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The image of Ireland and the Irish in the classical and late antique Roman sources

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  1. Introduction
  2. The Romans and Ireland
    1. Ireland: A wretched place to live
    2. The Roman Latin name for the island of Ireland: Hibernia
  3. The climate of Ireland
  4. Ancient accounts of the Irish
    1. The influence of a conception of remoteness as an indicator of savagery
    2. Strabo: Ireland is a place of savagery, cannibalism and incest
  5. Conclusion
  6. References

Classical Antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centred on the Mediterranean Sea, which begins roughly with the earliest recorded Greek poetry of Homer (7th century BC) and continues through the rise of Christianity and the fall of the Western Roman Empire (5th century AD). The term Late Antiquity suggests that the social and cultural priorities of Classical Antiquity endured throughout Europe into the beginning of the middle Ages (700/800 AD).
A first impression of the history of geographical thought and the expansion of knowledge through conquest and exploration tends to focus attention on the Mediterranean world. As the island of Ireland was never formally incorporated into the Roman Empire, it remained free from Roman influence and existed as a relatively isolated corner of Celtic culture.

[...] The records speak chiefly of the ravages committed by the Irish in Britain, but they were at the same time making permanent settlements on the western coast, and some of them, it seems probable, were entering the Roman service as auxiliary troops. Meanwhile, trade with Gaul and Roman Britain had brought Christians to Ireland. By 431 there were enough Christians in Ireland to justify the appointment of a bishop for them by Rome. Prudentius alludes to the success of Rome at converting the Irish to Christianity writing in Contra Orationem Symmachi: ?nations that once were barbarous but had their savagery subdued and became civilised?. [...]


[...] He gives a somewhat fabulous account of Ireland 43 climate is unfavourable for the ripening of grain, but so luxuriant is the herbage, in quality both nutritious and savoury, that the cattle eat their fill in a small part of the day, and, if they were not restrained from feeding, would, by eating too long, burst?. The flora is strange, and so is the fauna. Solinus is the first to refer to the absence of snakes in Ireland 253-268 ?Britain is surrounded by many important islands. [...]

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