Around 325 BC, a Greek geographer and explorer by the
name of Pytheas of Massalia undertook a voyage of exploration to
In the process he became the first scholar to note
details about the Celtic and Germanic tribes there. His voyage took
him from the Pillars of Herakles (the modern Straits of Gibraltar),
along the Atlantic coast of Spain and France, and to Armorica (modern
Brittany), where he noted various Celtic tribes. At least some of those
he mentioned can be linked to tribes which were also present in the
region during the conquests of Julius Caesar in the first century BC.
During his trip he visited the British Isles, before
finally making his way to Scandinavia, noting various tribes there
and perhaps being the first man to note the name 'Thule', a
far-northern location in classical European literature and cartography.
Pytheas in Britain
His time within the vicinity of the British Isles
produced various interesting points. Apparently he travelled
extensively around the 'isles', making notes of what he saw, and
also provided what may be the earliest written report of Stonehenge.
He named the promontory of Kantion (land of the Cantii
- modern Kent), the promontory of Belerion (land of the Cornovii -
modern Cornwall), and Orkas (the Orkneys). To ascertain these names he
must have visited each location, and probably many others besides.
Belerion, he recorded, was home to a civilised people who were
especially hospitable to strangers, apparently due to their dealings
with foreign merchants who were involved in the tin trade. 
He also named the British Isles themselves the
'Prettanic' isles, although the spelling varies thanks to the
translation from his original Greek. Whether he coined this name
himself or (more likely) gained it from the inhabitants is unknown.
Later sources recorded the name of Alba (meaning 'white') for the
British Isles, and Ere (meaning 'west') for Erin (Ireland).
'Prettanic', on the other hand, refers not to the islands but to
the people of the islands. The '-an' suffix is a plural
suffix which is used in this case to indicate an entire people.
Later, when about two-thirds of the eastern island
was held by the Romans, Alba was exiled to the far north - much as
some of the region's inhabitants had been, marginalised by later
arrivals such as the Celts, or escaping there to avoid the Romans.
The spelling of 'Prettanic' can vary, as mentioned.
It can be shown with one 't' or two, and the final 'k' sound can
either be written as a 'k' or as a 'c'. This is due only to different
alphabets used by Romans and Greeks. Prettanic became something like
Pretan to the Celts (or was already being used by them in this fashion),
Britannia to the Romans, Prydein to the Welsh, and Britain to the
The details recorded by Pytheas were interpreted by Ptolemy in
the second century AD, and this 1490 Italian reconstruction of
the section covering the British Isles and northern Gaul shows
Ptolemy's characteristically lopsided Scotland at the top