Migration and Political Redefinition of the Celtic Galatians in the Eastern Mediterranean

Celtic ruins in Anatolia (modern Turkey) / Wikimedia Commons


By Qizhen Xie (left) / Spring 2016
Supervised by Dr. Michael Leese (right), Associate Professor of History
Senior Honors Thesis
University of New Hampshire


Celtic expansion, 6th-3rd Centuries B.C. / Wikimedia Commons

Map showing the relative position of the Volcae and Tectosages, homeland of the Galatian Celts / World Imaging, Wikimedia Commons

The Galatians, a Celtic group that moved from southern France to Asia Minor, were an important component in the geopolitics of Anatolia in the middle and late Hellenistic Period. Originally from Gaul, the Galatians were some of the main participants in the Great Celtic Migration in 279 BCE with other Gallic tribes. The migration not only relocated the Galatians from Europe to Asia, but it also fractured and reformed their tribal identities. In addition, unlike their Gallic fellows, the administrative system which the Galatians adopted after they moved to Anatolia effectively refined their political and military organizations and thus built Galatia as a powerful state in Asia Minor. Meanwhile, the Galatians still preserved their Celtic identity as a group of fierce and formidable warriors and earned their fame through battles and plundering raids against their new neighbors.

Along with their ferocity, the Galatians also preserved their language and religion after they settled in Anatolia. The introductions of their Druidism and Celtic tongue considerably enriched the ethnic variety and cultural diversity of Hellenistic Asia Minor. While they preserved their linguistic and religious identity, they also embraced Hellenic customs and local material cultures due to their constant interactions with Hellenistic states. For these reason, they were eventually known as the “Gallo-Greeks”.

The history of Galatia as an independent state only lasted for two hundred years, but its influence was significant. The Galatians’ migration and settlement in Asia Minor exemplified how a foreign group managed to survive its complicated geopolitical environment after an invasion by redefining their political and military structures while preserving their ethnic identity. This thesis intends to give a close look at these aspects of Galatian society in Gallic and Hellenistic contexts and identify them as a group of “redefined Gauls” in the eastern Mediterranean world

The most important primary source, which this paper will be using to set up the discussions of the Galatians, is Strabo’s Geography. In addition to this, this paper will also use other ancient sources such as Pausanias’s Description of Greece, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, and Livy’s History of Rome. The authors of these historical sources lived in the period which was contemporary to the highpoint of the Galatian civilization. Thus, their descriptions provide direct and indirect insights into the lives and society of the Galatians. For this reason, this paper will be organized primarily according to the discussions of the Galatians primarily based on ancient sources.

Moreover, due to the fact that the history of the Galatians is not as well-studied by the majority of modern scholars as other contemporary ethnic groups like Greeks and Egyptians, it will often be necessary to make comparisons to these better-documented ethnicities. Fortunately, there are also some good articles, exemplified by Stephen Mitchell’s “Galatian Settlement in Asia Minor,” which informatively outlines the archaeological studies of the material culture of the Galatians during the Hellenistic period. Other than archaeological reports, this paper will also be exploring changes in Celtic culture that have been established in relevant studies by previous scholars. By incorporating the evidence from both primary and secondary sources, this paper attempts to argue that the Galatians retained their identity in various aspects.

The Galatians were not original inhabitants of Asia Minor. Before the third century BCE, the Greek term “Γαλάται” only referred to the Celtic inhabitants in Gaul.[1] During the Celtic invasion of Greece in 279 BCE, the participation of the Tectosages started the change. Representing the Celtic people from southern Gaul, the Tectosages eventually managed to break into Asia Minor with their close kin, the Tolistobogii and Trocmi and settled in central Anatolia. This long-distance migration removed these Galatian tribes from their original geopolitical frame-work and thereby changed their political identity. In other words, it was a process of political redefinition which shaped a new Celtic identity in the eastern Mediterranean within the context of the Hellenistic World. This chapter focuses on examining this political redefinition of the Galatian tribes by breaking the discussion into three major comparisons.

All of the comparisons will be discussed within four geopolitical categories: Celtic West, Celtic East, Galatian West and Galatian East. The Celtic West and Celtic East refer to the Celtic communities settled in the western and eastern Mediterranean worlds. The Galatian East represents the Anatolian Galatians, whereas the Galatian West embodies the Gallic Celtic groups to which the Anatolian Galatians originally belonged. In the first set of comparisons, this chapter intends to explain how the geopolitical pattern of the Celtic West affected that of the Galatian West. The goal of this discussion is to provide clear insight into the traditional geopolitics among the Celtic tribes in the Gallic mainland and thereby lay the foundation for further discussions regarding the preservation and changes of the Galatians’ Celtic image.

The next comparison attempts to examine the patterns of military leadership within the geopolitical framework of the Celtic West, Galatian West and Galatian East. At first, this section of the paper will discuss how the pre-settled Galatians adopted the leadership and military paradigm of the Celtic West as a part of their Celtic identity. After that, this section of the paper will also explain how the post-settled Galatians abandoned the western Celtic military paradigm by refining their military organization. The main purpose of this section is to uncover the relationship between the changes in the Galatians’ military organization, the evolution of their political structure and the forging of a new Galatian identity that embodied Celtic unity.

The third set of comparisons will concentrate on the Celtic East and Galatian East. This section of the paper focuses on examining how the Galatians and Tylis Celts managed to enhance Celtic unity in geopolitical environments that were foreign and unfriendly to them. In addition, this section of the paper will also be explaining how the eastern Celts managed to survive as immigrant states through successful interactions with local regimes. Essentially, the main goal of this comparison is to present how the Galatians and other eastern Celts preserved and changed their original identity in their transitions from foreign invaders to native settlers.

The last group of comparisons will be exploring the similarities and differences between the Galatian West and Galatian East. The purpose of this group of comparison is to show how different geopolitical environments could shape totally different polities from the same ethnic group. Through these comparisons, this chapter attempts to argue that the Celtic migration in the early third century BCE essentially redefined the boundary of the Celtic world. The traditional Celts in the west and the Celtic immigrants in the east together formed a new Celtic community across the Mediterranean.

Power Struggle and Migration: From Celtic East to Galatian West

Caesar’s ethnogenesis and migrations of the Volcae during the 3rd century B.C. / By David Descamps, Wikimedia Commons

The occurrence of inner political struggles was the first common trait that was shared between the Gallic Galatians and other Celtic communities in Western Europe. Strabo mentions in his Geography that the Tectosages, which later became the main body of Anatolian Galatians, encountered a sedition in which they exiled a large number of their own people.[2] After his discussion of the land and fertility of this region of Gaul in which he mentions that the entire region is heavily populated,[3] he then goes on to discuss the Tectosages in detail. At this point, Strabo implies that the rebellion was the reason that motivated the outward migration of the Tectosages. In addition, Strabo states that those Tectosages exiles, along with the exiles from other tribes, eventually formed the later Anatolian Tectosages tribe.[4] In this case, Strabo clarifies two crucial points. First, the Anatolian Tectosages migrated from the main branch of Tectosages in Gaul. Second, the people who together founded the Anatolian Tectosages also contained some non-Tectosages Celtic immigrants. The exile of those non-Tectosages Celts evidently shows that similar type of migrations happened in other parts of Gaul as well. Hence, it is clear that forced migration, motivated by the outcomes of domestic political struggles, was one of the features which was widely shared by Gallic Celtic states in common.

This type of forced migration of Tectosages was profoundly connected with tribal power conflict. According to Strabo, the rebellion broke out among the Tectosages because the state was “so powerful and well-manned” (δυναστεῦσαί ποτε καὶ εὐανδρῆσαι τοσοῦτον).[5] Apparently, Strabo believes that the Tectosages were so prominent in terms of manpower to the point that they started to consume themselves through an internal power struggle. That is, the sedition was a process of rebalance of the inner political resources motivated by a demographic impulse. As the result, the losing party was forced to leave the tribe. Therefore, the political struggle that was caused by the overgrowth of tribal population triggered the rebellion and expatriation of the Tectosages. For this reason, the Tectosages’ exile was connected to the demographic pressure, internal power struggles and distribution of the tribal resources.

This cycle of internal political struggle and migration also happened to the Helvetians. As Caesar mentions in The Gallic Wars, the Helvetians believed that the lands which they acquired did not match their population and ferocity:[6]

Pro multitudine autem hominum et pro Gloria belli atque fortitudinis angustos se fines
habere arbitrabantur. (Caesar. Gal. 1.2.6)

Here, according to Caesar, the migration of the Helvetians was also motivated by demographic pressure.[7] Moreover, Caesar further states that Orgetorix, the wealthiest Helvetian noble who proposed a massive migration and invasion plan, was brought to a trial because he was accused by his political rival.[8] The accusation which Orgetorix suffered effectively shows that the Helvetians also shared the same pattern of power struggle with the Tectosages. More importantly, their power struggle also occurred after their tribe encountered the pressure of overpopulation. In this case, the problems which the Helvetians suffered are closely paralleled by
what the Tectosages had experienced.

The similar patterns of political struggle and migration that were shared between the Helvetians and Tectosages revealed the instability of their tribal governments. At this point, the conviction of Orgetorix was an excellent example. According to Caesar, Orgetorix was convicted and condemned, but the Helvetians still started the migration.[9] In other words, Orgetorix’s plan was finally implemented. Therefore, the migration plan itself did not contradict the interests of Orgetorix’s rivals. In this case, a question is raised. If Orgetorix’s rivals wanted to completely defeat Orgetorix, for what reason was Orgetorix’s migration proposal still employed? There might be a more complex set of factors that implicitly connected the condemnation of Orgetorix, his rivalry with other Helvetian nobles and the upcoming migration. Demographic pressure might be the first possibility, and it suffices the inquiry regarding the necessity of the Helvetians’ migration. However, if the demographic pressure was an implicit factor, then there was no
reason for Orgetorix to be accused and condemned because his appeal was aimed to solve this demographic pressure. As mentioned above, the Helvetian aristocrats did not object to the migration plan. Therefore, overpopulation was not the ultimate cause that underlay the disagreement between Orgetorix and his noble rivals.

The answer was, more likely, the political instability inside Helvetia. As Caesar states, Orgetorix assured the Helvetians that he would claim the sovereignty of the entirety of Gaul with his own army.[10] Here, Caesar’s description strongly implies that the Helvetian nobles were allowed to raise private forces for their own purposes. In this case, whoever could provide the Helvetian warriors with the most lucrative prospect was more likely to be the strongest aristocrat. In other words, the possession of manpower was also a standard that measured the strength and status of a Helvetian noble. Therefore, for the Helvetians, the authority did not belong to any permanent power base but to those individuals who were politically capable and financially competitive. That is, the possession of power was not institutionalized. This may have been the fundamental cause of the political instability within Helvetia.

This unstable political situation eventually led to the outbreaks of political struggle and political rebalance. As Orgetorix had promised in his speech, he would lead the Helvetians to conquer all of Gaul.[11] In this case, if the promise was fulfilled, the power and fame that Orgetorix might get as the overlord of Gaul could easily overwhelm his enemies. The establishment of a permanent power base was thus possible. This outcome was definitely not welcomed by other Helvetian nobles. Hence, it was necessary for them to repress Orgetorix’s potential dictatorship and redistribute his political resources among the Helvetian aristocracy. As a result, although the migration plan was approved and executed, the influence of its original proposer was eliminated. In other words, Orgetorix’s Helvetian rivals did not reject his migration plan but his ambition only. In this case, this political rebalancing of the Helvetian nobles kept their maximized gains from the upcoming migratory raids within a stable aristocratic framework. At this point, the Helvetians’ migration, like that of the Tectosages, was related to demographic pressure, internal power struggle and political rebalancing.

Thus, it is clear that the Tectosages shared many similarities with the Helvetians in terms of power struggle and migration patterns, especially in the rebalancing of domestic resources and its impact on demographic reallocation. Essentially, the increasing demographic pressure caused internal power struggles. Correspondingly, the Tectosages’ overgrown manpower and Helvetians’ overpopulation both reflected the first stage. Then, due to the absence of a permanent power center in these states, figures like Orgetorix, who possessed a significant amount of tribal resources, would be challenged by other aristocrats. As a result, the challenges led to open conflicts. The rebellion of the Tectosages and Orgetorix’s condemnation are the evidence in this case. Eventually, the aftermath of these political struggles contributed to removals of tribal population. At this point, the expulsion of the Tectosages and the Helvetians’ adoption of Orgetorix’s plan responded to this part of the process. When demographic pressure, a common problem that plagued many ancient societies, combined with the unstable political structure of the western Celts, a political paradigm was engendered in the Celtic West.

This paradigm was not only adopted by the Tectosages and Helvetians. On the contrary, it was applicable to all of the Gallic tribes. According to Strabo’s enquiry, such phenomena also happened to many other Celtic tribes in Gaul.[12] In other words, this political paradigm was widespread in the Celtic West. Through the same patterns of power struggles, unstable political situation and forced migration, all of the western Gauls were connected. Hence, this Pan-Celtic political paradigm essentially embodied a part of Celtic identity in terms of its political structure. In this case, the Tectosages, as a part of the broad geopolitical category of the Celtic West, were similar to other Gallic Celts in this respect, namely that both of them experienced the effects of the same political paradigm.

Change of Leadership and Military Organization: From Celtic West to Galatian East


Left: The Celtic Helmet from Satu Mare, Romania (northern Dacia), an Iron Age raven totem helmet, dated around 4th century BC. A similar helmet is depicted on the Gundestrup cauldron, being worn by one of the mounted warriors / National Military Museums, Romania
Right: Illustration of Brennus wearing a similar helmet / Mike Scott, Flicker, Creative Commons

Leadership patterns are also another important factor that shows the connection between the Galatians and other Gallic groups in the Celtic West. Strabo notes that when the Celtic armies, which those exiled Tectosages had joined during the invasion of Greece in 278 BCE, decided to march southward, they elected Brennus as their leader.[13] At this point, Strabo clearly expresses that as a part of the Celtic invasion alliance, the Tectosages temporarily abandoned their tribal identity and accepted the leadership of an individual from another tribe because they shared a mutual interest with other tribes in raiding Greece. That is to say, for the Tectosages, their tribal identity would be considered less important when there was an opportunity for them to benefit from a broader, shared Celtic identity during wars and brigandage.

However, for Celtic armies, this type of inter-tribal coalition and military leadership broke down when the tide of war went against them. The tragic ending of Brennus’s force is an excellent example. According to Pausanias, when the Celtic invasion army fought with the Athenians in the battle of Thermopylae, a large number of Celtic soldiers started to fall back under their minor chieftains’ orders because the Athenians’ missile firing was too intensive.[14] Clearly, as Pausanias points out, the contemporary Celtic armies lacked discipline and advanced military organization. In other words, there was no compulsive element that could restrain those lesser officers from disobeying central commands. Thus, Brennus’s authority in this army was not absolute but superficial. In this case, Brennus’s personal leadership might be capable of proposing a strategy like invading Greece or plundering Delphi, but it did not embody the permanent military command that would allow him to operate his army more effectively.

The problem of this type of leadership ultimately led to the destruction of the Celtic invasion force. According to Pausanias, after Brennus’s army was terribly struck by a lightning storm[15] and suffered a freezing night,[16] the Celtic army was utterly broken by the Greeks although Brennus organized a tough resistance with his bodyguard force.[17] Here, Pausanias’sc description clearly shows that Brennus’s personal leadership failed to rally the entire Celtic army and triumph over the Greeks because of the calamity inflicted by severe weather conditions. In other words, the morale of this multi-tribal army would become unreliable when it was exposed to tough external forces. At this point, neither the lust of plunder nor Brennus’s leadership could help solve this problem because the Celtic troops were fundamentally undisciplined. Although their battle enthusiasm and hunger for raids might have inspired them at the beginning, the lack of discipline, proper organization, and a truly unified identity demonstrated the fragile nature of their alliance in the face of harsh strikes. For this reason, Brennus’s role in this army was more like a respectable elder rather than a highly authoritative commander.

Similar features of Celtic tribal army and military leadership can also be observed from the battle of Alesia in a later period. Caesar relates that in order to oppose the aggression from Rome, the Aedui held a pan-Gallic assembly at Bibracte and asked King Vercingetorix of the Arverni to be the military commander of this tribal confederation.[18] Caesar’s statement expresses two vital points. At first, Caesar points out that the Gallic Celts came to Bibracte to discuss the alliance issue because they had sensed substantial threats from Caesar’s Gallic campaign. Again, for the sake of mutual benefits, particularly the preservation of autonomy and security, the Gallic Celts intended to temporarily ignore their tribal identity and join a greater Celtic community which they believed was capable of repelling the challenge from Caesar. Secondly, this new Gallic alliance also elected a prestigious war leader to be the command-in-chief. Like Brennus, Vercingetorix was also authorized with a similar type of command. Hence, in terms of the geopolitical concern and leadership of multi-tribal warfare, the Galatians shared similarities with the rest of the Celtic West before they completed the process of migration and settled in Anatolia. Although they privileged their tribal identity during normal circumstances, they were able to unite and acknowledge their broader, shared Celtic identity when they were faced with an
external, non-Celtic enemy.

Furthermore, a similar absence of discipline and effective military organization also caused the incapability of Vercingetorix in controlling such a large Celtic army in disadvantageous circumstances. The defeat of the Gallic army in the battle of Alesia was a perfect example. Caesar describes that as his force engaged the Celtic army at the rear while it was confronting Labienus’s cavalry, the Celts lost their will to fight although they were superior in numbers.[19] At this point, Caesar’s statement clearly reveals that the indiscipline and lack of significant unity of the Celtic army provided him with an opportunity to implement his tactics. That is, by attacking the rear of the besieging Celtic army, Caesar inflicted enough panic on his enemy to significantly demoralize them. In addition, due to the lack of proper military organization, the retreats of those Celts became a disastrous flight.[20] Thus, as Caesar has suggested, indiscipline, poor military organization, and lack of a truly unified identity beyond that provided by a shared external threat, eventually undermined Vercingetorix’s leadership and led to a crushing defeat.

Through this comparison, it is clear that the military leadership and organization of the Celtic armies in the Celtic West followed the same general pattern: their military cohesion beyond the tribal level was essentially based on the expectation of lucrative outcomes. In this case, central military powers were weak because those Celtic tribes in the allied force only set aside their tribal divisions for benefits instead of a permanent military authority. When in battles, they were more likely to be motivated by the thirst of plundering instead of discipline. The failures of Brennus and Vercingetorix both demonstrated this principle. Hence, as a part of Brennus’s army which invaded Greece in 279 BCE, the Tectosages exiles inherited the military organization and “tribal autonomy” of the western Celts that continued to prevail in the Celtic West even during the first century BCE. Before the Tectosages adopted a new political paradigm after they entered Asia Minor, their identity was also characterized by the strong tribal divisions and lust of raids in terms of large military operations. This example clearly shows the Galatians’ adoption of the military paradigm that prevailed in the Celtic West.

After the Galatians settled down in central Anatolia, they were no longer following their original paradigm of military organization underlain by a strong sense of tribal divisions. Instead, the military leadership in the Galatian army was centralized due to the evolution of their new political system. The most significant change was the foundation of a cross-tribal council called Drynemetum. According to Strabo, the Drynemetum equally assigned each of the three Galatian tribes with four delegates to whom Strabo refers as tetrarchs.[21] The institution which Strabo introduces clarifies that the Drynemetum was the highest authority of the Galatian polity. Clearly, the creation of this relatively complicated aristocratic council shows explicit intention of rejecting fragile individual rulership like that of Brennus. On the contrary, they founded a permanent power base which empowered their political body with strong regulative authority. In this case, the individual Galatians tribes could no longer act on their own. Minor tribal divisions thereby compromised the Celtic unity of the Galatian regime.

The Drynemetum had a powerful influence upon the Galatians’ military system. Strabo mentions that each Galatian tetrarch was authorized to have a judge and military commander (στρατοφύλακης) at his disposal, and each military commander had two lieutenants (ὑποστρατοφύλακας).[22] Apparently, according to Strabo’s statement, the Galatians also utilized this tetrarch system to refine their old military organization which embodied their Celtic identity. By inserting positions like commander and lieutenants into their military system, the Galatians established permanent military command to prevent the disorganization caused by unsolidified central leadership. At this point, the flexibility of those minor tribal leaders was weakened. The Galatian army started to be operated as an entirety instead of a loose confederation of different tribes. In this case, the identity of individual Celtic tribes was set aside, but a cross-tribal Galatian identity was formed through this military reformation. Therefore, by improving their military system, the Galatians not only overcame the military disorganization of their army but also strengthened the unity of their new country. Henceforth, the Galatians no longer fought as a group of tumultuous Celts but as an organized Celtic unity. Essentially, by abandoning the military paradigm that prevailed in the contemporary Celtic West, the Galatians molded their own identity in the aspect of military organization.

Settlement and Redefinition: Celtic East and Galatian East

Tribes in Thrace. Celtic peoples, including the Gauls of Tylis. / Wikimedia Commons

The foundation of the eastern Celtic states lay in the Grand Celtic migration in 279 BCE. As a group of exiles, those Celtic immigrants were displaced from their native homeland. Therefore, their settlement in the eastern Mediterranean world signified the creation of a new Celtic political identity. However, the Galatians were not the first group to construct this new political identity in the Celtic world. The Kingdom of Tylis was their precedent. According to Polybius, those Gauls, who were driven from their home with Brennus’s leadership, conquered the Thracians and established the Kingdom of Tylis under the leadership of Comontorius.[23] Polybius’s statement here clarifies two crucial facts. First, those Celtic immigrants were expelled from their homeland and thereby lost their original political identity. Based on this fact, Polybius points out that their political identity was reestablished thanks to the foundation of Tylis and the successful leadership of Comontorius. These two facts together suggest that the foundation of Tylis restored the Celtic identity of those homeless Celtic exiles by promoting a Pan-Celtic identity. That is, Tylis was established in the eastern Mediterranean world as a “Celtic state” which welcomed all the Celts regardless of their previous tribal identities.

Along with the establishment of a new national identity, Tylis was also known for its treaties with the Byzantines. Polybius introduces that during the reign of Comontorius, the Byzantines paid three thousand, five thousand and ten thousand gold coins to Tylis as tribute in order to protect their territories from raids.[24] At this point, Polybius clearly portrays Comontorius as a leader who understood the political situation and knew how to utilize it to his advantage. On one hand, instead of using violence directly, he menaced the Byzantines by the fame of warlike Celts and thus acquired a continuous financial source for Tylis. On the other hand, he knew that the Thracians were hostile toward the Tylis Celts as well as the Byzantines. On this matter, Tylis and Byzantium were oriented by their mutual political need: fighting against the Thracians. As a result, the Byzantines provided money while Tylis supported with manpower. Therefore, as Polybius points out, the Byzantines and Tylis eventually reached a long-term treaty in which the Byzantines would pay eighty talents annually to Tylis for protection.[25] These pieces of evidence show that the Tylis Gauls were not simply a group of barbarians in the traditional sense. On the contrary, they were governed by a deliberate monarch who not only helped create a new Celtic identity for the Tylis Gauls but also utilized the renown of Celtic ferocity to the advantage of Tylis to participate in the geopolitics of the northern Balkans during the third century BCE.

The foundation of the Galatian state marked the end of the Celtic migration in 278 BCE. Similar to the Tylis Gauls, the Galatians also took advantage of the fierce reputation of the Celtic nation and significantly influenced the politics in Asia Minor. According to Livy, the Celtic immigrants, who were commanded by Leonnorius and Lutarius, penetrated into the country of the Byzantines. They demanded tributes and ships from them so that they could cross the Bosporus Strait.26 From Livy’s depiction, it is clear that the predecessors of the later so-called “Galatians” also realized the military weakness of Byzantium. Therefore, they seized it as their
opportunity to break into Asia Minor.

After these Celts entered Asia Minor, their bravery and ferocity gained them great opportunity. Livy mentions that King Nicomedes I of Bithynia highly endorsed the intrepidity of these Celts and hired them for his own purposes. After receiving aid from these Celts, Nicomedes defeated his brother and controlled all of Bithynia. The Celts were rewarded with lands to settle.[27] Livy’s description highlights the fierce characteristics of these Celts. Like the Tylis Celts, the Galatians also preserved their identity as fearless warriors. This identity was highly valued by the Hellenistic states like Byzantium and Bithynia. The successful migration of the Tylis Celts and Galatians into the Hellenistic world enriched the mercenary warfare and political complexity in Anatolia. On one hand, the Hellenistic states in the eastern Mediterranean could now use money to hire those fearsome Celtic soldiers to achieve their military goals. On the other hand, those states might need to be cautious because those settled Celts could also be their worst enemies. In other words, due to the presence of the Galatians in Anatolia, the previous political balance of Asia Minor was dramatically altered.

The foundation of the Pan-Celtic identity of the Galatians slightly differed from that of the Tylis Celts. The three groups which eventually became the Galatian nation had different backgrounds. According to Strabo, the origin of the Tectosages could be directly traced back to their home tribe in southern Gaul, whereas the Tolistobogii and Trocmi were named after their leaders.[28] Strabo’s statement here clarifies that the foundations of the Tolistobogii and Trocmi followed the Tylis mode which allowed them to form new tribal identities solely based on the ethnicity of their members. In other words, their previous identities did not matter to them anymore since they were led by their new leaders and founded new tribes on the basis of a new grouping of individuals who were united by a sense of a broader shared Celtic identity. However, the foundation of the Galatian Tectosages was not modeled in this way. Their previous tribal identity was not yet abandoned by the time they arrived in Anatolia because they still used their old tribal name to symbolize their new identity. Therefore, the Tylis mode was not universally adopted by all of the eastern Celts in reforming their tribal identities.

Although the identities of three Galatian tribes were reformed depending on the specifics of their individual situation, their Galatian identity as a whole was modeled from the Tylis mode. In other words, a Pan-Celtic identity was promoted within the state of Galatia. Strabo notes that the Tectosages, Tolistobogii and Trocmi together ruled their country (τὴν χωράν) as Galatians (οἱ Γαλάται).[29] That is to say, in a broad sense, the state of Galatia itself symbolized a Pan-Celtic identity which contained the people who still defined themselves as the descendants of their old tribes (Tectosages) and those who had already considered themselves as the members of new clans (Tolistobogii and Trocmi). Hence, the ethnic identity of the Galatians was established on the Pan-Celtic identity among those Celtic immigrants although this identity still had variations among their individual tribes.

The forms of new Celtic identities in Tylis and Galatia were also profoundly related to their constant warfare with the armies of the Successor Kingdoms. According to Pausanias, during the Celtic invasion of Delphi, Antigonus Gonatas sent his troops to assist the Athenians and successfully defended Greece.[30] By showing Antigonus’s intervention in the repulsion of the Celts, Pausanias clearly illustrates that the support from Antigonus’s Successor army played a pivotal role in repelling the Celtic invasion in 279 BCE.

After the Celtic force marched north, they were soon defeated by Antigonus’s army a second time. In The Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius notes that Antigonus led his army and vanquished the Celtic invaders near the town of Lysimachia in Thrace. After this, he returned to Macedonia as a king.[31] Diogenes’s statement clarifies that Antigonus’s triumph after the battle of Lysimachia qualified him as a capable defender of Greece and helped him claim the throne of Macedon. The remnants of the defeated Celts, however, were forced to move further into Thrace and eventually became the founders of the eastern Celtic states.[32] With all these pieces together, it is clear that Antigonus’s successful campaigns were a crucial factor that helped end the Celtic invasion of Greece in 279 BCE. By repelling the Celtic invasion force twice in Greece, Antigonus proved himself a force to be reckoned with in the Balkan Peninsula. In other words, his military successes forced the Celts to think of a way to remain in the eastern Mediterranean world without provoking Macedon.

Therefore, the foundation of Tylis was a consequence of this consideration. As Polybius describes, the Tylis Celts were allied with Byzantium and fought against the Thracians.[33] That is, although the Tylis Celts still preserved their expansionist nature, they already defined themselves as a regional power in Thrace after they had settled in the Balkans. In other words, the crushing defeats which Antigonus had inflicted upon the Tylis Celts continued to be influential for them throughout their history. Hence, they would rather choose to fight against their fierce Thracian neighbors than confront Antigonus’s Macedonian army again. That is to say, although the Tylis Celts did not lose their Celtic identity as warriors, Antigonus’s military prowess still forced them to adapt to Thracian geopolitics. For these reasons, the political identity of the Tylis Celts appears to be a “Celtic-Thracian state”.

The growth of Anatolian Galatia was also not a peaceful process. The aggressive nature of Gallic warriors frequently clashed with Hellenistic powers in Asia Minor. Appian writes in Syrian Wars that Antiochus I successfully defeated the invasion of Gauls/Galatians (Γαλάται) and thus gained the surname Soter.[34] Here, Appian points out that the Galatians, as a group of warlike Celts, still preserved their ferocity and aggressiveness by fighting against the Seleucid Empire. Like their Celtic fellows in Tylis, the Galatians also perceived their neighbors as non- Celts. Therefore, hostile actions toward these people were justified. At this point, the same shared feature of Celticness could be clearly observed between the Tylis Celts and Galatians. Nevertheless, unlike Antigonus Gonatas, Antiochus I failed to overpower the Galatians by demonstrating the prowess of his Hellenistic army. According to Aelian, Antiochus I died in another battle fighting against the Galatians in 261 BCE.[35] Therefore, compared to the Tylis Celts, the Galatians were not compelled to adapt to a new environment. They successfully defended themselves from the wars against the Seleucid Empire and thereby survived as a major geopolitical power in Asia Minor. That is, their political identity in Anatolia emerged from their victory against a Successor power. By killing Antiochus I and defeating his army, the Galatians secured their position in Hellenistic Asia Minor and eventually became a “Hellenic-Celtic” state. Based on this evidence, it is clear that the ethnic identity of the eastern Celtic states remained intact after their immigrations. However, their political identities changed over time due to their conflicts with Successor states. For this reason, the political identities of the eastern Celts were substantially related to the geopolitics of the areas in which they had settled.

Change of Geopolitical Context: From Galatian West to Galatian East

Anatolia, 2nd century B.C. / Wikimedia Commons

According to the evidence presented above, it is clear that there were three important changes that helped shape the redefinition of the Galatians’ identity. First, their administration system, which was certainly different from the rest of Celtic world, was developed after their settlement in Anatolia. Secondly, they also refined their military organizations along with their political system. Thirdly, their tribal identity was reorganized because their tribesmen had lost their previous tribal identities during the migration. These changes distinguished the identity of the Galatians from those Celtic tribes which exiled them in the first place. At this point, it is observable that these changes were all closely related to their migration from Gaul to Anatolia. That is, the changes of their political and military structures were initially inspired by the change of geography. In other words, the change of geopolitical context underlay the redefinitions of the Galatians and distinguished the post-migration Galatians from the pre-migration Galatians.

The change of geopolitical context was the major factor that differentiates the political structure between the Galatian East and Galatian West. Before the migration, the Tectosages, just like other Gallic tribes, suffered from political instability which led to violent power struggles and exiles of their own people.[36] As a part of the Celtic West, their Celtic identity was revealed by following a Pan-Gallic power struggle pattern. However, after they had moved to Asia Minor, the Tectosages became a part of the tetrarchy system in which their tribe was assigned with an equal amount of delegates in the council (βουλὴ).[37] Apparently, the distribution of political resources was relatively fair within Galatia because each of the three tribes was assigned an equal amount of delegates. In other words, this political invention of the Galatians aimed to solve the Celtic power struggle pattern by preventing unbalanced distribution of political resources within Galatia.

This idea of council (Strabo describes it as a βουλὴ) delegation was clearly not a product of Celtic society. In the fifth century BCE, Athenians were most famed for using the βουλὴ as a major part of their political system. According to Aristotle’s Athenian Constitution, Cleisthenes re-divided the election body of the Boule into ten tribes so that more people might take part in the government.[38] Apparently, the Boule which Aristotle discusses refers to a central political council that represented all of the tribes that made up the state. The Galatians’ Drynemetum lacked the democratic feature which the Athenian Boule had, but it still functioned as a counseling mechanism for the state. The delegates of the Galatian Drynemetum were chosen from each tetrarchy to discuss civil and military affairs in the council.[39] That is to say, the Galatians more or less borrowed delegation politics from Hellenic states and implemented it in their country. At this point, their geographical location provided them with an excellent
geopolitical context to model their institutions on those of Greek states.

The change of geopolitical context also influenced the Galatians’ military reforms. The lieutenants (ὑποστρατοφύλακας), which the Galatians established in their military system, were commonly used in Hellenistic armies. According to Polybius, when Antiochus III attempted to assault the city of Seleucia Pamphylia, he managed to bribe the lieutenants (τινας κατὰ τῶν μέρος ἡγεμόνων) of the garrison army and took the city thereby.[40] The similar placement of lieutenants in Galatian and Successor armies effectively suggests that the Galatians might have adopted advanced military organization from the Successor states in Asia Minor. Compared to their primitive military organization during the invasion of Greece in 279 BCE,[41] the Galatians considerably refined their military operation system from their interactions with Hellenistic powers after they settled in Asia Minor. In this case, the change of geopolitical environment from Western Europe to Asia Minor provided the Galatians access to the advanced military organization of the Hellenistic states. Therefore, the change of geopolitical context inspired the Galatians’ military refinement which later significantly contributed to the form of the Galatians’ unity.

Furthermore, the Galatians’ redefinition of their tribal identity was also inseparable from the change of geopolitical context. The identity of the Galatians as eastern Celts was established after their settlement in Anatolia. According to Strabo, the Tectosages originally came from southern France, whereas the Tolistobogii and Trocmi were named after the leaders who brought them to Anatolia from Europe.42 Strabo’s statement here clarifies that Galatians were all from the Celtic tribes in Western Europe before the migration. In other words, they were still identified as western Celts during the process of migration.

However, after their migration was completed, their identity started to change. In this case, Polybius and Strabo’s uses of the terms for Gauls and Galatians are worth noting. When Polybius describes those Celtic immigrants who eventually founded Tylis, he uses the term οὗτοι Γαλατῶν.43 Here, Polybius still calls those Celts “Gauls (Γαλάται)”. Therefore, it is clear that from Polybius’s view, the Tylis Celts were still deeply related with their Gallic fellows in the Celtic West. However, Strabo also depicts the Galatians by using the word Γαλάται44. Here, the Γαλάται which Strabo refers to might be different from Polybius intends to describe because the Tylis Celts and Galatians belonged to different Celtic states. In other words, Polybius and Strabo adopt the same word to describe two groups of Celtic people who were quite similar but not exactly the same. Hence, in the context of the Celtic East, the meaning of the Γαλάται varies between different Celtic groups. Nonetheless, Polybius and Strabo’s statements commendably point out that these eastern Celtic groups were still profoundly related to those western Gallic tribes when they tried to settle down. That is, from the Greeks’ view, the eastern Celts were still “Gauls” regardless of their own tribal identities.

However, this recognition was changed during the first century BCE. Due to the absence of relevant sources, how Tylis Celts integrated Thracian elements into their society remains unknown. However, plenty of evidence that recorded the change of the Galatians still remains. Diodorus Siculus proposes that the Galatians were called “Hellenic Gauls” (Ἑλληνογαλάται) because of their connection with the Greeks.45 Here, Diodorus makes it clear that the Galatians were substantially Hellenized after two centuries of habitation in Asia Minor. As a result, their Celtic identity was changed again because of the geopolitical influence from surrounding
Hellenistic states. Furthermore, Livy makes an even bolder claim by asserting that the Galatians in the first century BCE were almost a different race compared to their antecedents. Livy relates that when Marcus Manlius campaigned in Asia Minor, the Galatians whom he fought against were considerably degenerated from their forefathers. They were softened because they settled in the country of the Phrygians and thereby became the Gallo-Graeci (Gallic Greeks).46 At this point, Livy’s description shows that the identity of the Galatians was changed because of geography. In other words, Livy believes that the territory which the Galatians occupied was exceedingly civilized and prosperous so that they lost the bravery and ferocity which their ancestors were famed for.

The arguments that were presented by Diodorus and Livy both suggest that the identity of the Galatians as a Celtic nation was changed due to its location and interactions with surrounding Hellenic powers. In other words, their ethnic identity was redefined again during the first century BCE. Hence, it is obvious that at this point of history, the Galatians now differed quite a bit from their Celtic kin in Western Europe after these two changes to their ethnic identity. The Galatian East had formed its own identity and distinguished itself from the Celtic West. Therefore, the change of geopolitical context significantly contributed to the change of Galatians’ ethnic identity.

Clearly, the phrases like “Ἑλληνογαλάται” from Diodorus or “Gallo-Graeci” from Livy mutually reflect that the change of geopolitical context reshaped the identity of the Galatians in terms of political structure and military organization. However, there were still other changes that took place in the contemporary Galatia could not be fully revealed from the political image told by the records of political history. Therefore, in the next chapter, this paper attempts to explore the cultural, religious and economic aspects of the Galatians’ society and present the changes and preservations within Galatia during the Hellenistic period from another view.


  1. Polybius, the Histories of Polybius, Book IV. 46.
  2. Strabo, Geography, IV. 1. 13.
  3. Strabo, IV. 1. 2.
  4. Strabo, IV. 1. 13.
  5. Strabo, IV. 1. 13.
  6. Julius Caesar, the Gallic War, I. 2.
  7. Caesar mentions at 1. 29 that the Helvetians left specific population records written in Greek letters in their camp which gives the total number of migrants as 368,000 people because Roman generals could earn triumphs based on the number of the enemies they killed during their campaigns, there may have been some reasons for Caesar to exaggerate this figure. However, because Strabo tells us that the entire region of Gaul was extremely highly populated, there is no reason to doubt the truth of the claim that overpopulation motivated the migration, even though the exact figure Caesar provides may not be entirely trustworthy.
  8. Caesar, I. 4.
  9. Caesar, I. 5.
  10. Caesar, I. 3.
  11. Caesar, I. 2.
  12. Strabo, IV. 1. 13.
  13. Strabo, IV. 1. 13.
  14. Pausanias, Description of Greece, X. 21. 4.
  15. Pausanias, X, 23. 1.
  16. Pausanias., X. 23. 4.
  17. Pausanias, X. 23. 6.
  18. Caesar, VII. 63.
  19. Caesar, VII. 88.
  20. Caesar, VII. 88.
  21. Strabo, XII. 5. 1.
  22. Strabo, XII. 5. 1.
  23. Polybius, IV. 46.
  24. Polybius, IV. 46.
  25. Polybius, IV. 46.
  26. Livy, History of Rome, Book XXXVIII. 16.
  27. Livy, XXXVIII, 16.
  28. Strabo, XII. 5. 1.
  29. Strabo, XII. 5. 1.
  30. Pausanias, I, 7, 3.
  31. Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 17, 141-142.
  32. Livy, XXXVIII, 16.
  33. Polybius, IV. 46.
  34. Appian, Syrian Wars, XI, 65.
  35. Aelian, De natura animalium, VI, 44.
  36. Strabo, IV. 1. 13.
  37. Strabo, XII. 5. 1.
  38. Aristotle, Athenian Constitution, 21, 2.
  39. Strabo, XII. 5. 1.
  40. Polybius, V, 60.
  41. Pausanias, X. 21. 2.
  42. Strabo, XII. 5. 1.
  43. Polybius, IV. 46.
  44. Strabo, XII. 5. 1.
  45. Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historica, V. 32. 5
  46. Livy, XXXVIII, 16.