On the boundary of what the ancient Greeks and Romans considered the habitable world, Ireland was a land of myth and mystery in classical times. Classical authors frequently portrayed its people as savages—even as cannibals and devotees of incest—and evinced occasional uncertainty as to the island's shape, size, and actual location. Unlike neighboring Britain, Ireland never knew Roman occupation, yet literary and archaeological evidence prove that Iuverna was more than simply terra incognita in classical antiquity.
In this book, Philip Freeman explores the relations between ancient Ireland and the classical world through a comprehensive survey of all Greek and Latin literary sources that mention Ireland. He analyzes passages (given in both the original language and English) from over thirty authors, including Julius Caesar, Strabo, Tacitus, Ptolemy, and St. Jerome. To amplify the literary sources, he also briefly reviews the archaeological and linguistic evidence for contact between Ireland and the Mediterranean world.
Freeman's analysis of all these sources reveals that Ireland was known to the Greeks and Romans for hundreds of years and that Mediterranean goods and even travelers found their way to Ireland, while the Irish at least occasionally visited, traded, and raided in Roman lands. Everyone interested in ancient Irish history or Classics, whether scholar or enthusiast, will learn much from this pioneering book.
Toward the end of the first century of our era, the Roman general Agricola stood on the shore of southern Scotland gazing a few miles across the Irish Sea at the rolling green hills of an island he knew to be rich in agricultural and mineral wealth. However, he did not invade Ireland, nor did the legions of Rome ever raise their banners over the fertile plains of Ulster or the rocky pastures of Connemara. Ireland remained beyond the political frontiers of Rome during the centuries when the empire controlled nearby Britain and Gaul; nevertheless, there was steady contact between Ireland and the classical world. Literary and archaeological evidence show that Ireland was known to the Greeks and Romans for hundreds of years, and that Mediterranean goods, and even travelers, found their way to Ireland, while the Irish at least occasionally visited, traded, and raided in Roman lands.
This book, the first ever written on relations between Ireland and the classical world, is an interdisciplinary study of all evidence linking early Ireland to the civilized lands of the Mediterranean during antiquity. The primary focus is on the literary evidence of Greek and Latin texts—that is, what the classical authors said about Ireland—but archaeological, linguistic, and other pieces of the complex puzzle are explored as well. Chapter One begins with a brief survey of archaeological evidence for contact between Ireland and the Mediterranean world. Chapter Two examines the linguistic evidence for Hiberno-Roman relations, including early Irish borrowing of Latin words and possible Roman inspiration for the Irish Ogam alphabet. Chapter Three goes beyond the evidence of archaeology and language to the classical accounts of Ireland in ancient literature. This, the main body of the book, is a comprehensive survey of every word the ancient Greek and Roman authors wrote about Ireland that survives, from claims of Irish cannibalism and exploding cattle to detailed geographical descriptions of the island's rivers and towns.
The boundaries of the material studied in this book stretch back as far as the earliest classical references to Ireland, perhaps dating to the fifth century B.C. The closing date of the study is more arbitrary in many ways, as the transition from classical times to the early medieval period in Ireland and western Europe in general is somewhat fluid. I have chosen the traditional date of the arrival of St. Patrick (A.D. 432) as a terminus, both because the classical world of the western Roman empire had collapsed by this date and because the establishment of Christianity marked a fundamental change from ancient to medieval Irish history. This is not to say that pre-Christian Irish culture disappeared with the introduction of the new religion—far from it. But after St. Patrick, Christianity opened Ireland to the influence of the Mediterranean world to a degree far greater than in the previous centuries of limited contact.
This book is written for everyone interested in the history of Ireland during ancient times, whether scholar or enthusiast. Accordingly, I have supplied original-language texts and detailed references to classical and secondary literature for those with a scholarly inclination, as well as explanations of obscure terms and translations of all Greek, Latin, and Irish words and passages for the general reader. In a few instances, a limited knowledge of the Greek alphabet is helpful; thus a chart with English equivalents is included (see Appendix 1). All the translations are my own and are literal rather than literary, preserving as closely as possible the original sense, sound, and sometimes the confusing ambiguities of the texts. Forms in italics indicate transliterations of the original-language text (e.g., Hibernia); otherwise, standard modern forms are commonly used (e.g., "Ireland"). To avoid unnecessarily distorting the original words of the ancient authors, no attempt has been made to Latinize Greek names for Ireland or its tribes, towns, and rivers in the translations of their words (thus Iwernia instead of Ivernia, and Woluntioi rather than Voluntii).