UD: Jan. 2016
“Who can I recite my work to here, but yellow-haired
Coralli, and the other tribes of the barbarous Danube?”
(Ovid, Ex Ponto. Book EIV.II To Cornelius Severus: A Fellow Poet)
Ovid’s unenthusiastic audience during his exile on the Pontus, the Celtic Coralli/Κόραλλοι tribe (Julian C. Histoire de la Gaule I 303 n. 3, Kazarov 1919:67, Domaradski 1984:111, Duridanov 1997 with cited lit.), were one of the barbarian peoples who constituted the unique Zaravetz Culture in n.e. Thrace in the Late Iron Age. Apparently the Roman poet was equally unimpressed with his new neigbours, being especially critical of their dress sense:
“…so I might flee these shores, too open to the Coralli,
A tribe clad in skins”.
(Ovid, Ex Pontus- Book EIV.VIII – To Suillius: The Power of Poetry)
The name of the tribe is derived from the Proto-Celtic *kor-io- (Matasovic EDPC; Lacroix 2003; Delamarre 2009; De Vann with cited lit.) which occurs frequently in Celtic tribal names, usually taken to mean an army or troop of warriors, but also used in the sense of tribe or people (OI. cuire ‘troop, army’, gaul. cordd ‘tribe, troop’ (cf. DLG2 125–126, with relevant lit.), and which is present in numerous Celtic tribal names across Europe – Tri-corii, Petru-Corii, Corio-solites, Cor-nouii, etc. (cf. also PN’s Ate-corius, Corio-tana, Corius, Monu-corius etc.; settlements – *Corio-sedon (Coriosedenses – CIL XII, 2972), Corio-uallum the Celtic name of Cherbourg, and Heerlen in the Netherlands, etc. – De Vann op cit.).
Celtic Iron Sword from Port, kt. Bern (Switzerland/1st c. BC). Stamped with the name Korisios
The second element in the name of the Coralli is a reflection of the Proto-Celtic *ali (OIr ail) – rock, cliff – related to Gaulish toponyms such as Alesia, Alisia etc. (EDPC; de Vann op. cit), which is probably to be explained by the fact that they were settled in the area of the eastern Haemus (Balkan) mountains (Strabo 7:5 see below).
The Coralli tribe are mentioned in a number of ancient sources (Str. 7:5; App. Mith. 69; Ovid ex Ponto EIV: II, VIII; Livy 38:40), and first appear in history in 188 BC when they formed part of a coalition of Celtic and Thracian tribes which ambushed the Roman army of Manlius Vulso (Livy op cit.) returning through Thrace from Asia-Minor. From the 2nd c. BC onwards the fate of the Coralli is closely linked to their neighbors in Thrace – the Celto-Scythian (Peucini) Bastarnae, and both the Coralli and Bastarnae supported Mithridates VI against Rome in the Mithridatic Wars (App. Mith 69). It is also highly likely that the Coralli formed part of the ‘barbarian’ coalition, led by the Bastarnae, that destroyed the Roman army of Gaius Antonius (Hybrida) at the Battle of Histria in 61 BC (see ‘Akrosas’ article).
Gold Celtic “Janus Head” pendant from Schumen region, northeastern Bulgaria (3rd c. BC)
(after Rustoiu A. 2008)
Bronze chariot fitting with ‘dragon-pair’ motif from Bobata fortress (Schumen), Bulgaria
Strabo (7:5) records the Coralli in eastern Thrace, and specifically in the area of the eastern Haemus (Balkan) mountains in today’s n.e. Bulgaria. Thus, Celtic settlements in this area such as ʼOρχελίς (Tomaschek I:91, Holder II:1190, Kazarov 1919:67, Detschew 1957: 344, Duridanov 1997: 139), Γολόη (Tomaschek II, 2:88; Mac Congail 2008:38), and Κασιβόνων (Beševliev 1968:419f. and 1970:23, Duridanov 1997:139), as well as the Rimesica area (Tab. Peut VIII:3), also of Celtic origin (Tomaschek I:91, Holder II:1190, Kazarow 1919:67, Duridanov 1997:139), should be attributed to the Coralli. Another Celtic group, the Aboulonsoi, who were settled in the area between Tutrakan (Trasmarisca) and Razgrad (Abritu) (Detschew 1957:334/335; see also ‘Zaravetz’ article), were probably a sub-group of the Coralli.
Celtic weaponry and other artifacts from the territory of the Coralli in northeastern Bulgaria
(Varna Archaeological Museum; on Celtic material from north eastern Bulgaria see also: https://www.academia.edu/4118437/Mediolana_and_the_Zaravetz_Culture)
Locally produced coinage circulating in this area of northeastern Bulgaria in the 3-1st c. BC consisted of Celtic tetradrachms and drachms of the Philip II and III types, as well as Celtic ‘Thasos Type’ tetradrachms. Particularly interesting is the concentration and distribution of the Zaravetz bronze and lead issues. This coinage circulated east of the Jantra River in the Veliko Tarnovo, Targovischte, Schumen, Rousse, Razgrad and western Varna regions of northeastern Bulgaria, which enables us to precisely delineate the main area of influence of the Coralli in the pre-Roman period.
Celtic tetradrachms of the Sattelkopfpferd type from Pirgovo/Mediolana, Rousse Region (from the 1978 hoard)
It would appear that the Roman expansion into eastern Thrace in the second half of the 1st c. BC pushed both the Peucini and the Coralli northeastwards towards Scythia Minor, where Ovid records the latter at the beginning of the Roman period. In this area one finds a wealth of Celtic placenames which, as the Bulgarian linguist Duridanov concluded, “von einer dauernden keltischen Anweisenheit Zeugnis ablegen” (Duridanov 1997:136). These range from settlements on the Bulgarian Danube such as Ablana, Mediolana, and Tegris in the Rousse region, Durostorum, Arnuntum and Gavidina in the Silestra region, to those towards the Danube Delta such as Noviodunum (now Isaccea in Romanian Dobruja) (Holder II:787, Duridanov 1997:137), ’Αλιόβριξ (opposite Noviodunum on the Danube Delta) (Duridanov op. cit), Νίσχονις (Detschew 1957:332, Duridanov 1997:137), as well as Vergo[b]rittianus (Doruţiu-Boilă 1980:137-138 nr. 115, Gerov 1967:40, Duridanov 1997, with relevant lit), and Arubium (now Măcin by Galaţi; Duridanov op cit).
However, due to the Celtic origin of both the Peucini Bastarnae and Coralli, it remains unclear which of the aforementioned Celtic traces in Scythia Minor should be attributed to the Peucini, and which to the Coralli.
(After Panin 1983)
Despite his repeated pleas to Rome to be released from exile, the Roman poet was destined to end his days among “the tribes of the barbarous Danube”.
(Modern) Literature Cited
Beševliev V. Keltische Ortsnamen in der Kastellverzeichnissen bei Prokop // Actes du Premier congres international des etudes balkaniques et sud-est europeennes. T. VI. Sofia, 1968. S. 415–423.
Beševliev V. Zur Deutung der Kastellnamen in Prokops Werk „De aedificiis”. Amsterdam 1970.
Detschew D. (1976) Die thrakischen Sprachreste. Wien.
Delamarre X. (2003) Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Paris.
de Vaan M., The PIE root structure *Te(R)D h –, Leiden University https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/14137/de%20Vaan%20-%20The%20PIE%20root%20structure%20Terdh.pdf?sequence=2
Duridanov I. (1980) Les Rapports Linguistiques Entre Les Thraces Et Les Celtes. In: NOI TRACII VII, # 68, 69, 1980. Mai (1) Juni (2)
Duridanov I. (1997) Keltische Sprachspuren in Thrakien und Mosien. ZCP 1997. B. 49/50. S. 130–142.
Holder A. Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz. B. 1–3. Leipzig 1896-1910.
Mac Congail B. (2008) Kingdoms of the Forgotten. Celtic Expansion in south-eastern Europe and Asia-Minor. 4th – 3rd c. BC. Plovdiv
Panin N. (1983) Black Sea coast line changes in the last 10,000 years. A new attempt at identifying the Danube mouth as described by the ancients. Dacia, N.S., XXVII, 1-2, 175-184. Bucuresti.
Tomaschek W. (1894) Die alten Thraker. Teil II.2 // Sitzungsberichte der Wiener Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-Hist. Klasse. Band 131. Wien 1894. S. 1–103.
EDPC = Matasovic. An Etymological Lexicon of Proto-Celtic. University of Leiden