Analysis of the Breton Ethnicities in Tamriel

((This was my finals paper for my English 102 class. There were two rules for this paper:

1. It had to be a research paper.

2. It couldn’t be under eight pages, and couldn’t exceed ten.

I took advantage of my English professor’s rather nerdy nature, and when I emailed him my proposal document, I am 100% sure he squeed on the other side of the computer. He sure typed like he did :) Despite how excited I was to do this, studying for other finals procrastination gave me 3 days to finish it.

And so this happened. I know a few of you were looking forward to seeing it, so here it is! As usual, I have provided a GoogleDoc for those who have problems seeing it, or you can click on the “read more”. I couldn’t be as eloquent and thorough as I would have liked (as I was even typing it up on it the day it was due), but I think this is a good preview of only the tip of the iceberg of ideas I had. :)))

Insert Nerdy Moderator Name Here

Professor Timothy Moungey

English 102

01 May 2012

Analysis of the Breton Ethnicities in Tamriel

It is a known fact that myths derive themselves from previously established truths. When it comes to the concept of worldbuilding in fictional realms, a similar argument often applies; the most believable, immersive fictional worlds tend to borrow their history and lore from factual historical events. A fine example of a fathomable, yet fictional culture can be found in the fictional Breton race in Tamriel, the continent on which many of the games in the Elder Scrolls series take place. These Tamrielic Bretons were said to have originated from the province of High Rock, and while the province may initially seem like nothing more than a peninsula touching the much larger neighboring provinces of Hammerfell and Skyrim, the Breton province boasts a complex political and historical background, leading to varied ethnic groups that are not unlike factual European cultures. The High Rock Bretons also have relatives in the highlands of the Reach; these people are thusly known as the Reachmen. The divide between Bretons and Reachmen in the Elder Scrolls universe, as well as their cultural backgrounds, definitely borrow their history from the historical split between ancient Britons and French Bretons in Brittany.

The High Rock Bretons seem to maintain similarities with the historical Britons that inhabited Great Britain from the Iron to late Dark Ages. High Rock, for one, was not always a unified province; throughout its history, the ruling powers often shifted as lords struggled to gain territory and wealth. More often than not, the squabbles between lords in terms of land were of little profit to others, and the majority of the Breton population in High rock consisted of a “poor middle class, and a destitute peasantry” (“Pocket” 1). The form of government with which the Bretons ruled was not unlike the actual concept of serfdom that was common in Britain during the Dark Ages; both Britain and High Rock had many distinct classes, and the population consisted mostly of peasantry that had to answer to the ruler of the “estate” in which they lived (Ross). It was due to this poverty that several ambitious commoners often “spent their free time in knightly pursuits…in oft-vain efforts to achieve, one day, a noble status.” (“Pocket” 1).

A castle at Wayrest as pictured in The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall, here pictured with a feudal manor in England.

            This implies that feudal government once existed in High Rock, as many warriors would swear fealty and fulfill some sort of military obligation for a lord in exchange for nobility and land. Due to this divided rule in High Rock, however, “even the natives had difficulty distinguishing their leaders from one another” as power shifted between their nobility on a regular basis (“Pocket” 1).  Early Britain also maintained order through a similar feudal government, as the economic cornerstone was never the village, but the manor or fort nearby. Like High Rock, village architecture remained primitive as villages served to be nothing more than peasant dwellings, while the majority of the work was done inside the lord’s manor or out in the fields (Ross).

Putting into consideration the form of serfdom that High Rock nobles adopted, it is certainly not a surprise that High Rock was once a divided nation and prone to invasion. High Rock was once comprised of hundreds of kingdoms, and even after many of these kingdoms fell, five main kingdoms dominated High Rock before the entire peninsula was invaded by Imperial forces. These events bear a similarity to what the ancient Britons faced, as power in the isles was divided amongst several tribes. This made them quite susceptible to invasions from the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, and finally, the Romans. Not surprisingly, these events caused the native Britons to lose power over their land; some went on to seek home elsewhere, and migrated to the European mainland (Smith). While it was then known as Celtica, it has now dwindled to the French peninsula of Brittany, whose people and history resembles that of the Tamrielic Reachmen who inhabited the highlands between eastern High Rock and western Skyrim.

The Reach natives, despite their mostly Breton heritage, developed a much different culture from that of their High Rock relatives. Unlike High Rock Bretons, Reachmen were not very well respected and have been commonly known to be “savage” or “barbarian”, due to the natives’ rebellion against the Nord occupiers in Markarth, as well as their practice of a forbidden wing of witchcraft known as “Reach magic” (“Holds” 1). Many of the native Reachmen live in poverty in Markarth, but a vast majority have joined arms to form a rebel organization exclusive to the Reach known as the Forsworn. The Forsworn are notorious for terrorizing unwary travelers as well as Nords in attempts to seize the Reach that is “rightfully theirs” (Forsworn). Because of their cunning, yet violent tactics, some High Rock Bretons generally take offense when being mistaken for their more “barbaric” cousins (Anton Virane).

The “Madmen” of the Reach, as they are sometimes called, carry many similarities to the equally brazen Gauls, warriors that once inhabited what is known today as modern Brittany and most of modern France. The Gauls were considered “fearless, wild and savage, but…also skilled and deadly” (“Celtic”). These terms are not at all unfamiliar when describing the Forsworn in the Reach, who are often mentioned to be “as dangerous as they look[ed]” (Delphine). Many other Mediterranean societies considered the Celts adangerous force to be reckoned with, as well as highly formidable opponents.

Like the Gauls who were driven from their land with the Roman invasion, the native Reachmen had also initiated a series of raids when the Imperial Legion and consequently, the Nords retook the Reach. The Gauls and the Forsworn both led aggressive raids and well-planned ambushes that were frequent and damaging.  With that being said, the two groups were extremely skilled in most, if not all forms of combat. Forsworn are often seen dual-wielding a combination of swords, axes, or both. Their exceptional marksmanship also proved them to be a deadly threat.

The Gauls’ foolhardy tendencies towards battle were said to originate from a firm belief of “the indestructibility of the human soul, which…merely passes at death from one tenement to another” (Celtic). It was this belief of reincarnation that allowed the Gauls to be completely unrestrained and pitiless in terms of battle.  In Forsworn culture, this is physically demonstrated by the Briarheart ritual. In the following ritual, a dead warrior’s heart is replaced with that of a “Briarheart”, in exchange for “his heart, his will, [and] his humanity”; the warrior is then resurrected as a “spirit of vengeance, pitiless and beyond remorse” (Dren).

As demonstrated in The Legend of Red Eagle and physical encounters with Forsworn Briarhearts, the transformation from man to a bizarre and sentient undead creature grants the Briarheart a great measure of power; Red Eagle, the first Forsworn Briarheart, was said to have defeated a thousand Imperial soldiers “alone and robed in nothing but his righteous fury”.  The concept of reincarnation and “rising again” clearly plays a role in describing how and why Briarhearts and Gauls so easily jump into battle mercilessly with reckless abandon.

An artist’s depiction of the Celtic Gaul, next to that of a Forsworn Briarheart.

Due to the deeply-ingrained concept of reincarnation in Celtic and Reachman belief, it is likely this is the reason both parties do not wear protective armor, and instead choose to boast a very muscular physique while charging into battle with little to no clothing. The Gauls believed they were blessed by their deities during war, and consequently assumed they were impervious to any threat (“Celtic”). The Reachmen’s own unwavering faith in their pantheon is quite similar, and it is likely that their inclination to wear little to no clothing in combat is a reflection of a similar faith. The typical Forsworn garb usually consists of a rather scanty fur tunic on males and females, entwined with human skulls, tusks, or beast fangs and teeth; raiders and ravagers usually have gauntlets and headdresses crafted in a similar fashion. While the Gauls’ own clothing consisted only of plaid fabrics and kilts, like the Forsworn, it was a way of boasting their large, muscular physique; this further emphasized the “barbarian” and “savage” stereotype with both groups.

The magic that the Reachmen, and consequently, the Forsworn practice is known as “Reach Magic” and vaguely resembles Celtic Druidism and hedge witchery that was commonly practiced by the Celts in several rituals. Throughout many redoubts, one can find Reachmen meditating at shrines made of deer skulls, ribs, and antlers. Smaller shrines can be also found in ancient Nordic towers, and one in particular has a standing, Forsworn staff that highly resembles a witch’s stang (Blind Cliff Tower).

Stangs are forked staves commonly used as vertical altars and ritual tools for witches, and the forked ends of Forsworn staves are likely forked for the same reason. Celtic Druids believed “horns and antlers…were believed to be especially powerful, particularly when it came to being far-sighted and wise in all things… [and] could also be used as protection or a weapon” (Lawless), which is also something the Forsworn were likely to believe as their own altars and headdresses also had deer, goat, or elk antlers. Many redoubts also are occasionally scattered with stangs that hold animal or spriggan heads.

The consistency of deer and elk antlers throughout Forsworn altars as well as headdresses also imply that, like the Celtic deities, many of the Forsworn “Old Gods” were likely also highly revered because they were hunter-gods. Several of these gods were antlered, and antlers indicated a regenerative quality to the Celtic people, much like the seasonal cycles (Wood). Throughout larger redoubts, there are also giant, mysterious idols built from elk and deer antlers, skulls, and ribcages that are placed in high locations, as if to serve a spiritual or cosmic purpose. These strange idols, as well as Celtic evidence on the importance of antlered forms, likely indicate that the Forsworn built such a thing in an act of reverence and respect.

The concept of the Forsworn revering hunter gods may then convey that the stangs erected across several redoubts serve a sacrificial purpose, in an attempt to give back to the land. The Celts revered nature and its gods, and hunting was strictly prohibited without seeking permission from the hunter gods. Celts also considered hunting for sustenance as a way of borrowing from the land, and to rectify this, the Celts paid their debts by offering domesticated livestock (Green 30-35).

            While linking real-life cultures and history with fictional ones may not immediately appear to have much scholarly significance, comparing Forsworn and Breton cultures against each other as well as against their real-life counterparts yields an extensive amount of knowledge that can be used to better understand Breton history and culture. Without a basis on which to compare the political structure and government of High Rock, one would not be able to properly comprehend what life could have been like in the previous eras before the invasion of the Empire. Forsworn culture would also be very difficult to understand, given the few books written on the subject. If not for their obvious roots in Celtic hedge magic and druidism, it would be nigh impossible to understand their initially bizarre and savage customs. Tamrielic and European Breton culture, as well as its evolution throughout time, benefits from a proper analysis.

Pitting Tamrielic and real-life cultures also indicates that video game lore is also well-thought and extensive enough to analyze; research such as this is clear evidence that video game lore is no less great or massive than more popular worlds portrayed in novels and films, and should be taken just as seriously. Pondering the similarities in history and customs is enlightening to any who are fascinated by history in the Elder Scrolls series or anthropology in general, and is overall, a very enlightening experience.

Works Cited

1.      "Celtic Warriors." Ancient Military. N.p., 01 Jan 2012. Web. 9 May 2012. <http://www.ancientmilitary.com/celtic-warriors.htm>.

2.      “Pocket Guide to the Empire, High Rock.” 1st ed. <http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Lore:Pocket_Guide_to_the_Empire,_1st_Edition/High_Rock>

3.      Arius, Arrianus. The “Madmen” of the Reach. Imperial Scholars, Print.

4.      Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Print.

5.      Dren, Tredayne. Thjoe Legend of Red Eagle. First Empire, Print. <http://www.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:The_Legend_of_Red_Eagle>.

6.      Green, Miranda. Exploring the World of the Druids. London: Thames & Hudson: 30-35.

7.      Lawless, Sarah. “How to Use a Stang.” Witch of Forest Grove. N.p., 27 Feb 2011. Web. 9 May 2012. <http://witchofforestgrove.com/2011/02/27/how-to-use-a-stang/>.

8.      Smith, Julia M. H. Province and Empire: Brittany and the Carolingians, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp.80–83

9.      Wood, Juliette. The mythology of the British Islands: an introduction to Celtic myth, legend, poetry and romance. London & Ware: UCL & Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 2000. 12-13.

10.  Young, Emma. “Germanic Invaders May Not Have Ruled by Apartheid.” New Scientist. New Scientist, 23 Apr 2008. Web. 9 May 2012. <http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13752-germanic-invaders-may-not-have-ruled-by-apartheid.html>.

1 year ago with 26 notes


  1. reachman-and-mer reblogged this from currach
  2. tesverse reblogged this from currach
  3. dres-and-lizard said: ((Bless this paper))
  4. andersofwhiterun reblogged this from currach and added:
    ((Anders has totally nothing to do with this, but I did tell everyone about it through here. This is my finals paper....
  5. wickededge reblogged this from nherei
  6. currach posted this