to turn their boat around, but it was too late.  Their ship also ran aground and the unforgiving sea tore apart both their vessels and took the crew to a watery grave.

A Roman naval bireme ~ Wikipedia

When the locals of the Island deemed it safe, they came down to the beach to salvage the flotsam. But that was not all they found. Amongst the treasures, there was also a man, a sole survivor, who had washed up on the beach. He was easily identified as a Phoenician merchant, from his clothes. He was still breathing, just, so they took him to their village and nursed him back to health.


It took many months for the Phoenician to finally find his way home to what we now know as Syria. When he recounted his story about how he had kept the location of the Tin Island a secret he was praised as a hero. He was given the value of his lost cargo as a reward for his bravery and his sacrifice.

Is there any truth in the story?

Cassiterides has been linked with Galicia, in the Northwest of Liberia as well as Cornwall. But for the sake of today posts, let's make the assumption that the Phoenicians were referring to Cornwall.

Britain is often portrayed as this backward little island that had no contact with the outside world until the Roman’s invaded, but this wasn't the case. Coins, predating the Roman occupation have been found in Britain as well as many exotic artefacts from as far away as Egypt. Pre-Roman Britain was a trading nation.

There is some certainty that says that the Phoenicians certainly did trade with Britain, and Cornwall was renowned for its tin. So the evidence is rather compelling. But if Britain was trading with not only Europe but also the world, then why did the Roman's not know where the tin originally came from?

Perhaps there is more to this story than meets the eye. Perhaps the Romans did discover where the Island of Tin was.

It is interesting to note, that when the Roman’s did occupy Britain, for the most part they left Cornwall alone. Although there are a few examples of Roman villas and milecastles, there is not the evidence of Roman occupation as can be seen in the south of the country. Could it be that the Romans were already trading with Cornwall, before the invasion, and they were being charged a fair price for the tin? Could it be that they decided to keep things as they were and maintain the status-quo between Cornwall and Rome. An interesting question to end today's post on!


If you fancy joining me in the 6th Century, why not check out
 The Du Lac Chronicles series!



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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx