Κόραλλοι – The Celts in Eastern Bulgaria


“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
























Who Were The Bastarnae ?

UD: April 2019



‘…the Bastarnæ, the bravest nation of all’.

(Appianus, Mithridatic Wars 10:69)


The most enigmatic ‘barbarian’ people to appear in southeastern Europe in the late Iron Age are undoubtedly the Bastarnae (Βαστάρναι / Βαστέρναι) tribes.

While archaeological/numismatic evidence indicates that the Bastarnae tribes had reached the Danube Delta as early as the second half of the 4th c. BC, they first appear in historical sources in connection with the events of 179 BC as allies of Philip V of Macedonia in his war with Rome (Livy 40:5, 57-58), and remain a constant factor in the history of southeastern Europe for over 500 years. Due to the fact that archaeologists have failed to associate a particular archaeological culture with the Bastarnae, the ethnic origin of this people has hitherto remained shrouded in mystery, with a lack of clarity on whether they were initially of Scythian, Germanic or Celtic origin. However, as illustrated below, a chronological analysis of the ancient sources relating to the Bastarnae in general, and archaeological, numismatic and linguistic evidence from the territory of the Bastarnae Peucini tribe in particular, enables us to finally shed some light on this question.


1 - a - Bastarnae

Celto-Scythian (Peucini Bastarnae) burial from Durankulak Island (Dobrudja), north-eastern Bulgaria (2nd c. BC)




Bastarnae ‘Huşi-Vovrieşti type’ tetradrachms from the Celtic settlement at Pelczyska, Poland (2nd c. BC)






Later authors such as Dio Cassius (3rd c. AD – Dio LI.23.3, 24.2) and Zosimus (late 5th/early 6th c. AD – Zosimus I.34) define the Bastarnae as ‘Scythians’, and to a great extent this is true. By the late Roman period the Bastarnae tribes had been living in the region vaguely referred to as ‘Scythia’ for over half a millennium, and mixing with the local tribes (‘mixed marriages are giving them to some extent the vile appearance of the Sarmatians’ – Tac. Ger. 46). Thus, they were by this stage indeed Scythians, in the same way, for example, the Celtic Scordisci in Thrace are referred to in Roman sources as ‘Thracians’, having inhabited the region of Thrace for a number of centuries. However, as with the latter case, geographical situation by no means indicates ethnic origin.


1 - a - stranger

Facial Reconstruction of a Celto-Scythian/Bastarnae woman from burial # 9 at the Celtic settlement at Pelczyska (Świętokrzyskie province), Poland

(after Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005)



Burial of a young Bastarnae horseman with La Tene weapons and bear cloak, from Mana (Orhei), Moldova

(1 c. BC)



While sources such as Strabo (early 1st c. AD – see below), and Tacitus (circa 100 AD; Tac. Ger. 43), are often cited to support the view that the Bastarnae were of Germanic origin, in fact a closer analysis of the testimony of both these sources reveals that neither is certain about who the Bastarnae were. While Strabo informs us that the Bastarnae lived mixed with the Thracian and Celtic tribes in Thrace, both north and south of the river, he also admits, ‘I know neither the Bastarnae, nor the Sarmatae nor, in a word, any of the peoples who dwell above the Pontus’ (Strabo VII, 2:4). Tacitus states the following:
Peucini, quos quidam Bastarnas, vocunt sermon cultu, sede ac domiciliis ut Germani agunt’ (Tac. op cit.), i.e. – he informs us not that the Bastarnae were Germani, but that they were ‘similar to the Germani’. In this case one should bear in mind that many of the Celts who migrated into southeastern Europe and Asia-Minor from the end of the 4th c. BC onwards originated from the Belgae group of Celtic tribes (see also ‘Galatia’ article), who are described in ancient sources as being most like the Germani.

The other ancient authors are clear on the ethnic origin of the Bastarnae. The earliest source, Polybius (200-118 BC; XXIV 9,13) refers to them as Celtic (Galatians), while Livy (59 BC – 17 AD) tells us that they had the same customs and spoke the same language as the Celtic Scordisci, and also mentions close military and political ties between the Bastarnae and Scordisci (Livy 40:57). Plutarch (46 – 120 AD; Aem. 9.6) refers to them as ‘Gauls on the Danube who are called Bastarnae’.





It was in the wake of the aforementioned events of 179 BC that the Peucini, the southern branch of the Bastarnae, were drawn south of the Danube into Thrace. They were at this stage a powerful military and political force in southeastern Europe, which is illustrated by the enthusiasm that Philip V of Macedonia showed at the prospect of being allied to them:

 ‘The envoys whom he had sent to the Bastarnae to summon assistance had returned and brought back with them some young nobles, amongst them some of royal blood. One of these promised to give his sister in marriage to Philip’s son, and the king was quite elated at the prospect of an alliance with that nation’ (Livy 40:5).

 Although Philip’s sudden death meant that the joint attack on Rome by the Macedonians and Bastarnae came to nothing, by this time a large group of the (Peucini) Bastarnae had already migrated into Thrace, and a group of 30,000 of them subsequently settled in Dardania; another larger group of Bastarnae returned eastwards and settled in the area of today’s eastern Bulgaria (Livy 40:58), where Bastarnae kingdoms were established in the Dobruja area. At the beginning of the 1st c. AD Strabo (VII, 3:2) mentions that the ethnic make-up of this area consisted of a complex mix of Thracians, Scythians, Celts and Bastarnae:

the Bastarnae tribes are mingled with the Thracians, more indeed with those beyond the Ister (Danube), but also with those this side. And mingled with them are also the Celtic tribes…”.
A thriving ‘barbarian’ culture emerged in this area (southeastern Romania/northeastern Bulgaria) during the 2nd/ 1st c. BC, based on a symbiotic relationship between these various groups and the Greek Black Sea colonies – a culture which was brought to a brutal end in the mid 1st c. BC by the destructive rampage of the Getic leader Burebista, which also paved the way for the Roman conquest of the Dobruja.



Bronze issue of the (Peucini) Bastarnae king Aelis (s. Dobruja region, Bulgaria  (180-150 BC).
– Jugate heads of the Dioskouroi right, in wreathed caps / jugate horse heads right; monogram & ΠΕ (for Peucini) below



In summary, an analysis of the ancient sources would appear to indicate that the Bastarnae tribes were initially of Celtic (Belgic) origin. This is confirmed by numismatic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence from the territory of the Bastarnae Peucini tribe in n.e. Bulgaria, s.e. Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. One should also note that the first archaeological/numismatic evidence of the presence of the Bastarnae in s.e. Europe (2nd half of the 4th c. BC) corresponds chronologically with the Celtic migration into the region.

 It would therefore appear, based on the available scientific data, that the elusive Bastarnae tribes were not some mysterious Germanic people who appeared in southeastern Europe during this period, but that they, like the Galatians, were tribes of the Belgae group who migrated into the area during the Celtic expansion at the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd c. BC. Scientific evidence from the Dobruja region (loc cit) further indicates that the original Celto-Germanic (Belgic) nature of this culture subsequently underwent a fundamental metamorphosis due to prolonged contact and co-existence with the Hellenistic and Scythian cultures, the resulting fusion of Celtic, Hellenistic and Scythian cultural elements culminating in a unique and distinct Bastarnae ethnicity by the Roman period.

In the later Roman period the policy of ethnic engineering further strengthened the Bastarnae presence south of the Danube. Under the Emperor Probus (276-82) 100,000 of them were settled in Thrace (Historia Augusta Probus 18), and shortly afterwards Emperor Diocletian (284-305) carried out another ‘massive’ transfer of the Bastarnae population to the south of the Danube (Eutropius IX.25; see Balkancelts ‘Ethnic Engineering’ article). Thus, the Bastarnae presence on the territory of today’s Bulgaria, already well established since the 2nd c. BC, was further reinforced by the policies of both Probus and Diocletian.










On the Bastarnae in Ukraine/Crimea:














Mac Congail
















UD – Nov. 2015






‘…the Gauls on the Danube who are called Bastarnae, an equestrian host and warlike’.

(Plut. Aem. 9.6)





The Peucini were the southern branch of the Bastarnae tribal confederation, initially settled in the Lower Danube region, specifically around the island of Peuce, from which they took their name – while those who took possession of Peuce, the island in the Ister, are called Peucini’ (Strabo Vii, 3,17).

 From the end of the 3rd/beginning of the 2nd c. BC (coinciding chronologically with the collapse of the Celtic Tyle state in eastern Thrace) the Peucini began to expand southwards into sub-Danubian Thrace, where they are referred to variously as ‘Galatians’, ‘Bastarnae’ or ‘Gauls’. In 179 BC they first appear in historical sources as allies of the Scordisci and the Macedonian king Philip V, who intended to send them against Rome. The geo-political significance of the Peucini at this stage is noted by ancient authors. Livy informs us that:

The envoys whom he had sent to the Bastarnae to summon assistance had returned and brought back with them some young nobles, amongst them some of royal blood. One of these promised to give his sister in marriage to Philip’s son, and the king was quite elated at the prospect of an alliance with that nation (Livy. History of Rome. Book 40:5).

 Although Philip’s sudden death meant that this Macedonian/Celtic coalition against Rome never materialized, the same source makes it clear that by this time the Bastarnae were firmly established in eastern Thrace (Livy 40:58).

( on the Bastarnae tribes see also: https://www.academia.edu/4835555/Gallo-Scythians )


Celto-Scythian (Peucini Bastarnae) burial from Durankulak Island (Dobrudja), Bulgaria good

Celto-Scythian (Peucini Bastarnae) burial from Durankulak Island (Dobrudja), north-eastern Bulgaria

(2nd c. BC)








The main centre of Peucini political and economic power in southern Dobruja (n-e Bulgaria) was concentrated in the territory around the Kavarna/Balchik/Kaliakra area on the Black Sea coast, where we encounter the settlement of Peuce in the Balchik area (IGBulg V, 5011 (terr. Dionysopolis), probably the center/capital of the Peucini kingdom. This is confirmed by the fact that many of the Peucini Bastarnae coins were minted in Dionysopolis/Balchik. Close to Peuce was the settlement of Tirizis/ Τιρίζης, located on cape Kaliakra (Men. Perg., Per. 156; Strabo 7. 6.1) which appears to bear the name of the Celtic deity Esus (Proto-Celtic = *tīrro – land, *tīros- ‘land, earth’ [Noun] – GOlD: OIr. tir [0 n]; W: OW tir, MW tir [m], BRET: MBret tir [m], Co: OCo. tir gl. tellus, Co. tyr; the second element from the Celtic deity Esus (Lucanus, Bellum civile I.445, Marcellus of Bordeaux, De medicamentis 15.106, p. 121), – the name meaning literally ‘the Land of Esus’.


Archaeological and numismatic evidence from this area of north-eastern Bulgaria, particularly around the aforementioned Kavarna area, indicates that by the 2nd/1st c. BC the material culture of the Peucini was a mixture of La Têne and Hellenistic cultures (Mac Congail 2008:52), which explains why archaeologists have hitherto been unable to identify a distinct Bastarnae culture.

 Numismatic material from this period is particularly indicative of the geo-political and economic status quo in this region in the period directly before the Roman conquest. Coinage circulating in this area in the 3rd – 1st c. BC, besides issues of the Greek Black Sea colonies, consisted of coinage of the Celtic Tyle state (3rd c. BC) found at the villages of Bozhurets, Septemvrijtsi and Sveti Nikola, again in the Kavarna area, Celtic silver Philip II and III type drachms and tetradrachms, and Zaravetz bronze and lead issues.



In addition to this highly complex mix of Greek and ‘barbarian’ coinage, during the 2nd / 1st c. BC the Celto-Scythian leaders of the Peucini Bastarnae also issued a limited number of their own coins.






So far coinage of six Bastarnae kings in the Dobruja region of southeastern Romania/northeastern Bulgaria have been identified – Kanites, Tanousas, Charaspes, Aelis, Akrosas and Sariakes, and their coins have been found almost exclusively around the West Pontic Greek cities of Istrus, Tomi, Callatis, Dionysopolis and Odessos. They are roughly dated to the 2nd / 1st c. BC and, as with the coinage of the Celtic Tyle state in this region of the previous century, are Hellenistic in nature, in terms of artistic style and iconography. Some of the iconography, notably the obverse Head of beardless Heracles in lion skin, are also similar to the Celtic Tyle coins and, as with the Celtic kings of Tyle before them, the Peucini leaders used the royal title ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ on their coinage.

( On the Coinage of the Celtic Tyle state in this area see: https://www.academia.edu/5420363/THE_TYLE_EXPERIMENT )






Aeli. 1
a. Obv.: Heads of Dioscuri jugate wearing laureate pilei, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r. from above) ΑΙΛΙΟΣ (l. from above). Two horse foreparts jugate, r. (AE; 23 mm; 8.80 g; Kavarna museum (Bulgaria)
b. Obv.: Head of Helios radiate facing. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (l. from below) ΑΙΛΙΟΣ (r. from below). Rayed sun. (AE; 17 mm; 4.52 g)





Kani. 1


a.       Head of Demeter veiled and wearing corn wreath, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΚΑΝΙΤΟΥ (l., from above). Torch and corn ear. (AE 24 mm; 11.08 g)

b.      Obv.: Head of Zeus diademed, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΚΑΝΙ (l., from above). Bird on thunderbolt, r. (AE; 22 mm; 9.25)






a.       Obv.: Heads of Demeter and Kore jugate, veiled and wearing corn wreaths, r. Countermark, head of Hermes, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΤΑΝΟΥΣΑ (l., from above), ΒΑΚ (below). Two corn ears. (AE; 24 mm; 8.40 g)

b.      Obv.: Heads of Dioscuri jugate wearing laureate pilei, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΤΑΝΟΥ (l., from above), ΒΑΚ (below). Two horse foreparts  jugate, r. (AE; 15 mm; 3.34 g)






a.       Obv.: Heads of Dioscuri jugate wearing laureate pilei, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΧΑΡΑΣΠΟΥ (l., from above). Bird on thunderbolt, r. (AE; 23 mm; 9.50 g)

b.      Obv.: Head of beardless Heracles in lion skin, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΧΑΡΑΣΠΟΥ (l., from above). Corn ear, quiver, bow. (AE; 22 mm; 8.54 g)






a.       Obv.: Heads of Dioscuri jugate wearing laureate pilei, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΑΚΡΟΣΑ (l., from above). Two horse fore-parts jugate, r. (AE; 24 mm; 9.50 g)

b.      Obv.: Heads of Demeter and Kore jugate, veiled and wearing corn wreaths, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΑΚΡΟΣΑ (l., from above). Two corn ears. (AE; 24 mm; 6.22 g)


( https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/akrosas-the-king-who-scared-a-monster/ )









a.  Obv.: Head of beardless Heracles in lion skin, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ (r., from above) ΣΑΡΙΑΚΟΥ (l., from above). Bow, quiver, thunderbolt (above), corn ear. (AE; 24 mm; 9.25 g)

b.  Obv.: Head of Zeus diademed, r. Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕ (r., from above) ΣΑΡΙΑΚ (l., from above). Bird on thunderbolt, r. (AE; 24 mm; 10.80 g)

( see: https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/sariakes-the-wheat-king/ )




The fact that these Celto-Scythian kings issued only bronze coinage is significant from a geo-political perspective. The theory of a unitary (Scythian) state in this region during the late Iron Age, based only on a number of lower value (bronze) coins, minted by the Greek Black Sea colonies for these leaders, is logically flawed. The Bastarnae coinage had a mainly symbolic function, and comprised only a small fraction of the overall coin pool in the area during this period, which consisted primarily of Greek and Celtic coinage.


 The Bastarnae royal coinage adds an important piece to the puzzle, and increases our understanding of the socio-political and ethnic status quo in this part of south-eastern Europe. The available archaeological, linguistic and numismatic evidence from this region clearly indicates that a unique culture developed between the 3rd and 1st c. BC, based on a symbiotic and prosperous relationship between the barbarian (Celtic, Bastarnae, Getae) tribes, and the Greek Black Sea colonies.







( see also: https://www.academia.edu/4118437/Mediolana_and_the_Zaravetz_Culture )












Mac Congail




































Celtic Coins from Bulgaria (8) – Zaravetz

Mac Congail


In the early 1980’s excavations carried out at the Hill of Zaravetz (Zarevetz/Tsarevetz)  (Veliko Tarnovo) turned up unexpected results. Under the medieval Bulgarian capital, in what archaeologists expected to be layers pertaining to the Thracian culture, artifacts and habitation layers relating to a completely different culture began to appear. The settlement layers from the late Iron Age yielded La Têne material (Kvinto 1985) which clearly indicated that the site had been inhabited by a Celtic population. Subsequent excavations at the site in recent years have uncovered further material which confirms the earlier findings. (see ‘New Material (2)’ article)

   In the context of the present study of most interest are a number of coins found in the Celtic habitation layers at the site. In total 5 coins were uncovered – one bronze of Alexander III (the Great) and 4 ‘barbarian’ issues – 2 bronze and 2 lead. The barbarian coins were ignored in academic circles until further publications of such coins followed over the next decades. (Lazarov 1992; Burvarov 1994; Topalov 1999; Mac Congail 2008) It has subsequently emerged that these low value barbarian emissions provide invaluable information about the culture which inhabited northeastern Bulgaria in the late Iron Age.

   The Celtic Zaravetz type coins are based on autonomous bronze emissions of the Greek colony of Odessos (Fig. 1) which had been previously dated generally to the  3rd – 1st c. BC. The fact that the Celtic ‘imitations’  (Fig. 2) have been found in an archaeological context which dates to the end of the 3rd – beginning of the 2nd c. BC logically dates the Greek prototype to the period prior to the end of the 3rd c. BC.



In terms of distribution the Zaravetz issues have been discovered in an area which includes most of present day northeastern Bulgaria, with a particularly high concentration in the Veliko Tarnovo area. (See map  n8) Besides the Zaravetz hillfort (map n8 #1), further examples have been recorded in Veliko Tarnovo itself (Lazarov 1992), the Hill(fort) at Rachovetz, 7 km. north of Veliko Tarnovo,( map n8#2; Burvarov 1994; Topalov, 1999, 160) and in the vicinity of the village of Samovodene, slightly to the west of Veliko Tarnovo (map n8 #3; Gerasimov 1934). Other finds have been recorded in northeastern Bulgaria at Byala (Russe region) (map n8 # 4; Mac Congail  2008: 46-48), Schumen (map n8 # 5; Lazarov 1992; Topalov, 1999, 260 – 270 and 310 – 313), Tutrakan (Silestra region) (map n8 #6 -Fig. 3), Razgrad (map n8 #7 – Fig. 4 ), Opaka (Targovischte region) (map n8 #8; Gerasimov 1979; Stoykov 2002-2003), as well as in large numbers from the western Varna region (map n8 #9; Lazarov 1992; Topalov 1999; Mac Congail 2008).



 The local Celtic coinage circulating in northeastern Bulgaria in the late Iron Age therefore ranged from Celtic silver tetradrachmas of the Philip II and Thasos types, drachmas of the Philip III type, while the lower value coinage consisted of the aforementioned Zaravetz bronze and lead issues. This broad spectrum of coinage of differing intrinsic and economic value indicates a highly developed and organized economic system among the ‘barbarian’ population of this area in the pre-Roman period.


  From a scientific perspective the lowest value coins – the Zaravetz lead issues are most significant. (Chemical analysis has shown a lead content of 98.25%; Lazarov 1992: 20-21) Coins minted in lead are unknown in Europe in this period, and were produced neither by the Celtic culture nor in the Greco-Roman world. The Zaravetz leads as part of the coinage system in northeastern Bulgaria in the late Iron Age would therefore appear to be a unique numismatic phenomenon. 


  As has been pointed out (Lazarov 1992), such coins would not, because of their low intrinsic value, have circulated beyond the borders of the authority which issued them. The distribution of these coins therefore logically enables us to roughly delineate the extent of the Zaravetz Culture in the III-I c. BC period. Based on the present data at our disposal (topographic, historical and archaeological as well as numismatic – see ‘The Zaravetz Culture’ article – forthcoming) the influence of this ‘state’, which was in fact probably more a confederation of tribal groups, covered an area which extended to the Jantra river in the west, the Danube in the north, and the Stara Planina (Balkan) mountains in the south. In the east the Greek Pontus cities remained autonomous, but intense trade links between the latter and the Celto-Thracian state in the interior is indicated by numismatic data. The fact that the Zaravetz issues themselves are modeled on an Odessos bronze prototype further confirms these close economic links.

  Extensive trade links between the Zaravetz Celts of northeastern Bulgaria and the ‘Scordisci’ in the northwest of the country is confirmed by the circulation of Celtic Thasos, Philip II and Philip III issues throughout northern Bulgaria during this period. (see relevant sections) A similarly close economic relationship appears to have developed between the Celto-Thracian Zaravetz culture and the Bastarnae (Peucini) in the area of Scythia Minor (corresponding roughly to today’s Dobruja region in northeastern Bulgarian and southeastern Romania). (See ‘Bastarnae’ article – forthcoming) Discoveries of Celtic coins in Bastarnae territory, particularly in the Kavarna-Balchik-Silestra area, as well as archaeological data, indicates intensive trade and cultural contacts between the Bastarnae and the Zaravetz Celts, while the minting of Hellenistic type coins by the Bastarnae on which the royal title ‘Basileus’ is used (Fig 5/6), indicates that the latter, as was the case with the Greek cities on the coast, remained economically and politically independent – these relationships being  mutually beneficial from an economic perspective.







 * Does not include Celtic Paeonia ‘imitations’, coins of the ‘Tyle’ state or Bastarnae coins