PTOLEMY KERAUNOS – The King Who Fell Off His Elephant

UD: June 2017





a - a - a - Thunderbolt ELEPHANTS




It is said that fact is stranger than fiction. The case of the Macedonian king Ptolemy Keraunos (Πτολεμαῖος Κεραυνός) certainly confirms this.








 Keraunos (Greek for Thunderbolt) was born the eldest son of Ptolemy I Soter, ruler of Egypt, and Eurydice, daughter of Antipater, the Macedonian regent. He first appears in history in 282 BC in connection with a plot by the Macedonian king Lysimachus to murder his son – Agatholes. The apparent reason for Lysimachus’ displeasure with his son was that Agathocles was having an affair with Lysimachus’ wife (his own mother), Arsinoe of Egypt, who also happened to be Ptolemy Keraunos’ sister. Actually, according to the ancient historians, Lysimachus was displeased with the situation, not because the boy was having sex with his mother, but because his wife and son were rumored to be plotting together against Lysimachus (Memnon 12:6). Incest among the Macedonian aristocracy was a common occurrence (see below), but political infidelity was not tolerated.

  To solve this family problem the king decided to murder his son, who was duly given a dose of poison. Unfortunately for Lysimachus, Agathocles, apparently realizing his father’s intentions at the last moment, spat out the poison. Faced with this embarrassing situation, Lysimachus subsequently threw the boy into a dungeon and called on his brother-in-law, Ptolemy Keraunos, to finish the job. Happy to oblige, soon afterwards Keraunos visited his nephew in his cell and stabbed him to death. According to the ancient historian Memnon (Memnon: History of Heracleia 12’6, 8′ 4-6), it was for this deed that Ptolemy received the title Keraunos – The Thunderbolt.

However, according to other ancient historians (Justinus XXIV,3; Pausinias 1. 16:2. 10.19 7-12), Ptolemy received his ‘title’ for another murder soon afterwards. After Lysimachus’ defeat and death at the Battle of Corupedium in 281 BC, against Seleucus I Nicator, the Macedonian throne passed to Seleucus who now held the whole of Alexander’s conquests excepting Egypt, and moved to take possession of Macedonia and Thrace. On his journey home to Macedonia in September 281 BC Seleucus was accompanied by Ptolemy Keraunos, who he, for some unexplained reason, had taken under his protection. However, as soon as they arrived in the Thracian Chersonese  Keraunos, in a magnificant example of opportunism, murdered the old general, jumped on his horse and rode to the city of Lysimachia, where he immediately crowned himself King of Macedonia (Pausinias 1.16.2).




Seleucus I Nicator (bronze). Roman copy from a Greek original, from Herculaneum.

(National Archaeological Museum of  Naples)



Thus, through treachery and murder Keraunos had made himself king of Macedonia. However, in order to secure his hold on the throne he now resorted to another strategy – incest. The main threat to Ptolemy’s hold on the Macedonian throne was presented by Lysimachus and Philip, the remaining sons of Keraunos’ sister Arsinoe (Keraunos had already murdered the eldest). In order to get at the children, over the next few months Keraunos wooed his sister with gifts and proclamations of undying love, until finally, convinced that her brother truly loved both her and her children, she consented to marry him.


The wedding was celebrated with great magnificence and general rejoicings. Ptolemy, before the assembled army, placed a diadem on his sister’s head, and saluted her with the title of Queen. Arsinoe invited Ptolemy to her city Cassandrea and her sons, Lysimachus who was sixteen years old, and Philip three years younger, went to meet their uncle/father with crowns on their heads. The events which followed were indeed a Greek tragedy:

Ptolemy, to conceal his treachery, caressing them with eagerness, and beyond the warmth of real affection, persisted for a long time in kissing them. But as soon as he arrived at the gate, he ordered the citadel to be seized, and the boys to be slain. They, fleeing to their mother, were slain upon her lap, as she was embracing them.  

 She several times offered herself to the assassins in the room of her children, and, embracing them, covered their bodies with her own, endeavouring to receive the wounds intended for them. At last, deprived even of the dead bodies of her sons, she was dragged out of the city, with her garments torn and her hair dishevelled, and with only two attendants went to live in exile in Samothracia; sorrowing the more, that she was not allowed to die with her children’.

(Just. 24.2’1-3’9; see also Memn. 8’7; Plut: Mor 112’A; Trog: Prol 24).




However, Arsinoe’s grief did not last long. Shortly afterwards she returned to Egypt where she continued her intrigues and instigated the accusation and exile of her other brother’s wife (another Arsinoe – confusingly called Arsinoe I). Arsinoe II then married her brother Ptolemy II (Pausanias (I 7.1). As a result, both were given the epithet “Philadelphoi” (Greek: Φιλάδελφοι, “Sibling-loving”) (see also S.M. Burstein, “Arsinoe II Philadelphos: A Revisionist View”, in W.L. Adams and E.N. Borza (eds), Philip II, Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Heritage (Washington, 1982), 197-212). For all her worldly charms the Ptolemy (s) sister/wife was subsequently deified and worshipped as a goddess after her death (see Ladynin I, Popova E. (2010) An Egyptian Pendant from the Settlement ‘Chayka’ (North-Western Crimea) and the Posthumous Divinization of Arsinoe II Philadelphos. In: Vestnik drevney istorii (Journal of Ancient History) 2 (273), 2010, p. 71-85 (in Russian).




Cameo Gonzaga. Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II (III c. BC, Alexandria. Hermitage)




In a short period of time a series of brutal murders had secured the Macedonian throne for Ptolemy Keraunos, who now proclaimed himself the successor to Alexander the Great. It appeared that Keraunos had played the game perfectly, and that the Gods had smiled on him. However, as the new Macedonian king was concentrating on his internal enemies he had apparently forgotten the bigger picture. In the summer of 280 BC, as ‘The Thunderbolt’ settled on his newly acquired throne, to the north the ravens were gathering…



But the crimes of Ptolemy were not unpunished; for soon after the immortal gods inflicted vengeance on him for so many perjuries, and such cruel murders’. (Justinus XXIV, 3)



The first warnings of the gathering storm arrived at the Macedonian court in the form of ambassadors from the Dardanii tribe who reported a massive Celtic army approaching from the north. To emphasize the gravity of the situation the Dardanians offered Ptolemy 20,000 warrriors to help the Macedonians hold back the Celtic advance. However, Keraunos laughed at the ambassadors, boasting that as successors of Philip II and Alexander the Great, the Macedonians who had been victorious throughout the world (Justinus XXIV, 4) required no help from ‘barbarians’. While arrogant, Ptolemy’s reply was not without a certain machiavellian logic. By refusing to come to the aid of the Dardanii, Keraunos hoped to ‘kill two birds with one stone’, presuming that the resulting battle between the Dardanii and the Celts would weaken both to such an extent that neither would subsequently present a threat to Macedonia.

 However, if Ptolemy had paused to consider the statistics, he might have thought twice. The force of 20,000 offered by the Dardanii was in itself a large army by any standards, and the fact that they knew that this would not be enough to stop the Celtic advance without Macedonian help illustrates that the advancing Celtic army (Bolgios’ western army) massively outnumbered them. In any event Ptolemy had made the first of many fatal miscalculations. Wisely, the Dardanii did not try to stop the Celts. Instead they joined them, and as they advanced on Macedonia, the Celtic army was now reinforced by 10,000 Dardanians.


 Again ambassadors arrived at Ptolemy’s court, this time from the Celtic leader, Bolgios. Apparently believing that they offered peace terms because they wished to avoid a fight, Ptolemy arrogantly informed the Celts that if they laid down their weapons and surrendered their leaders, he would spare their lives. We are informed that, The deputies bringing back this answer, the Gauls laughed, and exclaimed throughout their camp, that “he would soon see whether they had offered peace from regard for themselves or for him.” (Justinus XXIV, 5).



Celtic warrior helmet from burial #143 at Lychnidos/Ohrid, FYR Macedonia (3rd c. BC)







The commander of the western Celtic army in Macedonia is referred to in classical sources as Bolgios and also as Belgio/Belgios – Galli duce Belgio (Just. xxiv, 5; cf. Pomp. Prol. xxiv – ‘Belgius leader of the Gauls’). The participation of Belgae tribes in the Celtic migration into the Balkans and Asia-Minor during this period is well recorded (see Mac Congail B. 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) and Bolgios/Belgios is, like that of Brennos, not a personal name, but in this case derived from an ethnonym – i.e. Belgius = leader of the Belgae (see also ‘Bastarnae’ and ‘Galatia’ articles).


The exact size of Bolgios’ western army is unknown, but a number of factors indicate that it was a formidable military force. One should bear in mind that this was only one of 3 Celtic armies operating in the Balkans during this period (4 if one includes the ‘Galatian’ force of Lutarius and Leonnorius) and, while exact statistics are not given for the western and eastern armies of Bolgios and Cerethrius, the size of the central Celtic force gives us an indication of the scale of these armies. The central Celtic army consisted of 150,000 infantry, on which all three main sources (Diodorus Siculus Fragm. XXII 9.1; Pausanias 10. 19.9 – 152, 000; Justin XXIV, 6) are agreed. The figure given for the Celtic cavalry varies between 10,000 (Dio. Sic. op. cit; Justin. op cit – 15,000) and 62,700 (Pausanias X 19.9). The remarkably high figure given by Pausinias is explained by the unique cavalry system used by the Celts – the Trimarkisia system.

The Celtic Trimarkisia cavalry system was a system whereby each horseman was accompanied by two mounted servants who were themselves skilled riders. When the horseman was engaged in battle, the servants remained behind the ranks and if a horse fell, they would bring the warrior a fresh horse. If the rider himself were killed, the servant would mount the horse in his masters place, thus replenishing the Celtic ranks. Pausanias (X 19.10-11) also informs us that:

 I believe that the Gauls in adopting these methods copied the Persian regiment of the Ten Thousand, who were called the Immortals. There was, however, this difference. The Persians used to wait until the battle was over before replacing casualties, while the Gauls kept reinforcing the horsemen to their full number during the height of the action. This organization is called in their native speech trimarcisia, for I would have you know that marca is the Celtic name for a horse.


As they advanced south the Celts were joined by large numbers of warriors from the Balkan tribes, particularly the Dardanii, the Thracian Denteletes and the Illyrian Autariatae tribe (on the participation of the Denteletes see Gerov 1961 – Проучвания върху западнотракийските земи през римско време. In ГСУ, ФЗФ, т. 54, 3, 1961). The Macedonian general, Kassandros, had settled 20,000 of the Autariatae in the Orbelos area (on the modern Greek/Bulgarian border) as military settlers in order to establish a buffer zone protecting Macedonia’s northern border from Celtic expansion (Diodorus Siculus Bibliotheca historica XX. 19.1). However, as the Celts now advanced, instead of defending Macedonia’s borders against the Celts, the Autariatae joined them. Interestingly, there is no record of any of the Balkan tribes supporting the Macedonians during this conflict, and it would appear that many of the Balkan peoples saw the arrival of the Celts as an opportunity to finally free themselves from centuries of Macedonian dominance.









The inevitable battle between the Macedonians and Bolgios’ Celts took place a few days after the ‘negotiations’ had broken down. The Macedonian army was the unchallenged military ‘superpower’ in the region during this period, and past Macedonian victories had instilled in the Hellenistic world in general, and Ptolemy Keraunos in particular, a belief in the invincibility of the Macedonian military against the armies of ‘inferior’ cultures, which is clearly reflected in Ptolemy’s attitude to both the Dardanian and Celtic ambassadors.


The armies of the Diadochi period were equipped and fought mainly in the same style as Alexander’s, and the famous Macedonian phalanx was still the main component, much like in the earlier days. Its disadvantage was its lack of versatility, but as long as both armies were playing by the same rules this weakness in the Macedonian military tactics was not apparent. However, now faced with an army which did not play by the rules of Hellenistic warfare, the game was about to change…



The battle of Issos between Alexander the Great and Darius of Persia. Floor mosaic, Roman copy after a Hellenistic original by Philoxenos of Eretria. (Naples National Archaeological Museum)





What followed was, according to ancient authors, less a battle than a full-scale slaughter (Polyb. 9.35’4; Diod. Sic. 22.3’1-2; Memn. 8’8; Plut. Pyrrh. 22’2; Paus. 1.16’2; Just. 24. 3’10). Keraunos’ battle strategy was built around the use of battle elephants, apparently believing that these beasts would terrify the barbarians. In fact, it appears that the opposite was true.The Macedonian ranks quickly collapsed in the face of the Celtic onslaught, Ptolemy’s battle elephants rearing out of control and adding to the bloody chaos. During the ensuing events the Macedonian king fell off the elephant he was riding, and was captured. His army fled in disarray and, turning their backs on the enemy, the Macedonians became easy prey for the advancing Celtic cavalry. The majority were slaughtered on the battlefield and those that surrendered were rounded up and ritually beheaded.

Of the Macedonian king we learn that “Ptolemy, after receiving several wounds, was taken, and his head, cut off and stuck on a lance, was carried round the whole army to strike terror into the enemy”.  (Justinus, Epit. 24:5)


Ironically, The Thunderbolt met his fate on the battlefield amid the bodies of his ‘invincible’ Macedonian army; sacrificed to the God of Thunder, with his head impaled on a spear













On the Celtic Conquest of Thrace and Macedonia:





On these events see also:

Polyb. 9.35’4; Diod. Sic. 22.3’1-2; Memn. 8’8; Plut. Pyrrh. 22’2; Paus. 1.16’2, 10.19’7-12; just. 24.3’10, 5. 5-11; Trog. Prol. 24; Euseb. Chron. 235 a-b, 237 a, 241 b, 243 a; Hieron. Chron. 1736).










Mac Congail












The Pizos System – Celtic Personal Names in Thrace

Mac Congail


(Revised May 2012)





The personal names of a population recorded in a region during a given historical period is perhaps the best indicator of the linguistic and historical culture of the society that inhabited that region. What does this linguistic evidence tell us about the ethnic origin of the population of today’s Bulgaria in the centuries after Christ?


In the year 202 AD an inscription (IGBulg. III, 2 # 1690) was carved at the newly founded Έμπόριον (emporion/market) at Pizos (Stara Zagora region) in the heart of Thrace (Tab. Peut. 18, col. 528-540 (Ranilum XXV – Pizo XII – Arzum XIX); ItAnt 136, 6 (Cillis m.p. XXXI –  Pizo m.p. XX – Arso m.p. XVIII); Procop. Aed. 4.11.15 /146.12/ (Πίνζος). The inscription represents, along with the Carasura inscription – found 15 km. to the north (see Mac Congail 2008), the most valuable record of Thracian personal names from this period. The inscription is composed of the following 17 double component ‘Thracian’ names:



1.    Αυλου-ζενις

2.    Αυλου-πορις

3.    Αυλου-τραλ(ε)ος (Gen.)

4.    Βειθυ-τραλεος (Gen.)

5.    Вραση-τραλις

6.    Вρει-ζενις

7.    Δαλη-πορεος (Gen.)

8.    Δαλη-τραλεος (Gen.)

9.      Διας-κενθου

10.    Διαςκου-πορις

11.    Δυτου-πορις

12.    Δυτου-τραλις

13.    Επτη-τραλις

14.    Επται-κενθου

15.    Επτη-πορις

16.    Μουκα-τραλις

17.    Μουκα-πορις


Comprised of the following elements:


1st  Elements:

1.    Αυλου-

2.    Βειθυ-

3.    Вραση-

4.    Вρει-

5.    Δαλη-

6.    Διας-

7.    Δυτου-

8.    Επτη-

9.    Μουκα-


2nd Elements:


1.                            –ζενις

2.                            –κενθος

3.                            –πορις

4.                            –τραλις (2)




Based on the Pizos inscription – ‘un monument épigraphique unique par la richesse des noms de personnes qu’il comporte’, the Bulgarian linguist Boïadjiev constructed a system of Thracian anthroponomy – ‘The Pizos System’, which proved that a ‘homogenous Thracian population inhabited this region during this period’. (Boïadjiev D. (2000) Les Relations Ethno-Linguistiques en Thrace et en Mesie Pendant L’Epoque Romaine. Sofia. P. 145-150). In fact, this and other ‘Thracian’ inscriptions which have been presented as evidence of a ‘pure Thracian race’, provide conclusive evidence of the exact opposite.




 It has long been established that the name elements Μουκα-, Βειθυ-, Διας-, Δαλη-, -πορις –κενθος and –ζενις from the Pizos inscription are Celtic anthroponymic elements which appear throughout Europe in both insular and continental Celtic names. Cf.:


Μουκα-  = (Celtic) Mocca, Mocia, Mucci etc.

The ‘Thracian’ Mouka- (variants muca-, muco-, mouki-, Moci-, etc. See Detschew 1957: 312-320) has long been linked to the Celtic pn’s  Mocca, Mocia, Mucci, etc. The element occurs over 400 times in all areas of Thrace from the 3rd c. BC onwards, i.e. exactly during the period of Celtic expansion into the region, in both single and double element personal names (see Holder AC 2, 602-605; Mac Congail op. cit. 146-149; Detschew 1957:312; Duridanov 1997).

This Celtic element is recorded in continental Celtic names in Gaul such as Moccasenia (Lyon, Gaul – CIL 13, 1874), Moccia (Beaucaire, Gaul – CIL12, 2824 and on two inscriptions from Cimez, Gaul – CIL 5, 7936 and 7947), Moccius (Suse, Gaul – CIL 05 07147 and 07835), in n. Italy – Moccilo (Mediolanum/Milan – CIL 5 6042) and in the second element in the Celtic name Catomocus from Apras, Hungary (CIL 3 6480).

  In Thrace the element is most commonly found as the first element of double compound names, most frequently in the structures – Μουκα-ζενις – from Kustendil, Nicopolis ad Istrum, Dupnica, Ivailovgrad, Pazardjik (x2), Glava Panega, Plovdiv, Kazanluk and Bela-Zlatina (Detschew 1957: 313); Μουκα-κενθος – Pazardjik (x3), Elchovo, Sliven, Osman Pazar, (Detschew 1957: 314); or, as in the Pizos case – Μουκα-πορις. This name appears 15 times on other inscriptions at the Pizos site and on inscriptions from Kazanluk, Chirpan (x3), Tarnovo, Stara Zagora, Harmanli, Provadia, Pazardjik (loc cit) and twice on the Carasura inscription (line 12/13). In each case the second elements of the compound (–ζενις, -κενθος, and –πορις) are well attested Celtic name elements. Particularly interesting are compound ‘Thracian’ names such as Μουκακενθος Βειθυος (from Pazardjik – Detschew 1957: 314) which is formed exclusively of Celtic name elements (see below).




The Carasura inscription

(see Mac Congail 2008)





Βειθυ-  = (Celtic ) Bitu-, Bitu(s), Bitheus etc.

One of the most common ‘Thracian’ anthroponymical name elements, of which over 300 examples have been recorded in Thrace (Detschew 1957:66; Georgiev 1977:68; 370 according to Felecan 2010:61). The Thracian element has long been linked to the element bitu(s)- which occurs as a first and second element in Celtic personal names such as Bitu-rix (fig. c), Bitu-daga, Dago-bitus etc. (Kretschmer 1896: 239; Duridanov 1997: 130-131). It is not recorded in Thrace prior to the Celtic migration into the area in the 3rd c. BC. (Georgiev 1977:68; Duridanov 1997: 131; Mac Congail op. cit. p. 135-137. The element reflects the Celtic – Bitu- ‘World’ – OIr bith ‘world’, OB ‘bit’ , MB bet OC bit, MW byt – DGVB:84; GPC: 360-361; LEIA: B 53-54; PECA:14 – Falileyev 2007).


The element appears in a large number of Celtic names such as Bituitus, a King of the Averni tribe who fought against C. Fabius Maximus in Gaul (Bituitus – Livy (per. LXI. Eutrop. 4, 22 [from which Hieronym. chron. a. Abr. 1891 Vituitus); Βιτύιτος als Genetiv bei Poseidonios, Athen. IV 162 d = FHG III 260, Strabon IV 194 –  Βιτυίτου, Appian. Celt. 12 – Βιτοῖτος), in the Balkan context in 78-76 BC where a Scordisci officer from Thrace also carried the name Bituitus (App. Mith. 16, 3)Bitoitos – a Galatian chieftain in 63 BC (Livy. Per CII, App. Mith. CXI), and in the Celtic names Bitugentus (Dunaujaros, – RIU 05 1220) and Bitumarus (Alsoszentivan, – CIL 6 112) from Hungary. In Dacia the name element is present on a Celtic inscription from Potaissa (Cluj, Romania – CIL, III, 917):


D. M. Aia Nandonis vixit annis LXXX, Andrada Bi[t]uvantis vix. anis LXXX, Bricena vixit anis XL… 


(Felecan O. A Diachronic Excursion into the Anthroponymy of Eastern Romania. Philologica Jassyensia”, An VI, Nr. 1 (11), 2010, p. 57–80  P. 69)



  In the territory of the Leuci tribe in Gaul, a 2nd-century inscription (fig. C) (CIL XIII, 4661; RG 4828) reads: Apollini et Sironae Biturix Iulli f(ilius) d(onavit), ‘To Apollo and Sirona, Biturix, son of Jullus offered (this altar)’. Biturix, composed of bitu-, ‘world’ and –rix, ‘king’, is a common Celtic name meaning ‘King of the World’. (Delamarre 2003: pp. 76-77, 259-260).




The Biturix inscription from Tranqueville-Graux. Musée d’Epinal (Vosges).


Also in insular Celtic names. Cf.:


From Britain:


Bitu[cus] (Catterick, N. Yorkshire – RIB II 2501.107); Bitilus (Bath, 175-275 AD – TS 78.1, 2) ; Bitupr[…] (Chesters, Northumberland – RIB II 2501.105); Bitucus (Cirencester, Gloucestershire – RIB I 108 = Duo Nomina – Fl[au]ius Biticus); Bitudacus (Leicester, dated AD 45-65 – RIB II 2501.108); Bitu[…] (York – RIB II 2494.111).





Διας-  = (Celtic) Dias/Dia, etc.

A common Celtic element in personal names such as Diastus from Gaul (Aguilée – CIL 05 1169), Diastumarus from Slovania (Trojane – CIL 3 11683) Diassumarus from Hungary (Dunaujvaros – AE 1906 117), Diablintes, Diarilos, Diasulos etc (see mac Congail 2008:156).


Δαλη- = (Celtic) Dali, Dala, Dalus, etc.

The ‘Thracian’ element Δαλη-/Δαλα- etc. has long been linked to the continental Celtic personal names Dali, Dala, etc. (Holder AC I: 1217; Detschew op cit 114; Mac Congail 2008:144-146).


-πορις  = (Continental Celtic) Porios, Porius etc. (Holder ACII: 1037; Mac Congail 2008)

                     (Insular Celtic) Porius (loc cit)





–κενθος  =  (Celtic) Cintus, Cintu- etc.


One of the most common ‘Thracian’ name elements (Georgiev 1977: 84). Compare the Celtic names Κιντος, Cintetra, in Thrace (Detschew, 1957:240; Holder ACI 989), Cinturetus in Galatia (Pliny, Natural History, VIII, 64), Cintugenus  – from Bordeaux (CIL 13672), Budapest (CIL 03 12014) and Bad Deutsch Altenburg (CIL 3 12014), Cintusmia  (Dijon – CIL 13 5484), Cintulus (Austria – Maria Sall CIL 3 4934), etc.


–ζενις = (Celtic) –genus/-gnos etc.


The ‘Thracian’ element which appears as the second element in the compound PN Вρειζενις from the Pizos inscription is one of the most common Celtic name elements, found in Celtic pn’s from Gallo-Greek, Gallo-Etruscan, Latin and Ogham inscriptions across Europe from Thrace to Ireland (Lambert 1995: 74, 82, 84, 96, Mac Congail 2008: 153-156).


The same is true for the other name elements from the Pizos inscription.




Αυλου- = (Celtic)  Aulo-, Allo-


The Celtic element is also found in the personal names Aulia, Auliacus etc. (Holder AC1 291-293), from the Celtic allo- ‘other, second’ (OIr, W all-, prefix; GPC: 76; LEIA-31 and 61. D. Greene, Celtic. In J. Gvozdanović, (ed.) Indo-European Numerals (Berlin/New York 1992) 514). Also the first element in Celtic compound names such as Allobroxus, Alloboesius (Falileyev DCCPN, 2007), Allocnos (Bergame, Italy CIL 5 5171), etc.


In the vast majority of cases the ‘Thracian’ element  Aulou- (var. Aulo-, Allos- etc. – See Detschew 12, 135) is found as the first component in compound names where the second element is formed by the aforementioned (Celtic) elements –ζενις (=Αυλουζενις) – from Messambria, Pazardjik, Borisovgrad, on other inscriptions from Pizos, and inscriptions from Burgas, Jambol, Harmanli, Provadia, Glava Panega, Plovdiv, Nova Zagora, Stara Zagora and Kazanluk, оr –πορις (=Αυλουπορις) – from Chirpan, Aptaat (Dobritsch), on other inscriptions from Pizos, and inscriptions from Provadia, Harmanli, Madara and Plovdiv (Detschew 1957: 35-36).




Δυτου-   =   (Celtic) Dudio (m.), Duta (f.) (Also in the Celtic Pn’s – Dudenis, Dutaius – Holder AC I 1364, 1388)

Вραση-   =  (Celtic) Brasi- (Also in Brasidia, Brasus, Brasenus etc. – Holder AC I, 1534)

Вρει-  = (Celtic) Вρει- (RIB 2419 87-88), Bri- (RIB II 2415.15)


The ‘Thracian’ element appears  most frequently as part of the double-element compound name Вρειζενις/Вριζενις – from Chirpan (x2), Harmanlii (x2), Plovdiv and Pazardjik and on two other inscriptions from the Pizos site (Detschew 1957: 88) which corresponds exactly to the Celtic double element name from Britain – Brigenus (RIB 2419, 87-88).

It is also worth noting that in ‘Thracian’ compound names such as Αυλουζενις В[ρ]ειζενε(ος) and Вρειζενις Βειθυος from the Pizos site or Μουκαπορις Вρι(ζενεος) from Chirpan (Detschew 1957:88) all of the name components in the quadruple compound names are Celtic elements recorded in inscriptions from Thrace, Dacia, Galatia, Pannonia, Noricum, Italy, Gaul, Britain and Ireland (See also Αυλου-, Βειθυ-, Μουκα-).


  Of the personal names from the Pizos inscription, which contain ‘the most common Thracian name elements’ and which ‘proves that a pure Thracian population inhabited this region’  (Boïadjiev op cit), 92% are well documented Celtic name elements, recorded in both insular and continental Celtic and in classical historical sources (Of the other two elements Epta- contains the name of a local goddess (Georgiev 1977:60,79), and  the final element –τραλις is probably reflected in the Celtic (Irish) tráill – a thrall, time-server – Dineen: 1240).








The fact that Bulgarian Thracologists continue to insist that there was never a Celtic presence on the territory of today’s Bulgaria, despite extensive archaeological, historical and numismatic evidence to the contrary, has led to a ‘domino effect’ in other disciplines, including linguistics. The continuing insistence that Thrace was inhabited by a homogenous Thracian population in the pre-Roman period has meant that linguists in the region have automatically presumed all ‘native’ personal names to be Thracian.

 However, it is abundantly clear that studies into the Thracian (/Dacian) language in Bulgaria and Romania since the 1950’s have systematically included not only Thracian personal names, but also those of Thracian Celts. The fact that the pool of data used by linguists to draw conclusions on the language of the Thracians has included a large amount of Celtic anthroponymic (and topographic) elements has logically contaminated all such research, thus rendering all conclusions based on this data, including the Indo-European nature of the Thracian language, invalid.









(Modern) Literature Cited


Boïadjiev D. (2000) Les Relations Ethno-Linguistiques En Thrace Et En Mesie Pendant L’Epoque Romaine. Sofia

Delamarre X. (2003) Dictionnaire de la langue Gauloise. Paris

Detschew D. (1957) Die thrakischen Sprachreste. ÖAW, Phil.- hist. Kl. Schriften der Balkankomission, Linguist. Abteilung XV. Wien

Dineen P. (1924) Foclóir Gaedilge agus Béarla, Irish Texts Society. Dublin

Duridanov I. (1997) Keltische Sprachspuren in Thrakien und Mösien. Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. Band 49-50

Falileyev A. (2010) Dictionary of Continental Celtic Placenames. Aberystwyth

Felecan O. A Diachronic Excursion into the Anthroponymy of Eastern Romania. Philologica Jassyensia, An VI, Nr. 1 (11), 2010, p. 57–80

Georgiev V. (1977) Trakite i techniat ezik. Sofia. = Георгиев, Вл. 1977. Траките и техният език. София

Greene D. (1992) Celtic. In: J. Gvozdanović, ed. Indo-European Numerals (Berlin/New York 1992)

Gresham C.A. (1985) ‘Bedd Porius’ Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, 32: 386-392

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

Kretschmer P. (1896) Einleitung in die Geschichte der griechischen Sprach. Göttingen

Mac Congail B. (2008) Thracian and Celtic Anthroponymy – A comparative study. In: Mac Congail B. Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Celtic expansion in south-eastern Europe and Asia-Minor  – 4th – 3rd c. BC. Plovdiv. P. 131-163

Nash-Williams V.E (1950) The Early Christian Monuments of Wales. Cardiff.















JUST PLAIN BAD – Balkan Celtic Mercenary Warriors

UD: November 2018


The kings of the east then carried on no wars without a mercenary army of Gauls; nor, if they were driven from their thrones, did they seek protection with any other people than the Gauls. Such indeed was the terror of the Gallic name, and the unvaried good fortune of their arms, that princes thought they could neither maintain their power in security, nor recover it if lost, without the assistance of Gallic valour

(Marcus Junianus Justinus. Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus XXV, 2)


The first Celtic mercenary activity in southeastern Europe is recorded in 367 BC when Dionysios of Syracuse took a band of them into his service and sent them to the aid of the Macedonians against Thebes (Justin. XX, 5,6; Diod. XV, 70,1). However, it is not until the expansion into the Balkans and Asia-Minor at the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd c. BC that Celtic mercenary forces become a major political and military factor in the region.



Mercenaries in general, and Celtic mercenaries in particular, are not associated with traits such as loyalty and morality, but one particular group who operated in the 2nd half of the 3rd c. BC deserve special mention. This force, originally 3,000 strong, had apparently been expelled by their own tribe, a rare ‘honor’ for Celtic warriors. They were initially hired by the Carthaginians to protect the town of Agrigentum – which they immediately pillaged. They were subsequently dispatched to defend the town of Eryx, which was under Roman siege at the time. No sooner had they arrived than the Celts betrayed the city and ‘those who were suffering in their company’, and deserted to the Romans (Polybius Hist. II, 7).

 Welcoming their new allies, the Romans entrusted them with the guardianship of the prestigious temple of Venus Erycina – which the Celts immediately desecrated and plundered. As soon as the conflict with Carthage had ended, Rome took the first opportunity to disarm them and banished then from Italy forever (loc. cit.).


Military Equipment from the burial of Celtic mercenary warriors at Lychnidos-Ohrid, (FYR) Macedonia (3rd c. BC)


Shortly afterwards, this same group turns up in the western Balkans in the service of the city of Phoenice in Epirus. The city was besieged by the Illyrians led by Queen Teuta, who had taken over after the death of her husband Pleuratos in 230/229 BC. When Teuta approached the Celts who were defending the city, a deal was quickly struck and the Illyrians ‘landed and captured the town and all its inhabitants by assault with the help from within of the Gauls’ (loc cit.) .

 Although a particularly unscrupulous bunch, this Celtic force was by no means the exception. For example, in 277-276 BC four thousand Celtic mercenaries had been taken into service by Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) king of Egypt. It is ironic to note that these were from the same Balkan Celts who had recently defeated and decapitated the king of Macedonia – Ptolemy’s own half-brother – Ptolemy Keraunos.


Ptolemy II (Philadelphos) and his wife / sister Arsinoe II. (Celtic shield behind/AV Tetradrachm)


After helping Ptolemy to a crushing victory over his brother Magus in a civil war, his Celtic warriors promptly mutinied. Pausanias says that they were engaged in a conspiracy to take control of Egypt (Paus. I, 7:2), but more likely is the testimony of the scholiast Callimachos who tells us that they were simply trying to steal Ptolemy’s treasures (Callim. Hymn to Delos, 185-8). In the end the Egyptian king besieged them on an island on the river Nile, where rather than surrender the majority of the Celts committed ritual suicide (Paus. op cit.).


Terracotta statuette of a Celtic warrior – from Fayum, Egypt

(late 3rd /early 2 c. BC)


Despite all this, during this period Celtic warriors were a ‘necessary evil’ for any ruler in the region who had aspirations to power, and they were a vital element in all the major military conflicts from Thrace to Babylon, from the Danube to the Nile – sometimes forming substantial parts of both armies in the battles. This continued right up till the 1st c. AD. For example, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra had Celtic mercenaries who formed her personal bodyguard. After her death 400 of them entered the service of the Jewish king Herod the Great, forming part of Herod’s personal bodyguard, and figuring prominently in his funeral service in 4 BC.

However, for many rulers employing Celtic mercenaries became an absolute nightmare. While they were quick to enter the service of anyone who could afford to pay them, and fearless in battle, ultimately, as many generals and kings were to discover to their cost, the Celts served no masters but themselves…


For a comprehensive account of Celtic Mercenaries on the Balkans, in Greece, Asia-Minor and North Africa see “The Kingmakers”:



















Mac Congail













BEHIND THE GOLDEN MASKS – Seuthopolis and the ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’

UD: December 2018


The Valley of the Thracian Kings is an area of south-central Bulgaria situated to the west of the ancient Hellenistic polis of Seuthopolis / Σευθόπολις (near modern day Kazanlak), on the southern slopes of the Haemus (Balkan) mountains. Over the past decades this area has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bulgaria, with thousands of visitors from all over the world coming to see such cultural treasures as the UNESCO listed Kazanlak tomb and other sites in the area. According to Bulgarian archaeologists, this remarkable archaeological complex was established by the Thracian priest-king Seuthes III at the end of the 4th c. BC, and was the capital of the ‘Great Odrysae state’ and its ruling elite – the immortal bearers of the esoteric faith-doctrine of orphism, until the Roman period (Fol et al, Ancient Thrace 2000:120-121).

However, behind the fairy tales and golden masks lies another reality, a reality which, for reasons best known to Bulgarian archaeologists, is conspicuously absent from their glossy tourist brochures and history books…


The Absence of Truth

Mac Congail



In order to tell of the Scordisci Wars of the 2nd – 1st c. BC, it is first necessary to understand why this story has hitherto remained untold.


For history to be manipulated, it is not necessary for lies to be told; it is sufficient that vital elements of the truth be omitted. A perfect example of this appears in the official history of Thrace published by the Alexander Fol Institute of Thracology, in which the Roman conquest of Thrace is described thus:

“After Macedonia became a Roman province in 148 BC, Thracian combat groups started penetrating there, but the Romans chased them away, without following them into the interior of Thrace, because they intended to conquer it from the Pontus. Therefore, they waited for the right moment, which occurred in the late 70’s of the 1st century BC, after the defeat of the Pontic ruler, Mithridates VI, and they undertook their first invasion”.

(Jordanov K. (Director of the Institute of Thracology) In: Ancient Thrace. Fol A., Jordanov K., Porozhanov K., Fol V. Published by the Institute of Thracology – Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Sponsored by the International Foundation ‘Europa Antiqua’. Sofia 2000. P. 124)


  This simplistic and distorted version of history is most remarkable in that it omits the direct testimony of a multitude of ancient authors to a bitter and prolonged struggle in Thrace between the Roman empire and the native population – Thracians, Bastarnae and Celts – during this period. Compare, for example, the statement that the Romans did not enter Thrace before 72/71 BC, with the clear and unambiguous testimony of ancient Roman authors:


M. Cosconius praetor in Thracia cum Scordiscis prospere pugnavit

 (135 BC) Livy (Per. 56’a)


C. Porcius cos. in Thracia male adversus Scordiscos pugnavit

(114 BC) Livy Per. 63’ a; Cf. also Diod. 34.30a’1-30c’1, Flor. 1.39’1-4, Dio. Cass. Fr. 88’1, Eutrop. 4.24’1, Amm. Marc. 27.4’4)


Livius Drusus cos. adversus Scordiscos, gentem a Gallis oriundam, in Thracia feliciter pugnavit

(112 BC) Livy Per. 63’a; Cf. also Flor. 1.39’5, Dio Cass frg. 88’1, Festus: Brev. 9’2, Amm. Marc. 27.4’10)



  The glaring contradiction between fact and fiction outlined above is only one example of a systematic pattern of distortion which has manifested itself in certain ethnic groups being erased from this period of history at the expense of a simplistic ‘Thracian’ version based on a mixture of  ‘mythology’, censored historical facts, and manipulated archaeological evidence – a discipline which has become known as ‘Thracology’.




(To be continued)