SPOILS OF BATTLE ? – Greek Military Equipment in Celtic Burials

UD: Feb. 2019

Baux-de-Provence, Provence Corinthian helmet - Celtic grave - 2nd half - 6th. c. BC (2)

The Celtic eastwards expansion of the 4th / early 3rd century BC, and resulting clash with military forces of the Hellenistic world, has logically left substantial archaeological traces, which include Hellenistic military equipment discovered in Balkan Celtic warrior burials. Notable examples of such are the Hellenistic greaves from the burial of a Celtic chieftain at Ciumeşti (Satu Mare) in Transylvania, or Greek helmets discovered in Celtic warrior burials at Seuthopolis/Sevtopolis and Kalnovo in south-central and eastern Bulgaria (Getov 1962; Megaw 2004, Mac Gonagle 2014, 2015).


greaves cium

Bronze greaves from the Celtic chieftain’s burial at Ciumeşti


sevt hel

Greek helmet from a Celtic warrior burial at Sevtopolis* (after Getov 1962)



*Repeated requests to Kazanlak museum for academic access to the extensive Celtic material from the ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ have been denied. It has also come to our attention that some of this material has recently ‘disappeared’ from the museum.

Ritually “killed” Thracian sword of the rhomphaia type found in the recently discovered Celtic shrine/ritual area at Sboryanovo in northeastern Bulgaria (3rd c. BC).


While the aforementioned cases are clearly to be explained as trophies taken by victorious Celtic armies after the defeat of Macedonian forces, or evidence of the well documented Celtic mercenary activity during this period (Mac Gonagle 2013, 2015), more problematic are a number of Hellenistic helmets discovered in western Celtic burials which date to a much earlier period. Examples of such include the recently published Corinthian helmet discovered in a Celtic burial at Baux-de-Provence (Provence), in southern France, which was actually found in 1813, but only recently ‘rediscovered’ (Jourdan 1897, Garcia 2013). The typology of the helmet dates it to the 6th century BC (Garcia op cit), and 2 further examples of this kind of helmet have been discovered in the Lyon area in east-central France (Boucher 1970, Vial 2003).

x - Baux-de-Provence, Provence Corinthian helmet - Celtic grave - 2nd half - 6th. c. BC (1)

Corinthian helmet from Baux-de-Provence (mid 6th c. BC)


Whether these Corinthian helmets, and other examples such as the Etruscan Negau type helmets, dating to the 5th century BC, from Ženjak in Slovenia or Agde (Hérault) in south-eastern France (Feugère, Freises 1994-1995) were imports into the Celtic sphere, or represent evidence of Celtic mercenary activity prior to such being recorded in ancient sources, remains unclear.


Negau type helmet from Ženjak, Slovenia 

These helmets are of an Etruscan design from circa 500-450 BC called the Vetulonic or Negau type, which are of bronze with a comb-shaped ridge across the skull, and a protruding rim with a groove right above the rim. However, inscriptions on the helmets are believed to have been added at a much later date (2nd c. BC), and the deposition has been dated to circa 50 BC – i.e. shortly before the Roman conquest of the area.





Literature Cited

Boucher St. (1970) Bronzes grecs, hellénistique et étrusques des Musées de Lyon. Lyon, Audin et de Boccard.

Getov 1962 = Гетов Л. (1962) Нови данни за въоръжението у нас през латенската епоха.Археология 3, 41-43

Garcia D. (2013) Le casque corinthien des Baux-de-Provence. In: L’Occident grec de Marseille à Mégara Hyblaea. Hommages à Henri Tréziny Bibliothèque d’Archéologie Méditerranéenne et Africaine 13 pp. 85-90

Feugère M., Freises A. (1994-1995) Casque de type Negau découvert près d’Agde (Hérault). RAN, 27-28, 1994-1995, p. 1-7.

Jourdan A. (1897) Guide du visiteur dans l’antique ville des Baux. Avignon, Aubanel.

Mac Gonagle B. (2013) The Kingmakers – Celtic Mercenaries:


Mac Gonagle B. (2014) The Celtic Burials from Kalnovo (Eastern Bulgaria):


Mac Gonagle B. (2015) On The Celtic Conquest of Thrace (180/279 BC):


Megaw V. (2004) In the footsteps of Brennos? Further archaeological evidence for Celts in the Balkans. In: Hänsel B., Studenikova E., (eds.) Zwischen Karpaten und Ägäis. Neolithikum und ältere Bronzezeit. Gedenkschrift für Viera Nemejcova-Pavukova. Rahden /Westf. 93-107

Vial J. (2003) Carte archéologique de la Gaule, 34/3. Le Montpelliérais. Paris, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres.


Mac Congail

THE KINGMAKERS – Celtic Mercenary Forces in the Ancient World

UD: May 2019


“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)




 Although 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), 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 vital political and military factor in the Hellenistic world…

































LYCHNIDOS – Golden Masks and Celtic Warriors


UD: Mar. 2019


Mask Glove


The ancient city of Lychnidos / Λύχνιδος (modern Ohrid) on the shores of Lake Ohrid in today’s  Republic of Northern Macedonia came to public attention with the spectacular discovery on 30th September 2002 of a golden funerary mask, a golden hand, and numerous other gold, silver, bronze and ceramic artefacts from tomb nr. 132 at the ancient cemetery in the Trebenište area.


In fact, the history of the discovery of royal golden masks from the necropolis near the villages of Trebenište and Gorenci (10 miles north of Ohrid) has a long tradition. In this necropolis five funerary masks have been found on three separate occasions over the last century. The first two masks were found by accident in the spring of 1918 by Bulgarian soldiers during the occupation of this part of Macedonia. At the height of the military occupation, excavations were carried out by the Bulgarians which revealed seven royal tombs from which the material was removed from Macedonia and taken to the Archeological Museum in Sofia, Bulgaria, where it is still located today.

In 1919, Macedonia was occupied the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians (Kingdom of S.H.S.), when part of the lake Ohrid shore with 22 Macedonian villages were transferred to Albania. In 1930-1934, Serbian archaeologist H.Vulić revealed six other royal graves in the same cemetery, and discovered 2 further golden masks, all of which were taken to the Serbian National Museum in Belgrade. The exact nature of the culture which produced these spectacular treasures in the 6th / 5th c. BC remains a mystery.


Treb masks

Golden funeral masks from Trebenište. (6-5 century BC)



The excavations in 2001/2002 revealed a further surprising discovery when a group of  burials, dating from the 3rd c. BC, were revealed. These burials provided the first archaeological confirmation in this part of the Balkans of a phenomenon which had hitherto been known only from ancient historical sources.

 The Celtic burials hitherto discovered at the site consist of one inhumation (No. 143) and 2 cremation burials (Nos. 138 and 58), the best preserved of which was cremation burial No. 58, which included a Celtic helmet, sword/scabbard, 3 spearheads, an oval shield (boss) a long dagger and a circular shield. The helmet from the burial is of an early/middle La Têne type, and the weaponry dates the burial in the  3rd – 2nd c. BC. (Guštin M., Kuzman P., Malenko V. (2012) Ein keltischer Krieger in Lychnidos Ohrid, Macedonia. Folis Archaeologica Balkanica, 2012, 2. P. 181 – 196). Burials no. 138 and 143 also yielded Celtic helmets of the eastern type, very similar to those depicted on the relief from Pergamon (loc cit).



Celt. bur.

Inventory from Celtic Warrior burial (no. 58) at Ohrid Gorna-Porta (Republic of Macedonia)

(after Guštin et al, 2012)



Detail of Celtic weapons, including helmet of the eastern Celtic type similar to those found at Lychnidos, from the relief at the sanctuary of Athena Polias Nikephoros in Pergamon.



So what sequence of events brought such ‘barbarian’ warriors to the Hellenistic city of Lychnidos in the 3rd c. BC ?

The initial expansion into the Balkans at the end of the 4th / early 3rd c. BC was marked by a brutal clash between the Celtic and Hellenistic worlds, which resulted in the destruction of successive Macedonian armies, and the execution of the Macedonian king Ptolemy Ceraunos. 

 Subsequently, the Celts became an intrinsic part of the geo-political balance of power in the region, and we are told that, “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’’ (Justinus. Epit. Pomp. Trogus XXV, 2). Celtic warriors quickly became a vital component in the armies of rulers and city states from the Adriatic to the Black Sea, from the Danube to North Africa from the late 4th to the 1st c. BC. In Macedonia itself, Celtic warriors formed substantial parts of  the armies in the Macedonian Wars of Succession of the 3rd c. BC to fill the political vacuum which they themselves had created.


grave 143 - Lychnidos - Lychnidos – Ohrid - 2

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



Military Equipment from Celtic Burial (#58) at Lychnidos


The warrior burials at Lychnidos provide further valuable archaeological evidence of the aforementioned events and indicate a significant Celtic presence in this part of Macedonia during this period. Furthermore, evidence such as the Macedonian shield in burial no. 58 clearly illustrates that these Celtic warriors held high positions in the city from the 3rd c. BC onwards, becoming an intrinsic part of the military and social structure of the Hellenistic city.










On the Celtic conquest of the Balkans:



On Celtic Mercenaries:
















Mac Congail



















PRINCE OF TRANSYLVANIA – Burial of a Celtic Warlord at Ciumeşti

UD: June 2019

x - ciumesti

Best associated with the spectacular chieftain’s helmet with Bird of Prey attachment, in fact the Celtic settlement at Ciumeşti (Satu Mare) in Transylvania has yielded a wealth of archaeological information on Iron Age settlement and society in southeastern Europe, and the Celtic warrior culture during this period.



The Iron Age settlement at Ciumeşti was a small rural community, of which 8 houses have been excavated. These were spread over a large area, and the general pattern was of houses organized in groups of 3 or 4, each group also having a larger central structure with two rooms. The spatial distribution of the dwellings indicates that the settlement was organized on a clan system (Zirra 1980:69-70, Rustoiu 2006:66). Finds from the settlement include Celtic wheel-made ceramic, as well as local hand-made pottery, again indicating a symbiotic relationship between the newly arrived Celts and the local population – a phenomenon to be observed throughout the eastern Celtic migration.

 A large La Têne funerary complex was discovered at the site, of which 33 burials have been excavated. The cemetery has been broadly dated to the La Têne B2b – C1 period, which in Transylvania corresponds to the period between 280/277 – 175 BC (Horedt 1973:32, 2006:43). Three of the excavated graves were warrior burials indicating that the percentage of warriors in this community during the period in question was circa 9%.





The Ciumeşti Chieftains burial was discovered on 10 August 1961 in a circular pit with a diameter of 1.2 – 1.5 m. Initially only part of the artifacts from the cremation burial were published, including the ‘Falcon’ helmet, two bronze greaves, an iron spearhead, and iron chainmail:

Cium. 1969 1

Cium. 1969 2

 Subsequently other artifacts from the burial have come to light, and a review of all the  material published over the past 50 years reveals that the complete inventory consisted of the following:


1.      POTTERY


The pottery from the burial consisted of a large pot and a bowl, both wheel-made. Vessels of this type are frequent in Celtic burials from the La Têne B2b – C1 period from the Carpathian basin, and analogies have been found in other burials at Ciumeşti, as well as at sites such as Pişcolt, Apahida, etc. (Zirra 1976:143-144; Rustoiu 2006:44).


2.      BELT CHAIN

The iron belt chain was of elements of bent wire fitted in the middle with a ring. The buckle of the belt had a lanceolated form. Such belts are well known among the Carpathian Celts and to the west in Moravia and Bohemia. In the sub-Danubian region they have also been found in Celtic burials at Komarevo, Montana, Panagurischte Kolonii and Stoikite in Bulgaria (Rustoiu 1996:113-114). They were still in use among the Thracian Celts in the LT D period (1st c. BC).


With an elongated blade and an angular median nervure, its dimensions (legnth 22 cm., socket 8 cm., blade 14 cm., socket diameter 1.7 cm.) indicate that it is in fact a javelin and not a spear as originally identified (Rustoiu 2006:47). This is the only offensive weapon among the graves inventory.

 4.      CHAINMAIL


Chainmail and Bronze ‘Triskele’ Discs from the Burial

(after Borangic, Paliga 2013)


Diodorus (v,30:3), Strabo (II, 3:6), Appianus (Syriaca 32, 1-3), Livy (37:40) and Varro (De Ling. Lat. V, 24:116) all mention that the Celts used chainmail, with the latter explicitely stating that they invented it. Chainmail from central and western Europe, with the exception of a piece from Vielle-Tursan (Aubagnan) dated circa 200 BC (Boyrie-Fénié, Bost 194:160), refer to the late La Têne period. In the Carpathian Basin the earliest chainmail has been found at a burial in Horný Jatov (Slovakia) dated to the LT B2 period (first half of the 3rd c. BC) (Rustoiu 2006:50), while numerous examples of Celtic chainmail have been recorded in Romania – Ciumeşti, Cugir, Cetăţeni, Poiana-Gorj, Popeşti etc. (Rustoiu op cit 49, with cited lit), and in Bulgaria from sites such as Kalnovo, Kyolmen, Jankovo, in the so-called ‘Valley of the Thracian Kings’ (Sashova, Slavchova and Tziakova tumuli), as well as from Tarnava, Varbeschnitza,  Mezdra, Smochan, Dojrentsi, Panagurischte Kolonii, Rozovetz, Ravnogor, Matochina and Arkovna.

Among the Turkish Celts (Galatians) the use of chainmail is attested to by Appian (Syriaca 32, 1-3) and Livy (37:40) and included in the depiction of Celtic military equipment at Pergamon (Rustoiu 2006:55). Archaeological confirmation of this has been recorded at the royal cemetery of the Galatian Tolistobogi (-boii) tribe at Karalar (Turkey) (Arik, Coupry 1935:140).

Perga. Chain

Celtic shields and chainmail depicted on the ‘weapons frieze’ from Pergamon


The Ciumeşti chainmail was closed with a system made from a horizontal iron plaque with decorated bronze discs. Similar bronze ‘triskele discs’ from Celtic chainmail have been found at Targu Mureş in Transylvania and Matochina in southern Bulgaria.

Tar Ch. M

Bronze ‘Triskele’ appliqués from the Târgu Mureş chainmail (after Berecki 2010)





“On their heads they put bronze helmets which have large embossed figures standing out from them and give an appearance of great size to those who wear them; for in some cases horns are attached to the helmet so as to form a single piece, in other cases images of the fore-parts of birds or four footed animals”.

Diodorus Siculus (on Celtic helmets) (History V.30.2)

Bronze Celtic fibula from Ingelfingen-Criesbach in southern Germany (5/4 c. BC), depicting a human head crowned by a bird of prey. Birds of Prey had a special significance in Celtic culture and religion.


The best known of the Ciumeşti artifacts, the Bird of Prey (falcon) helmet belongs to a type with reinforced calotte. Such helmets had lateral triangular elements fitted with rivets from which were hung mobile cheek pieces. Similar Celtic helmets have been found at sites such as Batina (Croatia) and Mihovo (Slovenia) (Rustoiu 2006:48), but what distinguishes the Ciumeşti helmet is the bronze falcon which decorated the calotte. Besides the testimony of Diodorus, such Celtic helmets are depicted on Celtic coins and artifacts like the Gundestrup Cauldron.

cium hel



6.      GREAVES


From an historical perspective, the most informative artifacts from the chieftain’s burial are a pair of bronze greaves. Similar pieces appeared in Greece at the end of the Archaic Age, and were used during the classical and Hellenistic periods. The better preserved right greave had a length of 46 cm., which indicates that the warrior was of large stature – between 1.80 – 1.90 m. in height.

cium greav

The Greaves from the Ciumeşti Burial

(Baia Mare History and Archaeology Museum)



Manufacture of such greaves logically requires the exact measurement of the warrior’s legs. Two golden greaves from the so-called Philip II grave at Vergina, which are of different sizes and designed for a crippled man, are a significant example (Andronicos 1984:186-189). It therefore appears that the Ciumeşti warrior had these made at a Greek workshop in the Mediterranean area, which is only possible if the warrior was himself present there (Rustoiu op. cit). Celtic mercenary activity in Hellenistic armies in Greece and Asia-Minor is recorded throughout the 3rd c. BC, and we can conclude with a great degree of certainty that the Transylvanian chieftain was the leader of one such Celtic mercenary force.






Andronicos M. (1984) Vergina. The Royal Tombs and the Ancient City. Athens.

ArikR.O., Couprey J. (1935) Les tumuli de Karalar et la sépulture du roi Déotarus II. In: Revue archéologique 6, Paris 1935. P. 133-151.

Berecki S. (2010) Two La Tène Bronze Discs from Târgu Mureş, Transylvania In: Marisia, Studii Şi Materiale, XXX Arheologie. Targu Mureş 2010. P. 69 – 76

Borangic C., Paliga S. (2013) Note pe marginea originii şi a rolului armurilor geto-dacilor în ritualurile funerar. In: Acta Centri Lucusiensis, I, 2013, p. 5-23.

Bohn R. (1885) Das Heligtum der Athena Polias Nikephoros. Mit Beitrag H. Droysen, Die Balustradenreliefs. Altertümer von Pergamon II. Berlin.

Boyrie-Fénié B., Bost J.P (1994) Les Landes. In: M. Provost (ed.), Carte archeologique de la Gaule 40. Paris

Horedt K. (1973) Interperpretări arheologice II. SCIV 24, 2, 1973. P. 299-310

Rustoiu A. (1996) Metalurgia bronzului la daci (sec. II î Chr. – sec. I d. Chr.) Tehnici, ateliere şi produse de bronz. Bibliotheca Thracologica 15. Bucharest.

Rustoiu A. (2006) A Journey to Mediterranean. Peregrinations of a Celtic Warrior from Transylvania. In: Studia Universitatis Babeş-Bolyai, Historia 51, no. 1 (June 2006). P. 42-85

Rusu M. (1969) Das Keltische Furstengrab von Ciumeşti in Rumänien. Germania 50, 1969: 167 – 269

Zirra V. (1976) La nécropole La Téne d’Apahida. Nouvelles considerations. Dacia N.S, 20. P 129-165

Zirra V. (1980) Locuiri din a doua vărstă a fierului în nord-vestul României (Aşezarea contemporană cimitirului La Têne de la Ciumeşti şi habitatul indigen de la Berea). In: StComSatu Mare 4, 1980. P. 39-84.







Mac Congail

WOLVES WAGES – The Tombs of the Macedonian Kings

UD: Mar. 2019



335 BC  – “These men also he sent back, calling them friends, and ranking them as allies, only adding the remark that the Celts were braggarts”.

(Arrianus. The Anabasis of Alexander (4)

276 BC – “Digging up the tombs of the (Macedonian) kings who had been buried there; the treasure they plundered, the bones they insolently cast to the four winds”.

(Plut. Pyrr. 26:6)



Evidence uncovered during excavations in Greek Macedonia has provided further archaeological confirmation of surreal events in 276 BC, hitherto known only from ancient sources. Excavations carried out by Dr. Angeliki Kottaridi (Director, 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities) have revealed a further 3 tombs in the vicinity of Vergina Town Hall (ancient Aegae/Aigai) in Greek Macedonia, which show signs of destruction in the ancient period that have been connected by the archaeologists with their having been plundered by the Celtic mercenaries in the army of Pyrrhus during the Macedonian War of Succession.


Gold shield decoration fragment found at Aegae/Aigai



Into the Vacuum

Following the destruction of 2 successive Macedonian armies by the Celtic forces of Bolgios and Brennos (II) in 280/279 BC, a political and military vacuum had been created in Macedonia, and two main pretenders to the Macedonian throne emerged – Antigonus Gonatus and Pyrrhus. Ironically, in the subsequent power struggle for control of Macedonia both kings relied largely on the very people who had shortly before destroyed it – the Celts.

 Antigonus was the first to ‘employ’ a large Celtic force, led by a chieftain called Cidêrios. The subsequent relationship between him and his mercenaries also provides valuable information into the balance of power in Macedonia at this time. Having entered into negotiations with the Celts, Antigonus not only promised to pay each of them with Macedonian gold, but gave aristocratic hostages as security (Polyaen., Strat., IV, 6,17), and the ensuing saga over payment illustrates Antigonus’  true relationship with them.

 The Macedonian duly offered to pay each who had ‘carried a shield’. They refused, demanding payment for all of them – the women and children included. The Celts withdrew and threatened to kill the hostages, at which point Antigonus agreed to their terms. When the Celts sent high ranking leaders to collect the payment, however, they were in turn taken hostage by the Macedonian. The stand-off was eventually solved by the mutual exchange of hostages and Antigonus paying his Celtic mercenaries in full (loc cit). It should also be noted that here the description is of a tribal unit, not simply mercenaries in a conventional sense but whole tribes, or at least sub-tribes, including women and children – a reoccurring theme among the Celtic mercenaries not only in the Balkans, but also in Galatia where they fought in tribal units.


 Shortly after these events Antigonus’ main rival, Pyrrhus, arrived in the region – and promptly hired his own Celtic mercenaries. Perhaps ‘hired’ here is the wrong term. Plutarch states that ‘some Gauls joined him’ and as he has already stated that Pyrrhus had ‘no money’ we may assume that they joined him for the promise of plunder (“Some Gauls joined him, and he thereupon made an incursion into Macedonia, where Antigonus the son of Demetrius was reigning, designing to strip and plunder the country” – Plut. Pyrr. 26,2).

(On the Celtic defeat of Macedonia in 280/279 BC see: https://www.academia.edu/10763789/On_The_Celtic_Conquest_of_Thrace_280_279_BC_ )


Pyrr b.

Pyrrhus of Epirus. (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples)


Pyrrhus marched into Macedonia and a number of cities as well as some Macedonian soldiers joined him. Antigonus met him with an army, but was defeated in battle and put to flight. We are told that he met Antigonus in a narrow pass (the Aoüs Gorge), and threw his whole army into confusion.

The clash between Pyrrhus and Antigonus here is worthy of further consideration. In the battle we are told that  ‘the Gauls formed Antigonus’ rearguard’ and that they were ‘a numerous body’ who ‘made a sturdy resistance’ (Plut., Pyrr., 26, 3). When his Celtic forces had been defeated Antiochus’ army quickly fell apart –  ‘Then Pyrrhus, thus greatly strengthened, and consulting his good fortune rather than his judgement, advanced upon the phalanx of the Macedonians, which was filled with confusion and fear because of their previous defeat. For this reason they refrained from engagement or battle with him, whereupon Pyrrhus stretching out his right hand and calling on the generals and captains brought over to him all the infantry of Antigonus in a body’ (Plut., Pyrr., 26, 4).

Noteworthy here, from a psychological perspective, is Pyrrhus’ reaction to his victory over the Macedonian. He celebrated not, as would be expected, his defeat of Antigonus himself, but the fact that he had defeated Celtic forces –  “Pyrrhus, thinking that amid so many successes his achievements against the Gauls conduced most to his glory, dedicated the most beautiful and splendid of his spoils in the temple of Athena Itonis, with the following elegiac inscription:

 ‘These shields, 

now suspended here as a gift to Athena Itonis,

Pyrrhus the Molossian took from valiant Gauls,

After defeating the entire army of Antigonus;

Which is no great wonder; 

For now, as well as in olden time,

The Aeacidae are brave spearmen’.

( Plut., Pyrr., 26, 5; Paus., I, 13, 2-3, gives us a slightly different,  but substantially

similar text)

wolv sh

Part of a Bronze shield, spoils from Phyrrus’ victory over Antigonus and his Celtic forces in 274 BC, found in the Bouleuterion at Dodona.

(Ioannina Archaelogical Museum, inv. No. 1951)


It seems that Pyrrhus had allowed the Macedonians to surrender on terms and – ‘Antigonus, divesting himself at once of all the marks of royalty, repaired with a few horsemen, that attended him in his flight, to Thessalonica, there to watch what would follow on the loss of his throne, and to renew the war with a hired army of Gauls’ (Just., XXV,3). At this point it appears that Antigonus relied almost entirely on Celtic mercenaries.



Military equipment from the burial of a Celtic (mercenary) warrior (#58) at Ohrid-Gorna Porta (Ancient Lychnidos), FYR Macedonia

(mid 3rd c. BC)



No matter how much he had glorified in the defeat of Antigonus’ Celtic warriors, Pyrrhus himself relied heavily on them. At Aegae this is clearly illustrated. Having won the battle against the Macedonian and sending his rival to flight, Pyrrhus began to occupy the cities. Securing Aegae, he proceeded to garrison it with his Celtic forces. The lack of control that he had over his mercenaries is clearly illustrated by the events which followed. The Celts who formed the garrison –

‘…set themselves to digging up the tombs of the kings who had been buried there; the treasure they plundered, the bones they insolently cast to the four winds’.

(Plut. Pyrr. 26:6)


Mac. tomb

Hypostyle tomb found during the recent excavations at Aegae/Aigai


Mac. skel

Skeleton found inside the hypostyle tomb

Mace Star

A golden disc with the characteristic Macedonian star, discovered during the recent excavations, which survived the Celtic looting at Aegae


In the wake of Antigonus’ final victory over Pyrrhus, the Macedonian army continued to consist of substantial numbers of Celtic mercenaries. At Megara in 265 BC we find them still with him (Trog. Prol. XXVI). Apparently the years had not tamed them and, being ‘ill paid’, they mutinied…



Iron helmet with reinforced crown from a Celtic warrior/mercenary burial at Ohrid-Gorna Porta, Northern Macedonia (3rd c. BC).



It also appears that as a result of this mercenary activity Celtic groups were granted land in Macedonia in payment for their services. Livy (XLV:30) subsequently informs us of Celtic enclaves in Macedonia itself, specifically around the towns of Edessa, Beroe and Pella  (tertia regio nobilis urbes Edessam et Beroeam et Pellam habet et Uettiorum bellicosam gentem, incolas quoque permultos Gallos et Illyrios, inpigros cultores”).




















Mac Congail











JUST PLAIN BAD – Balkan Celtic Mercenary Warriors

UD: November 2019


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.

Detail of a terracotta frieze depicting Celtic warriors plundering a temple - from Civitalba (Marche), Italy. The scene is believed to represent the sack of the temple at Delphi by the second Brennos in 279 BC. 2 c. BC

Detail of a terracotta frieze depicting Celtic warriors plundering a temple – from Civitalba (Marche), Italy. The scene is believed to represent the sack of the temple at Delphi by the second Brennos in 279 BC. 


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