The Galatian warriors

The Gallic epic

Overview of the Galatians

The term "galatians" for those familiar to the bible immediately rings a bell. The "Epistle to the Galatians" is the ninth book of the New Testament, allegedly redacted by the apostle Paul. It was addressed to a number of Early Christian communities in Galatia. Yes, the one we are going to talk about. Indeed, the Galatians as a word seems familiar, because ot was related to the gauls, in fact it meant "gauls" in greek. But the Galatians were perhaps the most extreme and best example of the great migrations of the Celts before the Roman Era, and even after. It's a saga worthy of the vikings in the medieval era !

Like the latter, the Gauls were a disunited ensemble of peoples sharing common gods, language, culture, artform, and warfare, as well as a passion for bravery and skills in battle. Their "empire" started in the late bronze age in cetntral Europe, on the northern side of the Alps, giving birth to the La Tene culture. The iron age Celts expanded rapidly throughout Europe. Around 300 BC they were present from Germany to Poland, Spain to the britush isles, Austria, switzerland to Romania and of course modern France.

Masterful horsemen and craftsmen, metallurgists, the Gallic Armies made the Mediterranean world tremble for at least two centuries, between around 450 to 280 BC. The Gallic presence notably in italy stayed a threat until the Roman-Gallic wars of the 220s BC and ultimately Casear's subjugation of the Gauls from 52 BC. But of all their epic, perhaps the Balkan invasions of 280 BC will stay as their most impressive move. It went as far as Turkey, where the "Galatians" settled eventually. They were here to stay a very, very long time, keeping their identity almost up to the medieval era. Here is this amazing story.

Best Historical records for Barbarians ?

Among all the ancient records of wars and migrations of the barbarians, those of the gauls/celts are perhaps the best documented. Not because they were fed by the culture itself -which was oral- but because of their proximity and numerous interactions with the Greek-Roman world. The Thracians and Illyrians of the Balkans arrived to such a close relatability, but very little is know about population beyond these familiar barbarians own territories, because their deeds, invasions and culture had to pass through a buffer of populations not using written records: The Germanic tribes, some Baltic tribes, the Royal scythians, Sarmatians and nomadic cultures, sub-saharian African cultures for example.

On the Gauls, there were so numerous contact points and trade between the Greek and Romans and these neighbouring barbarians that historical records are aplenty. Some still are quite foggy, notably the first celtic interactions with he Etruscans, or those with the Iberians, Illyrians and Thracians, not to mentions relations between Getic and Dacians with Celts, Scytho-Sarmatians and Celts or Germanic tribes with Celts. Only in Casear's De Bello Gallico these relations became apparent in a dramatic way. But the story we are concerned about is way before 50 BC: Its between the longer and complicated relations with the Greeks, going back to at least 600 BC.

First contacts: Etruria

If we consider the Etruscans "Greeks", as some historians argues, so the first direct contacts, in a dramatic way, between Celtic tribes and the Greek Italian civilization, is going back to the Alpine invasions of Northern Italy, but evidence is lacking and what happened in the Vth Century BC can only be conjectured. It is agreed that Boian celts (beyond the Alps) and other alpine tribes migrated by force. This was their first great migration, as recorded by Livy. A Gallic confederacy, which could have originated from Biturige king Ambiatus sending his nephews, Sigovesus, which crossed the Rhine and advanced in the direction of the Black Forest, the second, Bellovesus, crossed the Graian Alps, descending into the Po valley. The first went south and created a Gallic settlement on the middle Danube hile the second created the oldest Celtic settlement in the modern Lombardy. What became the Insubres nation, with as capital with Mediolanum (Milan). Anothere tribe went and settled, the Cenomani, around Brixia (Brescia) and Verona.

Compared to the rainy northern plains of the north, this part of italy seemed like a bountiful paradise. Whatever the case, these migrations disloged Etruscan strongpoints, but also the Ligurians. In the end the left bank of the Po was in their hands. Possibly from 360-350 BC, another wave pushed back the Umbrians and Etruscans further south. The Boii in partcicular who came from the eastern part of the Alps, the Poenine Alps. They settled in modern Romagna and conquered Felsina, later Bononia, an Etruscan regional stronghold. Finally came the Senones, over the Alps and down eastwards, to the Adriatic, from Rimini to Ancona. They waged war on the local Venetians. Isolated celtic settlers must have advanced down to Umbria via the east coast and practically subdued most of Etruria proper: Stone writing in Celt were so far south as Todi, on the upper Tiber. Etruria by the middle of the fourth century had a much restricted territory, in what we call now Tuscany. Thes einvasion greatly contributed in the demise of the Etruscan empire, later to be completely anhililated or assimilated, between the Latins and Celts.

First contacts: Massilia

Earlier contacts were made in the VIth century BC (circa 600 BC) when was founded the city of Massalia by the Phoceans, a Greek Poleis from Turkey, an ironic shortcut for out story. Indeed, the local tradition alleged that a marriage settled matters with the local mountaineer king of the Gallic tribe called the xxx. Thanks to trade, as an interface between the Celtic world and Greek Mediterranean world (later Roman), Massalia became the "carthage of the north". It grew into creating colonies of its own, on the sea coast of southern Gaul in the 4th-3rd centuries BC: From Agathe to Olbia, Tauroentium, Antipolis and Nikaia. The City was also renowned for its explorers, Euthymenes (to the west African coast, 6th century BC) and Pytheas (Northwestern Europe, 4th century BC.).

The rich city-state allied itself with Rome, staying loyal even during the Punic Wars. The fall of the Carthaginian afterwards gave Massalia a dominance of the Gulf of Lion and after 146 intensified its own trade with Greek colonies in Spain and the Celtiberians. Despite to its proximity to the Celts is does not sound like the Gallic culture was transformed, but at least stone architecture and statues of the region as well as greek writin on Celtic tombs and art in general testified of these influences. Whatever the case, the Rhodanian valley grew rich of this north-south trade. The Arverni nearby, reputed metallurgists, gained much of these contacts, spreading the excellence of Celtic manufactured metal tools and crafts to the whole Mediterranean basin.

Prelude to the great events of 280 BC

ancient world 300 BC
world map 300 BC src
Laying at the heart of the great migration eastwards, to the Balkans in 280 BC, the geopolitical situation on the Mediterranean basin was as followed:
In 280 BC -Seleucid Empire: Antiochus makes his eldest son, Seleucus, king in the east while Antiochus of Macedon make peace with Ptolemy Keraunos, Macedonia and Thrace reained separate. Nicomedes (Bithynia) is threatened with an invasion from Antiochus, invades Bithynia but withdraws quickly. Antiochus failed to maintain Cappadocia and Aermenia in the Empire and is defeated by Egypt's Ptolemy II in the Damascene War.
-In Greece: Pyrrhus allies with Ptolemy Keraunos (King of Macedon) and invade southern Italy. Meawnhile the Achaean League is reformed in the northern Peloponnesus and non-Achaean cities, headed by two generals and a federal council, created its own coinage and define dits united foreign policy. Rhodes taked the head of the "Island League" of the Aegean Sea with the famous colossus just completed.
-Roman Republic: Tarentum invites Pyrrhus of Epirus in Magna Grecia and the latter veered noth, fighting in the Battle of Heraclea, defeating a Roman army (Publius Valerius Laevinus). His army is joined by the Lucani, Bruttii and Messapians, Crotone and Locri. After Gaius Fabricius Luscinus negciations for releading prisoners, Pyrrhus resumed his advance to the Latium.

So that's a busy and agitated world by all measure. The Diadochi wars, raging intermitently since the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, still rages on, despite the decisive battle of Ipsus is nearly 20 years old. The Seleucid Empire struggling to maintain ins massive territorial integrity and rival the Ptolemies in Syria. The third great Helenistic power of the time, Macedon, is struggling to maintain balance in Greece itself. Pontus is now independent, close to Bithynia, as well as Thrace, Illyria, Pergamon, Epirus, and Etolia and a loose alliance of greek city states through the leagues. Italy is threatened in the north by the turbulent gauls, arrived a century later. In 390 BC, so more than 100 Years ago, generations still are afraid by accounts of the sack of Rome by Brennus. It's barely 18 years that the Samnites, the last seious threat for the Latium, has been soundly defeated in the third and last war. Nothing can challenge Rome now, but this Greek invasion from the south.

The Invasion

There was a previous invasion of the Balkans by migrating Gauls: Between the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, tribes went on in search for land and wealth, to feed their swelling numbers. Illyrians tribes, divided, fighting among themselves and only coalized to fight Macedon were an easy prey for the Celts. After defeating the Autariatae, former hegemon over much of the central Balkans and Morava valley, they vanquished the Ardiaei. At some point they met Alexander the Great in 335 BC, sending representatives to pay him homage while Macedon was at war with Thrace. For the legend, stated they had no fear of the Macedonians -nor any other people on earth, but of Taranis (that the sky fell upon them). The death of Alexander the Great (356 BCE - 323 BCE) and diadochi wars made an opportune time to attack for many opportunistic Celtic chieftains.

From the 4th century BC, Celtic groups settled in the Carpathian region, and pushed to the Danube basin. Other groups meanwhile pushed into Italy. The Boii and Volcae in particular were two such large confederacies which cooperated in their campaigns. One army (which comprised an equal number of warriors, women and children) following the Danube river. Another (the Boii) prograssed eastward from Italy, through the Venetian country and Dalmatia. The ancient legeday tales talked of no less than 300,000 Celts in total.

In 310 BC, the Celtic general Molistomos attacked the whole Illyrian territory, down south and east, and nearly subdued the Dardanians, Paeonians and Triballi. Molistomos was however defeated by the Dardanians. King Cassander started to protect the Illyrian and in 298 BC, the Celts tried for the first time to go directly in Thrace and Macedo. They were soundly defeated near the Haemus Mons, caught between Cassander's army and Thracian warriors. Another army (Cambaules) marched on Thrace and eventually capturing most of the territory. One such tribe, the Serdi founded Serdica (now Sofia). In around 290 Pannonia was almost completely Celticized. Was produced locally a seemingly Norican-Pannonian Celtic culture. Fertile lands around the Pannonian rivers saw the Celts settling eventually. Agriculture and pottery, mining (Poland) developed well. A new and wide homeland was carved out there in Central-eastern Europe, from Poland in the North to the Danube mouth.

Celtic pressure in the southern Balkans reached its high point in 281 BC as Lysimachus' kingdom of Thrace collapsed. There was noone to stop the Celtic migration. Cambaules made an initial probing raid, withdrwan seeing the numbers they faces and came bac the next year in In 280 BC with a host of 85,000 warriors from Pannonia. This army split into three divisions, marching south by different ways. They arrived soon in Macedon and central Greece.

-The first army was under General Cerethrius, which conducted 20,000 men against the Thracians and Triballi.
-The second division (Brennus[ and Acichorius) moved against the Paionians
-The third division (Bolgios) veerd south to achieve the Illyrians and fight the Macedonians.

Bolgios ma,aged to defeat the Macedonians and Ptolemy Keraunos, was captured and decapitated. After a defeat in the hands of Sosthenes, Bolgios turned back with his loot and latter fell in Sosthenes, defeated by Brennus; The latter then turned to ravage the country. Brennus milited for a third united expedition against central Greece led by himself and Acichorius. Its reported army size was about 152,000 infantry, 24,400 cavalry and as described by Pausanias used the trimarcisia, in which each cavalryman was supported by two mounted servants. It was not the same as the tactic where infantry was running alongside cavalry, at a ration of one foot for one mount, exchanging their place during the run, allowing thios composite force to be much faster.

Battle of Thermopylae (279 BC)

A Greek coalition made up of Aetolians, Boeotians, Athenians, Phocians, and other Greeks north of Corinth took up quarters at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, on the east coast of central Greece. During the initial assault, Brennus' forces suffered heavy losses. Hence he decided to send a large force under Acichorius against Aetolia. The Aetolian detachment, as Brennus hoped, left Thermopylae to defend their homes. The Aetolians joined the defence en masse – the old and women joining the fight. Realizing that the Gallic sword was dangerous only at close quarters, the Aetolians resorted to skirmishing tactics.[5] According to Pausanias, only half the number that had set out for Aetolia returned. Eventually, Brennus found a way around the pass at Thermopylae, but by then the Greeks had escaped by sea.

Attack on Delphi

Brennus pushed on to Delphi, where he was defeated and forced to retreat, after which he died of wounds sustained in the battle. His army fell back to the river Spercheios, where it was routed by the Thessalians and Malians. Both historians who relate the attack on Delphi, Pausanias and Junianus Justinus, say that the Gauls were defeated and driven off. They were overtaken by a violent thunderstorm, which made it impossible to manoeuvre or even hear their orders. The night that followed was frosty, and in the morning the Greeks attacked them from both sides. Brennus was wounded and the Gauls fell back, killing those of their own wounded who were unable to retreat. That night, a panic fell on the camp, as the Gauls divided into factions and fought amongst themselves. They were joined by Acichorius and the rest of the army, but the Greeks forced them into a full-scale retreat. Brennus took his own life by drinking neat wine according to Pausanias, or by stabbing himself according to Justinus. Pressed by the Aetolians, the Gauls fell back to the Spercheios, where the waiting Thessalians and Malians destroyed them.

The supposed "god's curse" and defeat

In spite of the Greek accounts about the defeat of the Gauls, the Roman literary tradition preferred a far different version.[clarification needed] Strabo reports a story told in his time of a semi-legendary treasure – the aurum Tolosanum, fifteen thousand talents ( 450 metric tonnes/990,000 pounds ) of gold and silver – supposed to have been the cursed gold looted during the sack of Delphi and brought back to Tolosa (modern Toulouse, France) by the Tectosages, who were said to have been part of the invading army.

More than a century and a half after the alleged sack, the Romans ruled Gallia Narbonensis. In 105 BC, while marching to Arausio, the Proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul Quintus Servilius Caepio plundered the sanctuaries of the town of Tolosa, whose inhabitants had joined the Cimbri, finding over 50,000 15 lb. bars of gold and 10,000 15 lb. bars of silver. The riches of Tolosa were shipped back to Rome, but only the silver made it: the gold was stolen by a band of marauders, who were believed to have been hired by Caepio himself and to have killed the legion guarding it. The Gold of Tolosa was never found, and was said to have been passed all the way down to the last heir of the Servilii Caepiones, Marcus Junius Brutus.

In 105 BC, Caepio refused to co-operate with his superior officer, Gnaeus Mallius Maximus, because he thought of him as a novus homo, deciding by himself to engage in battle against the Cimbri, on the Rhone. There, the Roman army suffered a crushing defeat and complete destruction, in the so-called Battle of Arausio (modern Orange).

Upon his return to Rome, Caepio was tried for "the loss of his Army" and embezzlement. He was convicted and given the harshest sentence allowable; he was stripped of his Roman citizenship, forbidden fire and water within 800 miles of Rome, fined 15,000 talents (about 825,000 lb) of gold, and forbidden from seeing or speaking to his friends or family until he had left for exile. He spent the rest of his life in exile in Smyrna in Asia Minor. His defeat and ensuing ruin were looked upon as a punishment for his sacrilegious theft.

Strabo distances himself from this account, arguing that the defeated Gauls were in no position to carry off such spoils, and that, in any case, Delphi had already been despoiled of its treasure by the Phocians during the Third Sacred War in the previous century.[20] However, Brennus' legendary pillage of Delphi is presented as fact by some popular modern historians. Most scholars deem the Greek campaign a disaster for the Celts.

Next: The push eastwards

The foundation of the Celto-Thracian Kingdom of Tylis

Some of the survivors of the Greek campaign, led by Comontoris (one of Brennus' generals) settled in Thrace. In 277 BC, Antigonus II Gonatas defeated the Gauls at the Battle of Lysimachia and the survivors retreated, founding a short-lived city-state named Tyle.[22] Another group of Gauls, who split off from Brennus' army in 281 BC, were transported over to Asia Minor by Nicomedes I to help him defeat his brother and secure the throne of Bithynia. They eventually settled in the region that came to be named after them, Galatia. They were defeated by Antiochus I, and as a result, they were confined to barren highlands in the centre of Anatolia.

Tumulus artefact from Bolu Hidirsihlar

Celtic groups were still the pre-eminent political units in the northern Balkans from the 4th to the 1st century BC. The Boii controlled most of northern Pannonia during the 2nd century BC, and are also mentioned as having occupied the territory of modern Slovakia. We learn of other tribes of the Boian confederation inhabiting Pannonia. There were the Taurisci in the upper Sava valley, west of Sisak, as well as the Anarti, Osi and Cotini in the Carpathian basin. In the lower Sava valley, the Scordisci wielded much power over their neighbours for over a century.

The later half of the 1st century BC brought much change to the power relations of barbarian tribes in Pannonia. The defeat of the Boian confederation by the Geto-Dacian king Burebista significantly curtailed Celtic control of the Carpathian basin, and some of the Celticization was reversed. Yet, more Celtic tribes appear in sources. The Hercuniates and Latobici migrated from the northern regions (Germania). Altogether new tribes are encountered, bearing Latin names (such as the Arabiates), possibly representing new creations carved out of the defeated Boian confederation. To further weaken Celtic hegemony in Pannonia, the Romans moved the Pannonian-Illyrian Azali to northern Pannonia. The political dominance previously enjoyed by the Celts was overshadowed by newer barbarian confederations, such the Marcomanni and Iazyges. Their ethnic independence was gradually lost as they were absorbed by the surrounding Dacian, Illyrian and Germanic peoples, although Celtic names survive until the 3rd century AD.

Galatians warfare and warriors

The king of Attalid Pergamon employed their services in the increasingly devastating wars of Asia Minor; another band deserted from their Egyptian overlord Ptolemy IV after a solar eclipse had broken their spirits. In 189 BC, Rome sent Gnaeus Manlius Vulso on an expedition against the Galatians, the Galatian War, defeating them. Galatia was henceforth dominated by Rome through regional rulers from 189 BC onward. Galatia declined, at times falling under Pontic ascendancy. They were finally freed by the Mithridatic Wars, during which they supported Rome.

In the settlement of 64 BC, Galatia became a client-state of the Roman empire, the old constitution disappeared, and three chiefs (wrongly styled 'tetrarchs') were appointed, one for each tribe. But this arrangement soon gave way before the ambition of one of these tetrarchs, Deiotarus, the contemporary of Cicero and Julius Caesar, who made himself master of the other two tetrarchies and was finally recognized by the Romans as 'king' of Galatia.

The saga of Galatian warriors

From their installation to their "Romanization" and conversion to Christianity, the Galatians saw service aplenty as mercenaries ("mistophoroi"). This started with the Bythynians in 279, the very reason of their presence in Asia Minor in the first place, but they were contacted by the Seleucids early on to serve during the Coele Syria wars. They became a regular occurence in the 260-190s. Ultimately many settled in garrison cities throughout the empire ('Katoikai') Soon, the Ptolemaic Egyptians hired them in turn, including relocating them in excellent conditions. This was not long before both sides faces each others. In general, strategos knew how to place them in order to avoid they faces each others.

The Ptolemaic kingdom was no exception, hiring many of these mercenaries and settling them in Egypt. Once the Galatians arrived in Egypt, an effort was made to preserve the uniqueness of these “barbarian” troops among the rest of the population. Nowhere is this distinction clearer than in the symbols used to identify Galatians in art. The most prevalent of these symbols is the shield. With its distinctive boss and horizontal handle, the Celtic shield used by the Galatians has an appearance that conveys an ethnic attachment. Greek and Egyptian shields are smaller with a different boss and handle combination that would have made the distinction clear for a person living in Egypt at the time. In Ptolemaic Egypt the Galatian shield became an identifying symbol of the Galatian mercenaries living in the kingdom, a symbol reinforced by their Greek neighbors.

There were at least three reasons for their popularity:
-They were a non-aligned ethnic mercenary element, assumed to be loyal to its employer (the king) rather than a local community.
-They had the reputation of excellent and fearless melee warriors, something that was somewhat lacking for eastern troops.
-They had an excellent equipments and refined tactics by centuries of warfare.

Infantry & cavalry types, equipents and tactics

Galatian infantry types

(to come)

Galatian cavalry types

(To come)


Several "reconstructions" of various Galatians warriors were made from evidence, descriptions, and deductions. The obvious, immediate one would be that Galatian warriors retained the full panoply and social/military stratification of the Gallic armies centuries past. One aspect though, Gallic warfare changed over the years. The armies of 300 BC (so by extension those of 280-250 BC) and those of 50 BC when Casear started his conquest, had little to do between them. The latter shown by archaeological evidence (see belt buckle and scabbard suspensions systems Rapin's study) relied on charge and speed. It seems they relied on a much more mobile style of warfare, made of skirmishes, advances and rapid retreats. The standard description was a stand, with psychological warfare (provocations, insults, tremendous noise...), followed by an all out charge, running and vociferating. If the initial schock was not enough to break the enemy formation, the host retreated, and another one was mounted.

By contrast, the old style Gallic warfare, influenced by Hellenistic warfare prevalent in the Mediterranean, was much more static and better organized. Some glints could be seen in casear's decription of the Helvetii, which were clearly described as advancing in good order, slowly, mounting a "phalanx". Since the Galatians were an importation of populations belonging to central/northern Alpine groups were can assume they still practices this rather static and well organized form of warfare. As a refresher, elite units (nobles -(Arjoi) and their general) were front and center, surrounded by their elite warriors guard (Solduroi and Ambactoi), their champion (Cauaroi) and their retinue, and just behind ranks of professional warriors, the Cingetoi. If they had a baggage train, levies would be mustered. Chariots and cavalry plus skirmishers took place on the wings; Of course this is a textbook composition, in reality a Galatian Mervenary force could have been different in composition.

The Strategos was likely to divide this force between the mounted component and the infantry, having the former allocated to his wing's own mercenary cavalry. As for the skirmishers, it's possible also they would have been aggregated into its own. There is no known description of Galatian mercenary chariots. The only recoignisable component would have been the foot infantry, keeping in some form and shape the standard stratification, less the levies. Actectoi and Batoroi would have been relevant in Galatians armies at home only.


Thayer - Lacus Curtius
by Plyner the elder
Strabo's geography
Galatian grammar
About Galatia
Galatians in Ptolemaic service


Boteva D. (2010) The Ancient Historians on the Celtic Kingdom in South-Eastern Thrace. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c. BC). Proceedings of the Interdisciplinary Colloqium Arranged by the National Archaeological Institute and Museum at Sofia and the Welsh Department, Aberystwyth University. Held at the National Archaeological Institute and Museum. Sofia 2010. p. 33-50. * Brunaux J.L. (2004) Guerre et religion en Gaule. Essai d’anthropologie celtique. Paris: Errance. * Churchin L.A. (1995) The Unburied Dead at Thermopylae (279 BC) In: The Ancient History Bulletin 9: 68-71 * Dandoy J., Selinsky P, Voight M. Celtic Sacrifice. In: Archaeology. Volume 55 Number 1, January/February 2002. * Delev P. (2003) From Corupedion towards Pydna: Thrace in the Third Century. In: Thracia 15, 2003, 107-120. * Hubert H. The History of the Celtic People. London 1934 (Rep. 1992). * Kilburn K. (1959) Lucian. Harvard. * Mac Congail B. (2004) Observations on Inscriptions from the Plovdiv/Pazardjik Districts Containing the Element Tiuta-. Ann. Arch. Mus. Plovdiv IX/2 2004. P. 171-176. * Mac Congail B.(2007) Belgae expansion into South Eastern Europe and Asia-Minor (4th – 3rd c. BC.) In: PRAE. In Honorem Henrieta Todorova. National Archaeological Institute With Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Sofia 2007. p. 295 – 302. * Mac Congail B. (2008) Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Plovdiv. (attached Pdf.) * Soprena Genzor G. (1995) Ética y ritual. Aproximación al estudio de la religiosidad de los pueblos celtibéricos. Zaragosa

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