Armorica, the western arm of northern Gaul, was
the ancient domain of the Veneti. Although there were two smaller
Celtic tribes living in there area, the Veneti were the most powerful.
Several theories account for their origins, but
the best - and most practical - of these is that they were northern
Celts, otherwise known as Belgae. This population seemingly migrated
into the Low Countries and northern Gaul around the fourth and third
The area had been mostly Celtic for over three
hundred years. It was as much an established part of Gaul as the Romans
were of Italy. During the second century BC, Gaul was considered a centre
of Celtic culture in Europe.
Conquest by Rome
At this time over sixty major tribes inhabited this western
section of Gaul (present day France). Rich accounts of Julius Caesar's Gallic
Wars (circa 52 BC) and the Roman conquest of Gaul are found in various
writings, supplying a lively picture of the Celtic warriors.
Wisely, the Roman conquerors and governors allowed the
Celts to blend their mythology with that of the Romans and, in some
instances, the Romans embraced some of the Celtic gods and goddesses
themselves, such as Epona, the goddess of mares.
By AD 400, the newly arriving Franks regarded themselves
as the natural heirs of the Romans in Gaul and sought to retain their
hold on this, the richest part of Gaul, but during the middle years of
the fifth century, at a time when former Saxon foederati were in
revolt in Britain, a migration of the island's upper classes secured
Armorica for Britain's 'Second Kingdom', as it was also known.
The Franks had not yet had a chance to secure the
territory for themselves, and wouldn't have been powerful enough to
contemplate it until at least the start of the sixth century. Now
they had Romano-Britons there, and a fairly powerful bunch of them,
to say the least.
In time, this British settlement was accepted by the
Franks as Brittany. By AD 450, most of the land north of the Loire was
under British control, submerging the older Gallic and Belgic tribes.
Britons abroad in Gaul
Armorica was being settled by Britons long before the end
of the Roman empire, however.
Traditionally, the colony in Brittany was established
before the expedition into Gaul of Constantine III in 407-411. According
to what little evidence is available, Magnus Maximus secured Armorica
during his own earlier expedition in 383, and as a reward for his support
gave it to his wife's cousin, Conan Meriadog, king of Dumnonia.
Conan ruled much of what forms modern Brittany as the
'Kingdom of Vannetais', maintaining the local Celtic tribal name with
a probable capital in Vannes. But in the usual Celtic practice of dividing
territory between sons, a patchwork of as many as half a dozen smaller
sub-kingdoms, or principalities, were created during the course of the
fifth and sixth centuries.
In these early days, and at least before Dumnonia in
south-west Britain crumbled from the seventh century onwards, the British
of Armorica had very close ties with the home country, and probably
recognised the authority of the high king.
Respectful of this, the likely (and slightly lesser)
title for the overall ruler of British Armorica, as used by writers
such as Gregory of Tours, should be 'King of the Bretons'.