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The Gauls, a vast horde of men, whether moved by shortage of land or hope of plunder, feeling assured that no people through which they would pass was their match in war, under the leadership of Brennus came into the country of the Dardanians. There strife broke out among them;
about twenty thousand men, with Lonorius and Lutarius as their chiefs, seceded from Brennus and turned aside into Thrace. There, when they had penetrated as far as Byzantium, contending against those who resisted and imposing tribute upon those who sought peace, they occupied for
a considerable time the coast of the Propontis, holding as tributaries the cities of the district. (Livy 38.16.1–3; E. T. Sage translation)
Attempts to understand the mechanisms and extent of interactions between communities of Late Iron Age temperate Europe, labeled in the ancient sources as “Gauls,” “Celts,” or “Galatians,”2 in opposition to their “Thracian” contemporaries in the eastern Balkans, is largely influenced by available narratives of the “Celtic expansion” in southeastern Europe and
the early third-century military campaigns. While references to these rather dramatic events by Classical Mediterranean authors, like the passage of Livy cited above, continue to be important sources about contacts between “Celts” and “Thracians,” efforts to incorporate available
archaeological data into the discussion provide some insights into cultural phenomena, which remained outside the scope of the ancient literary sources. Finding a correlation between historical and archaeological evidence is confined to topics such as mobility, migration, tribute,
and warfare, which are constituent components of contact between individuals or groups with different cultural backgrounds. Other issues, including the impact of these encounters on social transformations in the eastern Balkans during the last third of the first millennium, as well as changes in expressions of status and identity in the region, are reflected only in archaeological sources. By combining different types of evidence, the aim of the present overview is to examine interaction between the Late Iron Age communities of “Celts” and “Thracians” and to emphasize the factors that contributed to both the diffusion of cultural traits or La
Tène3 cultural templates in Hellenistic Thrace and their modifications in the local milieu.
24.2 Early Long-Range Contacts Along the Danube – Visible and Invisible
Ongoing debates about a supposed “Thracian” link in the transmission of “Oriental” or “Orientalizing” elements to early “Celtic” art (Frey 1984, 262–263; 2004; Bouzek 1997, 253–254; 2012; Megaw and Megaw 2002, 488–491; Pare 2012) not only provide a fruitful area for speculation about the nature of the earliest interactions, but also highlight the problems of the visibility of long-distance contacts between the Iron Age inhabitants of transalpine
Europe and communities in southeastern Europe. Almost seven decades ago P. Jacobsthal (1944, 37) considered the bronze neck ring from Glauberg, a chance find from the vicinity of a hillfort (“Fürstensitz”) (Baitinger, Hansen, and Pare 2012) in the present-day German province of Hessen, as “possibly the work of an artisan from the East, employed by the Celts.” The search for the origin of various stylistic influences and “eastern Connections” goes hand in hand with ideas about the “agency of the Thracian metalwork” (Powell 1971, 184–193; Fischer 1983; Luschey 1983), which envision the movement of craftsmen and diffusion of social practices among elite groups (Frey 2000, 54), as well as the transfer of symbols among different cultural entities, as early as the fifth century (Kossack 2000; Bouzek 2002; 2005, 94; Venclová 2002, 74–75 on art style as “import”). Identifying external “intellectual” impulses and tracing back the artistic idea or image to its original source, however, has proved to be a difficult task, due to the considerable degree of transformation of Exogenous elements into a “new and original La Tène product” (Venclová 2002, 75; Megaw and Megaw 2011).
Leaving aside the misty field of symbolism, trait chasing, and the stylistic origins of the elusive “Celtic” art, it is still not possible to substantiate the concept of direct, long-range interrelations between Thrace and temperate Europe in the middle of the first millennium.
“Exotic” finds of a Baltic amber loop in a grave under Mushovitsa tumulus near Duvanli and amber beads from tumulus N1 near Etropole are considered to be the latest indications of a complex system of contacts and exchange linking northern and southern Europe during the Early Iron Age (Ivanova and Kuleff 2009; Gergova 2009). Distribution of the highly praised,
fossilized resin to Thrace along the “amber routes” and the relevant model of “down-the-line trade” (Bouzek 1997, 122–123), however, do not require extended traffic networks, caravan merchants, or large-scale commercial enterprises. There is no clear evidence for the constant and reciprocal flow of raw materials and commodities by overland or river transport across the
Danubian regions at the beginning of the Late Iron Age. Rather, a relay system of exchange (Bouzek 2009) between a large number of small political and economic entities may have been predominant.
Recently C. Pare (2012) has suggested that trade of horses and horse-gear from the “Thraco-Scythian Lower Danube” to northeastern Adriatic regions and across the Alps brought the images of raptors, monsters, gryphons, and other fantastic beasts to the west.
The idea merits attention, since horses as mounts or chariot teams were most likely valued not only by the Hellenes, Scythians, or Thracians. The scientific basis, however, for this “trade” mechanism among the elites and more conclusive evidence for the arrival of superior “eastern”
breeds in the lands of the “Celts” are awaited.
In contrast to this rather dim picture of archaeologically “invisible” early long-range contacts, there is the short remark of Herodotus, often cited and frequently discussed, which describes the Danube river as the counterpart of the Nile in his Egyptian logos (2.33.3–4) (Pearson 1934; Frey 1985, 232; Archibald 2006, 122; Sonnabend 2007, 82–83; Dan 2011).
“Conventional” geographic knowledge and sketchy description of the major European river, which “rises among the Celts … cutting Europe across in the middle … as far as the Black Sea” is followed by Herodotus’ statement that the Danube “flows through inhabited land,familiar to many” (2.34.1). Using the framework of a symmetrical geographic image, the note refers to remote regions of the oikoumene (Keyser 2011), although it remains unknown what kind of knowledge about the lands along the Danube and their inhabitants was actually available to the Hellenic public of Herodotus in the late fifth century (Tomaschitz 2002, 16–17; Randsborg 1993, 117 on the ethnocentric perspective of the ancient Greek authors and Herodotus as the sole early exception). The short remark, however, gives the impression that these regions were not terra incognita, as assumed in recent scholarship (Cunliffe 2010, 19). Without additional textual or archaeological evidence in hand on the matter of early relations between the “western” and the “northern barbarian” communities, it seems reasonable to summarize the present stage of research on the topic with the still valid “verdict” that “such links may indeed have existed, but remain unproven” (Megaw and Megaw 2002, 491).
24.3 Galli ad portas
The earliest meeting of “Celts” and “Thracians” attested in the ancient sources (Arr., Anab. 1.4.6–8; Str. 7.3.8) was occasioned by a Celtic delegation to Alexander the Great, while he was on campaign against the Triballoi in 335 (Tomaschitz 2002, 94–95; Theodossiev 2005, 85–86; Rustoiu 2012, 357–378). The event took place in northwestern Thrace during negotiations
between the king of the Macedonians and the local Triballian ruler, Syrmos. The Celtic envoys “said that they had come to seek Alexander’s friendship” and Alexander “gave pledges of amity, and received pledges from them in return” (Arr., Anab. 1.4.6–7). In the context of diplomatic exchange, one can understand the popular anecdote about the “Celtic”
fear “that the sky would some time or other fall down upon them” (Arr., Anab. 1.4.8) as a formula specific to oath, like that preserved in the legendary Irish tale of Táin Bó Cúailnge (Freeman 1996, 44). The emissaries presented themselves as coming from “the Celts, who dwelt near the Ionian gulf” (Adriatic Sea); this problematic phrase has generated a long academic debate about the question of which “Celts” (and from which side of the Adriatic) had sent this delegation to the lands of the Triballoi (Tomaschitz 2002, 94; Guštin 2005, 52). Analysis of the earliest La Tène artifacts in Transylvania (Rustoiu 2008, 67–80; 2011, 163) suggests the presence of Senones from Picenum in Italy among the groups of “Celtic colonists” who settled in the inner Carpathian zone during the second half of the fourth
century; such evidence provides hints for understanding the “Adriatic” connection of these Celtic envoys. A solid gold neck ring from Gorni Tsibar (Montana region) in northwestern Bulgaria, the most easterly find of a gold object decorated in original La Tène design, has been dated by form and function to the third quarter of the fourth century and belongs to
the same time, when Alexander met the Celtic envoys (Megaw 2004; Theodossiev 2005, 86–87; Emilov 2007, 58). Due to a lack of reliable information about the circumstances of its discovery, it is unclear if the precious neck ring came from a grave or “ritual” deposit in an
area close to the southern bank of the Danube river. O.-H. Frey and M. Szabó (1991, 481) interpret this sole example of golden torque from ancient Thrace, decorated in fourth-century “Celtic” Waldalgesheim style, as booty taken after the “victory” of Cassander over Celtic warriors (for this battle, see below). N. Theodossiev (2005, 86) suggests a more peaceful explanation,
considering the item as a “political gift of some Gaulish chieftain to [an] unnamed Triballian aristocrat” during early interactions between the newcomers and local communities.
It is doubtful, however, if the gender attribution of this high-status marker should be limited only to males, especially bearing in mind the close parallels between the Gorni Tsibar neck ring and those adornments discovered in the last resting place of “the Celtic princess”
in Waldalgesheim near Mainz in Germany (Joachim 1995, 60–73), as well as those of a noble female of the “Celtic” Senones, buried in grave N2 in Santa Paulina Filotrano near Ancona (Landolfi 2000, with regional overview). The precious neck ring is part of the personal ornament; when included in a set of jewelry, it became an element of a female costume,
reserved for “Celtic” ladies. Despite the fact that we deal here with a single item and not a full set, it seems plausible that the precious neck ring reached the lower Danube region as a result of exogamy and most likely reflects a high-status woman moving from the communities of Transylvanian Celts to their southern neighbors (Emilov 2007, 58–59; Arnold 2005 and Rustoiu 2011 on individual mobility as social practice).
inhabiting the regions close to the tribes in Thrace” (Diod. 17.113.2) arrived in Babylon to meet the Macedonian king. The court of Alexander was impressed by their skeue (Arr., Anab. 7.15.4), a term which refers to the overall appearance, clothes, jewelry, and armament of the Celtic diplomats. Despite some doubts about the historicity of the event among modern
scholars (Strobel 1996, 166; Tomaschitz 2002, 95), it is reasonable to suppose that these representatives came from the same “Celtic” group as the previous delegation (Alessandri 1997, 149). The envoys took a long journey to Mesopotamia to confirm the earlier agreement, but it may have been during this mission that the wealth of Anatolia and of the regions around the Straits was noted for future reference (Rankin 1996, 85–86; Cunliffe 1997, 79–80).
Two unusual sources of information for historic events, Seneca the Younger (QNat. 3.11.3) and Pliny the Elder (HN 31.53, citing Theophr. F.216, Fortenbaugh et al.), contain vague mention of conflict between “Celtic” warrior bands and the Macedonian king Cassander “somewhere in Haemus” (Werner 1996, 284; Tomaschitz 2002, 95; Emilov 2005b). These
passages focus on the origin of terrestrial waters after deforestation, which was caused by “Gauls” who had retreated to the mountain and chopped down trees for the construction of a wooden palisade when “blockaded” by the Macedonian king. Additional evidence about a similar conflict is supplied by Pausanias (10.19.5), who observes that “the Celts conducted
their first foreign expedition under the leadership of Cambaules” and advanced “as far as Thrace”; the raid was abandoned because the “barbarians” “lost heart,” “realizing that they were too few in number to be a match for the Greeks.” Establishing a chronology for these encounters presents considerable difficulties (Delev 2003, 107–108; Boteva 2010, 43). The mention of Hellenic adversaries against the “Celtic” raiders favors treating these texts from different sources as related to a single event in Thrace during the last decade of the fourth or the very beginning of the third century (Nankov 2009, 273–274).
In a broader historical context, the military expedition led by Cambaules and the episode with the Macedonian army in Haemo can presumably be linked to the “Celtic” settlement in the lands of the tribal groups (in present-day eastern Serbia), designated by the Mediterranean
writers as Autariatae (Theodossiev 2000, 83; Džino 2007, 56 on “Illyrian” Autariatae as a description of “common regional cultural habitus”). The arrival of “Celtic” warrior groups at the borders of the Triballian territories not only changed the landscape of power in the Danubian regions to the west of the Iron Gates (Blečić-Kavur and Kavur 2010), but also triggered
a chain of events leading to Cassander’s involvement in affairs at the northern fringes of the Hellenistic world (Nankov 2009, 273). Thus, the available information about the earliest “Celtic” military expedition into Thrace and the preceding embassies seems to describe the individual initiatives of different “Celtic” communities, rather than a long-term strategy for conquest with a corresponding shift from diplomacy to warfare.
Until the time of the Great expedition to Delphi in the early 270s, nothing more is heard of the “Celts” near Thrace; and so for the period before the battle at Corupedion, one may imagine an entire network of agreements among various polities in the central and eastern Balkans arranged by Cassander and Lysimachus, which managed to neutralize the danger of
“Celtic” incursions (Lund 1992, 49–50). Other plausible explanations include the conclusion of agreements with neighboring “Celtic” groups that were not recorded in ancient authors (Rustoiu 2012, 362, on the duration of treaties for a period of one generation). Political turmoil after the end of Lysimachus’ kingdom left the communities on the “northern frontier”
exposed to “barbarian” invasions and the “Celts” would soon exploit the situation (Nachtergael 1977, 129–137; Hannestad 1993, 15–16; Strobel 1996, 186–226).
Almost every attempt in modern scholarship to reconstruct in detail the number, sequence, and routes of the “Celtic” invasions in ancient Thrace starts with a point about the “sad state of the extant sources” (Delev 2003; Tomaschitz 2007; Dimitrov 2010; Boteva 2010).
Allowing for the potential inaccuracies and biases of the ancient authors, as clearly demonstrated by Livy’s commentary on the motives of the “Gauls” and their “vast horde” (38.16.1, quoted at the outset of this chapter), the course of the main events and the several waves of “Celtic” incursions into Thrace linked to different stages of their Great expedition are tolerably
clear. According to Pausanias (10.19.7), one Cerethrius was chosen “to be leader against the Thracians and the tribe of the Triballoi” as part of the initial triple action, while Brennus and Acichorius invaded Paeonia and “Celtic” forces under Bolgios headed against Macedonia (Nachtergael 1977, 129; Tomaschitz 2002, 112–114). Since Cerethrius is not mentioned
again in the ancient written sources, it seems that the planned offensive on the eastern front during the “first wave” in 280 either failed or remained at preparation stage (Theodossiev 2005, 86; Boteva 2010, 44).
In the spring or early summer of 279, while Brennus led a “second wave” of raiders toward the wealth of the cities in Greece and “even greater treasures in sanctuaries, including votive offerings and coined silver and gold” (Paus. 10.19.8), two chiefs, Lonorius and Lutarius, broke away from Brennus’ force with 20,000 people and “turned aside into Thrace”
(Liv. 38.16.1–3). The event took place in Dardania, a rally territory for the “Celtic” advance to Macedonia and Greece during the Delphi campaign. The initial aim of Lonorius and Lutarius’ march was the core of the former realm of Lysimachus located around the Straits, but, after a brief conflict with Byzantion, the group comprised by the tribes of the Tectosages,
Tolostobogii, and Trocmi managed to cross into Asia Minor (Mitchell 1993, 14–16; Strobel 1996, 243–247; Darbyshire, Mitchell, and Vardar 2000; Tomaschitz 2002, 146–152; Mitchell 2003).
The “third wave” of invasion concerns the army of 15,000 infantry and 3000 horsemen, which, according to Justin (25.1.2–3), was left by Brennus “to defend the borders of their country.” Unlike the “second wave” of tribal migration (under Lonorius and Lutarius), the force of the “border guards” was a warrior contingent on a raiding campaign, defeating on
its way to the Straits the tribes of “Getae and Triballoi.” Justin’s description (25.1–2) of a meeting and subsequent conflict between these “Gauls” and Antigonos Gonatas in 278 or 277 is a mixture of Hellenistic royal propaganda and Roman stereotypes about “barbarians,”
but reveals in essence the unsuccessful attempt of a pretender to the Macedonian throne to hire the “Celtic” warrior group as mercenaries and his considerable difficulties in gaining victory over them (commentaries on the passages with different suggestions in Tomaschitz 2002, 124; Boteva 2010, 40–42).
In the aftermath of the Great expedition another group of “Celts” under the leadership of Komontorios arrived in the environs of Byzantion and established a royal residence (basileion) near Tylis (Polyb. 4.46.1–3). In the absence of Polybius’ references to “Celtic” relations with Byzantion (4.45.9–4.46.6), one could argue that these raids were just a series of military initiatives in search of booty with only limited and short-term impact on
the communities in Thrace. The kingdom of the Thracian Galatians survived until the late third century, however, when Kavaros, the last ruler of the royal residence near Tylis, intervened in the Byzantine-Rhodian conflict (Werner 1996, 288–289). Even if their polity was not a dominant political factor in the region (Lazarov 2010), it still played a significant role in the highly fragmented political landscape of southern Thrace after the
battle of Corupedion and the multiple “Celtic” raids in the eastern Balkans (Delev 2003; Dimitrov 2010; Emilov 2010).
In spite of the multiple efforts by modern scholars to search for the “capital” of the Thracian Galatians, the precise location of Tylis remains an enigma. Polybius’ descriptions of events around Byzantion imply that Tylis was not far away from the polis, but the available archaeological data neither provide support, nor refute such interpretation of the ancient text
(see Vagalinski 2010 about the ongoing debate and suggested “solutions”).
A coin hoard, hidden during the time of the Great expedition in front of the gate of the settlement center (identified as emporion Pistiros on the upper Hebros river) near Vetren, Pazardzhik region, as well as objects of La Tène type discovered in the layers of destruction there, point to the “Celtic” warriors as responsible for considerable damage on the site (Bouzek 2005; 2007). Repairs of fortification walls on Krakra hill (nowadays part of Pernik
in Sofia region) on the upper Strymon River and signs of looting and fire near Vetren mark the direction of the “Celtic expansion” toward the eastern Balkans and the Straits, but the majority of “urban” centers in southern Thrace, like Seuthopolis, Philippopolis, and Kabyle, as well as settlements in the lands of the Getai (in present-day northeastern Bulgaria and
southern Romania), survived this turbulent period in the early 270s.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
BY Julij Emilov
SOURCE A Companion to Ancient Thrace, First Edition. Edited by Julia Valeva, Emil Nankov, and Denver Graninger.
© 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.