Britannia

The Armada Memorial in Plymouth depicting Britannia, the female personification of Britain

Britannia (ə/) has been used in several different senses. The name is a Latinisation of the native Brittonic word for the island, Pretanī, which also produced the Greek form Prettanike or Brettaniai, which originally, in the fourth to the first centuries BC, designated a collection of islands with individual names, including Albion or Britain. In Modern Welsh the name remains Prydain. By the 1st century BC, Britannia came to be used for Great Britain specifically. After the Roman conquest in 43 AD, Britannia meant Roman Britain, a province covering the island south of Caledonia (roughly Scotland). When Roman Britain was divided into four provinces in 197 AD, two were called Britannia Superior and Britannia Inferior. Britannia is the name given to the female personification of the island, and it is a term still used to refer to the whole island.

Iter Britanniarum, a map of the Roman roads of Britannia, according to the Antonine Itinerary showing approximate routes and stations

In the 2nd century, Roman Britannia came to be personified as a goddess, armed with a trident and shield and wearing a Corinthian helmet. The name Britannia long survived the end of Roman rule in Britain in the 5th century and yielded the name for the island in most European and various other languages, including the English Britain and the modern Welsh Prydain. After centuries of declining use, the Latin form was revived during the English Renaissance as a rhetorical evocation of a British national identity. Especially following the Acts of Union in 1707, which joined the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, the personification of the martial Britannia was used as an emblem of British maritime power and unity, most notably in "Rule, Britannia!".

A British cultural icon, she was featured on all modern British coinage series until the redesign in 2008, and still appears annually on the gold and silver "Britannia" bullion coin series. In 2015 a new definitive £2 coin was issued, with a new image of Britannia. She is also depicted in the Brit Awards statuette, the British Phonographic Industry's annual music awards.

Greek and Roman periods

The first writer to use a form of the name was the Greek explorer and geographer Pytheas in the 4th century BC. Pytheas referred to Prettanike or Brettaniai, a group of islands off the coast of North-Western Europe. In the 1st century BC, Diodorus Siculus referred to Pretannia,[1] a rendering of the indigenous name for the Pretani people whom the Greeks believed to inhabit the British Isles.[2][3] Following the Greek usage, the Romans referred to the Insulae Britannicae in the plural, consisting of Albion (Great Britain), Hibernia (Ireland), Thule (possibly Iceland or Orkney) and many smaller islands. Over time, Albion specifically came to be known as Britannia, and the name for the group was subsequently dropped.[1]

Although emperor Claudius is commonly attributed with the creation and unification of the province of Britannia in 43 AD, Julius Caesar had already established Roman authority over the Southern and Eastern Britain dynasties during his two expeditions to the island in 55 and 54 BC.[4] Just as Caesar himself had been an obside in Bithynia as a youth, he also had taken the King's sons as obsides[5] or hostages, back to Rome, partially to be educated.

The Roman conquest of the island began in AD 43, leading to the establishment of the Roman province known in Latin as Britannia. The Romans never successfully conquered the whole island, building Hadrian's Wall as a boundary with Caledonia, which covered roughly the territory of modern Scotland, although the whole of the boundary marked by Hadrian's Wall lies within modern-day Northern England. A southern part of what is now Scotland was occupied by the Romans for about 20 years in the mid-2nd century AD, keeping in place the Picts to the north of the Antonine Wall. People living in the Roman province of Britannia were called Britanni, or Britons. Ireland, inhabited by the Scoti, was never invaded and was called Hibernia. Thule, an island "six days' sail north of Britain, and [...] near the frozen sea", possibly Iceland, was also never invaded by the Romans.[citation needed]

An As coin from the reign of Antoninus Pius struck in 154 AD showing Britannia on the reverse

The Emperor Claudius paid a visit while Britain was being conquered and was honoured with the agnomen Britannicus as if he were the conqueror; a frieze discovered at Aphrodisias in 1980 shows a bare breasted and helmeted female warrior labelled BRITANNIA, writhing in agony under the heel of the emperor.[6] She appeared on coins issued under Hadrian, as a more regal-looking female figure.[7] Britannia was soon personified as a goddess, looking fairly similar to the goddess Minerva.[according to whom?] Early portraits of the goddess depict Britannia as a beautiful young woman, wearing the helmet of a centurion, and wrapped in a white garment with her right breast exposed. She is usually shown seated on a rock, holding a spear, and with a spiked shield propped beside her. Sometimes she holds a standard and leans on the shield. On another range of coinage, she is seated on a globe above waves: Britain at the edge of the (known) world. Similar coin types were also issued under Antoninus Pius.

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