THE PHANTOM BATTLE – Lysimachia 277 BC

UD: October 2016



“the avengers of murder overwhelmed them sooner than the enemy, and the ghosts of the slain rising up before their eyes …”.

(Justinus: Epitome of Pompeius Trogus’ “Philippic histories” Book 26:2)




One of the key turning points in ancient history was the Battle of Lysimachia in 277 BC, in which the Macedonian forces of Antigonus Gonatas destroyed the Celtic armies which had been sweeping through southeastern Europe, thereby halting the barbarian expansion in the region, and saving the ’civilized’ world from destruction (Fol et al, Ancient Thrace, 2000, Delev 2003, Boteva 2010, Emilov 2010, Dimitrov 2010, Stoyanov 2010, Megaw 2004, 2005, Emilov/Megaw 2012).

Or was it?

For centuries the Battle of Lysimachia has been presented to us as one of the most important events in the ancient history of southeastern Europe. However, an analysis of the geo-political context and ancient sources on this period…






Anti. AR









7 thoughts on “THE PHANTOM BATTLE – Lysimachia 277 BC

  1. Very interesting article … marred only by the archeo-jargon: “the Roman historian informs US”, “the Roman tells US”, “…assures US”, etc.

    Who is this “us”? These Roman historians you speak of have no knowledge of you and me and the rest of your readership. It would be more readable if you leave out the annoying “us” and just say the Roman historian “states”, … “writes”, …. “notes”, … “mentions”,… “hints”,… etc. Please, for our collective sanity, forget the wholly superfluous archaeological “us”!

  2. Bren (‘Brennus’?), I read your blog occasionally and I have reblogged an article of yours, but I find this post somewhat excessive. I’ll try to deal with the arguments of your article:
    On your mention that the Celts were “’slaughtered’ by “sailors, and a part of the army that had fled thither with their wives and children””, you forgot to mention that the battle of Lysimachia was an AMBUSH of Antigonus’ men against the Galatians: Antigonus and his men landed near Lysimachia and when he cognized the approach of the Celts, he laid an ambush. He abandoned his camp and beached his ships, then concealed his men. The Celts looted the Antigonid camp, but when they started to attack the ships, Antigonus’ soldiers appeared, trapping them with the sea to their rear.
    Thereby, it was rather natural for the surprised Gauls to be defeated. Of course the wives and the children did not take part in the battle, but I cannot understand why do you imply that the sailors and the ‘deserters’ could not be experienced and capable warriors? After all, the term ‘sailors’ may include the marines (επιβάται, epibatae).
    For the elephants you are right, but it is most likely that the battle of Lysimachia was not judged by the presence of Antigonus’ elephants (I believe that there were no elephants at all – see below about Trogus/Justinus’s ‘heroic view’).

    On your mention that ‘It should also be noted that no archaeological evidence of such a battle’, I have to remind you that for many battles beyond dispute (of Antiquity and the Middle Ages) there is no archaeological evidence.
    Justinus’ report that the Gauls destroyed “two powerful Thracian tribes – the Getae and Triballi (Justinus 25:1)” is clearly excessive. The two Thracian tribes were rather only defeated in a limited conflict and acknowledged the superiority of the Gauls. Thus it is logical that there is no destruction layers or other archaeological data in the territory of these tribes.

    Considering your “most important evidence contradicting the Roman’s account is to be found in the testimony of other classical sources, who clearly tell us that during this period the Macedonian army of Antigonus Gonatas itself consisted largely of Celtic mercenaries, drawn from the same tribes whom Antigonus supposedly slaughtered at Lysimachia”, on the contrary this testimony of the other classical sources is a very logical conclusion. Trogus wrote a history of the kings of Macedonia and it is natural that he (and his epitomizer Justinus) claimed that the Gauls were exterminated in Lysimachia. The logical conclusion is that most of them survived and as it was usual for the Hellenistic kings, Antigonus hired many of them or most of them in his army. Please, do not forget that Pyrrhus defeated Antigonus AFTER the battle of Lysimachia.

    On your mention that “This time the Macedonian’s enemy was a Celtic army advancing from Galatia”, this is a common anachronism , not a proof for your theory.
    Finally, on your last writings: “the attack of the Celts against their own wives and children” this is a simple reiteration by Trogus/Justinus of the well known custom of the ancient Celts to kill their women and children when they thought that the battle is lost. I do not think that these murders really happened in Lysimachia, but as I have mentioned, Trogus wrote a history of the kings of Macedonia and it is natural that he wanted to give a ‘heroic narrative’ for the defeat of the Gauls by the Antigonids. This is EXACTLY the same reason for the ‘presence’ of “another army composed, rather surprisingly, of ghosts and demons” as you mention. Truly heroic, isn’t it?

    You know that I’m a Greek, but in order for my view on the battle of L. not to be considered as ‘patriotic’, I have to inform you that I am one of those who do not believe that the Celts were repelled at Delphi. I believe that the claim of the Greek writers that their compatriots managed to repel the Gauls at Delphi (279 BC), does not seem to be true. The Gauls rather managed to plunder the sanctuary or a part of it, before they were defeated at the slopes of Parnassus (see my article [ON THE PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT CELTS]).
    Ι STRONGLY agree with your conclusion that “In the 21st century perhaps it is time we took another look at the ‘barbarians’ who inhabited Europe in the pre-Roman period, instead of viewing them solely through the mist of Greek and Roman fantasy and xenophobia, which continues to be presented as historical fact”. You know, I am a great ‘fun’ of the barbarians: I have written the most detailed book on the Celts in the Greek language (titled ‘Γαλάτες’ in Greek) and many articles on the Germanic and Celtic world (some of them in:, but I find this article of yours somewhat ‘Celtic patriotic’.
    Thanks for the hosting and I hope that you will approve the public display of this comment/contradiction.

    1. Thank you for your considered opinion.

      Indeed, some of the points that you make are perhaps plausible. However, I believe there are far too many logical contradictions and cases of obvious fantasy in this account (as with the assault on Delphi) for it to be considered historical fact. For Justinus’ account, you use the word ‘heroic’. Personally, I would choose a rather less polite term.

      I wish you continued success with your site, and look forward to reading the links.


  3. Thank you very much Bren.
    On the subject of our conversation, this is your opinion (and for Justinus as well). I don’t agree but I respect it. But we must not forget that Trogus (the original author on the battle of Lysimachia) was a Celt in origin. The elements of obvious fantasy (and some logical contradictions – I would add) in the narrative of the assault on Delphi is a good point of yours (Apollo himself repelled the Gauls!), but nobody denies that there was a bloody conflict there.

    I read your articles for several reasons, but mainly for the uniqueness of your site. I can find several sites, books, articles etc., for the Celts of France, Britain, Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula etc., but for the Celts in the Balkans today I am informed only from you. I haven’t found any other site on this subject, especially for the Celts (only sites for the Illyrians, Thracians, Celts and the other ancient/med. peoples of the Balkans collectively).

    Congratulations for your UNIQUE work.


  4. Thank you, Pericles.

    Our job as historians (especially on the Balkans) is to question the past. While we may not always agree, each question brings us closer to the truth.


  5. Very interesting (and entertaining) article. It’s amazing that such crazy accounts are still taken seriously by academics.

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