Britannis

ZenFox42

New Member
First, some background : I am researching the possible historical existence of King Arthur. One name associated with this is Riothamus, and an ancient writer named Sidonius Apollinaris wrote a letter to him. In it, he hints that Riothamus might have some power or authority over the "Britannis" (in the original Latin). In O.M. Dalton's 1915 translation, Dalton translates this as "Bretons", which are British settlers of Armorica, or modern-day Brittany.

However, in searching the web, I have found many scholarly papers dealing with excerpts from Latin writers who translate "Britannis" as "Britons", or natives of Great Britain. I also found a Latin-to-English dictionary from the 1800's which also says it means Britons. I have found virtually no sites that translate it as Bretons. (Just to be clear, none of these sites are automated translators.)

The importance of this distinction is critical - Riothamus has always been thought to perhaps be a leader in Armorica, but if Britannis means Britons, then he is instead possibly a leader in Great Britain.

So, two lesser questions are : what are the thought processes involved in translating Britannis as Britons or Bretons? Why would Dalton in 1915 translate it as Bretons, when today it seems unanimously translated as Britons? But my main question is : which do you believe it should be translated as, and why?

In case context matters, here is the excerpt :

"Gerulus epistularum humilis obscurus despicabilisque etiam usque ad damnum innocentis ignaviae mancipia sua Britannis clam sollicitantibus abducta deplorat."
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
It can mean either and it's impossible to tell without more context which one is meant. Historians can only draw conclusions either from information that's in the text itself, or from the larger historical context, if it is known.
 

Cinefactus

Censor
Staff member
If you read Bede he uses Brittani to mean the native Britons, as opposed to Scotti (the Irish invaders) and Picti.

In primis autem haec insula Brettones solum, a quibus nomen accepit, incolas habuit; qui de tractu Armoricano, ut fertur, Brittaniam aduecti, australes sibi partes illius uindicarunt.
Et cum plurimam insulae partem, incipientes ab Austro, possedissent, contigit gentem Pictorum de Scythia, ut perhibent, longis nauibus non multis Oceanum ingressam, circumagente flatu uentorum, extra fines omnes Brittaniae Hiberniam peruenisse, eiusque septentrionales oras intrasse, atque inuenta ibi gente Scottorum, sibi quoque in partibus illius sedes petisse, nec inpetrare potuisse.
 

ZenFox42

New Member
It can mean either and it's impossible to tell without more context which one is meant. Historians can only draw conclusions either from information that's in the text itself, or from the larger historical context, if it is known.
Pacifica - thanks! I had a thought after I posted : Sidonius lived in Gaul (France), and apparently the letter was delivered to Riothamus by a man who claimed that the "Britannis" were stealing his slaves. If Sidonius sent the man, he probably came from Gaul, and so it was probably Gallic British (hence "Bretons") that were doing the stealing. Does that sound reasonable?

Also, I don't want you to take this as a challenge to your authority, I am just intensely curious (about everything) : how do you know that Britannis can mean Bretons? Are there Latin documents that use Britannis in a context that clearly indicates they are referring to Bretons?
 
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Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Pacifica - thanks! I had a thought after I posted : Sidonius lived in Gaul (France), and apparently the letter was delivered to Riothamus by a man who claimed that the "Britannis" were stealing his slaves. If Sidonius sent the man, he probably came from Gaul, and so it was probably Gallic British (hence "Bretons") that were doing the stealing. Does that sound reasonable?
It sounds reasonable, but I don't know enough about this stuff to rule out the other possibility.
Also, I don't want you to take this as a challenge to your authority, I am just intensely curious (about everything) : how do you know that Britannis can mean Bretons? Are there Latin documents that use Britannis in a context that clearly indicates they are referring to Bretons?
First and foremost, "Britain" and "Brittany" are clearly the same Latin word, Britannia, that evolved into two slightly different forms in English. Therefore, Britain and Brittany must both have been called Britannia at some point, and hence Britons and Bretons Britanni. The French Bretagne is still exactly the same for Britain and Brittany, and we just add the adjective Grande to distinguish Great Britain from Brittany.

As far as classical Latin is concerned, I was used to seeing Britannia and Britanni refer to Britain and Britons. I don't know when Brittany and Bretons started being called Britannia and Britanni as well. This dictionary gives none other than Sidonius as the author of the only instance it mentions of Britanni meaning Bretons: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0059:entry=Britanni
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Looking further down the page, I see Brito (a synonym of Britannus) is apparently found as early as Martial, and possibly Juvenal (the reading there is doubtful), with reference to Bretons.
 

Tlepolemus

Active Member
Greek and Roman Geography (Smith, 1854): "Pliny places Britanni on the Gallic coast, between a people who belong to the pagus of Gesoriacum (Boulogne) and the Ambiani. They would, therefore, be about the river Canche. Whether this is a blunder of Pliny, or a corruption in his text, or whether there were Britanni on this coast, we have no means of determining."
 

ZenFox42

New Member
Greek and Roman Geography (Smith, 1854): "Pliny places Britanni on the Gallic coast, between a people who belong to the pagus of Gesoriacum (Boulogne) and the Ambiani. They would, therefore, be about the river Canche. Whether this is a blunder of Pliny, or a corruption in his text, or whether there were Britanni on this coast, we have no means of determining."
Tlepolemus - thank you, that's interesting, but the region Pliny ascribes to the Britanni would be in Belgica, which is far from Amorica. Also, it is my understanding that the Britains started moving to Armorica when the Saxons invaded England (ca. 450 CE), long after Pliny wrote (ca. 60 AD). So I'm guessing that his "Britanni" don't have anything to do with "Bretons".
 
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