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.
The giants of Albion
A legend exists in various forms that giants were either the original inhabitants, or the founders of the land named Albion.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
- "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.
Anglo-Norman Albina story
Later, in the 14th century, a more elaborate tale was developed, claiming that Albina and her sisters founded Albion and procreated there a race of giants. The "Albina story" survives in several forms, including the octosyllabic Anglo-Norman poem "Des grantz geanz" dating to 1300—1334(Brereton ed. 1937; Also Jubinal ed., "Des graunz Jaianz ki primes conquistrent Bretaingne" (1842)[a]) A prose English translation is given in Richard Barber's anthology (1999). According to the poem, in the 3970th year of the creation of the world,[b] a king of Greece married his thirty daughters into royalty, but the haughty brides colluded to eliminate their husbands so they would be subservient to no one. The youngest would not be party to the crime and divulged the plot, so the other princesses were confined to a unsteerable rudderless ship and set adrift, and after three days reached an uninhabited land later be known as "England". The eldest daughter Albina (Albine) was the first to set shore and lay claim to the land, naming it after herself. At first, the women gathered acorns and fruits, but once they learned to hunt and obtain meat, it aroused their lecherous desires. As no other humans inhabited the land, they mated with evil spirits called "'incubi", and subsequently with the sons they begot, engendering a race of giants. These giants are evidenced by huge bones which are unearthed. Brutus arrived 260 years after Albina, 1136 before the birth of Christ, but by then there were only 24 giants left, due to inner strife. As with Geoffrey of Monmouth's version, Brutus's band subsequently overtake the land, defeating Gogmagog in the process.
Manuscripts and forms
The octosyllabic poem appears as a prologue to 16 out of 26 manuscripts of the Short Version of the Anglo-Norman prose Brut. Octosyllabic is not the only form the Anglo-Norman Des Grantz Geanz, there are five forms, the others being: the alexandrine, prose, short verse, and short prose versions. The Latin adaptation of the Albina story, De Origine Gigantum, appeared soon later, in the 1330s It has been edited by Carey & Crick (1995), and translated by Ruth Evans (1998).
A variant tale occurs in the Middle English prose Brut (Brie ed., The Brut or the Chronicles of England 1906–1908) of the 14th century, an English rendition of the Anglo-Norman Brut deriving from Wace. In the Prolog of this chronicle, it was King "Dioclecian" of "Surrey" (Emperor Diocletian? of Syria?), who had 33 daughters, the eldest being called Albyne. The princesses are all banished to Albion after plotting to murder their husbands, where they couple with the local demons; their offspring became a race of giants.
Later treatment of the myth
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.
In popular culture
- "The Albion" is a popular pub name; there were 82 English public houses with this name in 2011.
- Albion is used to refer to the land of Britain where magic is welcomed back from the old pagan religion in the Arthurian fantasy television show The Adventures of Merlin.
- The same text (same MS source) as Jubinal (Cotton Cleopatra IX) occurs in Francisque Michel ed., Gesta Regum Britanniae (1862), under the Latin title De Primis Inhabitatoribus Angliæ and incipit.
- Brereton 1937, p. 2, "Del mound, treis mil e nef cent/E sessante e diz ans" ll.14-15; but "treis" is lacking in Michel 1862 so that it reads "1970 years"
- 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
- Bernau 2007
- Dean, Ruth (1999), Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, pp. 26–30, cited by Fisher, Matthew (2004). Once Called Albion: The Composition and Transmission of History Writing in England, 1280-1350 (Thesis). Oxford University. p. 25.. Fisher: ""five distinct versions of Des Grantz Geanz : the octosyllabic, alexandrine, prose, short verse, and short prose versions survive in 34 manuscripts, ranging in date from the first third of the fourteenth to the second half of the fifteenth century
- Brereton 1937, p. xxxii had allowed for earlier dating range, giving 1200 (more likely 1250) to 1333/4: "not earlier than the beginning — probably not before the middle — of the thirteenth century and not later than 1333–4"
- Brereton 1937
- Jubinal 1842, pp. 354–371
- Michel 1862, pp. 199–254
- Barber 2004
- Barber 2004
- Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn (2011), "Mother or Stepmother to History? Joan de Mohun and Her Chronicle", in Leyser, Conrad; Smith, Lesley, Motherhood, Religion, and Society in Medieval Europe, 400-1400 (Ashgate Publishing): 306, ISBN 1409431452
- Carley & Crick 1995, p. 41}
- Carley & Crick 1995
- Evans 1998
- Brie 1906–1908
- Bernau 2007, p. 106
- Harper, Carrie Anne (1964), The Sources of The British Chronicle History in Spenser's Faerie Queene, Haskell House, pp. 48–49.
- Daily Mail 14 April 2011: "A thousand rather popular pubs..."
- Texts and translations of the Albina story
- Jubinal, Achille, ed. (1842), "Des graunz Jaianz ki primes conquistrent Bretaingne (Bibl. Cotton Cleopatra D IX)", Nouveau recueil de contes, dits, fabliaux et autres pièces inédites des XIIIe, XIVe et XVe siècles, pour faite suite aux collections de Legrand d'Aussy, Barbazan et Méon, Pannier, pp. 354–371
- Michel, Francisque, ed. (1862), "Appendix I: De Primis Inhabitatoribus Angliæ", Gesta Regum Britanniæ: a metrical history of the Britions of the XIIIth century, Printed by G. Gounouilhou, pp. 199–214
- Barber, Richard, ed. (2004) , "1. The Giants of the Island of Albion", Myths & Legends of the British Isles, Boydell Press
- Carley, James P.; Crick, Julia (1995), "Constructing Albion's Past: An Annotated Edition of De origine gigantum", in Carley; Riddy, Felicity, Arthurian Literature XIII (D. S. Brewer): 41–115, ISBN 0859914496
- Evans, Ruth (1998), "Gigantic Origins: An Annotated Translation of De origine gigantum", in Carley; Riddy, Felicity, Arthurian Literature XVI (D. S. Brewer): 197–217, ISBN 085991531X
- Brie, Friedrich W. D., ed. (1906-08), The Brut or the Chronicles of England ... from Ms. Raw. B171, Bodleian Library, &c., EETS o.s., 131 and 136, London
- Bernau, Anke (2007), "Myths of origin and the struggle over nationhood", in McMullan, Gordon; Matthews, David, Reading the Medieval in Early Modern England (Cambridge University Press): 106–118, ISBN 0521868432
- Brereton, Georgine Elizabeth, ed. (1937), Des grantz geanz: an Anglo-Norman poem, Medium Aevum Monographs 2, Oxford: Blackwell
- Lamont, Margaret Elizabeth (2007), "Albina, her sisters, and the giants of Albion", The "Kynde Bloode of Engeland": Remaking Englishness in the Middle English Prose "Brut", ProQuest, pp. 73–, ISBN 0549482547