A Brief History of Britannia to 43 AD

The large islands to the west of Belgica were abandoned by people during the Ice Age, when the sea was over a hundred meters lower than today and glaciers conquered Europe. When the glaciers retreated and the sea began to rise, the first peoples began to return to the islands where they built in stone and used tools of stone and bone.

Upon the continent, people found that copper was easier to work with than stone, and if one mixed a bit of tin in with the copper, a much harder material emerged. This was bronze, and heralded the Bronze Age. Along with the Bronze Age came traders, and with the traders came their ways- including the need for tin. Tin was plentiful upon the islands, and the culture flourished until the coming of the Pretanni about five hundred years before Augustus would rule the known world.

There is much discussion and debate around the nature of the peoples on Britannia at this time. Culturally, linguistically, and socially, the people were related to the Celts and Gauls of the continent, but genetically they were closer to the peoples of Iberia. Reconciling these facts, one can imagine the pre-Roman Britons as being of the same stock as the Iberians before the coming of the Gauls, but being conquered and assimilated by the emerging and spreading Celtic culture.

Mayhaps the Pretanni came first as traders, spreading their ways, and later as conquerors. Or maybe they came first to trade, then due to their success, their ways were accepted by the natives. Regardless, the tribes on the islands grew strong and numerous. So numerous, in fact, that a hundred fifty years after their introduction onto the islands, they were fighting each other over land and resources. It was during this time that many Pretanni tribes began building forts or enclosures upon hilltops for defense of the tribe and its assets- though later most of these were scrapped and other reinforced.

About this time a Greek explorer came to the islands. His name was Pytheas, and he explored and mapped much of the coastal regions. His works reached another greek cartographer, who corrupted the name Pretanni to Britanni, and named the island group Britanniae.

Albion was the main island of the group, upon which the Pretanni fought and thrived. They pushed those that will later become the Picts north, and expanded west to the island of Hibernia, which will later become Ireland. Together with smaller islands north, the entire archipelago was Britanniae, which the Romans corrupted over time to Britannia, by which they named only the main island. The people were called Britons, and their culture Brythonic.

The Brythonic culture and language was very similar to the Gallic one on the continent, leading again to assumptions of either Celtic origin or absorption. Regardless, the tribes of the island were numerous, warlike, and quite advanced, especially as the Iron Age began. Iron bars formed a type of currency, and the Britons became master craftsmen in its use. Later, coinage was introduced, and British tin, wheat, and other products were sought on the continent.

This wealth brought them to the attention of the Romans, who had finally conquered Gaul in the time of Gaius Julius Caesar. The defeated Belgic peoples, fleeing Roman wrath, scattered- and some went to Britannia where they settled west of Londinium. Another tribe, the Parisii, settled on the borders of the Brigante and Damnonii lands to the north east.

Caesar, pursuing glory, came to the island but was surprised by the numbers and quality of warriors facing him. His single legion could not conquer the island, so he won a few skirmishes and departed. The Emperor Caligula would try again to conquer this unruly island, but his men refused to even board the ships. It would be his successor Claudius who would eventually bring four legions to Britannia and begin the conquest in 43 AD.

It would take many years, and several bloody revolts, but eventually the Emperor Hadrian would build a great wall to keep the free Pretanni from ravaging their Romanized cousins and lands south of the wall. Roman Britain would survive for another four hundred years before the Great Migrations of the Anglo-Saxons changed Britannia to England.