3rd-1st cent. BC

By Jim Brown and Gareth Harding

The Celts were one of the great peoples of Europe. From their original homelands south of the Rhine they spread out into Britain, Ireland, Spain, Southern France, Bohemia, Northern Italy, the Balkans and Turkey. This movement happened over many hundreds of years.

Both the Greeks and the Romans portrayed them as fearsome barbarians but they left no literature so we must rely on sculpture, the Classical authors, and modern archaeology.  Information about the Celtic Galatians is very sparse.  Anyone wishing to know more will find them described by the classical authors, Arrian, Caesar, Pausanias, Polybius, Strabo, amongst others.  More about Galatians can also be deduced from coins and stone inscriptions.

Celtic metalwork is beautiful, and its most likely they produced the first mail armour: a matrix of individually- forged interlocking rings.  Many of their lands were populous and well organized with the landscape dotted with settlements, forts and shrines.

During the forth century the Celts expanded along the Danube valley and in the early third century started to migrated once again.  What started this migration towards Macedonia and Greece is unclear, possibly due to famine, but the most likely caused was overpopulation. (Strabo
: They are wont to change their abode on slight provocation, migrating in bands with all their battle-array, or rather setting out with their households when displaced by a stronger enemy.)

In c 281 BC, under the leadership of Bolbios, one band invaded Macedonia and killed its ruler, Ptolemy Ceraunus, thus opening the way south. They were eventually defeated by Antigonus Gonatas, the grandson of Antigonus One-Eye at a battle near Lysimachia in Thrace in 278-7 BC.

Another band, under Acichorius and Brennus (possibly a word for chief) headed south into Greece. In 279 BC a coalition made of Aetolians, Boeotians, Athenians, Phocians, and northern Greeks took position at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, on the east coast of central Greece. In the ensuing battle the Galatians suffering heavy losses in their initial assault. Subsequently, a large force under Acichorius was diverted towards Aetolia. As a result the Aetolian detachment left Thermopylae to defend their homes and the remaining Greeks were unable to hold the Celts at bay. Brennus’ forces found a way around the pass, supposedly by the same route used by the Persians, and the Greeks were obliged to escape by sea.

At the battle at Delphi  279 BC the Greeks once more drew up to confront Brennus and his marauding Celts.  At the start of the battle there was a violent thunderstorm making it hard to manoeuvre or hear orders. The Greeks attacked  from both sides and when Brennus was wounded, with the Celts having already suffered heavy losses, they made a fighting retreat.  The next day the Celtic army began a disorderly retreat hard pressed by the Greeks.  According to Pausanias the Celts suffered 26,000 dead.

A third band marched through Thrace. These were led by Leonorius and Lutarius.  They finally crossed the Bosporus  at the invitation of Nicomedes I to help him defeat his brother and secure the throne of Bithynia. This band eventually settled in central Anatolia, including  the eastern part of ancient Phrygia, before being strengthened by fresh immigration from Europe. They soon overran Bithynia, supporting themselves by plundering their neighbours and hiring out as mercenaries; even fighting on both sides of a conflict in some instances.

They were to fight for and against Antiochus I, II, and II, even killing Antiochus II.  They also supplied troops to the Egyptian Successors from Ptolemy II in 276 BC to Queen Cleopatra’s bodyguard.  Their power was to be curbed by Attalus I of Pergamum— which rose to become the most powerful state in western Anatolia.

The Romans sent Gnaeus Manlius Vulso against the Galatians in 189 BC  He defeated them.  With their military power in decline the Galatians fell under Pontic domination.  When Mithradates VI of Pontus attacked the Romans in 89 BC they revolted and  became strong supporters of Rome.

In 64 BC Galatia became a client state of the Roman Empire with Deiotarus recognized by the Romans as king of Galatia, supplanting the three tribal chieftains of old. Following his death his son Deiotarus II ruled for a few years before he was succeeded in his turn by Amyntas. Following the death of Amyntas in 25 BC Galatia was incorporated into the Roman Empire as a province.

Three tribes settled Galatia, numbering 20,000 fighting men, with their women and children.

1. The Tectosgaes in the centre around their capital Ancyra.
2. The Tolistobogii in the west with Pessinus as their chief town.
3. The Trocmi on the east around their chief town Tavium

The constitution of the state saw each tribe divided into four clans each governed by a tetrarch. Under him were a judge, a general, and two sub-generals.  Later the system changed with the tetrarchs becoming petty kings.  A council of the nation consisting of the tetrarch’s and three hundred senators was periodically held.

Deiotarus (Divine Bull— in Gallic Deiotarix and in Greek Deiotaros) was Tetrarch of the Tolistobogii.  He ruled the Galatians from his fortress in Blucium and
was married to Berenice, daughter of Attalus III, of Pergamum. He picked the wrong side in the Roman Civil War by supporting Pompey.  At his trial he was supported by Cicero and thus survived.

Virtually nothing is known of Galatian religion.  They did sacrifice some prisoners to the gods in 165 BC when these unfortunates weren’t ransomed.  There was a shrine or Drunemeton (oak-sanctuary).  No mention is made of Druids.

Legio XXII Deiotarius
Deiotarius raised 30 cohorts of troops, three legions, from the Galatians people in 48 BC.  These troops were trained with Roman help.  When Galatia was incorporation into the Roman Empire what remained of  these cohorts was made into a single Roman legion— Legio XXII.

Heroic nudity (Gaesati)
There are descriptions of Celts fighting naked up until the start of the third century. This possibly had some religio-magical  significance amongst the Celts—we will never know.