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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

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

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

Southeastern

Western

Notes

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

References

  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

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