RECORDED history of this country begins with the Roman invasion under Cæsar, 55 years before the Christian era. Previous to that time its history is blank; except so much as may he read in the geological strata and the animal remains hidden away for thousands of years in rocky caverns, or buried deep in some clayey bed; or what may be gleaned from an examination of the barrows and gravemounds of its primitive inhabitants. The Welsh triads, it is true, have preserved various accounts of this early period, but they are wholly traditionary, and so encumbered with fable that it is impossible to extract the kernel of fact from the mass of fiction in which it is enveloped. They tell us that Hu Cadarn led the first colony to this island, which had hitherto been inhabited by bears, wolves, beavers, and wild cattle. At a subsequent period, they further tell us, two tribes of Kimmerian origin, the Llægrwys from Gwasgwrn (Gasgony), and the Brythons from Llydaw (Bretagne), effected a settlement in the country. They have also preserved the names of a long line of kings and the deeds of the most illustrious heroes; but these stories were probably elaborated out of very scanty materials in ages long subsequent to the time when the actors lived and moved and had their being.
It is clear from the writings of Tacitus and other early historians that, at the time when this country first came under the dominion of the Roman Cæsars, the inhabitants belonged chiefly, if not wholly, to the great Celtic family. They were a warlike race and were divided into numerous independent tribes, amongst whom there was little cohesion, even when an enemy was marching through their island home. The most powerful of these tribes was the Brigantes, which inhabited the district lying between the Humber and the Mersey on the one side, and the wilds of Caledonia on the other. They offered a stubborn resistance to the Roman conquerors, and were only brought under subjection after many bloody conflicts, in which their untutored valour and contempt of death won the admiration of the disciplined ranks of Rome. They were unknown, or known only by repute to Cæsar, who does not appear to have led his victorious army further north than the town of Verulam (St. Albans); and when be inquired concerning their origin he was informed that they were the spontaneous growth of the soil.
They figure first prominently in the pages of Tacitus, from whom we learn that about the year 50 after the Christian era, when Ostorius Scapula was Governor of Britain, Caractacus, the brave chief of the Silures (Welshmen), was defeated by the Romans, and fled for protection to Cartismandua, queen of the Brigantes, who appears to have ruled in her own right; but she, to win the favour of the Romans, basely delivered him into their hands. He was carried in chains to Rome, where his manly bearing won the admiration of the emperor, and obtained pardon for himself and his family.
Venusius, the husband of Cartismandua, whom she had forsaken for the embraces of Vellocatus, her armour-bearer, was the most able native leader after the capture of Caractacus. At the head of a considerable force of Brigantes he waged war against the adulterous queen; Cartismandua claimed the protection of the Romans, who sent an army to her assistance, and after a hard-fought fight her enemies were routed. The Brigantes still continued to maintain their independence and stubbornly contested every inch of ground won by Roman arms. They were at last, however, subdued by Petilius Cerealis, in the year 71 A.D.; but the Roman rule was not firmly established in their territory until the government of the illustrious Agricola (A.D. 78-84), whose brilliant exploits obscure the fame of all his predecessors. To the courage and skill of a consummate general, he united the virtues of a philosopher and the talents of a statesman.
Having subdued the Odovices of North Wales, in the summer of 79, be set out with his army northwards against the Brigantes, whom be defeated in several battles, and having thus reduced them to submission by his victories, he tried to win their obedience by his justice and clemency. The line of his march through the Brigantian territory is still a matter of dispute amongst antiquarians. That his advance was not far from tidal waters we know from the words of Tacitus, "loca castris ipse capere, æstuaria ac silvas prætentare," from which we learn that the general himself selected the ground for his encampments, having previously searched or examined the estuaries and woods; but whether these woods and estuaries were on the eastern or western coast the Roman historian does not inform us. Both routes have their advocates, and each points to a line of stations accompanied by a military road as confirmatory evidence - the one stretching from York to the Tyne, the other from Chester to Carlisle. It is not improbable that both theories may be correct, and that the army marched against the Brigantes in two divisions - one making Lindum (Lincoln) and the other Deva (Chester) its base of operations. To secure his conquests Agricola erected stations along the lines of march, and connected the two routes by a chain of forts and a military road from Carlisle to the mouth of the Tyne. Isurion, the Brigantian capital, became a Roman town under the Latinized name of Isurium, now occupied by the present village of Aldborough; and the many beautiful tesselated pavements and other remains which have been found there, show that the rude royal borough of Cartismandua under its new masters became the seat of wealth and luxury; but a more suitable spot on the banks of the Ouse was selected for the imperial capital and residence, and Eboracum* or York took precedence of the ancient city. Roads were constructed intersecting the district in various directions and stations and fortresses were erected at different points along the routes. Many of these stood within the limits of the East Riding and will be noticed when treating of the parishes in which they are supposed to have been situated.
* Eboracum is said to have been called in the ancient British tongue Caer Ebrauc or the city of Ebraucus, which, according to a tradition related by Geoffrey of Monmouth, was founded by a king of that name in the year of the world 2,983; but the whole story of King Ebraucus and his twenty wives was probably an invention to account for a name, the origin and meaning of which had been lost. By the Saxons it was named Eofor-wic, that is the wic or camp of Eofor, or the wild boar, and York is probably a contraction of that Saxon name. In Domesday Book it is written Eurwic, which by an easy transition becomes York.
The Brigantian territory stretched from sea to sea, and seems to have included, under the general name of Brigantes, three or four different races or tribes. On the western side, inhabiting what are now called Lancashire and Cumberland, were the Sistuntii and Voluntii; and on the Yorkshire coast, in the district of Holderness, were the Parisii, whose name would appear to indicate that they had emigrated from the banks of the Seine. These last had their own coinage, from which it is inferred that they were an independent tribe.
Such were the people whom the Romans found in possession of the land; but the researches of palaeontologists and ethnologists have proved that they were neither the original inhabitants of the country, nor the descendants of the original inhabitants. An earlier people possessed the land before them, but this primitive race passed away without leaving a history behind, and for what little we know of them, we are indebted to the spade and not to the pen. But the secret of their graves has been unlocked, and from such unpromising materials as the mouldering remains found therein, Canon Greenwell, Dr. Thurnam, Sir John Lubbock and others have unravelled the story of this primitive man. He was of short stature, with a head characterised by its length rather than its rotundity. His facial angle, as measured from the skull, and other evidence afforded by it, indicate the possession of a mild and pleasant countenance. He had domesticated the bos longifrons, a species of ox, and hunted the boar and red deer, out of whose bones he fabricated some of his weapons. He led a semi-pastoral sort of life, eking out his subsistence by the chase, and was acquainted with the use of fire in cooking his food. He had some knowledge of the potter's art, and when he died, rudely-formed earthen vessels, with his flint and bone implements, were buried with him; from which it may be inferred that he had some belief in a future state, where he would require the weapons he had used heretofore. He had reached only the incipient stages of civilization, and was totally unacquainted with the working of metals. His flint weapons were ground and polished, and there is reason to believe that he made a coarse kind of linen cloth. The height of this longheaded race did not average more than five feet five inches, but the bones of their arms and legs show that they were accustomed to a very active life. Such in life was the Stone Age man of our history, and when he died he was buried in long barrows, many of which are still to be found scattered over the Wolds.
When or whence came these first dwellers on our soil is a matter of speculation; Finmark, Denmark, Germany, France, and Spain have each been named, and arguments, more or less plausible, advanced in support of their several claims. The subject does not possess that general interest that we need here enter further into it, suffice it to say, that it is very generally admitted that the first inhabitants of this country were not of the Celtic race, nor had their language any affinity to that spoken by any branch of the great Celtic family. It became extinct at an early date, but the few words which have survived, in the opinion of many ethnologists, seem to indicate the same origin as the Basque.
How long these long-headed, or as they have been technically termed, dolichocephalic, men held undisturbed possession of the country it is impossible to say; but at an early period, probably eight or ten centuries before the Christian era, their right was disputed by another race of men, who found their way hither by crossing the narrow sea which separates this island from Gaul, or, as we now call it, France. The new comers were Celtæ, and belonged to the Aryan branch of the human family. They were a superior race, both physically and mentally, and were distinguished from the people they found in possession by the roundness of their skulls. They knew how to fabricate implements of bronze, and most probably had some knowledge of the art of weaving. They had learned also to domesticate the sheep, the goat, the dog, and the hog, as well as the bos longifrons. These invaders called themselves, in their own language, Gaidhels, pronounced Gaels, and Goidels. They seized the lands of the primitive inhabitants, whom they drove to the north and west; but they in their turn were intruded upon some centuries later by another Celtic people, speaking a language which differed considerably from that used by the first Celtic invaders. This second group was the Ancient Britons, or, as written in Welsh, Brythons, from whom our country has received its name of Britain. The Goidels retreated to the north and west, where their descendants are found to the present day, and there they amalgamated with the Ivernian natives, whom they had driven thither.
This round-headed or brachy-cephalic race, whose period is distinguished as the Bronze Age, were buried in round barrows, or tumuli. Many of these sepulchral mounds have been levelled by the plough, but they are still so numerous on the Wolds that in some places one cannot travel half-a-mile without passing them. Nearly 200 of these have been examined by Canon Greenwell, and many by Mr. Mortimer, of Driffield, and several interesting discoveries have been made. Their researches show that sometimes the dead were cremated and sometimes buried, and examples of both have been found in the same tumulus. In some instances the skeletons were fairly perfect, with the teeth still in the jaws; and an examination of the bones prove that the round-headed man was a muscular but ugly fellow, with broad jaws, turned-up nose, high cheek bones, wide mouth, and eyes deep sunk under beetling brows that overhung them like a penthouse. Implements of flint and bronze are frequently found in the same barrow, from which it would appear that the latter metal had not entirely superseded the more primitive materials. Long skulls have also been found in the same barrow with round ones, as well as skulls of an intermediate type, from which it may be inferred that whilst the round-headed men drove the long-headed men into the north and west, they appropriated the women for their wives. These early Britons have left us some other remains of their handiwork consisting of hut circles or villages, encampments, and monoliths, which will be noticed at length under the parish in which they occur.
This round-headed race did not arrive in this island in one emigration, and it is probable that some of the later comers brought with them a knowledge of iron; but the Iron Age had scarcely begun when the Romans landed in the island.
Going still further back in time, geologists tell us that England once formed an integral part of the continent of Europe, and that it possessed a climate so intensely cold that great ice-masses or glaciers covered all the north of England. It was tenanted only by wild animals, now wholly extinct, or found in lands far distant from England, and widely different in climate. The bones of these animals have been found in vast numbers in rocky caverns, and embedded deep down in marl or clay. In Kirkdale cave, in the North Riding, discovered in 1821, Professor Buckland found the bones of the hyæna, lion, tiger, bear, wolf, elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, &c., the last three belonging to a species long extinct.
To return to the people. Cæsar has left us his impressions of them in the fifth book of his Commentaries; but as he did not penetrate further north than a little beyond the Thames, it is probable that much of what he relates was learnt from hearsay. "The Britons," he says, "use brass money, or iron rings of a. certain weight instead of it. They think it not right to eat hares, poultry, or geese, though they breed them all for amusement. Of all the natives, the most civilised are those of Cantium (Kent), all that country lying on the sea coast; and the manners of these differ but little from those of the Gauls. The inland inhabitants for the most part sow no corn, but live on milk and flesh, and clothe themselves with the skins of animals. All the Britons stain themselves with woad, which produces a blue colour, and gives them a horrible appearance in battle. ***Most of them use chariots in battle. They first scour up and down on every side, throwing their darts, creating disorder among the ranks by the terror of their horses and the noise of their chariot wheels; and when they are among the troops of horse they leap out and fight on foot. Meantime the charioteers retire to a little distance from the field, and place themselves in such a manner, that, if the others are overpowered by the numbers of the enemy, they may be secure to make good their retreat. Thus they act with the agility of cavalry and the steadiness of infantry in battle, and become so expert by constant practice that, on declivities and precipices, they can stop their horses when going at full speed, and on a sudden check and turn them, run along the pole, stand on the yoke, and then as quickly dart into their chariots again. They frequently retreat on purpose, and, after they have drawn our men on a little way from the main body, leap from their poles and wage an unequal war on foot. Their manner of fighting on horseback creates the same danger, both to the retreater and the pursuer. Add to this that they never fight in bodies, but scattered, and at great distances, and have parties in reserve supporting one another, and fresh troops ready to relieve the weary."
The name Brigantes, given by Tacitus and other early writers to the most powerful tribe among the early Britons is said to signify hill men or mountaineers, from the Celtic word Briga a height; but Professor Rhys says a more probable derivation is the Celtic word brigent, meaning noble, free, or privileged; and Brigantes would thus signify the free men or privileged race, "as contrasted with the Goidelic inhabitants, some of whom they may have reduced under them."
The Brigantes, in common with the rest of the Celts of Britain and of Gaul, were polytheists, and worshipped under other names the same gods as the Greeks and Romans - Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, Minerva, and, above all, Mercury, whom they venerated as the inventor of the useful arts. They also worshipped a multitude of inferior or local divinities - the genii of the woods, rivers, and mountains.
Their religion, usually described as Druidism, is said by Cæsar to have originated in this island, whence it was imported into Gaul. This assertion, however, is now regarded as improbable, and the result of modern investigation tends to show, that druidism was introduced by the earliest and non-Celtic settlers - the long-headed or Stone Age man already referred to - and was wholly or partially adopted by the Goidelic invaders. These were in their turn driven by the Brythons westward into Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, Wales, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and the west of Scotland; and in these parts only are the mystic stone circles usually associated with druidic worship to be found. It is very doubtful whether the Brythonic Celts, who formed the great bulk of the Brigantes, ever adopted druidism. Professor Rhys classifies the early inhabitants as far as regards religion into three groups; the Brythonic Celts, who were polytheists of the Aryan type; the non-Celtic natives under the sway of druidism; and the Goidelic Celts, devotees of a religion which combined Aryan polytheism with druidism.