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Région Bretagne

 - Total
 - Density

2 972 700 (2003)
107 /km²
Area27 208 km²
Communes1 268
President of the
regional council
Jean-Yves Le Drian
Côtes-d'Armor (22)
Ille-et-Vilaine (35)
Morbihan (56)
Finistère (29)

This article is about a region of France; Brittany also refers to the Brittany spaniel, a breed of dog.

Brittany (French Bretagne, Breton Breizh, Gallo Bertaèyn) is a peninsula in north-west France, bordering the English Channel on the north and the Bay of Biscay on the south. It is also an administrative region of France.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Sights
3 Culture
4 Miscellaneous
5 sources


Human habitation in the area now called Brittany probably goes back to at least 8000 BC. Virtually nothing is known of these early peoples, beyond the stone megaliths erected around the 2nd millennium BC, and which survive in some areas.


The best-known mesolithic sites from Brittany are the Mesolithic 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 (kenotaphs) 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 gender-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 Millenium 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 (Finisterre), 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 first neolithic finds are early passage graves dating to between 4000 und 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 Finisterre, 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'Arre. 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).

A number of radiocarbon-dates are known from the barrows:
name of site dept. Lab number date standart deviation
Plouvorn, Kernonen Finistère Gif-8051960120
Melrand, Saint-Fiacre Finistère Gif-8631950135
Goarem Goasven Finistère Gif-13131850130
Saint Evarzec, Kerhuel Finistère Gif-4821630200
Ligollenec, Berrien Finistère Gif-18661550120
Kerno en Ploudariel Finistère Gif-24211500100
Plouvorn, Kernonen Finistère Gif-11491480120
Cleger, Kervelerin Finistère Gsy-861345150
Guidel, Tuchenn Cruguel Finistère Gif-2351320200
Cleder, Le Helen Finistère Gif-7481300115
Plouzévédé, Ar Réunic FinistèreGif-11131250120
Plouvorn, Kernonen Finistère Gif-8061250120
Plouzévédé, Ar RéunicFinistèreGif-11151210120
Plouvorn, Kernonen Finistère Gif-8071200120
Goarem Goasven Finistère Gif-13141050130
CourcouryCharente MaritimeGif-234785070
Plouhinec, LescongarFinistèreGif-234785070
Crée de CaratFinistèreGrN-197370060

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, Videllles, 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 Loudeac. 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 in as plano-convex ingots, as they have been 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. At Ebihens, it is estimated that 40-55 kg salt were produced per oven, which 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 fom 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"), or Gallia Lugdunensis. 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 villae 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 Amoricanus, new forts were built, for example at Brest, Avranches and Le Yaudet. The notitia dignitatum 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. Christinanisation is commonly dated to the late fourth century, but material evidence is rare.

early medieval times

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).

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.

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.

Middle Ages

The Breton War of Succession was fought 1341-1364.

The Kingdom of France defeated the Breton army in 1488 and the last Duke of independent Brittany was forced to submit to a treaty giving the King of France the right to determine the marriage of the Duke's daughter, 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.

The historical capital was Nantes, but the modern capital of the region of Brittany is Rennes.

The département; Loire-Atlantique (including the city of Nantes) was historically part of Brittany, but is now part of the Pays de la Loire region. A movement exists to transfer Loire-Atlantique back to the region of Brittany. The département; Loire-Atlantique (including the city of Nantes) was historically part of Brittany, but is now part of the Pays de la Loire region. A movement exists to transfer Loire-Atlantique back to the region of Brittany.


Brittany is famous for its megalithic monuments, which are scattered over the peninsula, the largest alignments are near Carnac. The purpose of these monuments is still unknown, and many local people are reluctant to entertain speculation on the subject. The words dolmen and menhir come from the Breton language.

Brittany is also known for the calvaires (calvaries), elaborately carved sculptures of crucifixion scenes, to be found in churchyards of villages and small towns, especially in Western Brittany.

Besides the two historic capitals, significant urban centres include:

The walled city of Saint-Malo, a popular tourist attraction, is also an important port linking Brittany with the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands. The town of Roscoff is served by ferry links with the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.

The island of Ushant (French Ouessant, Breton Enez Eusa) is the north-westernmost point in France, and marks the entrance of the English Channel. Besides Ushant, Brittany is encircled by other islands. The major ones are:


A Celtic language, Breton, is still spoken in some parts of Brittany - traditionally in the west. In the east, a langue d'oïl known as Gallo, which is still spoken, was the traditional language until the French language came to dominate. Gallo now 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 traditionally Gallo-speaking.

Since the 1970s Breton music has been revived and has become popular even outside the region. Alan Stivell revived the Celtic harp tradition, and folk rock groups such as Tri Yann, Sonerien Du and others paved the way for younger groups which now offer a range of Celtic-influenced rock, rap and dance music.

A popular tradition is the fest noz - best described as a Breton ceilidh. Large Celtic festivals are held in Summer in towns around the region - the biggest is the Festival Inter-Celtique of Lorient, whereas Quimper hosts the Festival de Cornouaille.

Inspired by the Scottish pipe band tradition, in the first half of the 20th century an analogous movement was founded in Brittany, and now the bagad (pipe band) with its bagpipes (called biniou), bombardes and drums are 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 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.

Traditionally the region is strongly Catholic. The proportion of students attending Catholic private schools is higher than in most of the other regions of France. As in other Celtic countries, the legacy of Celtic Christianity has left a rich tradition of local saints and monastic communities, often commemorated in placenames beginning Lan, Lam or Loc.

Breton folklore includes the legend of King Arthur, the legend of Ys and sprites called korrigans.

As for eating and drinking, although some white wine is produced near the Loire, the traditional drinks of Brittany are cider, a sort of mead made from wild honey called chouchen, and apple brandy called lambic. Very thin, wide pancakes made from buckwheat flour and called galettes are eaten with ham, eggs and other savoury fillings. Crêpes made from wheat flour are eaten for dessert. Other pastries such as kouign amann ("butter cake" in Breton) made from bread dough, butter and sugar, or far, a sort of sweet Yorkshire pudding or clafoutis with prunes, are traditional.


The Breton anthem Bro Goz ma Zadoù is set to the same tune as the Welsh anthem.

A number of separatist groups exist, fighting for the independence of Brittany. However, they enjoy little support in elections.


The historical capital was Nantes, but the modern capital of the region of Brittany is Rennes.

Regions of France
Alsace | Aquitaine | Auvergne | Lower Normandy | Burgundy | Brittany | Centre | Champagne-Ardenne | Corsica | Franche-Comté | Upper Normandy | Île-de-France | Languedoc-Roussillon | Limousin | Lorraine | Midi-Pyrénées | Nord-Pas-de-Calais | Loire Region | Picardy | Poitou-Charentes | Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur | Rhône-Alpes
Overseas Departments
Guadeloupe | Martinique | French Guiana | Réunion