The Route to the Tin-Islands(16a)

by Karl Juergen Hepke

The West coasts of Europe were interesting for the countries of the Mediterranean area for two reasons.
1. Here were rich deposits of tin, which was necessary for the production of bronze.
2. Far more in the North were the coasts of amber, an in the Mediterranean area high estimated material for jewelry.

The seafaring people, who were, after the sinking of the Atlantian empire in 1250 B.C., further interested in these treasures were in chronological sequence of their activity: Phoenicians, Greek and Karthagaeans , who are also called Punians.

The Phoenicians founded after the desaster of Tharsis in the catastrophe of 1250 B.C. about 1100 B.C. an own station of commerce, named Gades (Cadiz) in front of the weakened country to take the important commerce with metals in own hands. As it was usual at them, they left no written reports about their activities in this region.

Archaeological finds are known until now only from their establishments in Andalusia. In recent times were found some sunken ships with merchandise in front of the Iberian coast and at Madeira , which are ascribed to the Phoenicians, the saving and restoration of which will take still some time. In front of the coast of the Vendee in France, at Yard sur Mer, is known a town, destroyed by the sea, which is also ascribed to the Phoenicians, but can also come from Atlantian time. A big number of dolmen (D) and menhirs in its hinterland is more pointing in this time.

After the breakdown of the supply with tin through Tharsis and the decline of the Atlantian empire, in the course of which the Greek broke completely with the Phoenicians and had no chance as competitor and possible enemy to be supplied by them with raw metals, the production of new metal materials was nearly impossible in Greece. So it was near to the seafaring Greek to try to reach the tin-islands or Kassiteriden, from which was known from Atlantian times, that they were situated in the North behind the "pillars of Hercules".

The "Greek" who made these voyages for scouting, which were also combined with the foundation of settlements in the West Mediterranean, were predominantly inhabitants of the town of Phokaia at the coast of Asia Minor. One can take them, because of their particular liking of the western Mediterranean , for in the course of the Atlantian migration here ended up Atlantians, who now moved again to the West. The name of their town remembers very much to Phoinikans and Phaeakans, as were called the Phoenicians of the West in Greece.

As it may be, in Greece they were taken for Greek and their voyages were appropriate described. Herodot reports, that the king of Tartessos had asked the Phokaeans for support against the Karthagaeans. One can see from this, that the Phokaeans had come at least as far as Tartessos and possibly still over that to the West-Iberian places of commerce with tin. Their foundation Mainake (Torre del Mar, eastern of Malaga) at the coast of South-Andalusia shows the good relations of the Phokaeans to Tartessos.

Rufus Festus Avienus, a Roman poet of the 4th century B.C. uses a report of a "Greek" seafarer from Massalia (Marseille, a foundation of the Phokaeans) from the 6th century B.C. in which is said, that the inhabitants of Tartessos made regular voyages to the Kassiteriden and Oestrymniden (Places of tin commerce at the west coast of Iberia). There is also a description of the British islands in which is said:" From Britannia (probably Britanny) needs a ship two suns to reach the "holy island" (Ireland), as it is called by the olds. On it lives in prosperity the nation of the Hibernans (Hibernia = Ireland), not far from it extends the island of the Albions (Albion = England).

But the most known and most famous report of the antiquity is coming from Pytheas, an astronom and geographer also from Massalia. This report marked for a long time the quarrels of the knowledge of the old world from the coasts northern of Iberia. One supposes today, that his voyage took place between 300 and 310 B.C.. The publication of this account of his journey must have been before 309 B.C., because the work of Dikaiarchos of Messene contains already a criticism of the data of Pytheas. Besides this have Timaios of Tauromenion, Polybios, Diodorus of Sicilia, Plinius the Older, Eratosthenes and Strabo critically tackled with the work of Pytheas, partly acknowledged him and partly called him a liar. (Hans Mette, Berlin has in 1952 all fragments to this published and commented)

Pytheas was a recognized astronomer and mathematician and his astonishing exact calculation of distances and size of the visited countries are showing today, that he has really made this journey himself.

For reason of the only fragmentary tradition of the report is number and size of the used ships unknown. But one can suppose by the successful accomplished journey , that he used ships of sufficient size and good sails and more than one ship. Also unclear is, how could be passed the by Karthago strongly controlled coast of South-Iberia at this time by Greek ships. There are data to the time for the voyage along the west coast of Iberia, but these can be additions of later editors or wilful incorrect information by Pytheas.

For, respecting the knowledge of Pytheas and the start from Massalia , is probable, that he used the old, kept secret way from Atlantian times through South-France and than down the Garonne, which was not known by the Karthagaeans and which was naturally not described and given away in the report of Pytheas.

Anyhow, two weeks after he had left Massalia he reached the ocean and sailed North. In the report of Timaios of Tauromenion, basing on the report of Pytheas, are mentioned the mouth areas of Garonne and Loire and so one can suppose, that he sailed along the coast of Gallia until he reached the British islands. During the voyage the Greek got knowledge of the phenomenon of ebb and high tide, unknown in the Mediterranean. It was discerned from Pytheas as first Greek as dependent from the moon. For the height of the tide Pytheas gives exact, measured data.

The Greek reached Lands End, the utmost western point of Cornwall, which was called in antiquity Cape Belerion. Here they met with the people of the country, rich of tin, who at that time exclusively sold their tin to Punic ships. After that began the sail around the island of the Albions. (Great-Britain)

Through Diodorus of Sicilia details of the nature of the island are handed down, from which is supposed, that they originally came from Pytheas. Albion is described as an triangle with Cape Belerion in the South-West, Kantion (Kent) in the South-East and Cape Orkas in the North. Also the distances of the three points are nearly right reported. As main place of tin commerce with the continent is named the island "Iktis", which is thought by some to be the Isle of Wight.

At the route to North through the stretches of water, separating Great-Britain from Ireland, was several times sighted the big green island in the West and its geographical position calculated with high exactness. This can be found in the work of Erasthenes of Kyrene (3rd century B.C.) which bases after general view at the report of Pytheas.

A landing in Ireland was probably not made, for Ireland in from ancient times coming horror stories , which should hinder strangers to visit the gold and tin islands, was called the "land of headhunters". Against that, Pytheas has walked, following Strabo, through whole Britannia, which seems to be credible for he collected everywhere information which he could use in his report.

Diodorus of Sicilia has handed over quite a lot of details, probably found out by Pytheas. After that is the island of the Albions (England) triangular like Sicilia, but with unequal sides. It extends in relation to the European coast in crooked direction. The cape nearest to the continent is named Kantion and has a distance of 100 stadions from it.

The second cape, Belerion, is distant four day tours from the continent and is extending into the ocean. The length of the sides of the triangle are 7500 stadions, 15000 stadions and 2000 stadions. The whole island has a circumference of 42500 stadions. The North point of Scotland is after the calculation of Pytheas 1700 Km distant from Massalia and is with a difference of only 100 Km astonishing exact calculated.

The inhabitants are natives and have kept their old customs. In war they use still chariots like the Greek at Troja. The houses are built from wood and reed. The cereals are harvested by cutting off of the ears and so stored. The daily requirement is pulled out of the ears. The customs are simple and widely distant from the deviousness and corruptness in the Mediterranean area. The population is numerous, the climate cold. They have a lot of kings and rulers but mostly they live in peace with each other. Archaeological finds from this time have confirmed all these data.

After Plinius the Older the seafarers sailed along Britannia into the sea in front of Scotland. Here they found high swell and waves unto a height of 80 yardsticks. With the Roman "yardstick" of 50 cm this are 40 m. This seems to be estimated too high, but seafarers of all times had problems with the estimate of the height of waves in a churned up sea. A wave in a height like this is today called a "monster", even dangerous to big ships. That it can occur, is today not further denied. So also in this point the report of Pytheas was astonishing exact.

From the last visited island Berrike the Greek sailed after calming of the weather in direction North, to reach the island of Thule, from which had told the inhabitants of Scotland. At this island should agree the circle of solstice with the circle of the Bear. The travellers were astonished, that the days of summer became longer and longer, when they came more and more to the North. During this, it was raining nearly every time.

They sailed obviously in an extended low pressure area without sight to sun and stars and with that for fixing of their position. After a six days voyage they reached a country under which is today seen Norway. The steady westwind and the Gulf Stream had changed their strived direction to the North in a direction of North-East. Thick fog, not known by the Greek and called by them "sea lungs" received them.

The bees, living in this country and supplying the honey for the "Hydromeli", "mead of water", the "drink of the gods" are pointing to the South of Norway and not to Iceland, which is seen by some in "Thule", because there are no bees at least now.

Because right behind "Thule" should begin the "frozen sea" and possibly concerned by the big number of whales, which appeared to the Greek as "monsters of this sea", the team decided to finish the advance to North and to turn the bow to the South.

After Strabo, who has this copied from Timaios, they followed the northern coasts and reached "Skythia" and the river "Tanais." With "Skythia" is possibly meant the north-german lowland or Denmark and with "Tanais" the mouth of the Elbe or the "mouth" of the Baltic Sea with the three arms Little Belt, Store Belt and Sound. "Skythia" extended for the geographers of the antiquity from the steps of South Russia as far as the ocean and was here corresponding to the North European lowland.

If Pytheas has also travelled around the Baltic Sea, is unsolved. Possibly he got only information by the "Guions", possibly the Goths, about its "mighty mouth area". Also the island "Abalon" which is also called "Basilea" ( in Greek, "island of the king") and "is near to a coast of amber" can be as well Bornholm as Helgoland because " it is situated only the voyage of one day away, opposite to Skythia, in the midst of the ocean".

After new insights is probably meant Helgoland, that with its deposits of copper and amber and with its impressive red rock in the midst of the sea had a special roll in the Atlantian age of bronze and was regarded as "holy island".

After Polybios Pytheas returned "from the river Tanais" along the coast of West Europe "through Gades" to Massalia. This seems to be again improbable because of the Karthagaean closing of the coasts of Iberia and more probable is again the secret and to Polybios not known route through the Garonne, South France and along the northern coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea to Massalia.


The report of Pytheas was in the time, from which it came, a real sensation. No seafarer before him had until than reported so rich of details about the coasts of the North Atlantic and its bordering seas. Many men, today possibly called scientists, doubted about the truth of the report. This was strengthened in the following time, in which the Roman empire brought to an end the tradition of the passage of the Atlantic by destruction of the seafaring countries of the Greek, Phoenicians and Karthagaeans.

So in the beginning Roman empire nothing was known about the coasts and sea routes of the Atlantic. This changed ,when Caesar and later on the Roman emperors wished to conquer Gallia, Britannia and Germania. But an extended seafaring along the coasts of the Atlantic began again much later, in the time of the viking.

Pytheas, the astronomer of Massalia, was soon called by the geographers of the antiquity ,like Platon with his Atlantis report, " an inventor of fables", because his report was unique and not confirmed by further reports. He would have come to complete oblivion , if not the critical and partly devaluing assessment of the posterity had not, at least in parts, handed him down.


From the time,when Karthago gained the maritime supremacy of the western Mediterranaean is coming the second report, not so rich of details, of the voyage to the tin islands. It was also handed down indirectly by Greek and Romans to the posterity. Plinius the Older and Avienus tell from a scouting tour of the Karthagaean Himilkon, that took place about 480 B.C. Both are using for that a Greek translation of the report which escaped the destruction of all cultural products by the Romans in the library of the king of Mauretania. The original has disappeared today.

After Himilkon had left the Pillars of Hercules and had made a stopover at Gades he sailed North. In front of the coasts of Gallia he had calm and a sea smooth as glass, which is still now often there in summer. For he, obviously through ignorance of the conditions, sailed too near to the coast, he had to battle with fields of algas in the extended areas of low water between the Pyrenees and the steep coast of Armorica. Additionally the crew of the ships had fright from the whales, often occurring here at that time.

From these details one can conclude, that Himilkon had no information about the sea route from Greek or Phoenician side and was collecting it himself for the Karthagaean shipping. This was obviously the only purpose of the journey. He reached finally the Armorican and British tin islands with their wealth of tin, lead and gold. Data about the density of population of the islands, that were archaeologically confirmed, can be a proof, that he was really there.

Otherwise the report of Avienus is more paltrey. Himilkon has certainly only reported the most important for the route to the islands. At least his voyage reached its aim to scout out the route to the tin islands for the Karthagaean ships and to point out possibly occurring difficulties and problems.

This only purpose orientated scouting tour of Himilkon, which is much more better known and found its way into our general knowledge of history, can hardly compete with the real expedition of Pytheas.



Read to this, (for the moment only available in German language) :

DIE GESCHICHTE VON ATLANTIS, der vergessene Ursprung unserer Kultur
by Karl Juergen Hepke
TRIGA - DER VERLAG, D 63584 Gruendau-Rothenbergen, Germany, 2nd Edition, Hardcover, 268 Pages, EUR 22,00, ISBN 978-3-89774-539-1 ,