‘Galatian’ is the Greek term for the people who invaded the Greek and Asian lands in the third century BC, settling, many of them, in ‘Galatia’ in central Asia Minor. They were notorious among the Greeks as the barbarian raiders who sacked Delphi, and who attacked many of the Greek cities in Greek Asia. They founded several states in the Balkans and Asia Minor which lasted for several centuries; the Romans used a more descriptive term ‘Gallograeci’.

The immediate origin of the invaders was in the northern Balkans, north of the Danube River. But these people, or at least their immediate ancestors, had themselves arrived from further west relatively recently. The original home of the Gauls (which was the Western European, or Roman, term for them) was in all probability a wide stretch of land north of the Alps, where the settlements are associated in particular with the La Tène period in archaeology, but developing out of the preceding Hallstatt period, extended from northern France, through southern Germany, and into Bohemia.1 They began expanding at more or less the same time as the Greeks began their colonizing activities, in the eighth/ seventh centuries BC, and about the same time that Rome claimed to have been founded. However, not being literate, their colonizations have not been as well recorded as those of the Greeks and Romans.

Despite this lack of literacy, they were one of the great peoples of the classical world, eventually occupying an enormous territory, from Spain to Poland and Romania, and into the Ukraine and Asia Minor. As such they had a greater extent of territory than either the Greeks (before Alexander, at least) or Rome (before its later imperial expansion in the first century BC). But, like the Greeks in their independent cities, they were much divided, into ‘tribes’ rather than cities, though both were independent, and their history is, because most of them did not write, more of an archaeological problem than a historical, based on the records of their enemies.

They were, above all, feared by the Mediterranean peoples because of their warlike prowess, though this was something they shared, of course, with every other people of the region. This, and their proclivity to invade their neighbours, resulted in widespread conquests. They came early into the occupation of all Gaul – to use the Roman name – then spread east along the upper Danube and into the Balkans. In the late-fifth century BC bands of them successively invaded Italy, spreading through the Po Valley and subjugating its inhabitants. In the process of their raids, they captured and sacked Rome early in the fourth century.2

These Italian conquests converted northern Italy into ‘Cisalpine Gaul’ – ‘Gaul this side of the Alps’ – and the result helps explain related conquests in the east. They may have invaded as a single people, though it is more likely that they came in successive waves, and when they settled into their conquests they did so as a series of tribal groups. These ‘tribes’ often bore the names of similar tribes in other lands. For example, there were Boii in northern Italy and in Bohemia, and there were Senones in Italy and in northern France. The implication is that the parent tribes dispatched fragments of themselves as raiders searching for loot and aiming to acquire a new homeland; they were quite likely to coordinate arrangements with other Gallic tribes in the same situation. That ‘situation’ was probably overpopulation at home.3 The same solution to that same problem was adopted by Italian tribes such as the Samnites, where those born at a certain time were selected for dispatch, an action known to Rome as the ‘ver sacrum’ – the ‘sacred spring’;4 how voluntary this was is unclear, but the process among the Gauls was clearly successful, judging by their wide geographical spread.

Rome itself had experienced that population difficulty and had also solved it by conquest, but they did so in the near vicinity of their own city, and held on to their colonists by organizing them to form detached parts of itself – coloniae – a small-scale version of the Gallic response.5 Rome thus became a compact conquest empire, while the Gauls remained fragmented and later on were subjected to Roman conquest. And yet the Romans, the Greeks, and the Gauls were all in effect colonizing in very similar ways, and using very similar methods. As it happens, the Roman method, enforced by the relatively narrow land that they were operating in, turned out to be the most powerful, but from several centres the Greeks, then the Gauls, expanded most successfully. The sheer scale and extent of the Gallic expansion, however, would have made it impossible to retain any sort of unity, even if they had been united in their original homes. There never was any suggestion of a Gallic empire.

Gauls from northern Italy harried Romans and other Italians for the next generation, after the sack of Rome (c.390 BC), and meanwhile they firmly established themselves in the north of the peninsula, where they maintained their independence for the next two centuries. Another route of expansion took more Gauls into Spain, and still more went eastwards. This expansion was undoubtedly a process of conquest, but, despite the Gallic reputation for savage warfare, it was not necessarily a process involving the extermination of the conquered. In Spain the invaders appear to have blended with little difficulty with the natives, forming a group of tribes called the Celtiberians, who occupied much of the centre of the peninsula.6 This process of assimilation was no doubt also the effect of the Gallic conquest elsewhere, so that their rapid progress in expanding was in part due to their propensity to assimilate conquered peoples. If the expelled Gauls, driven from their homelands, and forming, at least at first, warbands often comprised mainly of men, then assimilation would be relatively easy by intermarriage. The Gauls seem in most cases to have established themselves as a ruling group, without too much continuing disturbance to the existing inhabitants.

The recognition of the presence of Gauls in any particular place or region, in the absence of detailed written sources, depends largely on archaeology, a subject contaminated in some areas by modern politicalhistorical and racial theories. (There are some written materials to help out, but they are either Greek or Roman, and are as contaminated by enmity as the modern theories by racist prejudices; both have to be used with care.) The archaeological evidence is also by no means easy to interpret. It depends on discerning a set of characteristics in excavations – burial customs, pottery shapes, types of metalwork, evidence of chariots and horses, hill forts, all of which are intricate and subject to dispute and alternative explanations. This evidence, however, has produced an agreed interpretation that the Gallic expansion into the Balkans reached the Danube by the early fourth century, at about the same time that the Gauls were sacking Rome and settling in Cisalpine Gaul.7

Precision in detail, however, is less easy than making wide assumptions, and the dating of many of the finds is difficult. Widespread claims for the conquest of modern Romania or substantial inroads into the Ukraine or Poland cannot be easily sustained, though the evidence is suggestive.8 In the Balkans, the real concentration of the Gallic settlements – now that they are within the Greek area, they can be called ‘Galatians’ – appears to be in the area of the confluence of the Tisza, the Drava and the Save rivers with the Danube. This is an area called the Banat in Ottoman times, centred particularly on Belgrade, which had the Keltic name of Singidunum. It is a wide inland area, fertile, well-watered, and with usable routes leading in all directions – an ideal base from which to mount raids and expand conquests – and trade. (It was the centre of Ottoman power for several centuries, as it had been a Roman legionary base and a Byzantine power centre before the Ottomans.) Whoever lived in the area before the Galatians arrived were clearly subjugated by them, and the Galatian tribe called the Scordisci emerged in control; at least one group, the Hylli, seem to be the product of Gallic-Illyrian intermarriage, and it is probable that a large part of the Scordisci were in fact of Illyrian descent, which becomes clear in the study of the names of the latest inhabitants.9

The Scordisci appear to be an amalgamation of parts of the Gallic tribes of the Boii and the Taurisci, plus the aboriginal Illyrians and some Thracians. Another part of the Boii was a tribe settled in Bohemia, and the Taurisci were also in modern Austria (where they formed one of the constituents of the later Gallic kingdom of Noricum). The two tribes appear to have collaborated in sending out contingents south-eastwards, and these contingents conquered their new homeland and, in the process, eventually amalgamated, becoming the Scordisci.10 This was the tribe in control of the Belgrade/Banat area in the first half of the fourth century, and was the source of the greatest Gallic invasions of all.

Note on names

As already pointed out the people who are the subject of this book have several names: Gauls to the Romans, but Galatians to the Greeks. They may also be more generally referred to as Kelts. Here the term ‘Gauls’ is restricted to those in Gaul and Italy: ‘Galatians’ refers to those in the Balkans and Asia Minor. Where it is necessary to refer to all these collectively, the term Kelts can be used. There is an issue in historical/ archaeological studies with the term ‘Kelts’; my use of the term here has no relevance to such a dispute; it is only one of convenience. The spelling ‘Keltic’ is used in this book to distinguish the people of the ancient world from the romanticised Celts of folklore, football, and modern mythology. The idea of a Celtic world is also under increasing discussion by archaeologists and ancient historians, though no consensus has yet emerged. The use of ‘Keltic’ here also distinguishes our Galatians of this book from that discussion.







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