BANQUET OF DEATH – Deiotarus, The Celt Who Saved Rome

UD: March 2019




“…for it was king Deiotarus who raised your family, when abject and obscure, from darkness into light”.

(Marcus Tullius Cicero to Caius Caesar – from his speech on behalf of King Deiotarus)



By the 1st c. BC the Celtic tribes of Asia-Minor had become a powerful geo-political force in the region. Since the brutal campaign of Manlius Vulso in 189 BC, in which tens of thousands of them had been killed or enslaved, the Galatians had been bitter enemies of Rome, resisting the expansion of the empire and her allies in Asia-Minor. However, this was all to change dramatically one night in 86 BC, with a brutal act of treachery and murder which was to have far reaching consequences, not just for the Galatians, but for the Roman Empire itself.





At the beginning of the Mithridatic Wars the Celts of Asia-Minor, like the Bastarnae and Scordisci in Thrace, had supported the Pontic King Mithridates VI against Rome. However, after defeat at the Battle of Chaeornea in 86 BC, in which the Galatians had fought for the Pontic king (App. Mith. 41), Mithridates began to suspect treachery even in his closest allies. This paranoia culminated in a bloody pogrom against those whom he suspected would turn against him. The Galatian leaders were invited to a lavish banquet by Archelaus, one of Mithridates commanders, where they, along with their wives and children, were massacred:

“First, he put to death the tetrarchs of Galatia with their wives and children, not only those who were united with him as friends, but those who were not his subjects – all except three who escaped” .

(App. Mith. 46)



Mithridat. s

Portrait of the king of Pontus Mithridates VI. Marble, Roman imperial period (1st century)

(Musée du Louvre)




The murder of the Galatian chieftains was to prove a fatal error for Mithridates, and provoked a swift and brutal backlash from the Celts. One of the Galatian leaders, Deiotarus (I) (the ‘Divine Bull’), raised an army from the country people forthwith, expelled him and his garrisons, and drove them out of Galatia, so that Mithridates had nothing left of that country(loc cit). However, the Celtic revenge attacks quickly escalated and extended beyond Galatia. During the conflict Eumachus, Mithridates’ satrap in the region, had overrun Phrygia and killed a great many Romans, with their wives and children, subjugated the Pisidians and the Isaurians and also Cilica. These Pontic garrisons the Celts now also attacked, driving out Mithridates’ forces, and slaying a great number of them (Livy Per. 94a).


Pontus k.

Map of the Kingdom of Pontus – Before the reign of Mithridates VI (darkest purple), after his conquests (purple), and his conquests in the first Mithridatic wars (pink).



Loyal Ally of Rome

For Rome, the Galatian intervention came at a crucial juncture. The Roman general Lucullus had been on the verge of suspending the war because of a lack of supplies for his army, but Celtic support had solved the problem. Now as Lucullus advanced, “30,000 Galatians followed in his train, each carrying a bushel of grain upon his shoulders” (Plut. Luc. 14), and when he subsequently fought Tigranes at the Taurus river Lucullus was also supported by Galatian cavalry (Plut. Luc. 28).

Although largely ignored by modern historians, Deiotarus’ contribution to Roman victory in the Mithridatic War had been crucial. As Cicero so eloquently puts it:

“And what length of time will ever efface, what forgetfulness will ever obliterate those numerous and honourable resolutions of the senate respecting him, which have been recorded in the public writings and memorials of the Roman people?”.

(Cicero, Deio. 37)


Nor was Rome’s gratitude confined to words. For his help in the conflict Deiotarus received the title King, and his territory was greatly extended:

Armenia Minor he conferred upon Deiotarus, the king of Galatia, because he had acted as his ally in the Mithridatic war”.

(Eutr. IV:14)


Deio c.

Kings Of Galatia, Deiotaros. (Ca 62-40 BC) AE. Obverse: Laureate head of Zeus right. Reverse: Large monogram and Celtic oval shield (see ‘Coins of the Galatian Kings’ article)









On the Galatians and the Mithridatic Wars see also:
























Mac Congail