HOUNDS OF THE EMPIRE – Celtic Roman Legions on the Balkans

(UD: November 2018)

Early Roman Tombstone of Genialis - Roman cavalryman - Genialis was a Frisian (from Holland) in a unit of Thracians (modern Bulgaria) - Cirencester


The Roman conquest of southeastern Europe logically led to the influx of substantial numbers of Roman military units into the region to consolidate the empires control. The presence of Celtic military units in the Roman army on the Balkans are well recorded. For example, in the Roman province of Moesia Superior the Celtic cohors I Lusitanorum (Celtiberian), III Gallorum, IV Gallorum, V Gallorum, VII Gallorum and VIII Gallorum  are mentioned in a diploma from 28 April 75 (RMD I 2); II Gallorum Macedonica, V Gallorum, I Flavia Hispanorum milliaria and V Hispanorum from 16 September 94 (CIL XVI 3, RMD V 335); I Lusitanorum, II Hispanorum, II Brittonum (milliaria) and III Brittonum  from 8 May 100 (CIL XVI 46; see Matei-Popescu 2006-2007)

 Of particular interest is an observable pattern of dispatching Celtic military units to areas in which a significant Celtic presence is recorded in the pre-Roman period. Examples of such are the cohors IV Gallorum equitata stationed at Oescus (near modern Gigen, Pleven region) between AD 62 and AD 71 (Boyanov I. 2008), which later formed the garrison at Salsovia on the southern bank of the St Gheorghe arm of the Danube in Tulcea County, Romania (see Haynes et al. 2007), or the ala Gallica I stationed at Ratiaria (near modern Archar, Vidin region) in the 1st c. AD (Gerov 1980:164), ala I Gallorum  et Bosporanorum (based in Securisca, pres. Cherkovitsa – Nikopol district, Pleven region), ala I Claudia Gallorum Capitoniana (based in Augustae, pres. Harlets, Vratza region; see S. Maschov 1994), all in former Scordisci territory in northern Bulgaria. Another example is that of the cohors quarta Gallorum which was stationed at Ulicitra (location unknown; Not. Dign., or. XL 46-49) in the province of Rhodopa, were Rome had experienced intense resistance from the Celtic tribes in the 2nd / 1st c. BC. 

In northeastern Bulgaria the cohors II Lucensium was stationed at the former Celtic settlement of Abritu (Abritus, near Razgrad). The cohors was named after the Lucenses, a Celtic tribe in Spain from which many of the recruits for the cohort came. This is confirmed in a military diploma from Moesia, dated 78 AD (CIL, XVI, 22). An inscription from the 2nd c. from Abritus provides evidence of the presence of the Celtiberian cohors II Lucensium as well: the tomb-stone of Gaius Iulius Maximus – an equestrian attached to this cohors – G(aius) I(ulius) Maximu/s/, eq(ues) coh(ortis) ІІ Luc(ensium), singul(aris), vixit, a(nnis). The cohors were probably stationed here up to CE 136 and took part in the Dacian wars of Emperor Trajan. After 136 AD it was garrisoned at Cabyle (near modern Jambol; see Ivanov R. Roman Cities in Bulgaria (in print).

 (After Martini, Paunov 2001)


 Until now the overall proportion of the Roman forces in southeastern Europe which consisted of Celts has remained unclear. However, recent research into the subject has provided surprising results and given us a valuable insight into a wider question – who exactly were the ‘Romans’?

Peregrinus was the term used during the early Roman empire, from 30 BC to 212 AD, to denote a free provincial subject of the Empire who was not a Roman citizen. Peregrini constituted the vast majority of the Empire’s inhabitants in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. In frontier provinces, the proportion of actual Roman citizens was extremely small. For example, one estimate puts Roman citizens in Britain ca. 100 AD at about 50,000, less than 3% of the total provincial population of ca. 1.7 million.

  In the empire as a whole, we know there were just over 6 million Roman citizens in 47 AD, the last quinquennial Roman census return extant. This was just 9% of a total imperial population generally estimated at ca. 70 million at that time. Thus, between 30 BC and 212 AD the Peregrini made up the vast majority of the population of the empire. In 212 AD, all free inhabitants of the Empire were granted citizenship by the Constitutio Antoniniana, abolishing the status of peregrinus (Scheidel W. 2006:9).

Military equipment from the burial of a Celtic warrior serving in the Roman army, discovered in the Tribanjska Draga canyon in western Croatia (1st c. AD)


DACIA – A Case Study

 The ethnic origin of ‘Romans’ is a complex issue. For example, a statistical analysis of the ‘Roman’ names in the peregrini in Dacia indicates that only 29 % actually had Italic names, while almost as many (25 %) carried Celtic names (Graph 1). Remarkable is the disproportion existing between the names of the soldiers and the names of other characters from the military environment. More precisely, the majority of Celtic names come from the category of soldiers’ children (Varga 2010), indicating that many Celts took Roman names for official purposes, presumably to enhance their chances of advancement within the imperial military structure. However, this Romanization was obviously superficial, as indicated by the fact that they continued to give their children traditional Celtic names.

Graph 1 –

The ratio of peregrines’ names in the Roman auxiliary troops of Dacia

(After Varga 2010)

Table 1 –

Ethnic Structure of the peregrine names from the military environment

(After Varga 2010)

Graph 2 –

Ratios of soldiers names and the general peregrine population (other characters) .

(After Varga 2010)

A stark discrepancy is to be noted in the survey between the statistics given for soldiers names and those of the general peregrine population (Table 1/ Graph 2). While ‘Thracian’ names are carried by 26 % of the soldiers, Thracians represent only 10 % of the general peregrine population. Conversely, according to the study, only 19 % of Roman soldiers had Celtic names, although Celts made up 33 % of the general peregrine population in Roman Dacia.

While the Celtic names in the study are clear, the statistic for ‘Thracian’ names is more problematic. For example, the name Bitus Sola is identified by the author as Thracian, although both Bitus* and Sola are well recorded Celtic name elements (On Sola/Solia see Holder AC 2 1602, 1607). This again draws attention to the phenomenon of Celtic personal names in Thrace (and Dacia) being categorized as ‘Thracian’. A fundamental reappraisal of the data is necessary in order to clarify what percentage of these names are actually Thracian (/Dacian) and how many are in fact those of Thracian Celts.


The Men With No Names…

One should also note the conspicuous absence of one particular ethnic group in this equation – the so-called Dacians. While all the other major ethnic groups on the Balkans are represented to varying degrees in the general peregrine population of Roman Dacia – Thracian (10 %), Greek (12 %), Celtic (33 %) (Graph 2), there is no evidence for a separate ‘Dacian’ ethnic group. Conversely, the particularly high proportion of the general Roman peregrine population (33% according to the study) which consisted of ethnic Celts also partly explains the high frequency of Celtic personal names recorded in Thrace and Dacia during the Roman period.

Thus, the Celtic ethnic presence in southeastern Europe, already firmly established during the migrations of the 4th / 3rd c. BC, was strengthened by the additional influx of large numbers of Celts serving in the Roman legions from the 1st c. BC onwards, as well as the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Celto-Scythians by the emperors Probus (276-82; Historia Augusta Probus 18) and Diocletian (284-305; Eutropius IX.25) into the territory of today’s Romania and Bulgaria.





On Celtic personal names in Thrace see also:  












Boyanov I. (2008) Oescus – from Castra to Colonia Archaeologia Bulgarica XII 2008, 369-76. Sofia.

Gerov B., Beiträge zur Geschichte der römischen Provinzen Moesien und Thrakien. Gesammelte Aufsätze I  (Amsterdam 1980)

Haynes I, Bogdan D, Topoleanu F. 2007) Salsovia: A Roman Fort and Town on the Lower Danube. The Lower Danube in Antiquity (VC C BC-VI C AD) 2007)

Holder A. (1896-1907). Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz, Bd. I-III – Nachdruck Graz 1961-1962

Ivanov R. (2012) Roman Cities in Bulgaria. (in print)

Марков Н. (2005) По Следите на Античната Магия. София.

Maschov S. (1994) Die Spätantike Befestigung und Früh-Byzantinisch Stadt von Augusta bei dorf Hurletz, Vratza bezirk. – In: G. S. Susini (ed.), Limes, Studi di Storia, vol. 5. Bologna 1994, S. 21–36

Rodolfo Martini R., Evgeni Paunov E. (2001) Early Roman Imperial Countermarked Coins from Moesia: First Critical Observations. Acta Musei Varnaensis II. Numismatic and Sphragistic Contributions to History of the Western Black Sea Coast. International Conference. Varna, 12 – 15 September 2001. P. 159-174.

Matei-Popescu  F. (2006-2007) The Auxiliary Units From Moesia Superior in Domitian’s Time and the Problem of CIL XVI 41. EPHEMERIS NAPOCENSIS, XVI–XVII. p. 31–48

Scheidel W. (2006) Population & Demography (Princeton-Stanford Working Papers in Classics)

Strobel K.  Die  Legio  V  Alaudae  in  Moesien.  Eine  Phantomtruppe  der  römischen Militärgeschichte. Historia 37, 1988, 504–508

Varga R. (2010) The Military Peregrini of Dacia: Onomastical and Statistical Considerations. Analele Universităţii Creştine „Dimitrie Cantemir”, Bucureşti, Seria Istorie – Serie nouă, Anul 1, Nr. 4, 2010, p. 108-116

Mac Congail



5 thoughts on “HOUNDS OF THE EMPIRE – Celtic Roman Legions on the Balkans

  1. Pingback: Celtic presence in the Imperial Roman Army - Historum - History Forums
  2. U take only the part who fits you from what u read?!

    “In the table above, we have presented the “ethnical” origin6 (I chose the term “ethnic” asindicative of the area associated to a name, as it is more appropriate in this case than “etymological”)of all the names of the peregrini associated with the military environment.On Chart no. 1, we can note the percentages, as following: 29% Italic names, 25% names of Celtic origin, 20% Thracian names, 11% Semitic names, 7 % of Greek names, only 5% of Illyriannames, 2% possibly Germanic names and 1% of Iranian names.Some preliminary considerations must be made concerning the relation between the individualonomastics of the soldier and his troop’s characteristics. The first observation would be that generally the two features correspond: we find Celtic names in Gauls’ troops7, Semitic names in a Plamyreantroop8, Illyrians in Illyrian troops9etc. This fact mainly appears as normal. But the majority, however,is supplemented by exceptions. Thus, for example, we encounter Thracian names, quite normal and rather common in Dacia, at soldiers from Illyrian10 , Gaulish11 or Britons12 troops.”

    https://www.academia.edu/589496/The_military_peregrini_of_Dacia this link its for ur Varga R. (2010) The Military Peregrini of Dacia: Onomastical and Statistical Considerations. Analele Universităţii Creştine „Dimitrie Cantemir”, Bucureşti, Seria Istorie – Serie nouă, Anul 1, Nr. 4, 2010, p. 108-116
    So what do you do here? take some statistic out of contest and made a stand, that it’s not the mode to modernize the bulgarian history how u claim u want to do.
    good day

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