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Map by Didier Robert de Vaugondy (1750) with the islands of Britannia as Britannia major ("Great Britain") and Ireland as Britannia minor ("Little Great Britain ")

Britannia ( Latin Britannia ) was the ancient name for the island inhabited by the Celtic Britons , which is now called Great Britain - to distinguish it from Brittany ("[Little] Britain") . Sometimes the name ( Britannia Major ) was also used to distinguish it from the Irish island ( Britannia Minor ). The island today includes the countries England , Wales and Scotland , but the name is sometimes used in German-speaking countries for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or the British Isles as a whole. Today the term Celtic is controversial among archaeologists, especially for the ancient inhabitants of the British Isles. Genetic studies show that there was no Celtic invasion, rather the islanders took it from 800 BC. The "Celtic" designated culture and language from the European continent. In addition, the pre-Roman, Celtic-British culture also has typical British peculiarities proven by archaeological finds.


The name Britannia is derived from the Latin name Britanni for the islanders who were already called Prettanoí in the older Greek sources . The oldest writings about the island and its inhabitants refer to a journey of the Greek Pytheas around the year 325 BC. BC back.

The Britannia in Plymouth

In modern times , a female Britannia was popular as an allegorical personification of (Great) Britain.

Albion , the other ancient name for Britain, can be of Celtic or pre-Celtic origin.

Roman province of Britannia

Ancient map of Britain

Britannia was also used by the Romans as a name for the provinces they established in the south-western and northern parts of the island . Under the name Britannia , the Romano-British also worshiped the country's female genius as a deity. If one wants to explicitly refer to the area conquered by the Romans, one also speaks of Britannia Romana (Roman Britain). In contrast to this, the non-Roman Britain is also known as Britannia Barbara (Wild / Foreign Britain).

A large part of the territory of the province was conquered by Emperor Claudius in 43 AD and had continually changing borders . First, in the years after 80 AD, after the battle of Mons Graupius , the Roman legions penetrated deep into what is now Scotland, but then retreated back to the line of Hadrian's Wall in 120 AD . In 140 AD, the Roman troops once again took massive action in the Lowlands against the Picts and built the Antonine Wall further north (Firth of Forth-Clyde) . But this had to be given up again around 160 AD.

In 212 or 213 the province was split into two parts by Caracalla :

After the administrative reform of the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century AD and a division of Britannia II by Valentinian I (369 AD), there were five provinces:

These provinces of Britanny were summarized in a Dioecesis .

With the withdrawal of the Roman troops, Britain was repeatedly the target of attacks by the Saxons , Picts and Scots . Also, more and more regular troops were withdrawn from the island, so that the population could almost only defend themselves with their own auxiliary troops . The last attested offensive by regular Imperial troops against the Picts and Skots took place in 398 or 399. Hadrian's Wall was then largely abandoned around 400, the remaining settlements were reinforced against attacks. In 410 the last regular Roman troops left the island after most of the units had left the island in 401 (to defend Italy against the Visigoths) and 407 (in connection with the usurpation of Constantine III ). The empire never formally renounced Britain; Emperor Justinian I still raised claims to rule over the island around 540.

Post-Roman Britain

After the army had withdrawn, Britain initially continued to be under a Roman-organized civil administration of the Romano-Britannians, but this was slowly dissolved by the further advance of the Picts, Scots and Saxons. Angles and Saxons were probably recruited as foederati to ensure the defense of the Roman communities. Contacts between Gaul and the Romans in Britain continued, for example in connection with religious disputes. In northern Britain, with the departure of the Romans, a number of independent British kingdoms were founded; It emerged Rheged , Strathclyde , Ebrauc , Bryneich , Gododdin and Elmet - the hen ogledd . These Britons were absorbed by the Angles during the 5th through 7th centuries. There are indications in Gallic chronicles that the island came under the rule of Angles and Saxons to a large extent as early as 440/41 - presumably as a result of a rebellion of the Anglic and Saxon foederati who had been brought into the country .

Individual evidence

  1. ↑ also incorrectly referred to as "British" peculiarities
  2. ^ Bernhard Maier : History and culture of the Celts. CH Beck, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-406-64140-4 , p. 215 ( excerpt online ).
  3. ^ Iron Age. BBC , accessed November 10, 2014 .
  4. Alex Woolfe : Romancing the Celts. Segmentary societies and the geography of Romanization in the north-west provinces . In: Ray Laurence , Joanne Berry (Eds.): Cultural Identity in the Roman Empire . Routledge, Oxford 1998, ISBN 0-203-02266-1 , p. 207.


Web links

Wiktionary: Britain  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Coordinates: 52 °  N , 1 °  W