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History Of The Scottish Nation
Vol 1, Chapter 1 - First Peopling of Britain

While Alexander was overrunning the world by his arms, and Greece was enlightening it with her arts, Scotland lay hidden beneath the cloud of barbarism, and had neither name nor place among the nations of the earth.1

Its isolation, however, was not complete and absolute. Centuries before the great Macedonian had commenced his victorious career, the adventurous navigators of the Phoenician seaboard had explored the darkness of the hyperborean ocean. The first to steer by the pole-star, they boldly adventured where less skillful mariners would have feared to penetrate. Within the hazy confine of the North Sea they descried an island, swathed in a mild if humid air, and disclosing to the eye, behind its frontier screen of chalk cliffs, the pleasing prospect of wooded hills, and far expanding meadows, roamed over by numerous herds, and inhabitants. The Phoenicians oft revisited this remote, and to all but themselves unknown shore, 2 but the enriching trade which they carried on with it they retained for centuries in their own hands. Their ships might be seen passing out at the "Pillars of Hercules" on voyages of unknown destination, and, after the lapse of months, they would return laden with the products of regions, which had found as yet no name on the chart of geographer.3 But the source of this trade they kept a secret from the rest of the nations. By and by, however, it began to be rumoured that the fleets seen going and returning on these mysterious voyages traded with an island that lay far to the north, and which was rich in a metal so white and lustrous that it had begun to be used as a substitute for silver. In this capacity it was employed now to lend a meretricious glitter to the robe of the courtesan, and now to impart a more legitimate splendour to the mantle of the magistrate.

In process of time other sea-faring peoples, taught by the example of the Phoenicians to sail by the stars, and to brave the terrors of unknown seas in pursuit of wealth, followed in the track which these early merchants had been the first to open. The tin of Cornwall and of the Scilly Islands, the "Cassiterides" 4 of the ancients, began to circulate among the nations of Asia Minor, and was not unknown even to the tribes of the Arabian desert. It is interesting to think that Britain had already begun to benefit nations which knew not as yet to pronounce her name. But it was on the Syrian shore, and among the maritime tribes that nestled in the bays of Lebanon, that the main stream of this traffic continued to diffuse its various riches. The wealth and power of the Phoenician state were largely owing to its trade with Britain. Its capital Sidon, was nursed by the produce of our mines into early greatness. The site of Rome was still a morass; the cities of Greece were only mean hamlets; the palaces of Babylon were brick-built structures; and Jerusalem was but a hill fort; while Sidon had risen in a splendour and grown to a size that made men speak of her, even in the age of Joshua, as the "Great Sidon."

Nor was Sidon the only city on that shore that owed its greatness to the remote and barbarous Britain. Tyre, 5 the daughter of Sidon, feeding her power at the same distant springs, came ultimately to surpass in wealth, and eclipse in beauty, the mother city. No sublimer ode has come down to us than that which has as its burden the greatness and the fall of Tyre—the number of her ships, the multitude of her merchants, the splendour of her palaces, the exceeding loftiness of her pomp and pride, and the dark night in which her day of glory was to close.

The bronze gates set up by Shalmanezer to commemorate his triumphs, exhumed but the other day from the ruined mounds of Assyria, present to modern eyes a vivid picture of the greatness of the Phoenician cities. On these gates Tyre is seen seated on her island-rock, encompassed by strong walls, with serrated battlements and flanking towers. A broad avenue leads from her gates to the sea. Down this path is being borne her rich and various merchandise, which we see ferried across to the mainland. Ingots of gold and silver, rare woods, curious bowls, precious stones, spices, dyed cloths, embroidered garments, and similar products brought from far off lands, form the tribute which we here see laid at the feet of the conqueror Shalmanezer. The monarch in his robes of state, a tiara on his head, stands a little in advance of a brilliant staff of officers and princes, while an attendant eunuch shades him with a richly embroidered umbrella from the hot Syrian sun, and a deputation of Tyrian merchants offer him the submission of the now tributary city. This was in the year B.C. 859.6

 But though the doom foretold by the prophet has long since fallen upon this ancient mistress of the seas, her ruin is not so utter but that we may trace at this day the dimensions of those harbours from which the fleets engaged in the traffic with Britain set sail, and were, on their return, they discharged their rich cargoes. The harbours of Tyre, as their ruins, still visible below the waves, show, had an average area of twelve acres. The ports of Sidon were of a somewhat larger capacity. Their average area was twenty acres,—so do the scholars of the "Palestine Exploration" tell us. We who are familiar with the "Leviathans" that plow the deep in modern times, cannot but feel surprise at the diminutive size of the craft employed in the Tyrian traffic, as judged of by the limited capacity of the basins in which they unloaded their wares. A modern ironclad would hardly venture into a port of so diminutive a size. But if the ships of Tyre were of small tonnage, so much greater the evidence of the skill and courage of the crews that manned them, and the enterprise of the merchants that sent them forth on such distant voyages. And it is pleasant to reflect that even at that early age, the riches of our mines formed an important factor in the commercial activity, the artistic taste, and the varied grandeur, of which the narrow strip of territory that stretches along on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean, beneath the cliffs of Lebanon, was then the seat.7

The palmiest era of the Phoenician commerce was from the twelfth to the sixth century before Christ. It follows, that Britain, with whom these early merchants traded, was then inhabited, and probably had been so for some considerable time previous. At what time did the first immigrants arrive on its shore, and from what quarter did they come? We cannot tell the year, nor even the century, when the first wanderer from across the sea sighted its cliffs, and moored his bark on its strand; nor can be solve the question touching the first peopling of our island, otherwise than by an approximating process. In a brief discussion of this point, we shall avail ourselves of the guidance furnished by great ethnological principles and facts, as well as of the help given us by historic statements.

The earliest and most authentic of all histories—for the monumental and historic evidence of the Bible does not lessen but grow with the current of the centuries—tells us that the Ark rested, after the flood, on one of the mountains of Ararat. Here, at the centre of earth, is placed the second cradle of the human family, and to this point are we to trace up all the migrations of mankind. The Ark might have been set down by the retiring waters on the verge of Asia, or on the remotest boundary of America; or it might have been floated on currents, or driven by winds far into the polar regions. Escaping all these mischances, here, in the central regions of the world, and probably within sight of those plains with which Noah had been familiar before the flood overspread the earth, did the Ark deposit its burden. It was the first great providential act towards the human family in post-diluvian times.

Let us take our stand beside "the world’s grey fathers," and survey with them, from the summits where the ark is seen to rest, the singular framework of rivers, mountains, and plains spread out around the spot. The various fortunes and destinies of their descendants lie written before the eyes of the first fathers of mankind on the face of the silent earth; for undoubted it is that in the geographical arrangements of the globe is so far laid the ground-work of the history, political and moral, of its nations. The physical conditions of a region assist insensible but powerfully in shaping the mental and moral peculiarities of its inhabitants, and prognosticate dimly the events of which any particular region is to become the theatre. The mountain-chains that part kingdoms, the oceans that divide continents by diversifying the climatic influences of the globe, enrich that "one blood" of which all the nations of the earth partake, and by engendering a difference of temperament and aptitude, and stimulating to a variety of pursuit prepare more variously endowed instrumentalities for the world’s work, and impart to history a breadth, a variety, and a grandeur which otherwise would have been lacking to it.

From this new starting point of the race great natural pathways are seen to stretch out in all directions. In the heart of the Armenian mountains, close to the resting place of the ark, four great rivers take their rise, and proceeding thence in divergent courses, flow towards the four quarters of the globe. A tribe or colony in quest of habitations naturally follows the course of some great stream, seeing the fertility which its waters create along its banks afford pasture for their flocks and food for themselves. Of the four great rivers which here have their birth, the Euphrates turned off to the west, and pointed the way to Palestine and Egypt and Greece. The second of these great streams the Tigris, sending its floods to the south, and traversing with rapid flow the great plains which lie between the mountains of Armenia and the Persian gulf, would open the road to India and the countries of the East.

The Araxes and the Phasis, rising on the other side of the mountain-chain which here forms the water-shed between Asia and Europe, and flowing towards the north, would draw off, in that direction, no inconsiderable portion of the human tide that was now going forth from this central region to people the wilderness, into which, since the flood, the earth had again reverted. The settlers who proceeded along the banks of the Araxes, whose waters fall into the Caspian, would people the northern and north-eastern lands of Asia. Those who took the Phasis as the guide of their exploring footsteps, would arrive in due time in the west and north of Europe. By the several roads spread out around their starting-point, do these emigrants journey to those distant and unknown homes where their posterity in after ages are to found kingdoms, build cities, become great in arms, or seek renown in the nobler pursuits of peace.

But farther, this mountain-girdle, which is drawn round the middle of the globe, and which has two great rivers on either side of it flowing in opposite directions and in divergent channels, parts the earth in two grand divisions. It gives us a northern and a southern world. In this striking arrangement we see two stages prepared in anticipation of two great dramas, an earlier and a later, to be enacted in after time. The one was destined to introduce, and the other to conclude and crown the business of the world. Let us mark what a difference betwixt the natural endowments of the two zones, yet how perfect the adaptation of each to the races that were to occupy them, and the part these races were to play in the affairs of the world!

On the south of the great mountain-chain which bisected Asia and Europe was a world blessed with the happiest physical conditions. The skies were serene, the air was warm, and the soil was molient and fertile. How manifest is it that this favoured region had been prepared with a special view to its occupancy by the early races, whose knowledge of the arts did not enable them meanwhile to construct dwellings such as should suffice to protect them from the cold of a northern sky, and whose skill in husbandry was not enough, as yet, to draw from less fertile soils the necessaries of life in sufficient abundance. In this genial clime the inhabitants could dispense with houses of stone; a tent of hair-cloth would better meet their wants; and hardly was it necessary the their exuberant soil should be turned by the plow; without labour almost it would yield the food of man. Here then was meet dwelling-place for the infancy and youth of the human family; the brilliant light, the sparkling waters, the gorgeous tints of the sky, and the rich fruitage of field and tree, would combine to quicken the sensibilities and stimulate the imagination of man, and so fit him for those more elegant acquisitions and those lighter labours in which his youth was to be passed. Here the arts of music and painting grew up, and here, too, passion poured itself forth in poetry and song. In these voluptuous climes man perfected his conceptions as regards symmetry of form and melody of speech, and from these ages and lands have come to us the incomparable models of statuary, of architecture, and of eloquence.

"Graiis dedit ore rotundo Musa, loqui."

Nor, even yet, has the glow of morning altogether left the sky of the world. The pure and beautiful ideals which these young races succeeded in perfecting for us still continue to delight. They exert to this day a refining and elevating influence of the whole of life. Our graver thoughts and more matter-of-fact labours wear something of the golden lacquering of these early times.

On the north of the great mountain-wall which, as we have said, parts the world in two, the ground runs off in a mighty downward slope, diversified by forests and lakes, and furrowed by mountain-chains, and finally terminates in the steppes of Tartary and the frozen land of Siberia. This vast descent would conduct man by slow journeys from the genial air and teeming luxuriance of his primeval dwelling to the stony soils, the stunted products, and the biting sky of a northern latitude. The boundless plains spread out on this mighty decline refuse their harvests save to the skill of the hand and the sweat of the brow. In vain the inhabitant holds out his cup to have it filled with the spontaneous bounty of the earth. But if nature has denied to these regions the feathery palm, the odorous gum, and the precious jewel, she has provided an ample compensation in having ordained that products of infinitely greater price should here be ripened. This zone was to be the training ground of the hardier races. Here, in their contests with the ruggedness of nature, were they do acquire the virtues of courage, of perseverance, and of endurance, and by the discipline were they to be prepared to step upon the stage, and take up the weightier business of the world, when the earlier races had fulfilled their mission, and closed their brief but brilliant career. Here, in a word, on these stern soils, and under these tempestuous skies, was to be set that hardy stock on which the precious grafts of liberty and Christianity were to be implanted in days to come. With the advent of the northern races the real business of the world began.

When Noah comes forth from the Ark we see him accompanied by three sons—Shem, Ham, and Japhet. These are the three fountain-heads of the world’s population. "These are the three sons of Noah, and of them was the whole earth overspread." 8 "Peleg," who lived in the fifth generation from Noah, is set up as a great finger-post at the parting of the ways, "for in his days was the earth divided." 9 And it is strikingly corroborative of the truth of this statement, that after four thousand years, during which climate, migration, and numerous other influences have been acting unceasingly on the species, all tending to deepen the peculiarities of race, and to widen the distinctions between nations, the population of the world at this day, by whatever test we try it, whether that of physical characteristic, or by the surer proof of language, is still resolvable into three grand groups, corresponding to the three patriarchs of the race, Shem, Ham and Japhet.

The descendants of Ham, crossing the narrow bridge between Asia and Africa, the Isthmus of Suez to wit, planted themselves along the banks of the Nile, finding in that rich valley a second plain of Shinar, and in the great river that waters it another Euphrates. Egypt is known buy its inhabitants as the land of Mizraim to this day. From the black loamy Delta, which reposes so securely betwixt the two great deserts of the world, and which the annual overflow of the Nile clothes with an eternal luxuriance, Ham spread his swarthy swarms over the African continent. Shem turned his face towards Arabia and India, and his advancing bands crossing the Indus and the Ganges, overflowed the vast and fertile plains which are bounded by the lofty Himalayas on the one side, and washed by the Indian Ocean on the other. An illustrious member of the Semitic family was recalled westward to occupy Palestine, where his posterity, as the divinely-appointed priesthood of the world, dwelt apart with a glory all their own. Japhet, crossing the mountainous wall which rose like a vast partition betwixt the north and the south, poured the tide of his numerous and hardy descendants down the vast slope of the northern hemisphere over Europe, and the trans-Caucasian regions of Asia, with, at times, a reflex wave that flowed back into the territories of Shem. Thus was the splendid inheritance of a world divided amongst the three sons of Noah.

Our main business is to track the migration of the sons of Japhet, and see by what route they travelled towards our island. From their starting point in the highlands of Armenia, or on the plain of the Euphrates, two great pathways offer themselves, by either of which, or by both, their migrating hordes might reach the shores of the distant Britain. There is the great hollow which Nature has scooped out between the giant Atlas and the mountains of the Alps, and which forms the basin of the Mediterranean Sea. Moving westward through this great natural cleft, and dropping colonies on the fair islands, and by the sheltered bays of its delicious shores, they would people in succession the soil of Greece and the countries of Italy and Spain. Pushed on from behind by their ever increasing numbers, or drawn by the powerful attraction of new habitations, they maintain their slow but inevitable advance across the rugged Pyrenees and the broad and fertile plains of France. The van of the advancing horde is now in sight of Albion. They can descry the gleam of its white cliffs across the narrow channel that separates it from the continent; and passing over, they find a land, which, though owned as yet by only the beast of prey, offers enough in the various produce of its soil and the hidden treasures of its rocks to reward them for the toil of their long journey and to induce them to make it the final goal of their wanderings.

By this route, we know, did the clans and tribes springing from Javan—the Ion of the Greeks—travel to the west. We trace the footprints of his sons, Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim all along the northern shore of the Mediterranean, from the Lebanon to the Pyrenees, notably in Greece and Italy, less palpably in Cyprus and Spain, attesting to this day the truth of the Bible’s statement, that by them were the "isles of the Gentiles," that is, the western seaboard of Asia Minor and the northern coast of the Mediterranean, "peopled."

Meanwhile, another branch of the great Japhethian family is on its way by slow marches to the northern and western world by another route. This great emigrant host proceeds along the great pathways which have been so distinctly traced out by the hand of Nature on the surface of the globe. The Araxes and the Phasis are the guide of their steps. They descend the great slope of northern Asia, and winding round the shores of the Euxine, they tread their way through a boundless maze of river and morass, of meadow and forest, and mountain-chain, and stand at length on the shores of that ocean that washes the flats of Holland and the headlands of Norway: and thus of the human tide which we see advancing towards our island, which is still lying as the waters of the flood had left it, the one division, flowing along through the basin of the Mediterranean, finds egress by the Pillars of Hercules, and the other, rolling down the great northern slope of the Caucasian chain, issues forth at the frozen doors of the Baltic.

This parting of the emigrant host into two great lands, and the sending of them round to their future home by two different routes, had in it a great moral end. There are worse schools for a nation destined for future service, than a long and arduous journey on which they have to suffer hunger and brave danger. The horde of slaves that left Egypt of old, having finished their "forty years" in the "great and terrible wilderness," emerged on Canaan a disciplined and courageous nation. The route by which these two Japhethian bands journeyed to their final possessions, left on each a marked and indelible stamp. The resemblance between the two at the beginning of their journey, as regards the great features of the Japhethian image, which was common to both, was, we can well imagine, much altered and diversified by the time they had arrived at the end of it, and our country in consequence, came to be stocked with a race more varied in faculty, richer in genius, and sturdier in intellect than its occupants would probably have been, but for the disciplinary influences to which they were subjected while yet on the road to it. The aborigines of Albion combined the strength of the north with the passion of the south. If the two great hosts that mingled on its soil, the one, passing under the freezing sky of the Sarmatian plains, and combatting with flood and storm on their way, arrived in their new abode earnest, patient, and courageous. The other, coming round by the bright and genial shores of the Mediterranean, were lively and volatile and brimming with rich and lofty impulses. Though sprung of the same stock, they came in this way to unite the qualities of different races and climes—the gravity of the Occident with the warm and thrilling enthusiasm of the Orient.

The stream that descended the slopes of the Caucasus, passing betwixt the Caspian and the Euxine, would arrive on our eastern sea-board, and people that part of our island which fronts the German Ocean. The other current, which flowed along by the Mediterranean, and turned northward over France and Spain, would have its course directed towards our western coasts. In the different temperaments that mark the population of the two sides of our island, we trace the vestiges of this long and devious peregrination. The strong Teutonic fibre of our eastern sea-board, and the poetic fire that glows in the men of our western mountains, give evidence at this day of various original endowments in this one population. These mixed qualities are seen working together in the daily life of the people, which exhibits a sustained and fruitful industry, fed and quickened by a latent enthusiasm. The presence of the two qualities is traceable also in their higher and more artistic pursuits, as for instance, in their literary productions, which even when they kindle into the passionate glow of the East, are always seen to have as their substratum that cool and sober reason which is the characteristic of the West. Most of all is this fine union discernible, on those occasions when a great principle stirs the soul of the nations, and its feeling find vent in an overmastering and dazzling outburst of patriotism.

We do not know the number of links which connected the Patriarch of the Armenian mountains with that generation of his descendants, who were the first to set food on the Shores of Britain; but we seem warranted in concluding that Gomer and Ashkenaz were the two great fathers of the first British population. The nomadic hordes that we see descending the vast slope that leads down to the Scandinavian countries and the coast of the White Sea, are those of Gomer. This much do their footsteps, still traceable, attest. They gave their names of the lands over which their track lay, and these memorials, more durable than written record or even pillar of stone, remain to this day, the ineffaceable mementoes of that primeval immigration by which Europe was peopled. Here is Gomer-land (Germany) lying on their direct route: for this track was far too extensive and fertile not to commend itself to the permanent occupation of a people on the out-look for new habitations. "The Celts, from the Euxine to the Baltic," say Pinkerton, "were commonly called Cimmerii, a name noted in Grecian history and fable; and from their antiquity so obscure that a Cimmerian darkness dwells upon them. From the ancients we learn to a certainty, that they were the same people with the Cimbri, and that they extended from the Bosphorus Cimmerius on the Euxine, to the Cimbric Chersonese of Denmark, and to the Rhine."10 The main body of these immigrants would squat down on the soil at each successive halt, and only the front rank would be pushed forward into the unpeopled wilderness. Their progress, often retarded by scarce penetrable forest and by swollen river, would be at length conclusively arrested on the shores of the North Sea; and yet not finding even there. Passing over in such craft as their skill enabled them to construct—a fleet of canoes, hollowed out of the trunks of oaks, felled in the German forests—they would take possession of Britain, and begin to people a land, till then a region of silence or solitude, untrodden by human foot since the period of the Flood, if not since the era of the creation.

The new-comers brought with them the tradition of their descent. They called themselves Cymry of Kymbry. They are the Gimmirrai of the Assyrian monuments. The Greeks, adopting their own designation, styled them Kimmerioi, and the Latins Cimbri. Cymry is the name by which the aborigines of Britain have uniformly distinguished themselves from the remotest antiquity up to the present hour; and their language, which they have retained through all revolutions, they have invariably called Cymraeg, which means the language of the aborigines, or "the language of the first race." 11 It is reasonable to conclude," says Pinkerton in his learned "Enquiry into the History of Scotland," "that the north and east of Britain were peopled from Germany by the Cimbri of the opposite shores, who were the first inhabitants of Scotland, who can be traced, from leaving Cumraig names to rivers and mountains, even in the furthest Hebudes."12


1. Dion Casius says, Book xxxix., that "Britain was unknown to the more ancient of the Greeks and Romans."

2. Strabo, Lib. iii.

3. The Phoenicians had sailed beyond the Straits of Gibraltar before Homer’s time. Gades (Cadiz) in Spain was founded by them centuries before Carthage. See Huet, Commerce des Anciens.

4. So called by Herodotus, Book iii. 115. It is generally supposed that he used the term vaguely to designate Britain and Ireland. Aristotle calls it Celtic tin, because the Celts were the first inhabitants of Europe. Diodorus Siculus informs us that it was the people of Cape Balerium (Cornwall) that digged the tin.

5. The priests of the temple of Melcarth told Herodotus that Tyre was founded at a date that corresponds with B.C. 2750. Josephus is content with a less high antiquity for this famous seaport, and fixes its rise at B.C. 1250. He is probably nearer the true date.

6. These gates were discovered by Mr. Rassam in the mound of Bellowat in 1877. They are now in the British Museum.

7. Numbers xxxi. 22, shows that tin was one of the metals in use among the Syrian nations when the tribes entered Canaan; and Ezekiel xxii. 18, 20, tells us that it was imported in the ships of Tyre. There were only two countries in those days where tin could have been obtained—Spain and England. In the Spanish mines the ore lay deep, and the yield was not ever-abundant; the probability, therefore, is that the main supply of tin for the markets of Phoenicia and the East was brought from Cornwall and the Scilly Islands.

8. Genesis ix. 19.

9. According to Usher, B.C. 2247.

10. Pinkerton, vol. ii. 48, 49.

11. James’s Patriarchal Religion of Britain, p. 13. London, 1836.

12. Pinker. Enquiry, vol.. Ii.. Edin., 1814. Pinkerton appears to make the Cimri and the Celtae one people. The two were kindred, spring of the same stock, but the Celtae were preceded by an earlier immigration into Europe (see chap. v., seq.). And these earlier immigrants, and first inhabitants of Britain, we can scarce doubt, were the people whom we trace up through the Cimri of the Latins, the Kimmerivi of the Greeks, and the Gimirrai of the Assyrian tablets to the Gomer of the Bible.



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