Books, Prehistory, Archaeologia Volume 28 Section XV
Archaeologia Volume 28 Section XV is in Archaeologia Volume 28.
On The Antiquity Of Abury And Stonehenge, By John Rickman, Esq., F.R.S.
Read 13th June, 1839.
I am sensible that I undertake an unpopular task in endeavouring to restrain within ascertained limits the unknown date of the most revered objects of antiquarian curiosity extant in Great Britain; but I also know that in the estimation of enlightened minds, truth, or (its near adjunct) probability, is preferable to indefinite wonder; and I shall venture to produce circumstantial evidence, that the antiquity of Stonehenge and even of Abury, falls short of the commencement of the Christian era.
To begin with facts and dates not very problematical, I shall assume that the Roman roads in Kent, which evidently aim at uninterrupted communication between the Continent and London, were made or in progress at the time of Agricola (a.d. 60), when London was not indeed dignified with the title or privileges of a military colony of veterans, but is said by Tacitus to be famed for its commercial importance; and the great number of inhabitants and others at that time slaughtered there by the insurgent Britons, confirms its early pretensions as the then capital city of Britain.
The Roman roads in Kent deserve notice as having been planned with an intention of greater scope than (within my knowledge) has been ascribed to them. The nearest and middle harbour of access from Gaul was evidently Dover; but whenever the wind was unfavourable for a direct passage, further resource became desirable, and from Lemanis (Lymne, near Hythe) and Ritupse (Ricliborougli, near Sandwich) branch roads were made, joining the Dover road at Canterbury; so that a dispatch-boat, by sailing from the windward port, or steering for the leeward of these three ports, could seldom fail of a ready passage to or from the continent; and especially it is remarkable, that the prevailing south-west wind (with this advantage) permitted a direct passage from Gessoriacum or Itius (Boulogne or Witsand) to Ritupse; in effect to London; the Wantsum channel then and long after existing within the Isle of Thanet to Regulbium (Reculver) on the Thames, being that by which early navigation was sheltered in its access to the British metropolis. Indeed the first paragraph of the Itinerary of Antoninus gives the reputed distance from Gessoriacum to Ritupse, as if more important or more in use than the shorter passage to Dover.1
Note 1. "A Gessoriaeo de Galliis, Ritupis in portu Britanuiarum, Stadia numero CCCCL"; — Pliny says [Lib. mi. c. 16.] 50 miles, which is not far from the fact.
Canterbury affords no indication of Roman origin, and was probably the British capital of Kent before Julius Caesar invaded Britain; nor could any track-way of an uncivilized people find its course from Canterbury to London, otherwise than by the lowest practicable ford across the river Medway at Maidstone.
From this place the native Britons travelled onward by way of Noviomagus (Holwood); the first syllable of its name probably being prefixed by the Romans when they began to inhabit this British stronghold and made their tombs below Holwood, on the side of the old track-way; which must have continued in use for cattle and bulky commodities till many centuries afterwards; in fact, until Rochester bridge was built. Maidstone (Vagniacae) indeed finds a place in the Itinerary, although (from want of a practicable line between that place and Canterbury) this direct road from London, through Noviomagus, turns abruptly northward (in the Itinerary) from Maidstone to Rochester1 (Durobrivis), where the Romans had established a ferry, protected by a fortified station, and thereby had secured a direct road from Canterbury to London for military purposes and pedestrians.2
Note 1. The name of Rochester is perhaps more nearly connected with this its assumed origin than at first sight appears. The Welch descendants of the Provincial Britons call the City of Rome Caer-Ruffin; and the appellation of the Bishop of Rochester (Roffen'), known to be as ancient as the establishment of Christianity in Kent, still remains in sound the same; so that Roffen-ceaster (Saxon) being translated, is no other than The Roman Fortress.
Note 2. The Roman road from London to Durobrivis (Rochester) by way of Noviomagus and Vagniacae, was (according to the 2d iter) 37 miles. The direct road from London to Durobrivis (according to the 3d iter and the 4th iter) was 27 miles.
After the Kentish roads were thus established, other military roads were successively made; the most eminent of which, the Watling Street, must have been among the first, as passing through the British town of Verulamium (near St. Alban's), at that time the largest town next after London. Yet we must conclude, from evidence which cannot be obliterated, that another road from London preceded the Watling Street in formation; because, at the Tyburn end of Oxford Street, the ancient Watling Street deviates northward by a decided angle from the direct and therefore more ancient road towards Bath; and this priority is supported by probability, founded on the well-known passion for the use of warm baths, which produced edifices at Rome second only in extent to the Flavian Amphitheatre of the eternal city.
Indeed a subordinate motive existed for the early formation of a Bath road, inasmuch as it passes through Calleva (Silchester), the third of British towns in extent; London being, within the walls of Constantius, about 3/0 acres, Verulam within its walls 245 acres, and Calleva rather more than 100 acres; and that the Romanized inhabitants of the last named town were distinguished by their cultivated taste, is testified by the amphitheatre outside the walls, one of the few undisputed relics of that kind in Britain. The Roman road reaches Calleva by way of Staines (Pontes), and, crossing the river Kennet at Newbury, passes on through Spinse (Speen) to Cunetio (near Marlborough) andVerlucio, to Aquae Solis (Bath). (See Supplementary Note 1.)
Having premised thus much, I hasten to proceed to the professed object of this essay; first abjuring the authority of Dr. Stukeley, who bestowed great attention on the Abury Circus, but whose imagination too often surpassed even his zeal in antiquarian research. Much is due to this amiable man and accomplished scholar notwithstanding his credulity and unaccountable inaccuracies of representation; to establish which fact against him it is enough to refer to his verbal description and plan of the well-known Silchester, as if its walls included a regular four-sided figure, it being in fact an irregular eight-sided polygon, seemingly regulated in a great degree by some antecedent circular entrenchment of a British place of refuge; yet, by a date marked under a tolerably good sketch of the adjacent amphitheatre, it is proved that the Doctor really visited the place in May, 1724.
His plan of Abury itself does not violate the truth, otherwise than as exhibiting many more stones than existed in his time. But he misrepresents the road between West Kennet and Silbury, as if crooked instead of rectilinear, and making a turn half round the base of the artificial hill; as if the Roman road aimed at such an obstruction merely for the sake of thus avoiding it; and he then relies on this fictitious curve in support of his opinion of the priority of date of the said hill.
My first suspicion that the great earthen Circus at Abury was planned with reference to the Roman road, and therefore after its formation, sprang from the well-known fact that the Roman mile was about one-twelfth part shorter than an English mile (see Note 2); for it may be seen in the Ordnance Map, and on a larger scale in Sir Richard Colt Hoare's ground-plan of the situation of Abury [see Plate XXIII.] that, with a radius of a Roman mile, assuming Silbury Hill as a centre, you strike through the middle of the Abury Circus, and also cut the Roman road, where it is crossed by the Druidic avenue; which with a graceful curve led from a marked commencement (as if for forming a procession), in a circle of stones (now destroyed) which stood at some little distance south of the Bath road. The above-mentioned adoption of the Roman mile shews that measure of length to have been used for settling the position of Abury Circus and its adjuncts, in like manner as the mensuration of the length and breadth of the passages and interior apartments of the Great Pyramid by Greaves, enabled Sir Isaac Newton to settle the exact length of the Egyptian, or sacred cubit; of which all these measures proved to be aliquot parts or multiples. Nor is it foreign to our subject to mention in this place, for the sake of comparison, that the Great Pyramid covers an area of nearly twelve acres English (16 Egyptian) and Silbury Hill four acres and a half, its circumference (omitting the surrounding grassy slope of matter washed down from the surface of the hill) being 2,300 feet; its altitude or perpendicular height is 1 30 feet to the flat surface (35 yards diameter) which forms its truncated summit.
A considerable work certainly; but in viewing attentively the situation of Silbury Hill, I cannot but doubt whether it be entirely an artificial work; to me it appears to be placed upon the end of a moderate ridge, which ridge interrupting the necessary line of Roman road, was therefore cut through to some depth, and between the road and Silbury Hill the cut has been widened and sunk lower than the road, which operation is proof enough that such road existed before the hill was raised by man's labour; for it is incredible that any road-maker should have been so ignorant and stupid as not to have taken advantage of the depression of surface (if it then existed between the road and the hill) for easing the ascent.
Such indeed is the depth of this cut, that the excavated chalk must have assisted materially in raising the artificial hill, considering that the end of the ridge forming its base was also to be rounded from the form of a D to that of an 0, suitably to the intention of those who made Silbury Hill assume its present appearance; which may have been effected by simply carrying up the earth and chalk in baskets, or by the expedient of a circular road, like that by which the Belgian memorial of triumph at Waterloo was raised on the crest of Mount St. Jean.
But I must not omit to mention in this place, that attentive examination of the ground plan proves Silbury Hill not to have been completed at once, the peculiar form of excavation on the north side of the turnpike road manifesting two distinct efforts; the first such as may have sunk the surface around the hill to that of the bottom of the excavation between the road and hill; the second deeper and more extensive, but requisite for raising the artificial hill to its present mass and elevation; which would have appeared to more advantage had the enlarged scale been originally intended, because the hill would then have been placed farther from the road, and thereby on an entirely flat surface.
The second elevation (of which the base is perceivable in mounting the hill) was requisite for rendering Silbury a conspicuous object over the uneven ground intervening between it and Abury.
The enlarged excavation, to the extent of a quarter of a mile, is limited on its south side by the line of Roman road, and is very deep and steep at the southwest corner, where it penetrates the natural rising ground. Part of the eastern limit of this excavation, now forms the fence of a field, and near the road is six feet deep; but it may have been originally deeper, as this part, and indeed the basement of the entire excavation, has been brought to a water level by deposition of alluvial matter from the occasional overflow of a stream, which afterwards becomes the river Kennet.
What I have ventured to say of Silbury Hill, as dependent on the Roman road for its position, may probably suffice for bespeaking attention to circumstantial proof of similar origin of the Abury circle, connected as it is with the same Roman road and with Silbury Hill, and thus furnishing evidence which derives additional weight from the co-existence of two remarkable objects in the same locality; a combination scarcely attributable to accident.
The avenue from West Kennet to Abury, much as it is dilapidated, is still unquestionably designated by the few upright stones remaining on either side of it; these are about seven feet in height from the ground, in breadth from five to seven feet, in thickness from four to five; their weight (making allowance for the under-ground portion of the stone) averaging, in their now weather-beaten state, at about 15 tons. It may be perceived that these stones were originally placed at regular distances, 25 yards apart in line, or 70 on each side of the avenue, which is about a mile in length, terminating at the principal entrance of the Abury circle. Doctor Stukeley produces sufficient evidence of the existence of the Western or Beckliampton avenue; which we may suppose was never so well defined as the access from the metropolis. But instead of suffering this western avenue to fall into the road, which he calls Via Badonica, he is seduced by his wayward fancy into the inconsistency of terminating it in a graceful curve for his imaginary Serpent's Tail, so that his western avenue ends in a point, and thus leads to nothing.
Of the entrances into the Abury Circus, originally four, one is obliterated by the site of the village church, three remain conspicuous, and are still used as such. These entrances complete the fitness of the Abury Circle for its use as a Circus, of which purpose the foss or ditch, as being within the circumvallation, is sufficient indication, and (as far as I know) is allowed by all so to be.
A measurement taken on the ridge of the vallum (says Sir Richard Colt Hoare) amounts to 4,442 feet. The diameter within this vallum, or rampart, averages (according to the same authority) at 1,215 feet (imperceptibly differing from a quarter of a Roman mile), whence may be deduced a circumference of about 3,600 feet, on which might be seated 2,400 persons. The inner slope of the vallum, at its highest part, is now 32 feet wide, which must have been full 40 feet before the rain of centuries had lowered the crest of the vallum and also washed away a portion of the base of this artificial bank, producing thereby the flat ledge, 12 feet wide, which indeed is supposed, and not without probability, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare so to have been purposely left in the original construction of the work.1 On a grassy slope of 40 feet about twenty rows of spectators might be accommodated, and it is remarkable that at the north-east part of the vallum, modern sheep-tracks afford a lively representation of such rustic seats as must have formerly existed with more regularity and economy of space. Twenty such circles of spectators, multiplied by 2,400, produce 48,000 spectators; about half the number, I believe, who might be seated in the Flavian Amphitheatre at Rome, which from its magnitude is usually called the Colosseum.
Note 1. This kind of precaution is called the fore-ground of a bank in fen drainage.
It remains for consideration under what circumstances the uncivilized tribes who inhabited Britain earlier than the existence of history, would or could construct such a regular place of national concourse as that at Abury. In favour of their so doing, we must not forget the influence of religion, which from the dawn of civilization has produced the earliest combined efforts, as evidenced by the remains of ancient temples, in all the four quarters of the globe; nor is the existence of such influence among the Britons left doubtful by Caesar, who speaks of their Druids as formed into a hierarchy of various degrees, and superior to their brethren in Gaul.
Yet we cannot but suppose that the Britons limited their labours at Abury according to the dictates of common sense; and did not construct a Circus more capacious than was sufficient to contain the expected number of spectators of the ceremonies and games which were to be there exhibited; so that it is reasonable to advert to the populousness of ancient nations, which is well discussed and reduced within narrow limits in one of the best of Hume's Essays: but the indefinite date usually ascribed to the Abury Circus, reaches back to that of the savage hunter state, which requires a large area for the subsistence of each family. Every one must judge for himself whether the aboriginal Britons formed an exception from the rest of mankind; whether they did not remain, during ages, in the grade of savages, before the Romans found them advanced into that of Barbarians by the settlement of Belgian colonists or conquerors from Gaul, and the consequent introduction of agriculture. (See Note 3.)
But supposing, in favour of the remote antiquity of Abury, that the Druids had sufficient influence to collect as many spectators as could possibly attend the annual festival at Midsummer, and that a suspension of war and of private animosity took place at that season, like the Treuga Dei of feudal times, how was it possible to find 40,000 persons who had means of providing for such a journey? A week's absence from home must have been unavoidable by all who were fifty miles distant; and a longer journey and more time must have been required of most of the inhabitants of the southern counties. I even doubt whether in all these such a number of able-bodied inhabitants existed previously to that steady labour in cultivation of the ground, without which any considerable national festival was impracticable, because food cannot be provided in large quantities and stored for future consumption from any other source. The foregoing arguments will be illustrated by adverting to the contrasted state of the provincial Britons, who formed a part of the Roman empire. When the natives were restrained from mutual slaughter, and the arts of peace began to insure plenty of subsistence, the population (as in North America) on unoccupied land may have doubled itself in a quarter of a century, and improved roads would have permitted a larger proportion of that population to assemble at Abury.
At the same time the Romans, always tolerant of national religions, would not fail to encourage any effort which promised them an imitation of their beloved games, in a Circus more ample and not less convenient than those at Rome in the time of the republic. Presuming, therefore, that the construction of this provincial circus cannot rationally be dated earlier than the time when the population sufficed for filling it, we must advert to the extant traces of towns as left by the Romans at their departure from Britain. Roman London may be supposed then to have contained 40,000 inhabitants, Bath and Verulam 20,000 each, and ten or twelve other towns, within a distance of 80 miles, might average at six or seven thousand each, in all 150,000 (see Note 4); and earlier in the Roman period, a circle drawn with that radius, including the rural population, may be supposed to have contained that number, in which case and at which time we may therefore venture to suppose that 50,000 were not unreasonably expected to attend an annual festival of national and religious character.
The position of Abury, as connected with the Bath road, was the best that could be chosen for ready access by so many visitors; and coincident with this motive the Wiltshire Downs (especially the adjacent valley of Clatford) furnished plenty of insulated blocks of durable rag-stone (by Stukeley called marble) which lie on the surface, and used to be called "grey wethers" from their distant appearance like the sheep who fed among them.
These stones were well adapted to the formation of such Avenues and Circles as were constructed at Abury and Stonehenge, and we know that the Druids were capable of producing specimens of what in Greece would be called Cyclopean Monuments of their peculiar religion. (See Note 5.)
The Kist-Vaen, in Clatford valley, manifests an effort of this kind; and the enormous stone which exists at Abury, may have been rudely shaped by fire, if not quite suitable for its purpose. This stone is not far within the northern entrance of the circus; its form and position that of a flat square pitched on one of its corners; the diagonal measure from corner to corner being 18 feet, its thickness between four and five feet, its weight about 70 tons; which might obviously be lifted by numerous levers skilfully applied, and loaded with counter weights for its temporary support, until rollers (easily made of the trunks of well-grown young trees) were properly placed for moving it to its present position.
But the construction of Stonehenge denotes another era; there the stones have been shaped and fitted to each other, and were to be conveyed twenty miles over difficult ground and an intervening river, by the aid of some such machinery as is exemplified in the invention described by Vitruvius, and delineated in Rollin's History of the Arts and Sciences of the Ancients. (See Plate XXIV. and Note 5.) This sort of vehicle must have been fitted to each stone when conveniently suspended for that purpose, and afterwards disengaged from it by entire disjunction and separation of the wooden framework into its component parts, before it could be dispatched for a similar burden; but such a machine, then new at Rome, evidently required skilful carpentry and sharp tools not possessed by barbarians. The difficulty of raising the heaviest upright stones, which weigh about 40 tons, was not so formidable (it will be seen in the Plate) as the super-imposition of the lintels, which weigh about ten tons each; and as I have met with nothing but wonderment and vague conjecture as to the means of accomplishing the accurate fixture of these imposts, I have obtained and inserted a sketch of such a contrivance, as will shew that patient labour well applied might suffice for that purpose.
The marked difference of Abury and Stonehenge consists in the evidence afforded by the latter of the ready use of iron, or, more properly speaking, of steel tools; which, therefore, were probably brought into use in the interval of time which must have elapsed before the less rude structure was attempted; the Celtic chissels of copper alloyed with tin, being incapable of producing the regular formation and workmanship visible at Stonehenge. (See Note 6.)
From all these premises I infer that Silbury Hill, the Abury Circus, and the avenues of approach to it, were not constructed earlier than the third century of the Christian era, and that the more difficult operations requisite for the formation of Stonehenge may be assigned to the next century, or (to speak with due caution) that this temple was completed before the final departure of the Romans from Britain.
I must now be permitted to exhibit in regular array the arguments which have already been adduced in the desultory manner necessary for possessing the mind of the reader with a general view of the subject submitted for his opinion; and unless he can give credence to a combination of improbable events, I expect to obtain his favourable suffrage.
1. It will be necessary for the gainsayers of my opinion to believe that the Abury Circus, with its appendages, having been casually placed between London and Bath, that the direct road to Bath, afterwards made by the Romans, accidentally crossed the entrances of the eastern and western avenues of the previously constructed Abury Circus.
2. Or if they think the position of Abury was chosen with reference to any road, they must believe that before the arrival of the Romans in Britain a direct trackway existed between London and Bath; and herein they must believe that the various interjacent tribes (three may be named), Trinobantes, Atrebates, Belgae, concurred in forming and maintaining a direct road more than a hundred miles in extent. And moreover they must believe that some urgent occasion for a direct road existed among British barbarians before the Christian era, although the less barbarous Saxons, more than 600 years afterwards, had so little regard to the direct Bath road (ready-made for them by the Romans), that they abandoned it except for about twenty-four miles between Speen and Silbury Hill; a mile beyond which the two modern Bath roads separate, one of them leading through Chippenham, the other through Devizes, the first four miles to the north, the other as much to the south of the line of Roman road, thus increasing the distance to Bath three or four miles in the short space of twenty-one miles direct.
3. But how is it possible for the advocates of Ante-Roman Abury to attribute to barbarian tribes such enlarged views of public convenience as to have established even a trackway in one continuous line to the extent of a hundred miles — at a time when no such thing as a public, a travelling public, can be said to have existed; and not only to have made a practicable trackway, but a finished road, exactly like those which are seen elsewhere within the limits of the Roman empire? If it be granted that the Roman road which separates from the present turnpike road at Silbury Hill, was originally made by the Romans, the question is at an end, as I have already shewn that the intermediate cut between Silbury and that road could not have existed when such road was made, because in that case an experienced road-maker would not have failed to take advantage of it. And, further, it may be established by simple inspection, that the well-defined limit of excavation at Silbury, is regulated by the adjacent road, to the extent of 400 yards; leaving between the road and excavation no more intervening space than safety demanded before the road-way was depressed by use.
I am at a loss to know what answer can be made to this unalterable argument imprinted on the ground itself. Nor is it credible that the Britons should have enforced upon each other the labour of road-making; which we know to have been one of their alleged grievances while under the dominion of the Romans.
Therefore we may rest assured that they made no roads until compelled to do so by the Romans, and that the Bath road was not made till then, nor consequently Silbury Hill; thus proved to have been made conformably to that road.
4. If further it be granted that the Romans introduced their mile, together with road-making, into provincial Britain, what is the chance that the middle of the Abury Circus, the commencement of the Kennet Avenue to it, and (as far as appears) of the Beckhampton Avenue, should all be referable to the radius of a Roman mile, if that mile wTas unknown in Britain at the time when Abury Circus with avenues to it from the Bath road was planned?
5. Supposing the founders of the Abury Circus to have planned their work as long since as the building of Rome (for instance), what was the chance against their anticipating in earth-work the fashion of Roman amphitheatres? Or if the Britons originated this form, what was the chance that the Romans should afterwards have made amphitheatres like that of the Britons, before they were acquainted with it or them? For were it proposed as a problem to construct in earth-work, as nearly as the material permitted, an amphitheatre for spectacles and spectators, similar to those of which remains are seen at Rome and in several Roman provincial towns, would it be possible to arrive at a better imitation than is still visible at Abury? And if this be not the result of chance, but imitation, were the Romans or the Britons copyists in their labours? No one will hesitate to answer, the Britons; and therefore that the Abury Circus did not exist till after their acquaintance with the Romans.
6. If, again, the Britons intended the rustic benches of this circus to contain no more spectators than were likely to resort to it at great festivals, how could so great a number as forty or fifty thousand be expected before the general introduction of agriculture and constrained pacification permitted the human species in Britain to increase, and enabled the numerous class of society to acquire and carry with them food for a journey of some days' duration? This could not happen until Roman dominion had instructed and civilized the British tribes, whose mutual dissensions and wars were previously such as to prevent them, even when attacked by a foreign enemy, from steadily combining in national defence.
7. I shall now advert, but with less confidence, to the improbability that the Britons possessed knowledge of such mechanical apparatus as is requisite for the removal and fixation of massive stones; not herein denying that the result of their frequent efforts of this kind, evidenced in great variety of rude remains, must have gradually led to the best practice of which their skill and the combined strength of multitudes were capable; nor that the variety of stones extant and known to have been destroyed at Abury and its avenues and elsewhere proves the facility at which their directing engineers had arrived. Possibly the largest stone at Abury may have been the masterpiece of their exertions till after that Circus was completed; afterwards the gradually-acquired knowledge of machinery and of iron tools, enabled them to construct the Temple at Stonehenge; or more probably to reconstruct it on the site of a ruder place of worship, the numerous tumuli of chiefs and their families, brought thither for sepulture, seeming to indicate that the sanctity of the place was of longer duration than the last century of Roman dominion in Britain.
8. A rare opportunity once occurred of endeavouring to ascertain the degree of art exerted in the structure of Stonehenge. When one of the large trilithons fell, in consecpience of a rapid thaw, in the beginning of the year 1797, I was within forty miles of the spot, and hastened thither to inspect, before obliteration, any remarkable appearance in the foundations laid open under the three disjoined stones then recently fallen; but the foundation exhibited nothing remarkable, the two great stones having no artificial support in the ground, and one of them exhibiting an irregular shape of its base quite unsuitable for stability, as forming the obtuse angle of a rhombus, and that not penetrating more than six feet deep. The transverse stone which had been supported on the two uprights had fallen backwards and displayed the very respectable workmanship of its two mortices, which were hemispherical, about eighteen inches diameter; and, as well as the corresponding tenons (one on the top of each upright), exhibited a vermiculated surface, apparently worked into shape by a well-directed steel point, such as must be used on stones not penetrable by the saw or by the mason's chisel and mallet. The insulated rag-stone formation is of this description, and its durability is such, that the angles of walls built with it as squared by fissure, do not lose their sharpness for centuries; as is exemplified in church-towers wherever such stones are applied to that use. The accurate juncture of the upper surface of the uprights and the lower side of the transverse stone must have cost much more labour and not less skill than the tenons and mortices; but these surfaces exhibited no mark of tooling.
9. 1 shall not endeavour to produce further special argument to establish the era at which I think Abury and Stonehenge must have been constructed, but I shall venture to suggest generally as a canon of criticism (grounded, I will venture to say, upon the experience of every inquiring antiquary) that the more recent date ascribed to any remnant of antiquity is always the most probable date; and this, because the chances of demolition or decay increase to such amount in the lapse of centuries as to form a powerful negative proof, irresistible unless by positive evidence. The earliest historical notice of Stonehenge occurs on occasion of the massacre perpetrated there by the Saxons about the middle of the fifth century, and still traceable in the name of Amesbury (the town of Ambrosius), the habitation nearest to Stonehenge. Negative evidence against the existence of Abury and Stonehenge, earlier than the Christian era, may be inferred from the silence of Julius Caesar and of the early geographers (Ptolemy and others) who wrote of Britain; but to this there is no need of resort, after the variety of proofs already adduced that the Abury Circus could not have been designed, nor the Stonehenge Temple perfected, until after the Romans had established themselves in Britain.
House of Commons, Easter, 1839.
1. Roman Road from London towards Bath.
Our early antiquaries held various opinions touching part of the road between London and Speen; and the final development of its course is sufficiently modern to demand a short statement in this place.
This road commenced no doubt at London Stone, in Cannon Street, and occupied the present line of Watling Street, Newgate Street, Holborn, and Oxford Street; but its direction from Tyburn was uncertain; insomuch that heretofore it was doubted whether Colnbrooke or Staines was the next station on the Roman road to Bath; but the modem Ordnance Map cannot be inspected without exhibiting to the eye a line of ancient road pointing direct from Tyburn to Staines. The Roman name of this place, Pontes in the plural number, probably designates wooden bridges to and from the River Island, above the modern Staines Bridge, where the particular line of crossing the river may be inferred from the boundary stone ( unde Staines) of the very ancient river jurisdiction of the corporation of London. From this place the Roman road continued its course S.W. by W. to Duke's Hill, whence its change of direction westward, direct to Silchester, was ascertained in the year 1835.
Silchester has been a fertile subject of antiquarian speculation; its present name seems to denote that it was fortified by Silius (Silii Castra), and thereby acquired his name, after the date of the Itinerary, wherein it is called Calleva; heretofore a wandering name, by various conjectures assigned to the site of modern Wallingford, Henley, Farnham, and Reading, nothing having been certain but that it was on the Roman road to Bath; which now is proved to coincide with Calleva, and leaves the position of Vindomis or Vindonum (the heretofore reputed Silchester) uncertain.
The first syllable of this name (Vindonum), signifying white in the British language, (Wynn, Gwywn) always rendered its application to the brown clay eminence of Silchester very improbable, and goes far towards our deeming Vindonum a small entrenched British place of refuge (dunum) on a chalk soil, such as is Vin-dogladia, in Dorsetshire, upon the north side of the road between Wimborne and Blandford.
Between Silchester and Speen no distinct trace of the Roman road has yet been discovered; but as the river Kennet must have been somewhere crossed by a bridge, and as Roman coins have been found in the peat-moss above the town of Newbury, there is good reason to suppose the Roman road and its bridge to have been directed at the nearest practicable ascent of Speen Hill, at the top of which is the undoubted position of Spinæ.
This station is conspicuous at its south-east angle, which is obtuse and accommodated to the form of the hill-top. The southern wall of Spinee has disappeared, but on its foundation (impenetrable for any other purpose) is a shrubbery (in the pleasure ground of Mrs. Wilde) which includes a serpentine gravel walk. This shrubbery, 340 yards in length, and of which the terminations are distinctly those of the southern wall, shews that Spina; was not an inconsiderable station; but the much-frequented Bath road having passed through it during 16 or 17 centuries, has permitted no other vestige to remain, than the foundation of the aforesaid wall, which is on the brink of a very steep declivity, and out of the line of any possible road.
From this elevated spot the Roman road passes onward to Marlborough, at which place, or short of it, at Mildenhall, must be placed the station called Cunetio in the Itinerary. At the west end of Marlborough appears the well-known artificial mount, on which was placed the keep or dungeon of a Norman castle, which is incidentally mentioned in the time of William the Conqueror, and in the reign of Henry III. had become so considerable that a Parliament sate there, and passed the statute of Marlebridge about the year 1270. The area covered by this mount is about an acre and a quarter.
About a mile beyond Marlborough, the road crosses the lower end of Clatford-bottom, in which, at some distance north of the road is (or rather was) the chief deposit of stones convertible to Druidic purposes. In the valley itself still exists, unremoved by invading cultivation, the Kist-Vaen, composed of a stone about 16 tons weight, placed on three supporting stones, its upper surface eight feet from the ground. All the largest stones have been selected from this and the adjacent valleys, and the remnant are fast disappearing, as they furnish an excellent material for building, sufficiently testified by the road-side retaining walls before arriving at West Kennet. From this place Silbury is conspicuous, and I shall here add that the area ascribed to it by Sir R. C. Hoare (five acres and a quarter) must be understood of the surface of the artificial mount, not of the level ground on which it is placed; but I cannot reconcile to fact the height assigned by him to it (170 feet), unless his surveyor thought himself at liberty to carry up the side slope to an imaginary apex, and so to form a perfectly conical hill.
The name of Silbury appears to me worthy of notice, as if connected with Silius, the name of some Roman governor or general, the same perhaps who fortified Silchester and built its Amphitheatre. The same man was certainly a very likely patron, perhaps adviser, of the provincial Britons in the construction of the Abury Circus for their national games and ceremonies, in which case the name of Silius was not unlikely to adhere to the pivot on which the formation of the entire plan depends. Be this as it may, it is not irrelevant to remark in this place, that the termination of the name in Bury, as if denoting a memorial of interment there, does not militate against the conjecture: but this opinion may seem to require explanation.
Human language in its early formation possessing few words, each of them was applied to more objects than one, in case of any affinity with each other. Thus the word Dun, which in the Celto-Gallic language denoted an eminence, appears as the termination of the names of nine or ten places in Roman-Britain (e. g. Sorbio-Dunum), and as many in the provinces of Gallia; and we still recognize the word in downs, or upland sheep-pasture; and it denotes sand-hills in the name of Dunkirk. In like manner, the Gothic progenitors of the Saxons applied their word berg, burgh, borough, to every natural hill or eminence; and to those more especially on which primitive towns, or rather places of refuge, were usually placed for better defence. Further, the word was applied to every artificial hillock or tumulus raised in memorial of the dead; and as from the first syllable of tumulus is derived our word tomb, from berg we derive the verb to bury, and burial; also barrows, of which abundance remain in England, — especially around Stonehenge and elsewhere on Chalk Downs, which, till they are cultivated, retain imperishable traces (records they might be termed) of the labours of remote ages. The name of the capital of Scotland, called Dun-Eden in Gaelic, Edinburgh ( Edwin's-Berg) by the Saxons, is a conclusive instance of similar application of the two primitive words, as here noticed. — Thus, from the termination of the word Silbury, we have no right to deduce further inference than that this artificial hill was in some unknown manner connected with Silius.
But ought not this eminent work of the Britons to be investigated with as much care as Sir R. C. Hoare has investigated many of the Barrows near Stonehenge? Silbury Hill was judiciously assigned to the Lord of the Manor under the Abury Inclosure Act, for its better preservation, and, with his permission, the Society of Antiquaries or any other responsible public body might sink a well on the summit of the hill, with improvement rather than detriment of its appearance, as it would be raised a few feet by the excavated chalk-rubbish. The expense of sinking such a well has been calculated at £92. 10s.; and, allowing for the unusual position, might probably amount to £150.
2. The Roman Mile.
The Roman mile contained 5000 Roman feet, 5 feet making a pace (passus), and therefore 1000 paces (mille passus) expressed the Roman mile; which, according to the best authorities, was equal to 1611 yards English, our own mile being 1760 yards. Thus it is seen that a pace (passus) is two steps, not one step (gradus) as we too often use the word pace; a word which in propriety designates the space described by the passage of either of the feet to its next footstep; a step (gradus) being of course one half of the pace. Printed treatises may be found which countenance the vulgar error here noticed.
3. Slaughter alleged by Roman Generals, why exaggerated.
The enormous slaughter said to have been achieved by Julius Caesar in his Gallic wars, may perhaps be alleged in favour of the existence of a considerable population in Britain at that time. But the splendour of triumphal honours at Rome was measured by exaggerations of this kind, which every man in an army, from the general downwards, was thus induced to countenance and exalt into materials for the historian. The reputed number of emigrating Gauls destroyed by various Roman generals, refutes itself by the impossibility of subsistence in their progress. Terror of barbarian invaders at first, and glory in their defeat afterwards, equally tend to exaggeration of their real number.
4. Roman Towns and Stations within eighty Miles of Abury.
Abury is about 80 miles from London, and, within that distance, Yerulam and Bath have already been mentioned. Add to these, within the same distance, Corineum (Cirencester), Glevum (Gloucester), Sorbio-Dunum (Old Sarum), Durnovaria (Dorchester), Clausentum (Southampton), Venta-Belgarum (Winchester); and, on the London Road, Pontes (Staines), Calleva (Silchester), Church-Speen (Spinee), Cunetio (probably Marlborough). To these may be added smaller stations of unsettled position, Yindomis, Brage, Vindogladia, and Verlucio.
5. Cyclopean Remains.
The origin and date of the ancient structures, now familiarly termed Cyclopean, will ever remain in comparative obscurity; the earth must have been considerably overspread with inhabitants and Egypt well cultivated before that people acquired the art and the leisure requisite for fashioning and moving with facility the large stones which form the roof of the central chamber of the opened pyramid; after which the emigrants or exiles from that enlightened nation could not but carry with them that species of knowledge; and when their new situation permitted, they naturally imitated the arts of their forefathers. Thus Danaus or his descendents have left in the Morea specimens of massive stone-work indicative of its authors, and durable to the present age; and from such small beginnings, architecture and statuary assumed a new origin in Greece and her Asiatic colonies. But the Britons and the whole race of kindred Gauls or Celts remained ignorant of the use of steel or iron tools; the immediate application of which in workmanship, however useful, bears but small proportion to the remote effects produced in consequence of it. The Britons, by aid of fire and collision of other stones, might in some degree improve the form of the unattached rag-stones found on the surface of the Wiltshire downs, but they were unable to shape them by fissure for building or to fit them to each other, till they were in possession of steel wedges and other appropriate tools of that material. Such is the line of distinction which may reasonably be established between the works of the Britons before and after Roman arts were in some degree introduced among them.
6. Explanation of the Plates.
Plate 1, differs little from that of Sir R. C. Hoare, — scarcely at all, except in representing more exactly the ground plan of the excavation around Silbury Hill, as was necessary for illustration of the line of argument held in this treatise.
Plate 2, represents a method by which the ancient Britons may be supposed to have moved, and to have erected large blocks of stone for the construction of Stonehenge. Such stones, after having been shaped and dressed, may have been transported by a machine similar to that mentioned by Vitruvius, whereby the stone being surrounded in a cylindrical frame-work became the nucleus of a roller, around the ends of which ropes were coiled; and a drawing power being applied to the end of each rope caused it to unwind, and thereby to set in motion the roller. This contrivance for the transport of a great weight over rugged ground possessed mechanical advantages over any wheel carriage: — 1st. Because the surface in contact with the ground being broad, is not liable to sink in soft places: 2dly. Because there is no friction of axle; and 3dly. Because it contains a mechanical purchase which doubles the power applied; the advance of the roller being evidently only half that of the moving power.
The stone being thus conveyed to the spot fixed upon for its erection, we may suppose that an excavation was ready to receive it, and that the excavated earth would form a bank. [See sketch 3, and profile at letter E.] The roller would then be dragged along the sloping side of this bank, until the lower end of the stone was opposite to the spot on which it was destined to stand; and from this inclined position it may have been raised to upright by ropes attached to it, and passed over two pair of thirty-foot poles inclined in a direction contrary to that of the stone itself. Then, by a power applied to these ropes, the stone may have been securely raised to perpendicular.
After the uprights had been thus fixed in the ground, the impost may have been raised by a succession of wooden blocks or long billets, being placed underneath the stone, the ends of it being alternately elevated so as to admit a block [See sketch 2, and letter A.]; and if we suppose the stone to bear upon these blocks, for one-third of its length only, the remaining two-thirds would be in equilibrium with each other. Thus, by means of a long pole, or poles, lashed firmly along the upper surface of the stone, the weight to be swayed up at each effort would not be that of the whole stone, but of one-third of it only, the upper and lower thirds being (as before said) in equilibrium.
When the impost had been thus raised to a level with the uprights, it was necessary to move it laterally into its place, which may have been done by so placing the uppermost blocks [see B] as to form an inclined plane, from whence the stone might be made to slide into its position under such command as to adapt the mortices and tenons to each other, for permanent juncture of the three stones in one mass.
7. Celtic Tools.
The most unquestionable relique of Ante-Roman date is the Celtic chisel, which being made of an imperishable compound metal, has been found in plentiful number, various in size, and not very dissimilar in pattern. The manner of using this tool of many purposes does not seem to be so generally known, but that a familiar exposition may be acceptable in this place. Its shape is that of a modern chisel without shoulders, the receptacle or socket for the haft extending into the blade, and being larger in proportion than in our chisels: for which good reason will appear, considering that this tool was also a powerful wedge, and was steadily held in the proper place by means of the pierced side ear, which always appears near the upper part of this instrument.
In this ear was inserted a stiff twisted thong of leather, twisted copper wire, flexible wood, or other fit substance, whereby the tool might be held, and hammered with any degree of violence, without danger to the directing hand, or of the chisel swerving from its mark. For defending the tool from damage, a stout haft of wood was inserted in the socket, and more than one such must have always been in readiness to replace it when worn or shivered by blows of a stone hammer. The same person might thus hold the tool immoveable with one hand and strike with the other, or, in case of a ponderous two-handed stone hammer, two were employed, a female or a youth sufficing for holding steadily the inserted earing. It is to be considered, that in defect of a fine steel edge, which may be forced into wood by the hand, or used as a saw, no mode of steady penetration is competent other than as above described, which equally applies to scooping canoes? splitting timber, and shaping it, as well as the minor purposes of piercing and carving, for which we use chisels and knives. Those who suppose the above explanation to be imaginary or too hazardous, may satisfy themselves at any blacksmith's shop by seeing the nail-holes made in a horse-shoe, which communicating so much heat to the piercer that it cannot be held by the hand, a wythe or twisted stick is fastened to it and held by the left hand, exactly as the blunt Celtic chisel was made to receive violent blows without injury to the hand or annoyance to the nerves of the holder. It is remarkable that Don Ulloa had opportunity of seeing, in Peru, what he calls copper axes of the Inca period, usually found in exploring ancient tumuli (guacas) for hidden treasure. (Ulloa, book vi. cap. xi.)
He represents these axes as usually wider at the edge than our Celts, and not adapted for use exactly in the same manner, as being perforated near the back of this metallic tool, which is there thickened so as to bear hard blows without injury. That the perforation was not intended for a stout handle wherewith to wield the tool, may be inferred from the smallness of the aperture (fit for a flexible cane or whalebone), and more evidently from the perforation not being always rectilinear. (See Don Ulloa's plate 4.) He distinctly negatives any traces of the use of steel by the Peruvians. Massive stones, larger than those at Abury or Stonehenge, have recently been found near Quito: so that in more instances than one, the advance in civilized arts by the Belgian colonists in Britain, and the Peruvians, before they were visited by the Romans and Spaniards respectively, seems to have been checked at the same limit by the want of steel.
Very many copper-tin celts of the Ante-Roman Britons are still extant; and it is worth mentioning that Mr. J. Britton, F.S.A. possesses a Celt embedded in its matrix of the same metal. A relique so remarkable ought not to remain liable to the casuaties of private possession.