Albion (Ancient Greek: Ἀλβιών) 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 (genitive Alban)
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.
Albion and Albionoria ("
Albion of the North") were briefly
suggested as names of Canada during the period of the Canadian
Confederation. Arthur Phillip, first leader of the colonisation
of Australia, originally named
Sydney Cove "New Albion", but later the
colony acquired the name "Sydney".
3 The giants of Albion
3.1 Geoffrey of Monmouth
3.2 Anglo-Norman Albina story
3.2.1 Manuscripts and forms
3.3 Diocletian's daughters
3.4 Later treatment of the myth
4 See also
7.1 Albina story
The Codex Vatopedinus's Ptolemy's map of the British Isles, labelled
"Ἀλουΐων" (Alouíōn, "Albion") and Ἰουερνία
(Iouernía, "Hibernia"). c. 1300
Common Brittonic name for the island, Hellenised as Albíōn
(Ἀλβίων) and Latinised as Albiōn (genitive Albionis), derives
from the Proto-Celtic nasal stem *Albi̯iū (oblique *Albiion-) and
Old Irish as Albu (genitive Albann). The name originally
referred to Britain as a whole, but was later restricted to Caledonia
(giving the modern
Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland, Alba). The root
*albiio- is also found in Gaulish and Galatian albio- ("world") and
Welsh elfydd (elbid, "earth, world, land, country, district"). It may
be related to other European and Mediterranean toponyms such as Alpes,
Albania and Liban. It has two possible etymologies. It may derive from
the Proto-Indo-European root *albho-, meaning "white" (c.f. Latin
albus). This is perhaps in reference to the white southern shores of
the island, though Celtic linguist Xavier Delamarre argued that it
originally meant "the world above, the visible world", in opposition
to "the world below", i.e., the underworld. Alternatively it may
derive from the Proto-Indo-European root *alb-, meaning
Main article: Britain (place name)
Judging from Avienus's 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".
Pytheas (ca. 320 BC), as directly or indirectly quoted in
the surviving excerpts of his works in later writers, speaks of
Albiōn and Iernē (Britain and Ireland). Pytheas's grasp of the
νῆσος Πρεττανική (nēsos Prettanikē, "Prettanic
island") is somewhat blurry, and appears to include anything he
considers a western island, including Thule.
In William Blake's mythology, the character
Albion represents primeval
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 (Prettanía) and Βρεττανία
(Brettanía "Britain"), Βρεττανός (Brettanós "Briton"), and
Βρεττανικός (Brettanikós, meaning the adjective British).
From these words the Romans derived the Latin forms Britannia,
Britannus, and Britannicus respectively".
The Pseudo-Aristotelian text
On the Universe
On the Universe (393b) has:
Ἐν τούτῳ γε μὴν νῆσοι μέγισται
τυγχάνουσιν οὖσαι δύο, Βρεττανικαὶ
λεγόμεναι, Ἀλβίων καὶ Ἰέρνη
"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 2nd century Geography,
Ptolemy uses the name Ἀλουΐων
(Alouiōn, "Albion") instead of the Roman name Britannia, possibly
following the commentaries of Marinus of Tyre. He calls both
Albion and Ierne νῆσοι Βρεττανικαὶ (nēsoi
Brettanikai, "British Isles").
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, Edgar the Peaceful, styled himself Totius
Albionis imperator augustus "Augustus Emperor of all Albion" in
The giants of Albion
Albina and other daughters of Diodicias (front). Two giants of Albion
are in the background, encountered by a ship carrying Brutus and his
men. French Prose Brut, British Library Royal 19 C IX, 1450–1475
A legend exists in various forms that giants were either the original
inhabitants, or the founders of the land named Albion.
Geoffrey of Monmouth
According to the 12th-century
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae ("The History
of The Kings of Britain") by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the exiled Brutus
Troy was told by the goddess Diana;
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.
— Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain/Books 1,
After many adventures, Brutus and his fellow Trojans escape from Gaul
and "set sail with a fair wind towards the promised island".
"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[a](Georgine Elizabeth Brereton ed. 1937;
Also Jubinal ed., "Des graunz Jaianz ki primes conquistrent
Bretaingne" (1842)[b]) 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,[c] 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 an unsteerable rudderless ship and
set adrift, and after three days reached an uninhabited land later to
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
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, which
derives from Wace. 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.[d] In the Prolog of this chronicle, it was King
"Dioclician" of "Surrey" (Syria), who had 33 daughters, the eldest
being called "Albyne". The princesses are all banished to
plotting to murder their husbands, where they couple with the local
demons; their offspring became a race of giants. The chronicle asserts
that during the voyage Albyne entrusted the fate of the sisters to
"Appolyn," which was the god of their faith. The Syrian king who was
her father sounds much like a Roman emperor, though Diocletian
(3rd century) would be anachronistic, and Holinshed  explains this
as a bungling of the legend of
Danaus and his fifty daughters who
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
William Blake's poems Milton and Jerusalem feature
Albion as an
archetypal giant representing humanity.
In 2010, artist
Mark Sheeky donated the 2008 painting "Two Roman
Legionaries Discovering The God-King
Albion Turned Into Stone" to the
Grosvenor Museum collection.
Britain (place name)
Terminology of the British Isles
Nordalbingia, based on the Latin name for the Elbe River: Alba
^ 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"
^ The same text (same MS source) as Jubinal (Cotton Cleopatra IX)
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"
^ In the Anglo-Norman prose Brut, the poem prefaced to the Short
Version was incorporated to the text proper (prologue) of the Long
Version, from the long version. This long version was then rendered
into Middle English.Lamont 2007, p. 74
^ How Canada Got Its Name - Origin of the Name Canada
^ Rayburn, Alan (2001). Naming Canada: Stories about Canadian Place
Names. University of Toronto Press. p. 16.
^ Rosalind Miles (2001) Who Cooked the Last Supper: The Women's
History of the World Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80695-5 
^ Freeman, Philip, Koch, John T., in: Koch, John T. (ed.), Celtic
Culture, ABC-CLIO, 2006, pp. 38–39.
^ Delamarre, Xavier, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, Errance, 2003
(2nd ed.), pp. 37–38.
^ Ekwall, Eilert "Early names of Britain", in: Antiquity, Vol. 4, #14,
1930, pp. 149–156.
^ 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
William Blake Archive. Retrieved September 25,
^ Scymnus; Messenius Dicaearchus;
Scylax of Caryanda (1840). Fragments
des poemes géographiques de
Scymnus de Chio et du faux Dicéarque,
restitués principalement d'après un manuscrit de la Bibliothèque
royale: précédés d'observations littéraires et critiques sur ces
fragments; sur Scylax, Marcien d'Héraclée, Isidore de Charax, le
stadiasme de la Méditerranée; pour servir de suite et de supplément
à toutos les éditions des petits géographes grecs. Gide.
^ 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
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^ 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
Ptolemy (1843). "index of book II". In Nobbe, Carolus
Fridericus Augustus. Claudii Ptolemaei Geographia (PDF). 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/Book 1, 15
^ History of the Kings of Britain/Book 1, 16
^ Bernau 2007
^ a b 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
^ Brereton 1937
^ Jubinal 1842, pp. 354–371
^ Michel 1862, pp. 199–254
^ a b c Barber 2004
^ Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn (2011), Leyser, Conrad; Smith, Lesley, eds.,
"Mother or Stepmother to History? Joan de Mohun and Her Chronicle",
Motherhood, Religion, and Society in Medieval Europe, 400-1400,
Ashgate Publishing, p. 306, ISBN 1409431452
^ Carley & Crick 1995, p. 41
^ Carley & Crick 1995
^ Evans 1998
^ Brie 1906–1908
^ Bernau 2007, p. 106
^ a b Baswell, Christopher (2009), Brown, Peter, ed., "English
Literature and the Classical Past", A Companion To Medieval English
Literature and Culture C.1350 - C.1500, John Wiley & Sons,
pp. 242–243, ISBN 1405195525
^ Historie of England 1587, Book 1, Chapter 3
^ Harper, Carrie Anne (1964), The Sources of The British Chronicle
History in Spenser's Faerie Queene, Haskell House, pp. 48–49.
^ "Chester Grosvenor Art competition: winners". Cheshire Today.
Retrieved 20 October 2016.
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