The Galatians – Celtic Invaders of Greece and Asia Minor, John D. Grainger

The Galatians – Celtic Invaders of Greece and Asia Minor, John D. Grainger

The Galatians were a Celtic group famous for an invasion of Greece that took advantage of the weakened state of Macedonia after the prolonged period of warfare in the east started by Alexander the Great, and for being ‘penned in’ in central Anatolia after being defeated by one of Alexander’s successors.  

This is a very good example of the value of looking at familier events from a different perspective.  The Galatians are normally seen through the eyes of their Greek enemies, and tend to enter the story from ‘stage left’ at the time of the first raids into Macedon and Greece. The general narrative is of ‘barbarian’ war bands rampaging across the Greek world, before being heroicly stopped just outside Delphi and deflected east into Asia Minor, where they were once again heroically defeated at the ‘elephant battle’, and forced to settle in central Anatolia.  

By focusing on the Galatians themselves, Grainger is able to paint a very different, but convincing, version of events. The first difference is that the Galatians were already known to the Greeks before that first dramatic invasion. Alexander the Great had dealings with them, and they were fairly well established in the Balkans for some time before heading further south. Instead of emerging from some far off distance homeland, they were actually operating on the eastern edge of the large Celtic world.

The detailed examination of their initial campaign proves that they were watching events in Greece and Macedon very carefully, and picked their moment with great skill, waiting until the Macedonian throne was in the uncertain hands of a recent usurper before attacking. Their initial three pronged assault was only partly successful, although did end in the death of the Macedonian king but in the following year they invaded the heartland of classical Greece, fighting another battle of Thermopylae (once again won by the ‘barbarian’ invaders), but their overall invasion ended as a crushing defeat, with the Celtic leader Brennus killed and most of the invading army destroyed, either in battle or while retreating.

The second half of the story follows the Celts as they moved into Anatolia, and once again paints a rather different picture. What you might call the traditional view has the Galatians as a rampaging band eventually defeated by Antiochus I at the Elephant Battle, and pinned down in the barren interior of Anatolia. However this account shows that they actually entered the area as mercenaries, working for one of the local powers, generally stuck to any agreement that they made, and were probably actually looking for somewhere to settle, so being given what became Galatia was what they wanted. After becoming settled they appear to have acted like any other local power, making and sticking to agreements, and being swept up in the wider events of the period.

This is another fascinating part of this story – the way in which the outside world changed so dramatically around the new Galatian states and how they coped. The Galatians arrived on the edges of the Greek world just as Alexander the Great was about to transform that world. Their initial invasion of Greece triggered one of the last Greek alliances of the type that had defeated the Persians. Their entry into Anatolia came during the wars of the Succesors (and their immediate successors), so the Galatians were caught up in the rise and fall of the Seleucid Empire. The sudden collapse of Seleucid power in the area triggered something of a waring states period, and the Galatians become dragged into the affairs of the Attalids of Pergamon, Pontus and all the other minor kingdoms that emerged. Finally the Romans appear – at first as a temporary presence, campaigning and then disappearing, but eventually as the new dominant power.

This is an excellent account of the Celtic incursion into the Greek and Hellenstic world, giving us a much more balanced picture of the Galatians, and of their impact on that world.

1 – The Approach to Macedon
2 – The Raids into Macedon
3 – The Raids into Greece
4 – Two New Galatian States
5 – Galatians into Asia
6 – Mercenaries
7 – Galatia and its Wars
8 – Galatia Facing Pergamon and Rome
9 – Collapse and Recovery
10 – The End of Scordisci
11 – The Kingdom of Galatia
12 – A Roman Province

Author: John D. Grainger
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2020

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