Tag Archive: Belgae tribes


Bucket Combo

 

Feasting played a central role in Iron Age European society, as attested to in numerous classical sources, and by extensive archaeological evidence. Such tribal feasts appear to have had a socio-religious significance but, in true Celtic fashion, often developed into quite ‘energetic ’ affairs:

“And it is their custom, even during the course of the meal, to seize upon any trivial matter as an occasion for keen disputation and then to challenge one another to single combat, without any regard for their lives; for the belief of Pythagoras prevails among them, that the souls of men are immortal and that after a prescribed number of years they commence upon a new life, the soul entering into another body”.

 

Probably the most iconic objects associated with these feasts are lavishly decorated ceremonial ‘buckets’, which were used to serve alcoholic beverages in large quantities. Many of these vessels are exquisite works of art in themselves…

 

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://www.academia.edu/23291021/CELTIC_CEREMONIAL_BUCKETS_AND_BELGIC_EXPANSION

 

 

https://balkancelts.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/lavishly-decorated-bucket-from-goeblange-nospelt-luxembourg-1-c-bc-ceremonial-function-and-were-used-to-serve-beer-and-wine-at-celtic-feasts.jpg?w=640

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UD: April 2017

 

 

 

 

 

“To these men death in battle is glorious,
And they consider it a crime to bury the body of such a warrior;
For they believe that the soul goes up to the gods in heaven,
If the body is exposed on the field to be devoured by the birds of prey”.
(Silius Italicus (2nd c. AD) Punica 3:340-343)

 

 

 

 

Recent excavations, such as those at Ham Hill in England and Roseldorf in Austria, have provided further evidence of the Celtic practice of excarnation – the ritual exposure of corpses to the elements and scavengers and the resulting defleshing of the body.

Excarnation may be precipitated through natural means, involving leaving a body exposed for animals to scavenge, or it may be purposefully undertaken by butchering the corpse by hand. The finds at Ham Hill include ritualistic burials – arrangements of human skulls as well as bodies tossed into a pit, left exposed and gnawed by animals. At the site “hundreds, if not thousands of bodies”, dated from the 1st or 2nd century AD, have been found treated in this fashion.

 

HAM HILL
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/exclusive-slaughtered-bodies-stripped-of-their-flesh–a-gruesome-glimpse-of-ironage-massacre-at-uks-largest-hill-fort-8798680.html#!

 
The last 25 years of archaeological research have revealed how interments were the culmination of previous very complex rituals. The removal of flesh before interment is also clearly attested at Celtic sanctuaries like Ribemont (Brunaux 2004: 103-24), but the enormous deficit of interments, especially in the late La Têne period, can be partially explained by the exposure of corpses with the consequent destruction of most of the skeleton. Such practices are also recorded among the Balkan Celts (Churchin 1995:68-71; Mac Congail/ Krusseva 2010) and were particularly common among the Belgae tribes, from whom the Bastarnae and Galatians also originated (Mac Congail/Krusseva op cit; Soprena Genzor 1995; Brunaux 2004: 118-24).

 

 
̾Fallen wr.

Reverse of a Celtic coin (Boii tribe 2nd/1st c. BC) depicting a fallen warrior being devoured by a bird of prey

(Bohemia – Collection of the Hypo-Bank, Munich)

 

Celtic coin of the Bratislava type; the obverse depicting a fallen warrior being devoured by a wild dog or wolf, the reverse a ram headed serpent

(Western Slovakia/ 1 st c. BC)

On the Ram headed serpent: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/cernunnos-and-the-ram-headed-serpent/

 

a - a -a -a rosel skulls

Fragments of human skulls and other remains from the second large sanctuary (object 30) at Roseldorf, Austria.

At Roseldorf  3 cult districts with seven sanctuaries which played a major role in the functional orientation of the complex have been identified. Although evidence of human sacrifice has not been found at the site, evidence of post-mortem manipulation of the bodies has been established, consistent with the Celtic practice of exhumation.

See:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/the-druid-crowns/

 

 

 

 

 

THE MASSACRE AT RIBEMONT-SUR-ANCRE

 

 

Rieb. B

Graphic reconstruction of the Ribemont-Sur-Ancre ‘Tower of Silence’

 
This shrine/sanctuary was erected on the site of the Battle at Ribemont, where around 1,000 Celtic warriors are believed to have died. The victorious Belgae erected this shrine to celebrate the great battle, decapitated the bodies of the defeated warriors taking the heads home with them as trophies. The headless corpses and thousands of weapons collected from the battle field were hung from a large wooden platform (‘Tower of Silence’). 

Evidence of weathering and dismemberment of the dead at the site, and others such as Ham Hill, is consistent with the well documented Celtic religious practice of exposing corpses after death to be devoured by birds of prey and carnivores. The removal of flesh from corpses, which is well documented in the Celtic world, had a mortuary significance that differed greatly from the Greco-Roman practices (Soprena Genzor 1995: 198 ff.).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Modern) Sources Cited

 

Brunaux J.L. (2004) Guerre et religion en Gaule. Essai d’anthropologie celtique. Paris: Errance.

Churchin L.A. (1995) The Unburied Dead at Thermopylae (279 BC) In: The Ancient History Bulletin 9: 68-71

Soprena Genzor G. (1995) Ética y ritual. Aproximación al estudio de la religiosidad de los pueblos celtibéricos. Zaragosa.

Mac Congail B., Krusseva B.  (2010) The Men Who Became the Sun – Barbarian Art and Religion on the Balkans. Plovdiv. (In Bulgarian)

Mackillop, James (2004) A dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford University Press

Marco Simón F.  (2008) Images of Transition. The Ways of Death in Celtic Hispania. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74, 2008. Pp. 53-68.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excarnation

Recent excavations at Ham Hill in Somerset (England) has provided further evidence of the Celtic practice of excarnation – the ritual exposure of corpses to the elements and scavangers and the resulting defleshing of the body. Excarnation may be precipitated through natural means, involving leaving a body exposed for animals to scavenge, or it may be purposefully undertaken by butchering the corpse by hand. The finds at Ham Hill include ritualistic burials – arrangements of human skulls as well as bodies tossed into a pit, left exposed and gnawed by animals. At the site “hundreds, if not thousands of bodies”, dated from the 1st or 2nd century AD, have been found treated in this fashion.

̾
̾
HAM HILL
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeology/exclusive-slaughtered-bodies-stripped-of-their-flesh–a-gruesome-glimpse-of-ironage-massacre-at-uks-largest-hill-fort-8798680.html#!

̾
̾
The last 25 years of archaeological research have revealed how interments were the culmination of previous very complex rituals. The removal of flesh before interment is also clearly attested at Celtic sanctuaries like Ribemont
(Brunaux 2004: 103-24), but the enormous deficit of interments, especially in the late La Têne period, can be partially explained by the exposure of corpses with the consequent destruction of most of the skeleton. Such practices are recorded among the Balkan Celts (Churchin 1995) and were particularly common among the Belgae tribes, from whom the Bastarnae and Galatians also originated (on these Celtic rituals see ‘Birds of Prey’ article; Soprena Genzor 1995; Brunaux 2004: 118-24; also ‘Bastarnae’ and ‘Galatia’ articles, with relevant lit.)

 

 

THE MASSACRE AT RIBEMONT-SUR-ANCRE

 

 

Smithsonian Channel:

 

http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/site/sn/show.do?episode=133286

 

 

 

 

 

Rieb. B

 

The Ribemont-Sur-Ancre ‘Tower of Silence’

 

 

 
This shrine/sanctuary was erected on the site of the Battle at Ribemont, where around 1,000 Celtic warriors are believed to have died. The victorious Belgae erected this shrine to celebrate the great battle, decapitated the bodies of the defeated warriors taking the heads home with them as trophies. The headless corpses and thousands of weapons collected from the battle field were hung from a large wooden platform (‘Tower of Silence’). 

 

 Evidence of weathering and dismemberment of the dead at the site is consistent with the well documented Celtic religious practice of exposing corpses after death to be devoured by birds of prey and carnivores. The removal of flesh from corpses, which is well documented in the Celtic world, had a mortuary significance that differed greatly from the Greco-Roman practices (Soprena Genzor 1995: 198 ff.).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: Feb. 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Then verily, having crossed the narrow strait of the Hellespont,

The devastating host of the Gauls shall pipe’.

 

(Paus. X, 15: 2-3)

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 278 BC a group of Celts broke off from Brennos’ main force in the Balkans and, under two chieftains called Leonnorius and Lutarius, crossed into Asia-Minor (277 BC), where a Celtic state was founded which subsequently became known as Galatia.

 

  Despite the popular misconception that these ‘Galatians’ represented a large proportion of the Celts who had migrated into southeastern Europe in the previous decades, they were originally a relatively small group consisting of 20,000 people (Livy 38.16:9). Indeed, while historians have traditionally translated the testimony of Livy as 20,000 men (latest Delev 2003:108), the Roman author actually speaks of ‘homines’ not ‘viri’ – i.e. people, not men (see Boteva 2010: 37), and we are further told that ‘of these 20,000 people, not more than 10,000 were armed’ (Livy op cit). Thus, the Celts who migrated into Asia-Minor in 277 BC consisted of no more than 10,000 warriors, accompanied by their families. To put this into context, the central Celtic army in the Balkans in 279 BC had consisted of 150,000 infantry and at least 10,000 – 15,000 cavalry. Nonetheless, the small Celtic force who migrated into Asia-Minor was to have a significant geo-political impact on the region.

 

 

 

 

The head of a Galatian as depicted on a gold disc discovered in a Celtic tumulus at Bolu, northwestern Turkey (3rd c. BC).

(Istanbul Archaeological Museum)

 

 

 

 

 

BELGAE

 

 

One question which has never been satisfactorily addressed is the exact ethnic origin of the ‘Celts’ who migrated into southeastern Europe and Asia-Minor at the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd c. BC. In the case of the Galatian tribes this answer to this question is clearly given in ancient sources. Of the 3 tribal groups which broke off from the main Celtic force on the Balkans – the Tolostobogi (-boii), the Trocmi (/Trogmi) and the Volcae Tectosages – the latter are the key to identifying the exact ethnic origin of the Celts who would become the Galatians.

 The Volcae Tectosages, one of the Belgae tribes (see Mac Congail 2007), ‘were named after the tribe in Celtica’ (Strabo xii, 5:1). Of this tribe, Caesar tells us that they had originally been settled north-east of the Rhine, in what is now western and central Germany in the basin of the river Weser, and he mentions that the Volcae Tectosages still remained in western Germany in his day (Caesar BG 6.24):

“And there was formerly a time when the Gauls excelled the Germans in prowess, and waged war on them offensively, and, on account of the great number of their people and the insufficiency of their land, sent colonies over the Rhine.”

“Accordingly, the Volcae Tectosages, seized on those parts of Germany which are the most fruitful [and lie] around the Hercynian forest (which, I perceive, was known by report to Eratosthenes and some other Greeks, and which they call Orcynia), and settled there. Which nation to this time retains its position in those settlements, and has a very high character for justice and military merit; now also they continue in the same scarcity, indigence, hardihood, as the Germani.”  

 

 

This similarity between the Celtic Belgae tribes and the Germani in the eyes of classical authors is also crucial to our understanding of another ethnic group who appear in southeastern Europe in the late Iron Age – the Bastarnae (see Bastarnae article). By the 3rd c. BC the Volcae had also expanded into southeastern Gaul where we find them in the province of Gallia Narbonensis occupying the district between the Garumna, Cerbenna Mons and the Rhodanus. They were divided into two groups – the Volcae Arecomici and the Volcae Tectosages (whose territory included that of the Tolosate tribe) in the west separated by the river Arauris or a line between the Arauris and Orbis. The chief town of the Tectosages was Tolosa (Mac Congail op cit: 298; on further topographical links between the Tectosages in Gaul and those in Galatia see also Mac Congail 2004: 171-176).

 

 The other two groups who accompanied the Volcae in the Galatian migration of 277 BC – the Tolistobogi and Trocmi are otherwise unknown and we learn that they ‘took their names from their leaders’ (Strabo vii, 5:1), indicating that these were mixed tribal groups. Of vital importance is Strabo’s testimony (loc cit) that ‘all three spoke the same language and differed from each other in no respect’. As the Trocmi and Tolistobogi ‘differed in no respect’ from the Volcae Tectosages, it logically follows that these were also Belgae. Thus, one may conclude that the tribal groups who migrated into Asia-Minor in 277 BC, and subsequently became the Galatians, originated from the Belgae branch of the Celtic group.  

 

 

 

 

Ethnogenesis and migrations of the Volcae

 

 

 1 - 1 - Hidirsihlar tumulus, Bolu

Galatian bronze plate and H-Shaped horse bit  – from Hidirsihlar tumulus, Bolu, Turkey (3rd c. BC)

 

 

 

 

TERRITORY

 

 

However prolific they may have been (see below) the Galatians could not hold the large territory which they initially occupied (Mac Congail 2008:95-96), and appear to have overextended themselves. They subsequently fought with various success against the Syrian king Antiochus I who gained the title Soter (Saviour – Αντίοχος Α’ Σωτήρ) after defeating them at the ‘Battle of the Elephants’ in 275 BC. Following this defeat, the Galatians settled astride the Halys river and on the Phrygian plain – the poorest and least populated part of the region (Kilburn 1959:165-167; Mac Congail 2008:104).

 

 

 

1 - Dead Galatian - Marble. Roman copy of second half of 2nd century CE after a Pergamon original of second half of 2nd century BC.

“The Dead Galatian” – Marble. Roman copy from the late 2nd century AD, after a Pergamon original of the 2nd century BC

(Museo archeologico nationale di Venezia)

 

 

  Pliny the Elder gives us the most detailed account of the geographic dispersion of the Galatian tribes:

‘Galatia, which lies above Phrygia and includes the greater part of the territory taken from that province, as also its former capital Gordium. The Gauls who are settled in these parts are called the Tolistobogi, the Voturi and the Ambitouti; those who dwell in Maeonia and Paphlagonia are called the Trocmi. Cappadocia stretches along to the north-west of Galatia, its most fertile parts being possessed by the Tectosages and the Teutobodiaci. These are the nations by which these parts are occupied; and they are divided into people and tetrarchies, 195 in number. Its towns are, among the Tectosages, Ancyra, among the Trocmi, Tavium, and among the Tolistobogi, Pessinius’  (Pliny V,42).

 

 There is disagreement in the sources on whether the Celts founded these towns or ‘adopted’ them from the previous population. Memnon tells us that, ‘They each founded cities, the Trogmi at Ancyra, the Tolistobogi at Tabia and the Tectosages at Pessinus’ (Memnon 11,7). However, Pausanias testifies that the town of Ancyra had been a Phrygian settlement before the Celts arrived – ‘Now this people occupied the country on the far side of the river Sangarius capturing Ancyra, a city of the Phrygians which Midas son of Gordius had founded in former times’ (Paus I, 4:5).

 

 

 

 

                                                  GALATIA

 

 galat tribes g.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOCIAL/ POLITICAL STRUCTURE

 

 

 

Each Galatian tribe was sub-divided into 4 groups, the 12 sub-divisions being sub-tribes similar to the Pagi in Gaul (Hubert II:48). They had an organized and highly developed political and legal system. Each tribe was divided up into 4 administrative portions called tetrarchies, which had its own ruling tetrarch. Each of these units also had its own judge and military commander, both subject to the tetrarch, and also 2 subordinate commanders. A council, consisting of 300 men, met at Drynemeton and passed judgement in murder cases, but the tetrarch and the judges had jurisdiction over all other cases (Strabo vii, 5:1). The mass of the Galatian population lived in villages and they intermarried with the local population (Livy 38:17-18; Strabo 13, 4,3).

 

 

Earlier interpretations of Galatian settlements as poor farming villages have changed in recent years. Excavations such as those at Gordium (above) indicate that some houses contained evidence of considerable wealth, including gold coins and stone sculptures. Moreover, some of these people could at least read Greek, the language used to inscribe some of their possessions, and favored items made in Greek style.

(after Dandoy et al 2002)

 

 

 

 

Galatian bracelets and earrings 3rd c. BC

Bolu, Hidirsihlar Tumulus.

(Istanbul Archaeological Museum)

 

 

 

 One phenomenon which is remarked on in a number of sources is that the Galatians were an exceptionally prolific people (Justin. xxv, 2). An analysis of the statistics would appear to confirm the veracity of these accounts. Although only 20,000 Celts had migrated into Asia-Minor in 277 BC by the beginning of the 2nd c. BC their population had increased radically. This is clearly illustrated by the fact that during the Galatian genocide carried out by the Romans under Gnaeus Manlius Vulso in 189 BC, 40,000 Galatians were massacred on one day at Olympus (Livy 38:23) and another 8,000 a few days later at Ancyra (App. Syr. Vii, 42; on the Vulso campaign see Mac Congail 2008: 114-119).

 

 

 

 

 

The destruction layer at the Celtic settlement at Gordium left after the Roman massacres in 189 BC

(After Dandoy et al 2002)

See:

https://www.academia.edu/12772265/THE_GALATIAN_GENOCIDE_-_On_the_campaign_of_Gnaeus_Manlius_Vulso_in_Galatia_189_BC_

 

 

 

 

 

RELIGION

 

Undoubtedly, considering the longevity of the Galatian state, the Celtic culture not only influenced, but was influenced by, the surrounding cultures – Hellenistic, Phrygian etc. The Galatian Celts adopted the local religious practices in some cases – we are told, for example, that the Celtic princess Camma was a priestess of the Phrygian Artemis (Polyaen. Strat. Viii, 39). In later Galatian coins we see the busts of Hermes, Artemis, Minerva, Jupiter and Hercules, and in addition Cybele, the local Phyrigian deity.

( On Camma see:  https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/the-revenge-of-camma/ )

 

 

Galatian coin from Pessinius (1st century BC). On the obverse are the busts of Cybele (Sibel) and Attis. On the reverse side is a lion sitting with its left paw on a tympanum. Two stars (attributed to Dioskouroi?) visible on either side of the lion. A fragmentary “PESSINUS” is visible to the left

 

( On Galatian coins see:  https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/coins-of-the-galatian-kings/ )

 

gal tomb tumulus O rob 1950's - Gordium

Galatian tomb at Gordium (2nd c. BC). The tomb was robbed by locals in the 1950’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Human Sacrifice?

 

What is striking is the juxtaposition of Greek and Celtic customs illustrated by new evidence for Galatian religious practices at settlements such as that at Gordium. On the mound at that site, the workshop next to a monumental building produced figurines totally Greek in style; figures of Greek deities such as Nike and Kybele were also found. But near the mound archaeologists also found remains left by very different ritualschilling evidence of strangulation, decapitation, and bizarre arrangements of human and animal bones, similar to practices well known from Celtic sites in Europe.

 At the Gordion site, several of the people whose remains were found in area A died violently, with strangulation the most common cause of death, whether by hanging or garotting. All of these people were presumably “sacrificed”, but the exact circumstances have not been determined (Dandov et al 2002).

 

 

 

The uppermost of these two women had suffered blows to the head and a broken neck; large grinding stones had been placed on top of the lower woman

(After Dandoy et al 2002)

 

 

 

Excavation in area B, in the western part of the lower town at Gordium, revealed clusters of human bones from bodies that had been dismembered. The remains, co-mingled with animal bones, were then carefully rearranged, sometimes in symmetrical patterns, on an outside ground surface with shallow depressions. The ceramic material dates it to the 3rd c. BC. Similar placing of animal bones in burials is to be observed at Celtic burials on the Balkans such as those at Kalnovo in eastern  Bulgaria, which date to the beginning of the 2nd c. BC. (See ‘New Material 2’ article).

 

 

 

 

This skull of a teenager (12-17 years old) was carefully placed alongside the skull, pelvis, and upper leg bone of a dog. Beneath these was the pelvic bone of another person.

(After Dandoy et al 2002)

 

 

 

The largest deposit at Gordion, bone cluster 3 (below), consists of a few human bones, and over 2,100 animal bones and fragments. Three humans are present. A 4-8-year-old child is represented by a lower jaw and some cranial fragments. A fragmentary right pelvic bone came from an adult female aged 35-39, and a pair of pelvic bones represent an adult male aged 40-44. A sacrum (the fused vertebrae forming the back of the pelvis) and several long bones could belong to either adult. The human bones are cracked from weathering and the pelvic bones were gnawed by carnivores-signs that they were exposed on the surface for some time (Dandoy et al 2002).

While many of these human remains have been correctly interpreted as examples of human sacrifice, there is another explanation for some of the rituals to be observed at the Galatian settlement. Evidence of weathering and dismemberment of the dead is consistent with the well documented Celtic religious practice of exposing corpses after death to be devoured by birds of prey and carnivores. The removal of flesh from corpses, which is well documented in the Celtic world, had a mortuary significance that differed greatly from the Greco-Roman practices (Soprena Genzor 1995: 198 ff.). The last 25 years of research have revealed how interments were the culmination of previous very complex rituals. The removal of flesh before interment is clearly attested at Celtic sanctuaries like Ribemont (Brunaux 2004: 103-24), but the enormous deficit of interments, especially in the late La Têne period, can be partially explained by the exposure of corpses with the consequent destruction of most of the skeleton. Such practices are recorded among the Balkan Celts (Churchin 1995) and were particularly common among the Belgae tribes, from whom the Galatians originated (on these Celtic rituals see Soprena Genzor 1995; Brunaux 2004: 118-24; also:  https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/excarnation/ ).

 

 

 

Bone cluster 3 at Gordion, consists of human bones from 3 individuals, and over 2,100 animal bones and fragments.

 

 

 

 

 

 In the first century AD the Galatians initially received St. Paul as an angel from heaven (Galatians 4:14). However, the message of Christianity appears not to have been fully understood by the Celts of Asia-Minor. Acts (xiii-xiv) gives indications that, even at this late stage, old traditions were still strong in Galatia – at Lystra they had to be restrained from sacrificing to St. Paul, and shortly afterwards they stoned ‘the Angel of God’ , and left him for dead …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Modern) Literature cited

 

Boteva D. (2010) The Ancient Historians on the Celtic Kingdom in South-Eastern Thrace. In: In Search of Celtic Tylis in Thrace (III c. BC). Proceedings of the Interdisciplinary Colloqium Arranged by the National Archaeological Institute and Museum at Sofia and the Welsh Department, Aberystwyth University. Held at the National Archaeological Institute and Museum. Sofia 2010. p. 33-50

Brunaux J.L. (2004) Guerre et religion en Gaule. Essai d’anthropologie celtique. Paris: Errance.

Churchin L.A. (1995) The Unburied Dead at Thermopylae (279 BC) In: The Ancient History Bulletin 9: 68-71

Dandoy J., Selinsky P, Voight M. Celtic Sacrifice. In: Archaeology. Volume 55 Number 1, January/February 2002.

Delev P. (2003) From Corupedion towards Pydna: Thrace in the Third Century. In: Thracia 15, 2003, 107-120.

Hubert H. The History of the Celtic People. London 1934 (Rep. 1992).

Kilburn K. (1959) Lucian. Harvard.

Mac Congail B. (2004) Observations on Inscriptions from the Plovdiv/Pazardjik Districts Containing the Element Tiuta-.  Ann. Arch. Mus. Plovdiv IX/2 2004. P. 171-176.

Mac Congail B.(2007)  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.

Mac Congail B. (2008) Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Plovdiv. (attached Pdf.)

Soprena Genzor G. (1995) Ética y ritual. Aproximación al estudio de la religiosidad de los pueblos celtibéricos. Zaragosa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UD: November 2016

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

RISE OF A THUNDERBOLT

 

 

 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).

 

 lychnidos-helm

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

 

 

 

 

BOLGIOS

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

THUNDERBOLTS AND ELEPHANTS

 

 

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 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