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Brittany (French: Bretagne, French pronunciation ▶(?); Breton: Breizh; Gallo: Bertaèyn) is a former independent duchy, then province of France. It is also, more generally, the name of the cultural area whose limits correspond to the old province.

The historical province of Brittany was split between two modern-day régions of France. 80% of Brittany has become the région of Bretagne, while the remaining 20% of Brittany (Loire-Atlantique département with its préfecture Nantes, the old capital of the duchy of Brittany) has been grouped with other historical provinces (Anjou, Maine, and so on) to create the région of Pays-de-la-Loire (that is "lands of the Loire"). For the reasons behind the splitting-up of Brittany, and the current debate around a reunification, see the Bretagne article.

Modern flagBrittany occupies a large peninsula in the northwest of France, lying between the English Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south. Its land area is 34,034 km² (13,137 sq. mi), which is about the same size as Taiwan, about 60% larger than Wales, and about 70% larger than Massachusetts.

In 2004 the population of Brittany is estimated at 4,200,000 inhabitants. 72% of these live in the Bretagne région, while 28% of these live in the Pays-de-la-Loire région. At the 1999 census, the largest metropolitan areas were Nantes (711,120 inhabitants), Rennes (521,188 inhabitants), and Brest (303,484 inhabitants).


History of Brittany - Palaeolithic

Only a few Palaeolithic sites are known from Britanny, like the rock shelter of Perros-Guirec near Rochworn. The only cave site known so far is Roc'h Toul in a sandstone promontory near Guiclan (Finistère). The cave contained about 200 artifacts and was dated to the late Magdalenian by de Mortillet. Because of the presence of points with curved backs, it is now connected with the epipalaeolithic Azilian. Other Azilian sites include Parc-an-Plenen and Enez Guennoc.



The best-known mesolithic sites from Brittany are the cemeteries on the islands of Hoëdic (10 graves) and Téviec (9 graves) in Morbihan. The collective graves are placed in shell middens without any particular order. Some graves show evidence of postmortal manipulations of the bones. There are single burials and empty graves (cenotaphs) as well. The graves are covered with stones, a hearth or antlers forming a sort of dome. Rich funeral gifts, flint tools, engraved bones, shell ornaments and ochre demonstrate the affluence of these hunter-gatherers, or rather fisher-gatherers. Certain shells are sex-specific. In Teviec there are stone cist graves. The bones of an infant have been postmortally ornamented with striations.

The corresponding settlements consist of shell middens. A radiocarbon date of 4625 (uncal.) for Hoëdic places it in the 6th Millennium BC cal, rather late in the Mesolithic sequence, and indeed there are some indications of contact with agricultural societies to the East. Their economy was based on marine resources. Recently, a number of accelerator dates have been published for Hoëdic.

In Beg an Dorchenn in Plomeur (Finistère), domestic dog and cattle were already present, in Dissignac, micoliths were associated with pollen evidence for clearances.

Some scholars speculate that megalithic graves might go back to the Mesolithic, but this contention is difficult to prove, as most structures have been reused. Large numbers of Microliths have been found under the chambered tomb of Dissignac.



The westernmost extensions of the Villeneuve-Saint-Germain culture, based on a linearbandkeramic tradition are found in eastern Brittany (Le Haut Meé). The use of schist from the eastern edge of the Breton Massif for bracelets in settlements in the Paris Bassin attests to widespread trade. A bracelet of polished stone found in a grave in the VSG-settlement of Jablines Les-Longues-Raies was made of amphibolite from the island of Groix in southern Morbihan, prooves trade with local Mesolithic communities.

The early passage graves date to between 4000 and 3000 bc, followed by evolved passage graves between 300-2500 bc. In the later part of the Neolithic, allées couvertes and simple dolmens became the predominant type of burial monument. Some passage graves are decorated with incised lines, of which Gavrinis is probably the best known example.

Some scholars see an influence of the central European Linearbandkeramic culture in the finds from the longmounds of Mané Ty Ec and Mané Pochat er Ieu (Morbihan), but this should rather be connected to the la Hoguette tradition, ultimately of Cardial extraction. Carn-pottery, thin walled round based deep bowls, often with applied crescents (croissants) is typical for early chambered tombs. It is found in Finistère, Morbihan and Loire-Atlantique.

Middle Neolithic settlements include La Motte, La Butte-aux-Pierres and Lannic. They mainly concentrate on the Coast. The pottery shows Chasséen influences. Bowls are still round-bottomed, but with s-shaped profiles and vertically perforated lugs. Some geometric decoration occurs, but is rather rare. Vase-supports of Chassey-type are found as well, the Breton variety has been named the Er Lannic type and is characterised by triangular perforations, while the examples found on the Channel Islands show circular perforations. Other local pottery types include Castellic grooved ware, Souc'h-ware, and Colpo-type ware.

Stone circles like Er Lannic (a double oval of standing stones and a ditch) sometimes contain settlement material and pottery of Chasséen-type. By the middle of the 3rd century, the Kerugou, upper and lower Conguel and Rosmeur/Croh Collé types became preponderant.

SOM-influenced pottery in central Brittany includes the Quessoy and Crec'h Quille/Le Melus types. Collared bottles can be related to the Kragenflaschenhorizont of the late TBK. Since the late 3rd millennium, Grand-Pressigny flint was imported in some quantity. Some type of Breton axes were exported. For example, dolerite axes made at Plussulien have been found in Britain. The dolmen Mané-Lud at Locmariaquer is thought to show a picture of a boat.

Beaker material is known from some settlement sites, for example Kastel Koz, other beakers were found in rivers. Marine beakers predominate, AOC-decoration is found in Southern Brittany. Small gold plaques are known from beaker graves, in Kerouaren a diadem has been found. There is no indication that the beaker people already exploited the Armorican metal deposits.


Bronze age

The early Bronze age culture is commonly believed to have grown out of Beaker roots, with some Wessex and Unetice influence. In the early Bronze age, rich individual graves are found under barrows, which indicates a complete change of the social structure. The Breton barrows have been divided into two series by Cogné and Guiot, the first dating from 1900-1600 bc, the second to 1600-1400 bc. The barrows of the first series can be up to 50 m in diameter and 6 m high. They are found in Western Brittany, along the coast, the Blavet river and at the southern border of the Monts d'Arrée. A few examples have been recorded from Normandy. The barrows contain a small cairn over a stone cist, wooden coffin or dry stone structure containing the burial. Often the chambers are covered by large stone slabs. Sometimes roofed mortuary houses are found, for example at St. Jude en Bourbriac. The stone cists can be quite large, up to 4 m long, but always only contain an single body. Grave gifts include amber beads, silver cups, gold-hilted daggers (Saint Adrien), tanged flint arrowheads and stone axes. Because of these rich grave goods, J. Briard sees them as burials of warrior-priests. Certainly not everybody was buried in this way, but nothing is known of "commoner-burials", especially as bones are not normally preserved in the acidic soils of Brittany. The gold-pin decoration of the dagger hilts and the amber-beads show close connection to the Wessex-culture, but there are technical differences. The barrow of Kernonen en Plouvorn, Finistère, provides a good example of a rich burial of the first series.

The barrows of the second series are a bit smaller and show a more inland-distribution. They do not normally contain metal, but numerous pottery vessels, high biconical vessels, sometimes with a geometric decoration under the rim, or single four-handled undecorated pots. There seems to be no division of the grave goods by gender.

Glass-beads are found in some graves, for example at Mez-Nabat, Plouhinec (Finistère).

The later part of the early bronze age saw the beginning of the exploitation of the Armorican tin deposits. Numerous hoards contain tools and weapons, but metalwork is rarely found in burials or settlements, which makes the synchronisation of hoards and settlements difficult. The Tréboul-group of hoards is thought to be contemporaneous with the second series barrows. Decorated spear-heads, flanged axes, palstaves and long daggers are typical. The hoard from Bignan (Morbihan) contained only bronze jewellery.

Coastal salterns are known from the late Bronze Age onwards as well, for example at Curnic, Guissény.

Pollen analysis shows that widespread clearance of the beech forests took place in the early bronze age. Cereal pollen have been found at Porsguen, Plouescat, for example. Domestic animals included sheep, goats and cattle, but hunting may have still provided a lot of meat. La Roche, Videlles, has still 60% wild animals among the animal bones, but it is not clear if this is typical. Carbonised remains of naked wheat and barley have been found at Plounéour-Trez, hazelnuts and acorns were eaten as well. Flint still formed an important part of the tool inventory.

Some standing stones (Menhirs) and stone alignments date to the early bronze age, for example the Grand Menhir Brisé at Locmariaquer.

The later Bronze age sees only a slight Urnfield influence. Hoards are numerous. The Saint-Brieuc-des-Iffs phase marks the beginnings of the Atlantic bronze industries. It is succeeded by the carp's-tongue complex, found in Britain and Portugal as well.

The square-socketed armorican axes turn up in hoards in great numbers. At Maure-de-Bretagne, over 4000 axes have been found, ca. 800 at Tréhou and Loudéac.

The axes are mainly unused and may have been a form of ingot of primitive currency. They contain a high amount of lead or consist of pure lead and are distributed from the Iberian Peninsula to eastern Germany, Ireland and Southern Britain, with some pieces from Scotland, Poland and Switzerland. Different regional types are known: Brandivy in Morbihan, Dahouet and Plurien on the North coast, Tréhou in Finistère. The miniature types of Maure-de-Bretagne, Ille-et-Villaine and Couville are typical of Upper Brittany.

Copper was imported from Spain as plano-convex ingots, as found in the hoard of Penfoul, Landelau.

Settlements have rarely been excavated, Ploubazlanec at the mouth of the Trieux is an example of a fortified village.


Iron Age

A variety of tribes are mentioned in Roman sources, like the Veneti, Armoricani, Osismii, Namnetes and Coriosolites. Strabo and Poseidonius describe the Armoricani as belonging to the Belgae.

Armorican gold coins have been widely exported and are even found in the Rhineland.

Salterns are widespread in Northern Armorica, for example at Trégor, Ebihens and Enez Vihan near Pleumeur-Bodou (Côtes-d'Armor) and the island of Yoc'h near Landuvez (Finistère) of late La Tene date.

An estimated 40-55 kg of salt were per oven were produced at Ebihens. Each oven was about 2 m long. The site dates to the end of the early La Tene or the middle La Téne period. Numerous briquetage-remains have been found. At Tregor, boudins de Calage (hand-bricks) were the typical form of briquetage, between 2,5 and 15 cm long and with a diameter between 4-7 cm. At the salterns at Landrellec and Enez Vihan at Pleumeur-Bodou the remains of rectangular ovens have been excavated that are 2,5-3 m long and ca. 1 m wide and constructed of stones and clay. On the Gulf of Morbihan about 50 salterns have been found so far. mainly dating to the final La Téne period.


Roman Rule

In 56 BC the area was conquered by the Romans under Julius Caesar. The Venetian notables were killed or sold off as slaves. The Romans called the district Armorica (a Latinisation of a Celtic word meaning "coastal region"), part of the Gallia Lugdunensis province. The modern département of Côtes-d'Armor has taken up the ancient name. After the reforms of Diocletian, it was part of the dioceses Galliarum.

The uprising of the Bagaudae in the 3rd century led to unrest and depopulation, numerous villages were destroyed. Thick layers of black earth in the towns point to urban depopulation as well. The rule of Constantine (307-350) led to a certain renaissance, Numerous coins were minted. At the tractus Armoricanus, new forts were built, for example at Brest, Avranches and Le Yaudet. The Notitia Dignitatum (circa 400AD) mentions a number of local units manning the Tractus armoricanus et nervicanus, for example Mauritanian troops in the territory of the Veneti and Osismii. Frankish laeti were present in Rennes. Christianisation is commonly dated to the late fourth century, but material evidence is rare.


Early Middle Ages

Around 500 AD, the Roman troops were withdrawing. Some British authors (Nennius, Gildas) mention Britons fleeing to Armorica to escape the invading Anglo-Saxons and Scoti. These Britons gave the region its current name and contributed to the Breton language, Brezhoneg, a sister language to Welsh and Cornish. (Brittany used to be known in English as Little Britain to distinguish it from Great Britain - the street in London called Little Britain was the location of the embassy of the Duchy of Brittany).

The earliest text in the Breton language, a botanical treatise, dates from 590 (for comparison, the earliest text in French dates from 843) [1].

Conan Meriadoc, the mythic founder of the house of Rohan is mentioned by medieval Welsh sources as having led the settlement of Brittany by Welsh mercenaries, who married native women after cutting out their tongues to preserve the purity of their language. Geoffrey of Monmouth presents this legend to explain the Welsh name for Brittany, Llydaw, as originating from lled-taw or half-silent.

In the Early Middle Ages, Brittany was divided into three kingdoms – Domnonia, Cornouaille, and Bro Waroch - which eventually were incorporated into the Duchy of Brittany.

The first unified Kingdom of Brittany was founded by Nominoë in 845 when the Breton army defeated the forces of Charles the Bald, King of France, at the Battle of Ballon, near Redon, in the eastern part of Brittany, near the French border.

The French army was defeated once again in 851 at the Battle of Jengland by the Breton army of King Erispoë and consequently King Charles the Bald of France recognised the independence of Brittany.


Middle Ages

Bretons took part in the Revolt of 1173-1174, siding with the rebels against Henry II of England.

The Breton War of Succession was fought 1341-1364.

In 1464 the Catholicon, a Breton-Latin-French dictionary by Jehan Lagadeuc, was published. This book was the world's first trilingual dictionary, the first Breton dictionary and also the first French dictionary.

The army of the Kingdom of France with the help of 5000 mercenaries came from Switzerland and Italy defeated the Breton army in 1488 and the last and old Duke of independent Brittany François II was forced to submit to a treaty giving the King of France the right to determine the marriage of the Duke's daughter,a young girl 12 years old, the heir to the Duchy. The Duchess Anne was the last independent ruler of the duchy as she was ultimately obliged to marry Louis XII of France. The duchy passed on her death to her daughter Claude, but Claude's husband François I incorporated the duchy into the Kingdom of France in 1532.


Modern Times

Brittany was a hotbed of resistance to the French Revolution and its accompanying anti-clericalism.

Like the rest of the French state, Brittany came under Nazi occupation during the second world war.

Brittany has its own secessionist movement which has experienced varying success at elections.

The removal of Loire-Atlantique, which contains Nantes (the traditional Breton capital) from the Breton region has also been a matter of much controversy.



French, the official language of the French Republic, is spoken all over Brittany, but the region has two other languages: Breton, a Celtic language related to Welsh; and Gallo, a Romance language related to French.

In rural areas, Breton was traditionally spoken in the west (the "Basse-Bretagne"), and Gallo in the east. The dividing line stretched from Plouha on the north coast to a point to the south-west of Vannes. French had, however, long been the main language of the towns. The Breton-speaking area formerly covered territory much further east than its current distribution. In the Middle Ages, Gallo expanded into formerly Breton-speaking areas. Now restricted to a much reduced territory in the east of Brittany, Gallo finds itself under pressure not only from the dominant Francophone culture, but also from the Breton language revival which is gaining ground in territory that was never part of the Breton-speaking area. A large influx of English-speaking immigrants and second-home owners in some villages sometimes adds to linguistic tensions.

Privately funded Diwan ("Seed") schools, where classes are taught in Breton by the immersion method, play an important part in the revival of the Breton language. The issue of whether they should be funded by the State has long been, and remains, controversial. Some bilingual classes are also provided in ordinary schools.

A few bilingual (Breton and French) road signs may be seen in some areas, especially in the traditional Breton-speaking area. Signage in Gallo is much rarer.



Since the 1970s Breton music has undergone a revival and has become popular even outside the region. Alan Stivell resuscitated the Celtic harp tradition, and folk rock groups such as Tri Yann, Sonerien Du (the "black musicians") and others paved the way for younger groups who now offer a range of Celtic-influenced rock, rap, and dance music.

A popular tradition is the fest noz -- best described as a Breton céilí. Large-scale Celtic festivals are held in the summer in towns around the region. The biggest of these is the Lorient's Festival Inter-Celtique, while Quimper hosts the Festival de Cornouaille, one of the oldest. There are also numerous rock and pop festivals; the biggest in Brittany (and indeed all France) is the Festival des Vieilles Charrues (held in late July in Carhaix, Finistère). Others include the Route du Rock (mid-August, Saint-Malo) and the Transmusicales, held in Rennes in early December. Every four years, the city of Brest is the venue for a giant contest of Vieux Gréements (Old Ships), which brings together some of the world's finest wooden sailing ships.

Inspired by the Scottish pipe band tradition, an analogous movement was founded in Brittany in the early second half of the 20th century, and the bagadoù (pipe bands) with their bagpipes (known as binious), bombardes, and drums are today a common phenomenon at festivals and public occasions.

Also to be seen at festivals are the traditional coiffes -- elaborate lace headresses worn by women. The traditional costume is most often black and white, which is one of the reasons for the choice of colours for the Breton flag (known as the gwenn ha du the "white and black").

The 19th-century Pont-Aven school of Post-impressionist painting included Paul Gauguin. The Surrealist Yves Tanguy was a Breton.

Breton folklore includes the legend of King Arthur, the legend of Ys, sprites called korrigans, and Ankou -- the traditional figure of death whose job it is to collect the souls of freshly dead people in his cart.

There is a well established Inter-Celtic cultural and musical link, and Brittany is also represented in the Celtic Congress. The Bretons have their own Gorsedd, and regularly attend the national Gorseddau of Cornwall and Wales. A popular pan-Celtic festival is held in Lorient.

The bigouden is a Breton head-dress, which can reach to as high as 4 feet tall!

Coat of Arms

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Metasyntactic variable".
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