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The Bretons.

The Bretons is part of Blackwell's Peoples of Europe series, but it offers a brief survey, not of the Bretons, as one might expect, but of their region, Brittany, stretching from the Paleolithic period to the late Middle Ages. Patrick Galliou and Michael Jones provide a synthesis of current scholarship over this long range of the history of Brittany. The first five chapters were written by Galliou, an archaeologist at the Universite de Bretagne Occidentale (Brest) and the Universite de Haute Bretagne (Rennes), and covers the northwestern peninsula of France, known in antiquity as Armorica, from its first known hominid inhabitants to the end of the Roman period. Each chapter generally takes up major aspects of society, such as settlement, trade, agriculture, religion, and culture. The next eight chapters, written by Jones, a historian at the University of Nottingham, have medieval Brittany as their focus, from the migration of the Bretons from Britain to Armorica at the end of the Roman Empire in Gaul to the incorporation of the duchy of Brittany into the kingdom of France in 1491. These chapters tend to be more chronologically oriented than Galliou's, which cover the pre-historic and Roman periods, but they also sketch out social, religious, economic, and institutional developments. A brief nine-page concluding chapter, half of which consists of photographs, considers Brittany and the Bretons since 1491. Sixty-eight plates, maps, figures, and genealogies provide clear and interesting illustrations of the topographical, archaeological, numismatic, economic, and other points in the text.

As a brief survey and synthesis of pre-historic, ancient, and medieval Brittany, The Bretons is well written and interesting. The authors cover most of the major points of the history of this region and a good, though brief, twenty-three-page bibliography guides the reader to the principal sources and to more detailed studies of the topics examined in each chapter. The authors present a unified theme of the history of this region over a long range of time - while Armorica/Brittany was on the periphery of the continent and it always was home to a unique society and culture, it was never truly isolated and was always influenced by its neighbors, the Gauls, Romans, Franks, Plantagenets, and French. Thus it presents a unique but not isolated culture constantly affected by outside powers and peoples.

Any regional study spanning such a long time period will inevitably have weaknesses that could be remedied only by the production of a different and more comprehensive work. Nonetheless, the authors' treatment of the coming of the Bretons is somewhat cursory and not informative on the extent of "Bretonness" within Brittany, nor do the authors clarify whether those who are called Bretons (Britones) in medieval documents refer to ethnic Bretons or to anyone who may have originated in the region of Brittany. In the end, this work is indeed much more of a brief historical survey of a region of Europe before the modern period than a study of a people of Europe. It is, however, a fascinating and informative study of the broad outline of the premodern development of this province of France.

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Author:Fanning, Steven
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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