Pytheas : biography

Diodorus based on Pytheas reports that Britain is cold and subject to frosts, being "too much subject to the bear", and not "under the Arctic pole", as some translations say. The section numeration differs somewhat in different translations; the material is to be found near the end of Book V. This report suggests that Pytheas was there in the early Spring, as he encountered frosts but not blizzards, drifts and frozen bodies of water.

The numerous population of natives, he says, live in thatched cottages, store their grain in subterranean caches and bake bread from it. They are "of simple manners" (ēthesin haplous) and are content with plain fare. They are ruled by many kings and princes who live in peace with each other. Their troops fight from chariots, as did the Greeks in the Trojan War.

The three corners of Britain: Kantion, Belerion and Orkas

Opposite Europe in Diodorus is the promontory (akrōtērion) of Kantion (Kent), 100 stadia, approximately 11.35 miles, from the land, but the text is ambiguous; the land could be either Britain or the continent. Beyond by four days’ sail is another promontory, Belerion, which can only be Cornwall, as Diodorus is describing the triangular perimeter and the third point is Orkas, presumably the main island of the Orkney Islands.

The tin trade

The inhabitants of Cornwall are involved in the manufacture of tin ingots. They mine the ore, smelt it and then work it into pieces the shape of knuckle-bones, after which it is transported to the island of Ictis by wagon, which can be done at low tide. Merchants purchasing it there pack it on horses for 30 days to the Rhone river, where it is carried down to the mouth. Diodorus says that the inhabitants of Cornwall are civilised in manner and especially hospitable to strangers because of their dealings with foreign merchants.

Voyage to the Don

Pytheas claimed to have explored the entire north; however, he turned back at the mouth of the Vistula, the border with Scythia. If he had gone on he would have discovered the ancestral Balts. They occupied the lands to the east of the Vistula. In the west they began with the people living around Frisches Haff, Lithuanian Aismarės, "sea of the Aistians", who in that vicinity became the Baltic Prussians.. On the east Herodotus called them the Neuri, a name related to Old Prussian narus, "the deep", in the sense of water country. Later Lithuanians would be "the people of the shore". The Vistula was the traditional limit of Greater Germany. Place names featuring *ner– or *nar– are wide-ranging over the vast Proto-Baltic homeland, occupying western Russia before the Slavs..

Herodotus says that the Neuri had Scythian customs, but they were at first not considered Scythian.Herodotus IV.105. During the war between the Scythians and the Persian Empire, the Scythians came to dominate the Neuri. Strabo, younger contemporary of Pytheas, denies that any knowledge of the shores of the eastern Baltic existed. He had heard of the Sauromatai, but had no idea where to place them.7.2.4. Herodotus had mentioned these Sauromatai as a distinct people living near the Neuri. Pliny the Elder, however, is much better informed. The island of Baunonia (Bornholm), he says lies a days’ sail off Scythia, where amber is collected. To him the limit of Germany is the Vistula. In contrast to Strabo, he knows that the Goths live around the Vistula, but these are definitely Germans.

By the time of Tacitus, the Aestii have emerged.Germania, 45. The former Scythia is now entirely Sarmatia. Evidently the Sarmatians have conquered westward to the Vistula. The Goths have moved to the south. That the Balts lived east of the Vistula from remote prehistoric times is unquestioned. The Baltic languages, however, are only known from the 2nd millennium AD. They are known to have developed in tribal contexts, as they were originally tribal. The first mention of any tribes is in Ptolemy’s description of European Sarmatia, where the main Prussian tribes are mentioned for the first time.III.5. In Tacitus, only the language of the Aestii is mentioned. Strabo distinguishes the Venedi, who were Slavs. From these few references, which are the only surviving evidence apart from place name analysis, it would seem that the Balts Pytheas would have encountered were past the Common Balto-Slavic stage, but still spoke one language, which would have been Proto-Baltic. By turning back at what he thought was the limit of Germany, he not only missed the Balts, but did not discover that more Germans, the Goths, had moved into the Baltic area.