Geographia Britanniarum Romanorum

The Geography of Roman Britain

Extracts From Pliny

Written during the late 70's AD.

Gaius Plinius Secundus

Naturalis Historia

Liber IV

XVI.102

"Opposite to this region [the Rhine delta] lies the island of Britannia, famous in the Greek records and in our own; it lies to the north-west, facing, across a wide channel, Germania, Gallia and Hispania,1 countries which constitute by far the greater part of Europe. It was itself named Albion, while all the islands about which we shall soon briefly speak were called the Britanniae. Its distance from Gesoriacum on the coast of the Morini tribe by the shortest passage is 50 miles.2 Its circumference is reported by Pytheas and Isidorus to measure 4,875 miles;3 nearly thirty years ago, its exploration was carried by the armed forces of Rome to a point not beyond the neighbourhood of the Silvae Caledoniae.4 Agrippa believes the length of the island to be 800 miles and its breadth 300, and the breadth of Hibernia the same but its length 200 miles less.5"
  1. Germany, France and Spain respectively.
  2. Gesoriacum of the Morini is now the busy French port of Boulogne; the distance reported is clearly exaggerated, showing that Pliny had no first-hand experience of the area and was using an older, inaccurate reference source.
  3. This is equivalent to 4,480 English miles or 7,215 kilometers. All distances are of course given in Roman miles, and can be converted into the modern English equivalent by multiplying by 0.919. To convert into kilometers multiply by 1.48.
  4. The 'Forest of Caledonia' here mentioned, probably means the Grampian Foothills in the Central region of Scotland.
  5. Hibernia or Ireland, therefore, was thought to measure 276 by 184 English miles (444 by 296 kilometres).

XVI.103

"Hibernia lies beyond Britannia, the shortest crossing being from the lands of the Silures, a distance of 30 miles.1 Of those remaining (islands) none has a circumference exceeding 125 miles, so it has been said. Indeed, there are 40 Orcades [Orkneys] separated narrowly from one another, 7 Acmodae [Shetlands], 30 Hebudes [Hebrides], and between Hibernia and Britannia (the islands of) Mona [Anglesey], Monapia [Man], Riginia [Racklin], Vectis [White-horn], Silumnus [Dalkey] and Andros [Bardsey]; beneath (Britain) are Sambis [Sian] and Axanthos [Ushant], and in the oppposite direction, sprinkled in the Mare Germanicum [North Sea], are the Glaesariae [Glass Islands], called by the Greeks in recent times the Electrides, from the amber2 which is produced there."
  1. The crossing to Ireland was actually made from the lands of the Demetae who inhabited Dyfed in south-west Wales, whereas the Silures tribe lived in the mountains of Glamorgan and Gwent in south-east Wales.
  2. The greek word for amber is electrum.

XVI.104

"The most remote of all those recorded is Thule,1 in which as we have pointed out there are no nights at midsummer when the sun is passing through the sign of the Crab, and on the other hand no days at midwinter; indeed some writers think this is the case for periods of six months at a time without a break. The historian Timaeus says there is an island named Mictis2 lying inward six days' sail from Britain where tin is found, and to which the Britons cross in boats of osier covered with stitched hides. Some writers speak of other islands as well, the Scandiae, Dumna, Bergos,3 and Berrice,4 the largest of them all, from which the crossing to Thule starts. One day's sail from Thule is the frozen ocean, called by some the Mare Cronium [Chronian Sea]."
  1. Probably Iceland, judging from the following description.
  2. Very likely St. Michael's Mount, a small island off Marazion in Cornwall.
  3. Possibly Barra.
  4. Possibly the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.