The Entire History of the British Isles Animated: 42,000 BCE to Today

The Unit­ed King­dom is a con­fus­ing place for many peo­ple, and their not-quite-answered ques­tions about it go all the way to what does and does not con­sti­tute the Unit­ed King­dom in the first place. Not to give the end­ing away, but the ani­mat­ed map above by his­tor­i­cal-car­to­graph­i­cal Youtu­ber Ollie Bye even­tu­al­ly reveals that, if you’re look­ing at the British Isles, you’re look­ing at the UK — unless, of course, you’re look­ing at the Repub­lic of Ire­land. But tak­ing the long view, the polit­i­cal divi­sion of the British Isles has sel­dom been so sim­ple. We know they were pop­u­lat­ed by what we now call cau­ca­soids at least 44,000 years ago, but by 700 BC three groups had divid­ed them up: the Britons, the Picts, and the Gaels.

The com­pli­ca­tions real­ly start at the time of the Roman Empire, when, depend­ing on where in the British Isles you went, you’d have encoun­tered the Icenii, the Parisi, the Cale­donii, the Iverni, and many oth­er dis­tinct peo­ples besides. When the Roman Empire gave way to the Roman Repub­lic, Bri­tan­nia, or Roman Britain, began its expan­sion (and its road-build­ing) across the Isles, start­ing from the south­east.

But with Rome’s with­draw­al in 410 a great many new bor­ders appear like spi­der­web cracks across the land. For cen­turies there­after, the British Isles is a place of many king­doms: Mer­cia, Wes­sex, Northum­bria, Gwynedd, and Deheubarth, to name but a few. (Not to men­tion the Vikings.) And then you have a year like 1066, when the Nor­man con­quest redraws a large chunk of the map at a stroke.

Even those most igno­rant of British his­to­ry will rec­og­nize a few of the king­doms that arise lat­er on in this peri­od: the King­dom of Scot­land, for exam­ple, or the King­dom of Wales. Start­ing from the mid-12th cen­tu­ry, a cer­tain King­dom of Eng­land begins to paint the map red. By 1604, the British Isles are clean­ly divid­ed between the King­dom of Eng­land and the King­dom of Scot­land; by 1707, the King­dom of Great Britain is run­ning the whole place. The sit­u­a­tion has­n’t changed much since, though any­one who has trav­eled across the British Isles knows that the osten­si­ble lack of polit­i­cal frac­tious­ness masks many endur­ing cul­tur­al divi­sions sub­tle to the out­sider: while every­one liv­ing every­where from John o’ Groats to Land’s End may offi­cial­ly be British, few would coun­te­nance being lumped togeth­er with all the rest of them.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Rise and Fall of the British Empire in an Ani­mat­ed Time-Lapse Map ( 519 A.D. to 2014 A.D.)

The Roman Roads of Britain Visu­al­ized as a Sub­way Map

Watch the His­to­ry of the World Unfold on an Ani­mat­ed Map: From 200,000 BCE to Today

The His­to­ry of Civ­i­liza­tion Mapped in 13 Min­utes: 5000 BC to 2014 AD

5‑Minute Ani­ma­tion Maps 2,600 Years of West­ern Cul­tur­al His­to­ry

A His­to­ry of the Entire World in Less Than 20 Min­utes

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • Amareaux says:

    42000kya, cau­ca­soids did not exist, unless they’re refer­ring to Nean­derthal types. Cau­casian’s did not even appear until less than 10000kya. This is per­plex­ing and needs fur­ther cita­tions.

  • Carly M says:

    I’m see­ing a lot of issues with the place­ment of Picts, use of the term Scots before it was real­ly a thing (I might be con­vinced to accept Scot­ti), Dál Ria­ta not show­ing up until after 518, For­triu not being men­tioned as Pic­tish until real­ly quite late in the game. The entire inte­ri­or of Ire­land being left white until quite late. The Hebrides did not sud­den­ly become Viking lands in 794. The first attack on Iona was record­ed c. 802.

    There’s just so many issues here. You might want to go back and recon­sid­er your sources. Were medieval­ists involved in the cre­ation of this video?

  • Scott Mansfiel says:

    Every time one of those bor­ders moved, peo­ple were con­vinced to mur­der each oth­er. Seems point­less now, as will our cur­rent con­flicts to future gen­er­a­tions.

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