Albion (Ancient Greek: Ἀλβίων) is the oldest known name of the island of Great Britain. Today, it is still sometimes used poetically to refer to the island. The name for Scotland in the Celtic languages is related to Albion: Alba in Scottish Gaelic, Albain in Irish, Nalbin in Manx and Alban in Welsh, Cornish and Breton. These names were later Latinised as Albania and Anglicised as Albany, which were once alternative names for Scotland. New Albion and Albionoria ("Albion of the North") were briefly suggested as possible names of Canada during the period of the Canadian Confederation.
Gallo-Romance Albiōn (cf. Middle Irish Albbu) derives from the Proto-Celtic * Alb-i̯en-, sharing the same stem as Welsh elfydd "earth, world", together with other European and Mediterranean toponyms such as Alpes and Albania has two possible etymologies, both plausible: either *albho-, a Proto-Indo-European root meaning "white" (in reference to the white southern shores of the island), or *alb-, Proto-Indo-European for "hill".
Judging from Avienus' Ora Maritima to which it is considered to have served as a source, the Massaliote Periplus (originally written in the 6th century BC, translated by Avienus at the end of the 4th century), does not use the name Britannia; instead it speaks of nēsos Iernōn kai Albiōnōn "the islands of the Iernians and the Albiones". Likewise, Pytheas of Massilia (ca. 320 BC), as directly or indirectly quoted in the surviving excerpts of his works in later writers, speaks of Albion and Ierne (Britain and Ireland). Pytheas' grasp of the νῆσος Πρεττανική nēsos Prettanikē ("Prettanic island") is somewhat blurry, and appears to include anything he considers a western island, including Thule.
The name Albion was used by Isidore of Charax (1st century BC–1st century AD) and subsequently by many classical writers. By the 1st century AD, the name refers unequivocally to Great Britain. But this "enigmatic name for Britain, revived much later by Romantic poets like William Blake, did not remain popular among Greek writers. It was soon replaced by Πρεττανία (Prettania) and Βρεττανία (Brittania, meaning Britain), Βρεττανός (Bretanos, meaning a Briton), and Βρεττανικός (Bretanikos, meaning the adjective British). From these words the Romans derived the Latin forms Britannia, Britannus, and Britannicus respectively".
- Ἐν τούτῳ γε μὴν νῆσοι μέγισται τυγχάνουσιν οὖσαι δύο, Βρεττανικαὶ λεγόμεναι, Ἀλβίων καὶ Ἰέρνη
- en toutoi ge men nesoi megistoi tynchanousin ousai dyo, Brettanikai legomenai, Albion kai Ierne
- "There are two very large islands in it, called the British Isles, Albion and Ierne" (Britain and Ireland).
Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History (4.16.102) likewise has:
- "It was itself named Albion, while all the islands about which we shall soon briefly speak were called the Britanniae".
In his Geographia, Ptolemy, writing in the 2nd century AD, possibly following the commentaries of Marinus of Tyre uses the name Albion instead of the Roman name Brittania but still calls both Albion and Ierne a nēsos Bretanikē, i.e. a British Island.
In 930, the English King Æthelstan used the title: rex et primicerius totius Albionis regni ("king and chief of the whole realm of Albion"). His nephew King Edgar styled himself totius Albionis imperator augustus ("august emperor of all Albion") in 970.
- "Brutus! there lies beyond the Gallic bounds
An island which the western sea surrounds,
By giants once possessed, now few remain
To bar thy entrance, or obstruct thy reign.
To reach that happy shore thy sails employ
There fate decrees to raise a second Troy
And found an empire in thy royal line,
Which time shall ne'er destroy, nor bounds confine".
- "Brutus! there lies beyond the Gallic bounds
"The island was then called Albion, and inhabited by none but a few giants. Notwithstanding this, the pleasant situation of the places, the plenty of rivers abounding with fish, and the engaging prospect of its woods, made Brutus and his company very desirous to fix their habitation in it." After dividing up the island between themselves "at last Brutus called the island after his own name Britain, and his companions Britons; for by these means he desired to perpetuate the memory of his name". Geoffrey goes on to recount how the last of the giants are defeated, the largest one called Goëmagot is flung over a cliff by Corineus.
Because Geoffrey of Monmouth's work was regarded as fact until the late 17th century, the story appears in most early histories of Britain. Wace, Layamon, Raphael Holinshed, William Camden and John Milton repeat the legend and it appears in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene.
A further legend originating in the 14th century, concerns the daughters of the Emperor Diocletian, the eldest being called Albynia. They are all banished to Albion after plotting to murder their husbands, where they couple with the local demons; their offspring are a race of giants.
In popular culture
Albion is the name of the main continent in the Fable game series.
Albion is used as the name of a floating island nation in the world of the anime; Zero no Tsukaima.
Albion is a floating land of the giants in Jack The Giant Slayer .
Albion is also the name of the Vanishing/White Dragon in the Anime, "High School DxD."
- How Canada Got Its Name - Origin of the Name Canada
- Naming Canada: stories about Canadian place names, Alan Rayburn
- Avienus' Ora Maritima, verses 111-112, i.e. eamque late gens Hiernorum colit; propinqua rursus insula Albionum patet.
- G. F. Unger, Rhein. Mus. xxxviii., 1883, pp. 1561–96.
- "A Large Book of Designs, copy A, object 1 (Bentley 85.1, Butlin 262.1) "Albion rose"". William Blake Archive. Retrieved September 25, 2013.
- Snyder, Christopher A. (2003). The Britons. Blackwell Publishing. p. 12. ISBN 0-631-22260-X.
- Aristotle or Pseudo-Aristotle; E. S. Forster (translator), D. J. Furley (translator). "On the Cosmos, 393b12". On Sophistical Refutations. On Coming-to-be and Passing Away. On the Cosmos. William Heinemann LTD, Harvard University Press. pp. 360–361. at the Open Library Project.DjVu
- Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia Book IV. Chapter XLI Latin text and English translation at the Perseus Project. See also Pliny's Natural history. In thirty-seven books at the Internet Archive.
- Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary, lemma Britanni II.A at the Perseus Project.
- PTOLEMY'S GEOGRAPHIA, BOOK II – DIDACTIC ANALYSIS, COMTEXT4
- Claudius Ptolemy (1843). "index of book II". In Nobbe, Carolus Fridericus Augustus. Claudii Ptolemaei Geographia. vol.1. Leipzig: sumptibus et typis Caroli Tauchnitii. p. 59.
- Βρεττανική. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
- England: Anglo-Saxon Royal Styles: 871–1066, Anglo-Saxon Royal Styles (9th–11th centuries), archontology.org
- Walter de Gray Birch, Index of the Styles and Titles of Sovereigns of England, 1885 (online copy)
- History of the Kings of Britain/Books 1, 11
- History of the Kings of Britain/Book 1, 15
- History of the Kings of Britain/Book 1, 16
- Harper, Carrie Anne (1964), The Sources of The British Chronicle History in Spenser's Faerie Queene, Haskell House, pp. 48–49.
- Albion: The Foundation Myth of Britain as the Cultural Embodiment of the British Soul
- Daily Mail 14 April 2011: "A thousand rather popular pubs..."