Britons (Celtic people)

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Queen Boadicea of the Iceni tribe.

The Britons (also called Brythons) were the people who spoke a Celtic language known as Common Brittonic. They lived in Great Britain during the Iron Age, Roman Britain and the Sub-Roman period following the Romans leaving Britain. After the Anglo-Saxons arrived many of the Britons were absorbed into the new culture and became English. Others withdrew into Wales, Cornwall and southern Scotland. Still others left Britain for Brittany.

Name[change | change source]

6th Century Britons pushed westward

In about 330 BC, Pytheas, a Greek explorer began a voyage in which he discovered the British Isles.[1] In 326 BC he landed and gave the island the name Prettanike or Brettainiai.[2] The name became Britain.

When the Romans conquered Britain in 43 AD, they called the people living there Brittanni (also spelled Britanni).[3] They were also aware of their tribal identities. In their histories the Romans said of them "they are a people harassed by hosts,[a] who receive political exiles, who rebel, and who are among the remote peoples of the world."[3] Monks writing in the 4th and 5th centuries also called them Britanni. Some used the term Britto.[3]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains an account of the land and the people of Britain. ""The island of Britain is eight hundred miles long and two hundred miles broad: and here are in the island five peoples: English, Brito-Welsh,[b] Scottish, Pictish, and Book-Latin."[4]

The Welsh scholar John Rhys first used the terms Brythons and Brythonic. He wanted a more specific terms for the people of Wales and the Welsh of Cumbria and Cornwall than just the word Britons.[5]

Celtic tribes[change | change source]

From the Iron Age onward, the territory inhabited by the Celtic Britons changed considerably. At first it was divided among a variety of Celtic tribes. Before the Romans came, they occupied most what is now the country of England.

Celtic tribes in pre-Roman Britain.

Central[change | change source]

Southeastern[change | change source]

Western[change | change source]

Notes[change | change source]

  1. war bands; large multitudes.
  2. Britons absorbed into the Welsh culture.

References[change | change source]

  1. Alasdair Macleod; Royal Geographical Society; Smithsonian Institution, Explorers: great tales of adventure and endurance (London; New York: DK in association with the Smithsonian Institution, 2010), p. 20
  2. Peter Ackroyd, Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2012), p. 19
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Christopher A. Snyder, An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons, A.D. 400-600 (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), p. 67
  4. Benjamin Thorpe, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle according to the Several Original Authorities: Translation (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1861), p. 5
  5. John Rhys, Celtic Britain (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; New York: E.S. Gorham, 1908), p. 3

Other websites[change | change source]