Celtic Britons

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The Britons (Reconstructed Brittonic: Pritanī, Latin: Britanni), also known as Celtic Britons or Ancient Britons, were an indigenous Celtic people who inhabited Great Britain from at least the British Iron Age until the High Middle Ages, at which point they diverged into the Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons (among others). They spoke Common Brittonic, the ancestor of the modern Brittonic languages.


  • Of all the Britons the inhabitants of Kent, an entirely maritime district, are by far the most civilised, differing but little from the Gallic manner of life. Of the inlanders most do not sow corn, but live on milk and flesh and clothe themselves in skins. All the Britons, indeed, dye themselves with woad, which produces a blue colour, and makes their appearance in battle more terrible. They wear long hair, and shave every part of the body save the head and the upper lip. Groups of ten or twelve men have wives together in common, and particularly brothers along with brothers, and fathers with sons; but the children born of the unions are reckoned to belong to the particular house to which the maiden was first conducted.

Roman conquest of Britain (AD 43–84)[edit]

  • Here at the world's end, on its last inch of liberty, we have lived unmolested to this day, in this sequestered nook of story; for the unknown is ever magnified. But to-day the uttermost parts of Britain are laid bare; there are no other tribes to come; nothing but sea and cliffs and these more deadly Romans.

Roman invasion of Caledonia (AD 208–211)[edit]

  • There are two principal races of the Britons, the Caledonians and the Maeatae, and the names of the others have been merged in these two. The Maeatae live next to the cross-wall which cuts the island in half, and the Caledonians are beyond them. Both tribes inhabit wild and waterless mountains and desolate and swampy plains, and possess neither walls, cities, nor tilled fields, but live on their flocks, wild game, and certain fruits; for they do not touch the fish which are there found in immense and inexhaustible quantities. They dwell in tents, naked and unshod, possess their women in common, and in common rear all the offspring. Their form of rule is democratic for the most part, and they are very fond of plundering; consequently they choose their boldest men as rulers. They go into battle in chariots, and have small, swift horses; there are also foot-soldiers, very swift in running and very firm in standing their ground. For arms they have a shield and a short spear, with a bronze apple attached to the end of the spear-shaft, so that when it is shaken it may clash and terrify the enemy; and they also have daggers. They can endure hunger and cold and any kind of hardship; for they plunge into the swamps and exist there for many days with only their heads above water, and in the forests they support themselves upon bark and roots, and for all emergencies they prepare a certain kind of food, the eating of a small portion of which, the size of a bean, prevents them from feeling either hunger or thirst.
    • Cassius Dio, Roman History, LXXVII, 12, 1–4
    • Earnest Cary, ed. Dio's Roman History, Vol. IX, LCL 177 (1927), p. 263
  • For as great part of the Island is frequently overflow'd by the Tides, these constant Inundations make the Country full of Lakes and Marshes. In these the Barbarians swim, or wade through them up to their Middle, regardless of Mud or Dirt, as they always go almost naked: For they are ignorant of the Use of Clothes, and only cover their Necks and Bellies with fine Plates of Iron; which they esteem as an Ornament and Sign of Wealth, and are as proud of it, as other Barbarians are of Gold. They likewise dye their Skins with the Pictures of various kinds of Animals; which is one principal Reason for their wearing no Clothes, because they are loth to hide the fine Paintings on their Bodies. But they are a very warlike and fierce People; and arm only with a narrow Shield and Spear, and a Sword hanging by their naked Bodies; unacquainted with the Use of Habergeons and Helmets, which they think would be an Obstruction to their wading through the Ponds and Marshes of their Country: Which perpetually sending up thick gross Vapours, condense the Air and make it always foggy.

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