Britain, Or Britannia, an ancient name of the island of Great Britain. The first name given to the island by the earliest Greek writers whose works have come down to us was Albion, which is supposed to have been formed from the Celtic alb or alp, meaning according to some authorities white, according to others high, and applied to the island either from the white appearance of its chalky cliffs on the south, or from its northern mountains. The natives themselves are said to have called it Eilanban, "the white island," from which Albion could easily, be formed. The origin of the word Britain is even more uncertain than that of Albion. Camden supposed it to be formed from brit, a Celtic word signifying painted, and that it therefore means the land of the painted people. Carte more probably derives it from Bryd-train, the name which the natives called themselves by, and which was easily latinized into Britain. The aboriginal or at least the earliest inhabitants of Britain were of Celtic origin and race, as is evident from the fact that nearly all the names of mountains, lakes, and rivers in the island are still descriptive and significant in the Celtic language.
At a very early period, however, and before we have any authentic knowledge of Britain, its Celtic population seems to have been conquered and displaced by Gothic tribes who at the time of Cassar's invasion, when the history of Britain begins, occupied the S. E. part of the island, and had driven the Celts into the remoter and less accessible districts. Before the time of Caesar, however, nothing is really known of Britain beyond some vague allusions by Herodotus and a statement by Aristotle that in the western ocean there were two large islands, Albion and Ierne, which were called Britannia. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians knew the island and traded with the natives for tin, but they have left no record of their knowledge of it. (See England).