Technology Travels to Western Europe
Since most of the heroes of this book sailed from England, Spain, and Portugal, let’s see how technology developed in the west.
As every student of art history learns, the earliest cave art uncovered so far in Europe and Asia was drawn some 35,000 years ago. Very recently, on the island of Jersey between France and England, archaeologists discovered artifacts drawn by a hunter-gatherer culture 14,000 years ago. On the stone walls of a cave in Derbyshire, England, excavators found illustrations of birds and an ibex drawn 12,000 years ago. Additional evidence reveals that mankind living in Europe has been technically advanced for at least 8000 years.
The circular structures known as Stonehenge in North Wiltshire England, have been dated to at least 5000 years old. However modern theories suspect the culture that placed them there existed for thousands of years before that.
Stonehenge from the north, Wiltshire, England. Photo by Julia W.(1)
Another complex of megaliths was unearthed outside of today’s Évora in Portugal, known as the Almendres Cromlech. Ninety-five stones form structures that were used for ceremonies and research having to do with the celestial bodies. The positions of the stones are associated with the equinox and solstices in similar ways to the stones of England’s Stonehenge and the pyramids in Egypt.(2)
Cromlech of the Almendres, megalithic complex, dates range between 6000 and 4000 BCE, photo by Reino Baptista.(3)
As we mentioned in the last article, only organic matter can be carbon-dated, not stones. But by understanding the precessional cycle earth makes, archaeologists and cosmologists can plot on a time-line when the monuments were placed in position to line up with certain stars. The perfect alignment occurs only once every 26,000 years. One of the Almendres circles lined up with the stars as they appeared from Earth 6000 years ago. Another lined up with the stars as they appeared from Earth 8000 years ago.
That means that for at least 8000 years, the people living on the European continent and England have been civilized enough to create sophisticated astrological observatories.
This level of civilization did not pop out of nowhere – unless the theory of an alien intervention is true. Therefore, for evolutionary progress to reach that level, it must have commenced thousands of years before that.
A fairly sophisticated bronze-age society known as Celts lived in central Europe from as early as 1200 BCE. The earliest graves uncovered so far are in Hallstatt, Austria [the dark pink area on the map above]. The French, or Continental Celts, were known as Gauls.(4)
Until very recently, historians thought Celtic tribes infiltrated today’s British Isles and the Iberian Peninsula between 600 and 100 BCE. A new DNA study comparing human remains found in Ireland that were 5000 years old to remains dated 4000 years ago indicate the migration occurred much earlier than that. Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast and Trinity College Dublin found in the 4000 year-old human remains “several genetic elements typical of the modern Irish genome” that were not present in the older specimen. Daniel G. Bradley said of the more recent skeletons, “These genomes when taken as a whole are more like modern Irish, Scottish and Welsh – insular Celtic populations. This suggests some large degree of establishment of the genetics of these populations 4,000 years ago. … Based on the men’s DNA [the 4000 year-old remains], the researchers suspect that their ancestors may have come to Ireland from the Pontic Steppe – the area of Eastern Europe that sits over the Black Sea, including what’s now the Ukraine.”(5)
We are going to assume that if Celtic peoples settled as far west as Ireland over 4000 years ago, they also infiltrated Britannia and Iberia. Wherever they planted themselves, Celts brought with them the technology of iron working; their most significant contribution being the iron plow. This fostered trade with cultures who did not have access to iron. Celts were pastoral. The wealth of a clan, or group of families, was based on how many cattle they owned. Besides cattle, they raised horses, sheep, goats, and pigs.
These people were civilized enough to harvest wheat and other grains, which they ground in hand mills. They grew barley for beer, and flax for clothing. They transported their belongings in wheeled carts. They lived in stone buildings to defend themselves from their neighbors, with whom they warred all the time.
A wheel found recently at the Must Farm excavation site in Cambridgeshire, England, dated to about 1000 to 800 BCE. (6)
Genealogists suspect that the gene for red hair is Celtic. Celtic women, the ancestors of red-headed Queen Elizabeth I and most of the hearty pioneer women who settled New England, could own property, chose their husbands, and even serve as leaders in battle.
At the top of the hierarchical scale within Celtic society were the Druids. Druids acted as wise-men and wise-women, priests, arbitrators, teachers, scholars, political advisors, lawmakers, poets, consultants to kings, and healers. In many ways they were the glue that held Celtic societies together. They initiated an early concept of schools, organizations for passing their traditions and knowledge to the next generation. Everything was passed through rote [memorization], not writing. Some Druids were more important than the clan leader or king.
Celts loved war. They wore elaborately decorated armor and took their families along with them from battle to battle. They initiated the British custom of cutting off the head of the vanquished, mounting it on a spike, and displaying it in a public place as a trophy. Sometimes they sacrificed humans in religious ceremonies.
The Celts were never a cohesive group or an empire. Anthropologists can only group them by similar languages and customs. Eventually the infighting between clans allowed the Romans to conquer them in 50 to 60 CE.
The Celts and Phoenicians in Iberia
Celtic ruins are scattered throughout northeastern Iberia today. The tribes who invaded the northwestern peninsula evolved as the Galicians and the Lusitanians, the ancestors of the Portuguese. Notice on the map above that Celts did not settle southeast Iberia, later Spain. This fact helps us understand how the Portuguese are very different from the Spanish, a distinction still important to the Portuguese today. [Just watch a store-clerk’s face if you say “Gracious” to mean “Thank you” rather than “Abrigado.”]. The southeastern shores were invaded by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Mauritanians who fished offshore. Later we will see how the Portuguese often allied with the English, who were also Celts, against, the Spanish.
Celtic art on display at the Braga Sé History Museum in Portugal. The fellow in the middle was the old Celtic god of Good. The Christians tried to make him/her/it into a devil.(7)
The Phoenicians were the first to ply the Iberian coastlines and bring shipping technology to western Europe. They built fishing stages [small work settlements] at the river mouths, where they dried and salted the fish before shipping it back to Tyre and other Middle Eastern markets. The original name for today’s port of Málaga in Spain [Mainaké in Greek and Malach in Etruscan] meant salting place. Even in Columbus’ time, Málaga was a major fish market.
We have talked about the Phoenician traders who traveled past the Iberian coast to reach the Tin Islands. As they rowed back to the Pillars of Hercules, they stopped for shelter in the river mouths of the Guadalquivir and Guadiana Rivers along Iberia’s southern coast. Not wanting to carry the heavy ore [rocks] that contained the tin back to Phoenicia, the miners set up small settlements, where they built ovens for melting the tin out of the ore, a process known as smelting. The area between those rivers became known as Tarshish, which was the Phoenician word(8) for smelter or refinery.
To the Jews in the Middle East, Tarshish came to mean the most western land, since it was the farthest place in the known world ships traveled. There is a story written in the fifth or fourth century BCE [included in the Bible] about a man named Jonah who tried to reach Tarshish because he wanted to get as far away from God as possible. Jonah thought God lived in Israel. As Jonah sailed west, a tempest threatened to wreck his ship. The crew blamed Jonah for the storm, since he was not pleasing God. They cast him overboard. As Jonah wallowed in the sea, a huge whale swallowed him whole. While he lived in the whale’s belly, he contemplated his state. When he finally repented [admitted to God that whatever he had done was wrong], God arranged his rescue. The whale regurgitated Jonah upon a beach which was somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea. It was a place where he could teach the pagans of that land that “there was only one true, all-powerful God.”
Eventually the Phoenicians in today’s Spain were overtaken by the Greeks, Etruscans and Romans. The new arrivals bred with the local population of the south and eastern coasts of the peninsula, but not so much with the Lusitanians and the Galicians to the northwest. This fact will become important when we talk about the Rise of the Portuguese Empire.
The Greeks and the Macedonians
To the west of Phoenicia lay the city-state of Athens at the southeastern corner of the Hellenic peninsula, center of the Hellenic Republic otherwise known as Greece.
Greece was the birthplace of democracy, western philosophy, western drama, political science, major scientific and mathematical principles, and the Olympic Games. Famous Greeks include Homer, who wrote stories about early adventures throughout the ecumene called the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer lived in Athens between the twelfth and seventh centuries BCE. The map below is conjectured from his verbal descriptions of the ecumene as he understood it.
Homer was probably influenced by the Mesopotamian description of the known, inhabited world. The center of the Ecumene was the Mediterranean Sea. The Greek word ōkeanos [Ocean] meant, great stream encircling the earth’s disk. Lands bordered in black are “known, inhabited lands.” Lands without a black border represent unknown boundaries at the edge of the ecumene.
The World According to Homer in 1000 BC, conjectured.(9)
You might note some other early names for places:
- The Nile is called the AEgyptus.
- The lands east and west of the Nile are called Ethiopia. [Stories in the Bible often refer to Ethiopia as Abyssinia]
- Lands to the west were called the Dark Country and lands to the east were called the Light Country.
Greece was also an early birthplace of science and philosophy. Aesop, known for his fables, lived in Greece about 600 BCE. Socrates lived in Athens until 399 BCE. Socrates’ student Plato lived in Athens until about 348 BCE, and Plato’s student, Aristotle, lived in Athens until 322 BCE. Aristotle became the personal tutor for Alexander the Great. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Aristotle was the first true scientist.
Alexander the Great
Many of Europe’s future kings and emperors aspired to the legacy set by the Macedonian leader Alexander the Great. Macedonia lay north of Greece. Between 326 and 336 BCE, Alexander united Macedonia with Greece and the Persian Empire to form the Macedonian Empire. That was a huge feat because the three cultures were very different from each other. Alexander’s armies moved east and south hoping to conquer the entire ancient world. He conquered Phoenicia, most of southern Italy, and the northern part of Egypt. Then he headed toward the Indus River.
Alexander’s most successful conquering technique, which had been developed by his father, was to lay siege on a town, starve its inhabitants into submission, and then send in his armies. This worked well until he reached the Phoenician city-state of Tyre. As mentioned, this city was on an island surrounded by a massive and sturdy wall. She resisted the siege for seven months. But Alexander had a Plan B. Using giant catapults, he cascaded the city with fiery bombs and bit by bit broke down the walls. He built special wooden towers to lift his bowmen skyward so they could send their arrows over the city’s defenses.(10)
Alexander knew the area’s geographic importance on the Mediterranean Sea. So he established the capital of his empire there at the mouth of the Nile. As he did with other places he conquered, he named the new city after himself, Alexandria.
Alexander’s successor in Egypt was his cousin, Ptolemy I Soter. Ptolemy lived a long life – into his eighties. His dynasty of Greek Pharaohs lasted three hundred years to Queen Cleopatra in 30 BCE. Ptolemy made Alexandria Greece’s predominant city. The Greeks recognized Egypt as an ancient center of knowledge. Ptolemy recruited scholars from Persia, Greece, Caledonia and elsewhere. He oversaw the construction of a magnificent library that, over time, was filled with papyrus scrolls preserving the knowledge of the ancient world.
All books were written on scrolls in those days. The codex, or bound book, as we know it, was not developed until about 100 CE – after the invention of paper and around the same time the New Testament was written. Papyrus can not be folded or it will crack, so it has to be rolled. Paper and parchment, on the other hand, can be folded and bound in codex form.
History and Technology Recorded in Greek
It may seem confusing that Alexandria was a Greek city, but lay in Egypt. Many important documents were written in Greek at that time because it was the dominating culture. Ptolemy I sponsored the translation of the Hebrew Jewish texts into Greek, a book known as the Septuagint Bible. This Greek text would later allow Christians to spread Christianity throughout the Roman Empire where Hebrew was not known.
An important Greek scholar who lived in Alexandria between 276 and 195 BCE was Eratosthenes of Cyrene. Eratosthenes is credited with inventing the discipline of geography. He was also a mathematician, astronomer, poet, and music theorist. 1700 years before Columbus sailed for America, Eratosthenes pointed out that the earth was a sphere. He calculated, with near accuracy, the circumference of the globe. He measured it in units called stades [the length of a Greek stadium, which was the biggest object he knew of]. Eratosthenes also calculated the tilt of the earth’s axis.
The map below, drafted in the 1800s, reflects Eratosthenes’ view of the ecumene. Note the following:
- Eratosthenes divided his map with early forms of longitude and latitude lines.
- The island of Thule [Iceland] in the upper left corner illustrates how far early mariners traveled.
- Until the 1300s, the name India referred to all lands east of the Indus River, not just the peninsula as we know it today.(11)
- In those days, all of North Africa, which was the only portion of Africa Eratosthenes knew about, was called Libya.
- Like the Mesopotamians, Eratosthenes thought there was a water passageway surrounding the entire known world, connecting east to west. This early theory promoted later theories of the existence of Northwest, Northeast, and Southeast Passages connecting Europe to the Far East.
- The ancients knew that the coastline of Africa turned eastward long before the Portuguese explored the west coast of Africa.
- The Greeks were aware of the east coast of Asia and the islands of Japan and Java long before Marco Polo reported that information to Europeans in the 1200s.
About 200 years after the time of Eratosthenes, another Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian named Strabo (64/63 BCE – c24 CE) compiled information into a book called Geographica, in which he inserted a map similar to Eratosthenes’. Strabo was from Amaseia, Pontus [in today’s Turkey], a Greek state that, like Jerusalem, had fallen to the Romans by Jesus’ time. No copies of the original book exist, only references to it in other books. In Geographica, Strabo related the history and culture of the people living during his era. The two maps included below were conjectured from his description of the ecumene.
The World According to Strabo, drawn in 1814 by James Playfair DD.(12)
The World According to Strabo in 25 BCE, drawn by George Cram for Cram’s Universal Atlas, Geographical, Astronomical and Historical in 1900 CE.(13)
700 years before the birth of Jesus, a culture known as Etruria thrived west of Greece. Etruscan people migrated from northern Europe and settled today’s Tuscany on the Italian peninsula, which is how the region got its name. These people were probably Celts. The Etruscans adopted much of their culture from their Greek neighbors: the Greek polytheistic belief system, their writing system and alphabet – which originally came from the Phoenicians – and most of their technological advances.
Being highly intelligent and technologically productive themselves, the Etruscans developed new technology that would, in turn, pass to the Romans, who conquered them during the first century BCE. The Romans have been given credit for advances that were actually made by the Etruscans, such as aqueducts, Roman numerals, and the Roman alphabet.
Even though the Etruscans were more advanced than the Romans, relatively few samples of their written language have survived to help us study them. Possibly the Romans destroyed the records, just like they destroyed the great library of Alexandria. The texts that have remained are mostly burial records. Even though the Etruscans used the Phonetic alphabet to write their words, linguists have not yet been able to figure out what the words mean.
The Etruscans were a seafaring culture. During the sixth century BCE, they united with the residents of the Greek outpost of Carthage in North Africa and defeated the Phoenicians who were living on the Iberian Peninsula. The Etruscans and Carthaginians took control of Malach [Málaga]. They also took control of the shipping lane through the Pillars of Hercules that led to the tin islands. To discourage other traders from exiting the Mediterranean, the Etruscans and Carthaginians spread myths about sea monsters and other bad things in the Oceanus, the bitter water at the end of the earth.
Eventually, the Etruscans were overrun by the more aggressive Greeks from the east, and the Gauls from the north, before Italy was entirely taken over by the Romans.
- Header Photo: Ring of Brodgar aka Brogar, a neolithic stone circle and henge monument. Loch of Harray in the background. Photo by Stevekeiretsu – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35375808. Image source url. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_of_Brodgar#/media/File:Ring_of_Brodgar,_Orkney.jpg
- Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/
- We are going to find a lot of connections between Portugal and England in this webBook.
- Cromlech of the Almendres, megalithic complex, dates range between 6000 and 4000 BCE, photo by Reino Baptista. Discovered in 1966 by Henrique Leonor Pina. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almendres_Cromlech
- The term Celt came from the Greek name for the people, Keltoi, and the Latin version, Celtae. The term for the French Celts, the Gauls, probably came from the Greek term Galatae, and the Latin version, Galli. The term Continental Celts refers to Celts in Gaul [France], Iberia [Portugal and Spain] and Anatolia [Gauls who migrated to Turkey]. Insular Celts refers to the tribes living in the British Isles. The Celtic tribes in England evolved into the Britons. In Eastern and Northern Scotland, they became the Caledonians and Picts. And in Wales they evolved as the Gaels.
- Feltman, Rachel, “Speaking of Science: Ancient Irish genome reveals a massive migration from the east,” Washington Post, 29 December 2015. URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/
wp/2015/12/29/ancient-irish-genome-reveals-a-massive-migration-from-the-east/ Reference to study published at : http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/12/22/1518445113
- Wheel found at the Must Farm excavation site Cambridgeshire known as the “British Pompeii,” Source:
Screen shot of video on BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/news/
- Photo of Celtic Art at Braga History Museum ©2015 Mary Ames Mitchell. All rights reserved.
- Phoenicians spoke and wrote a version of the Hebrew language.
- The World According to Homer in 1000 BCE, from “Maps illustrating the History of Oceanography, Report on the Scientific Results of the H.M.S. Challenger during the Years 1872-76”, Printed for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1895. Reproduced from original documents in the library holdings of Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA, ©2003 Dr. David C. Bossard. http://19thcenturyscience.org/HMSC/HMSC-Reports/1895-Summary/htm/1895-Summary-doc.html.
- Cartledge, Paul. Alexander the Great, Vintage Books, England, 2005.
- According to Douglas Hunter, in his book The Race to the New World, p.28, there were three forms of India: “India Sinus was China; India Magna [or Major] described the Indian subcontinent between the Ganges and Indus rivers; and India Parva-Ethyopis consisted of all the lands and waters from Calicut on India’s southwest coast westward to East Africa, and included Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Indian Ocean.”
- Playfair DD, James (1734-1819). Conjectured map of the Ecumene “according to Strabo” drawn in 1814.
- The World According to Strabo in 25 BCE, drawn by George Cram for Cram’s Universal Atlas, Geographical, Astronomical and Historical in 1900 CE. [Image Source: www.rare-maps.com]
Next article: The Romans and Latin