The Story of Switzerland by Lina Hug and Richard Stead - HTML preview

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off by a diadem of long pins with large heads beautifully chiselled,

and inlaid with beads of metal or glass, these pins being stuck

through a sort of leathern fillet which bound up the hair. So beautiful

are some of the trinkets, that imitations of them in gold are in request

by the ladies of to-day.

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(Copied by permission from "Harper's Magazine.")

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It is curious to find that one of the most extensive lake colonies in

Switzerland is situated in and spread over the vast marshes of

Robenhausen (Zurich) which once formed part of Lake Pfäffikon. The

visitor who is not deterred by the inconvenience of a descent into a

damp and muddy pit some 11 feet deep, where excavations are still

being carried on, finds himself facing three successive settlements,

one above another, and all belonging to the remote stone age.

Between the successive settlements are layers of turf, some 3 feet

thick, the growth of many centuries. The turf itself is covered by a

stratum of sticky matter, 4 inches thick. In this are numbers of relics

embedded, both destructible and indestructible objects being

perfectly well preserved, the former kept from decay through having

been charred by fire. The late Professor Heer discovered and

analysed remains of more than a hundred different kinds of plants.

Grains, and even whole ears of wheat and barley, seeds of








implements, hatchets of nephrite—this mineral and the Oriental

cereals show clearly enough that the lakemen traded with the East,

though no doubt through the Mediterranean peoples—spinning-

wheels, corn-squeezers, floorings, fragmentary walls—all these are

found in plenty, in each of the three layers. The topmost settlement,

however, contains no destructible matters, such as corn, fruits, &c.

This is to be accounted for by the fact that the two lower settlements

were destroyed by fire, and the uppermost one by the growth of the

turf, or by the rising marshes. In the latter case there was no friendly

action of fire to preserve the various objects.

The scholar's mind is at once carried back to the account given by

Herodotus of Thrakian lake-dwellers.[3] The people of this tribe, he tells us, built their houses over water, so as to gain facilities for

fishing. They used to let down baskets through trapdoors in the floors

of their huts, and these baskets rapidly filled with all kinds of fish that

had gathered around, tempted by the droppings of food.

[Pg 9]

Though the lakemen depended chiefly on the water for their supply of

food, yet they were hunters, and great tillers of the ground as well as

fishermen. They grew wheat and barley, and kept horses, cattle,

sheep, and goats. The women spun flax and wool, and wove them

into fabrics for clothing. Their crockery was at first of a very primitive

description, being made of black clay, and showing but little finish or

artistic design. But the children were not forgotten, for they were

supplied with tiny mugs and cups.[4]

[Pg 10]



(Copied by permission from "Harper's Magazine."

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With regard to the date when the immigration of lakemen began the

savants are hopelessly at variance. Nor do they agree any better as

to the dates of the stone and bronze epochs into which the history of

the lake settlements divides itself. But as in some of the marshy

stations these two epochs reach on to the age of iron, it is assumed

by many authorities that the lake dwellers lived on to historical times.

This is particularly shown in the alluvial soil and marshes between the

lakes of Neuchâtel and Bienne, Préfargier being one of the chief

stations, where settlements belonging to the stone, bronze, and iron

ages are found ranged one above another in chronological order. In

the topmost stratum or colony, the lakemen's wares are found

mingling pell-mell with iron and bronze objects of Helvetian and

Roman make, a fact sufficient, probably, to show that the lake

dwellers associated with historical peoples. It would be useless as

well as tedious to set forth at length all the theories prevailing as to

the origin and age of the lake dwellings. Suffice it to say that, by

some authorities, the commencement of the stone period is placed at

six thousand, and by others at three thousand years before the

Christian era, the latter being probably nearest the truth. As to the

age of bronze, we may safely assign it to 1100-1000 b.c., for

Professor Heer proves conclusively that the time of Homer—the

Greek age of bronze—was contemporary with the bronze epoch of

the lakemen.[5]

The Lake period would seem to have drawn to a close about 600-700

b.c., when the age of bronze was superseded by that of iron.

According to the most painstaking investigations made by Mr. Heierli,


[Pg 12]

Zurich, now the greatest authority on the subject in Switzerland, the

lakemen left their watery settlements about the date just given, and

began to fix their habitations on terra firma. Various tombs already

found on land would bear witness to this change. When these

peculiar people had once come on shore to live they would be

gradually absorbed into neighbouring and succeeding races, no

doubt into some of the Celtic tribes, and most likely into the Helvetian

peoples. Thus they have their part, however small it may be, in the

history of the Swiss nation. It must be added that the Pfahl-bauer are

no longer held to have been a Celtic people, but are thought to have

belonged to some previous race, though which has not as yet been


But enough has been written on the subject, perhaps. Yet, on the

other hand, it would have been impossible to pass over the lakemen

in silence, especially now when the important discoveries of similar

lake settlements in East Yorkshire have drawn to the subject the

attention of all intelligent English-speaking people.[6]



There are two distinct kinds of settlement, but we are here dealing with the

first or earlier kind.


Herod, v. 16.


The lake tribes of the bronze age, however, not only understood the use of

copper and bronze, but were far more proficient in the arts than their

predecessors. Some of the textile fabrics found are of the most

complicated weaving, and some of the bronze articles are of most

exquisite chiselling, though these were probably imported from Italy, with

which country the lake dwellers would seem to have had considerable

traffic. The earliest specimens of pottery are usually ornamented by mere

rude nail scratchings, but those of the bronze period have had their straight

lines and curves made by a graving tool. In fact, the later tribes had

become lovers of art for its own sake, and even the smallest articles of

manufacture were decorated with designs of more or less elaboration and



The products of the soil seem to have been the same amongst the

lakemen as amongst Homer's people. Both knew barley and wheat, and

neither of them knew rye. In their mode of dressing and preparing barley

for food the two peoples concurred. It was not made into bread, but

roasted to bring off the husk. And roasted barley is still a favourite article of

diet in the Lower Engadine. The Greeks ate it at their sacrifices, and

always took supplies of it when starting on a journey. So Telemachus asks

his old nurse Eurykleia to fill his goat skin with roasted barley when he sets

out in search of his father. And young Greek brides were required to

complete the stock of household belongings by providing on their marriage

day a roasting vessel for barley.


Those who wish to see pretty well all that can be said on the matter should

read the valuable article in The Westminster Review, for June, 1887.

[Pg 13]



The history of a country often includes the history of many peoples,

for history is a stage on which nations and peoples figure like

individual characters, playing their parts and making their exits,

others stepping into their places. And so the Swiss soil has been







Burgundians, Franks. These have all made their mark upon and

contributed to the history of the Swiss nation, and must all figure in

the earlier portions of our story.

Dim are the glimpses we catch of the early condition of the

Helvetians, but the mist that enshrouds this people clears, though

slowly, at the end of the second century before Christ, when they

came into close contact with the Romans who chronicled their deeds.

The Helvetians themselves, indeed, though not ignorant of the art of

writing, were far too much occupied in warfare to be painstaking

annalists. At the Celto-Roman period of which we are treating,

Helvetia comprised all the territory lying between Mount Jura, Lake

Geneva, and Lake Constance,

[Pg 14]

with the exception of Basle, which included Graubünden, and

reached into St. Gall and Glarus. It was parcelled out amongst many

tribes, even as it is in our own day. The Helvetians, who had

previously occupied all the land between the Rhine and the Main, had

been driven south by the advancing Germans, and had colonized the

fertile plains and the lower hill grounds of Switzerland, leaving to

others the more difficult Alpine regions. They split into four tribes, of

which we know the names of three—the Tigurini, Toygeni, and

Verbigeni. The first named seem to have settled about Lake Morat,

with Aventicum (Avenches) as their capital. Basle was the seat of the

Rauraci; to the west of Neuchâtel was that of the Sequani; whilst

Geneva belonged to the wild Allobroges. The Valais[7] district was inhabited by four different clans, and was known as the "Pœnine

valley," on account of the worship of Pœninus on the Great St.

Bernard, where was a temple to the deity. In the Ticino were the

Lepontines, a Ligurian tribe whose name still lingers in "Lepontine

Alps." The mountain fastnesses of the Grisons (Graubünden) were

held by the hardy Rhætians, a Tuscan tribe, who, once overcome by

the Romans, speedily adopted their speech and customs. Romansh,

a corrupt Latin, holds its own to this day in the higher and remoter

valleys of that canton.

All these tribes, except the two last mentioned, belonged to the great

and martial family of the Celts, and of them all the wealthiest, the

most valiant, and

[Pg 15]

the most conspicuous were the Helvetians.[8] Of the life and disposition of these Helvetians we know but little, but no doubt they

bore the general stamp of the Celts. They managed the javelin more

skilfully than the plough, and to their personal courage it is rather than

to their skill in tactics that they owe their reputation as great warriors.

But in course of time their character was greatly modified, and, owing

probably to their secluded position, they settled down into more

peaceful habits, and rose to wealth and honour, combining with their

great powers a certain amount of culture. They practised the art of

writing, having adopted the Greek alphabet, and gold, which was

possibly found in their rivers, circulated freely amongst them. To

judge from the relics found in Helvetian tumuli the Helvetians were

fond of luxuries in the way of ornaments and fine armour, and they

excelled in the art of working metals, especially bronze. They had

made some progress in agriculture, and in the construction of their

houses, and more especially of the walls that guarded their towns,

which struck the Romans by their neatness and practicalness. Nor

would this be to be wondered at if the old legends could be trusted,

which tell us that Hercules himself taught the Helvetians to build, and

likewise gave them their laws; an allusion, no doubt, to the fact that

culture came to them from the east, from the peoples around the

Mediterranean. Besides many hamlets, they had founded no fewer

than four hundred villages and twelve towns, and seem to have been

well able to select for their settlements the most picturesque and

convenient spots. For many of their place-names have come down to

us, in some cases but little changed. Thus of colonies we have

Zuricum (Zurich), Salodurum (Soleure), Vindonissa (Windisch),

Lousonium (Lausanne), and Geneva; of rivers navigable or otherwise

useful, Rhine, Rhone, Aar, Reuss, Thur; of mountains, Jura and

perhaps Camor. Disliking the hardships of Alpine life the Helvetians

left the giant mountains to a sturdier race.

[Pg 16]




[Pg 17]

The nature of their political code was republican, yet it was largely

tinctured with elements of an aristocratic kind. Their nobles were

wealthy landed proprietors, with numerous vassals, attendants, and

slaves. In case their lord was impeached these retainers would take

his part before the popular tribunal. The case of Orgetorix may be

cited. He was a dynastic leader, and head over one hundred valley

settlements; his name appears on Helvetian silver coins as Orcitrix.

He was brought to trial on a charge of aspiring to the kingship, and no

fewer than a thousand followers appeared at the court to clear him,

but vox populi vox dei, and the popular vote prevailed. Orgetorix was

sentenced to die by fire, a punishment awarded to all who

encroached upon the popular rights.

Their form of religion was most probably that common to all the Celts,

Druidical worship. Invested with power, civil and spiritual, the Druids

held absolute sway over the superstitious Celtic tribes. Proud as the

Celts were of their independence, they yet were incapable of

governing themselves because of the perpetual dissensions amongst

the tribes; and

[Pg 18]

they were overawed by the intellectual superiority of a priesthood that

professed all the sciences of the age—medicine, astrology,

soothsaying, necromancy—and had taken into its hands the

education of the young. The common people were mere blind

devotees, and rendered unquestioning obedience to the decrees of

the Druids. Druidism was, in fact, the only power which could move

the whole Celtic race, and could knit together the Celts of the Thames

and those of the Garonne and Rhone, when they met at the great

yearly convocation at Chartres, then the "Metropolis of the Earth."

Human sacrifice was one of the most cruel and revolting features of

the Druidical religion.

The Celts were a peculiarly gifted people, though differing greatly

from the contemporary Greeks and Romans. They had been a

governing race before the Romans appeared on the stage, and

wrested from them the leading part. They had overrun the whole

world, so to speak, casting about for a fixed home, and spread as far

as the British Isles, making Gaul their religious and political centre,

and settled down into more peaceful habits. Driven by excess of

population, or their unquenchable thirst for war, or simply their








retrogression—they migrated eastwards whence they came—to Italy,

Greece, and Asia Minor—demanding territory, and striking terror into

every nation they approached by their warlike habits. They knocked

at the gates of Rome, and the Galatians were conspicuous by their

atrocities.[9] Brilliant

[Pg 19]

qualities and great national faults had been their peculiar

characteristics. Quick-witted they were, highly intelligent, ingenious,

frank, versatile; attaching much value to gloire, and esprit; susceptible

of and accessible to every impression, skilled handicraftsmen; but

inclined to be vain, boastful, and fickle-minded, averse to order and

discipline, and lacking in perseverance and moral energy. This,

according to both ancient and modern writers, was their character.

They failed to create a united empire, and to resist their deadly

enemy, Rome.

What they did excel in was fighting. Dressed in gaudy costume—wide

tunic, bright plaid, and toga embroidered with silver and gold—the

Celtic noble would fight by preference in single combat, to show off to

personal advantage, but in the brunt of battle he threw away his

clothing to fight unimpeded. Bituitus, king of the Arverni, attired in

magnificent style, mounts his silver chariot, and, preceded by a

harper and a pack of hounds, goes to meet Cæsar in battle, and win

his respect and admiration.

The Helvetians were peaceful neighbours to Italy so long as they did

not come into direct contact with the Romans, but on the Rhine they

were engaged in daily feuds with the German tribes, who had driven

them from their settlements in the Black Forest, and had continued

their raids beyond the river. For the sake of plunder, or from mere

restless habits, the Germans had left their northern homes on the

Baltic and North Seas, the Cimbri, and their brethren, the Teutons

and others, and were slowly moving southward, repelling or being in

turn repelled. The most

[Pg 20]

daring crossed the Rhine, and made their way straight through the

lands of the Belgians and Helvetians towards the South, thereby

anticipating the great dislocation of peoples which was to take place

but five hundred years later, when the Roman Empire, sapped at the

root, crumbled to pieces, unable longer to resist the tide of barbarian


On one of these expeditions the Cimbri, giving a glowing account of

sunny Gaul, and the booty to be obtained there, were joined by the

Helvetian Tigurini, whose leader was the young and fiery Divico (b.c.

107). They started with the intention of founding a new home in the

province of the Nitiobroges in Southern Gaul; but when they had

reached that territory they were suddenly stopped on the banks of the

Garonne by a Roman army under the consul Cassius and his

lieutenant Piso. But, little impressed by the military fame of the

Romans, the Tigurini, lying in ambush, gave battle to the forces of

great Rome, and utterly routed them at Agen, on the Garonne,

between Bordeaux and Toulouse. It was a brilliant victory; both the

Roman leaders and the greater part of their men were slain, and the

rest begged for their lives. The proud Romans were under the

humiliating necessity of giving hostages and passing under the

yoke—a stain on the Roman honour not to be forgotten; but the

victors, being anything but diplomats, knew no better use to make of

their splendid victory than to wander about for a time and then go

home again.

A few years later (102 and 101 b.c.) the Tigurini, Toygeni, Cimbri, and

Teutons joined their forces on

[Pg 21]

a last expedition southwards. The expedition ended in the destruction

of these German tribes. The Toygeni perished in the fearful carnage

at Aquæ Sextiæ, and the Cimbri later on at Vercellæ. When the

Tigurini heard of this last-mentioned disaster they returned home.

Cæsar had been appointed governor of the Province (Provence)

which extended to Geneva, the very door of Helvetia; on the Rhine

the Germans continued to make their terrible inroads. Thus there was

but little scope for the stirring Helvetians, and the soil afforded but a

scanty supply of food; so they turned their eyes wistfully in the

direction of fair Gaul. Meeting in council they decided on a general

migration, leaving their country to whoever might like to take it. Then

rose up Orgetorix, one of their wealthiest nobles, and supported the

plan, volunteering to secure a free passage through the neighbouring

provinces of the Allobroges and Ædui. The 28th of March, b.c. 58,

was the day fixed for the departure, and Geneva was to be the

meeting-place; thence they were to proceed through the territory of

the Allobroges. For two years previously they were to get ready their

provisions, and to collect carts, horses, and oxen, but before the

period had expired Orgetorix was accused of treason, and being

unable to clear himself, put an end to his own life to escape public

obloquy. This episode made no difference in the general plan. The

Helvetians, indeed, insisted on its being carried out. Setting fire to

their towns and villages to prevent men from returning, they started

on their adventurous jo