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' departure from Britain. Following the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, who occupied most what is now the country of England, some of the Britons migrated to Wales, Cornwall and southern Scotland, while others moved to Armorica and renamed it Brittany. Those who remained were absorbed into Anglo-Saxon society.

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, Britain was divided among a variety of Celtic tribes. When the Romans came, many of the tribes adopted Roman culture and the Latin language.

Celtic tribes in pre-Roman Britain.

Central[change | change source]

  • The Brigantes - Controlled what would later be much of Northern England.
  • The Carvetii - Located in the area of the Solway Plain just north of Hadrian's Wall.
  • The Corieltauvi - They lived in what is now the East Midlands.
  • The Cornovii - Lived in what is now the West Midlands.
  • The Parisii - Occupied what is now East Yorkshire.

Southeastern[change | change source]

Western[change | change source]

  • The Deceangli - Their territory included north-east Wales.
  • The Demetae - Gave their name to Dyfed; also inhabited modern Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.
  • The Dobunni - Their territory included Northern Somerset, Bristol, and Gloucestershire.
  • The Dumnonii - Occupied what would be Cornwall and Devon.
  • The Durotriges - Occupied the later area of Dorset and western Hampshire.
  • The Gangani - They occupied much of northwestern Wales.
  • The Ordovices - They lived in northern Wales and Anglesey
  • The Silures - Their territory included modern Monmouthshire, Breconshire and Glamorganshire.

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]