Ancient history

A hazy picture from druids to Astérix

Brittany’s history becomes very hazy in the long gap between the Neolithic period and the arrival of the Romans. In the Iron-Age centuries preceding Caesar’s conquest of Armorica, a strong Celtic culture emerged and even if very little has survived from this shadowy period, the druids, the charismatic priests of the time, have left the deepest imprint on our imaginations.

Picture 1 Ancient history Picture 2 Ancient history

The Celts’ unwritten rules 

Few remnants of Brittany’s Celtic tribes have come down to us beyond the odd trace of a fort – for example on certain coastal promontories, or at mysterious, boulder-strewn Huelgoat in central Finistère. A few museums display evocative Celtic coins however the druids forbade the writing down of Celtic learning. Without written evidence, our imaginations can speculate wildly about these priests secretively at work in the forests, skilled craftsmen preparing warriors’ weapons, and bards singing their praises.

The Romans rewrite history 

Unlike the Celts, the Romans avidly recorded their achievements ; Caesar noted in The Conquest of Gaul how his navy beat the able sailors of southern Armorica more by luck than skill. Small fragments from Gallo-Roman settlements have been found, notably in towns dating this far back, going from the foundations of Brest castle in the west to period objects found in Rennes in the east. Corseul near Dinan has some of Brittany’s best-preserved Roman remains. The vestiges of one or two luxury villas have also been discovered by the sea.

Astérix’s unreliable memoirs 

The conflict between the natives of the Armorican peninsula and the Romans has been turned into one of the best-loved cartoons of all time : Astérix. However, you won’t be surprised to learn that the series isn’t a good source of historical fact. The local Celts didn’t have a magic potion, but it seems they did relish fighting and feasting.

Did you know ?

Legend has it that nine Celtic priestesses guarded a much revered, and feared, oracle out on the island of Sein beyond the westernmost tip of Brittany.

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