(Βρεττανία), called also Albion. An island in the Atlantic Ocean, and the largest in Europe. The Phnicians appear to have been early acquainted with it, and to have carried on there a traffic for tin. (See Cassiterides.) Commercial jealousy, however, induced them to keep their discoveries a profound secret. The Carthaginians succeeded to the Phnicians, but were equally mysterious. Avienus (q.v.) in his poem entitled Ora Maritima, makes mention of the voyages of a certain Himilco, in this quarter, and professes to draw his information from the long-concealed Punic annals. Little was known of Britain until Caesar's time, who invaded and endeavoured, although ineffectually, to conquer the island. After a long interval, Ostorius, in the reign of Claudius, reduced the southern part of Britannia; and Agricola subsequently, in the reign of Domitian, extended the Roman dominion to the Frith of Forth and the Clyde. The whole force of the Empire, although exerted to the utmost under Septimius Severus, could not, however, reduce to subjection the hardy natives of the highlands. This emperor divided the country into two partsBritannia Inferior or Southern [p. 223] Britain, and Britannia Superior or Northern Britaineach under a special prefect. When the Empire was divided under Diocletian, Britain became a diocese of the praefectura of Gaul, and was governed by a vicarius residing at Eboracum (York). At this time it was marked out into five provinces, as follows: Britannia Prima (England south of the Thames), Britannia Secunda (Wales), Flavia Caesariensis (between the Thames, Severn, Mersey, and Humber), Maxima Caesariensis (all the rest of England up to the Wall of Hadrian), and Valentia (Scotland south of the Wall of Antoninus). Ptolemy enumerates fifty-six towns (coloniae, municipia) of Roman Britain, two of which (Eboracum and Verulamium) had the rights of Roman citizenship. Eboracum, Deva (Chester, castra), and Isca (Caerleon) were military centres, each being the station for a legion of Roman soldiers, chiefly, however, Gauls, Germans, and Iberians.
To what an extent the Romans succeeded in introducing the refinements of their civilization into [figure in text: Copper Coin of Antoninus Pius, about A.D. 138, showing figure of Britannia.] Britain may be seen in the great number of their remains that have been found, including roads, houses, baths, painted walls, altars, ornaments, mosaics, sculpture, bronzes, coins, pottery, and various implements. Britain continued a Roman province until A.D. 426, when the troops, having been in a great measure withdrawn to assist Valentinian III. against the Huns, never returned. The Britons had become so enervated under the Roman yoke as to be unable to repel the incursions of the inhabitants of the north. They invoked, therefore, the aid of the Saxons (A.D. 407), by whom they were themselves subjugated and at length obliged to take refuge in the mountains of Wales.
The name Britain was unknown to the Romans before the time of Caesar; though Aristotle as early as the fourth century B.C. speaks of the νῆσοι Βρεταννικαί. Some deduce the name of the Britons from the Gallic Britti (Cymric brth), painted, in allusion to the custom of a part of the inhabitants of painting their bodies; but Rhys rejects this etymology, without suggesting any that is more plausible. The other name, Albion, is etymologically connected with the Gaelic alp, a high hill, or the Latin albus, white. This was undoubtedly the Keltic name of the whole island.
Britain was famous for its Roman walls, of which traces remain to the present day. The first was built by Agricola, A.D. 79, nearly in the situation of the rampart of Hadrian and wall of Severus mentioned below. In A.D. 81, Agricola built a line of very strong forts from the Frith of Forth to the Frith of Clyde. This, however, was insufficient to check the barbarians after his departure. In A.D. 120, therefore, Hadrian erected a famous wall from Boulness on Solway Frith to a spot a little beyond Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was sixty-eight English or seventy-four Roman miles long. Twenty years after this, Lollius Urbicus, under the emperor Antoninus, restored the second wall of Agricola, which is commonly called the Vallum Antonini. But the greatest of all was that of Severus, begun A.D. 209, and finished the next year, and which was only a few yards north of Hadrian's wall. It was garrisoned by ten thousand men. See Wright, The Kelt, the Roman, and the Saxon (1889); Coote, The Romans of Britain (1878); Scarth, Roman Britain (1883).