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Galatia: Celtic Anatolia

Ancient Galatia was an area in the highlands of central Anatolia in modern Turkey. Galatia was bounded on the north by Bithynia and Paphlagonia, on the east by Pontus, on the south by Lycaonia and Cappadocia, and on the west by the remainder of Phrygia, the eastern part of which the Gauls had invaded. The modern capital of Turkey, Ankara (ancient Ancyra), was also the capital of ancient Galatia.

Celtic Galatia

Galatia was named for the immigrant Gauls from Thrace, who became its ruling caste in the 3rd century BC. It has been called the "Gallia" of the East, Roman writers calling its inhabitants Galli. They were an intermixture of Gauls and Greeks, and hence Francis Bacon and other Renaissance writers called them "Gallo-Graeci," and the country "Gallo-Graecia".

The Galatians were in their origin a part of the great Celtic migration which invaded Macedon, led by the 'second' Brennus, a Gaulish chief. He invaded Greece in 281 BC with a huge warband and was turned back in the nick of time from plundering the temple of Apollo at Delphi. At the same time, another Gaulish group were migrating with their women and children through Thrace. They had split off from Brennus' Gauls in 279 BC, and had migrated into Thrace under their leaders Leonnorius and Lutarius. These Gaulish invaders appeared in Asia Minor in 278–277 BC; others invaded Macedonia, killed the Ptolemaic king Ptolemy Ceraunus but were eventually ousted by Antigonus Gonatas, the grandson of the defeated Diadoch Antigonus the One-Eyed.

Gaul Soldiers

As so often happens in cases of invasion, the invaders came at the express invitation of Nicomedes I of Bithynia, who required help in a dynastic struggle against his brother. Three tribes of Gauls crossed over from Thrace to Asia Minor. They numbered about 10,000 fighting men and about the same number of women and children, divided into three tribes, Trocmi, Tolistobogii and Tectosages. They were eventually defeated by the Seleucid king Antiochus I, in a battle where the Seleucid war elephants shocked the Celts. While breaking the momentum of the invasion, the Galatians were by no means exterminated.

Instead, the migration led to the establishment of a long-lived Gaulish territory in central Anatolia, which included the eastern part of ancient Phrygia, a territory that became known as Galatia. There they ultimately settled, and being strengthened by fresh accessions of the same clan from Europe, they overran Bithynia and supported themselves by plundering neighbouring countries.

The constitution of the Galatian state is described by Strabo: conformably to Gaulish custom, each tribe was divided into cantons, each governed by a chief ('tetrarch') of its own with a judge under him, whose powers were unlimited except in cases of murder, which were tried before a council of 300 drawn from the twelve cantons and meeting at a holy place, twenty miles southwest of Ancyra, which was likely to have been a sacred oak grove, for it was called 'Drynemeton' the "fane of the oaks" drys + nemeton "sacred ground". The local population of Cappadocians were left in control of the towns and most of the land, paying tithes to their new overlords, who formed a military aristocracy and kept aloof in fortified farmsteads, surrounded by their bands.

The Gauls were great warriors, respected by Greeks and Romans. They hired themselves out as mercenary soldiers, sometimes fighting on both sides in the great battles of the times. For years the Gaulish chieftains and their warbands ravaged the western half of Asia Minor, as allies of one or other of the warring princes, without any serious check, until they sided with the renegade Seleucid prince Antiochus Hierax, who reigned in Asia Minor. Hierax tried to defeat king Attalus I of Pergamum (241–197 BC), but instead, the hellenised cities united under his banner, and his armies inflicted several severe defeats upon them, about 232 forcing them to settle permanently and to confine themselves to the region to which they had already given their name. The theme of the Dying Gaul (a famous statue displayed in Pergamon) remained a favorite in Hellenistic art for a generation. Their right to the district was formally recognized. The three Gaulish tribes were settled where they afterwards remained, the Tectosages round Ancyra, the Tolistobogii round Pessinus, sacred to Cybele, and the Trocmi round Tavium.

But the power of the Gauls was not yet broken. The Attalid Pergamene king himself soon employed their services in the increasingly devastating wars of Asia Minor; another band deserted from their Egyptian overlord Ptolemy IV after a solar eclipse had broken their spirits.

In the early 2nd century BC they proved terrible allies of Antiochus the Great, the last Seleucid king trying to regain suzerainity over Asia Minor, but after the defeat of the Seleucid king to the Romans, Rome at last proved a worthy protection against them.

In 189 BC an expedition was sent against them under Caius Manlius Vulso, who defeated them. Henceforward their military power declined and they fell at times under Pontic ascendancy, from which they were finally freed by the Mithridatic Wars, in which they heartily supported Rome.

In the settlement of 64 BC Galatia became a client-state of the Roman empire, the old constitution disappeared, and three chiefs (wrongly styled “tetrarchs“) were appointed, one for each tribe. But this arrangement soon gave way before the ambition of one of these tetrarchs, Deiotarus, the contemporary of Cicero and Julius Caesar, who made himself master of the other two tetrarchies and was finally recognized by the Romans as 'king' of Galatia.

Celtic Capital in Anatolia: Ankara

The history of Ankara, can be traced back to the Bronze Age Hatti civilization, which was succeeded in the 2nd millennium BC by the Hittites, in the 10th century BC by the Phrygians, and later by the Lydians, Persians, Macedonians, Galatians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans.

In 278 BC, the city, along with the rest of central Anatolia, was occupied by the Celtic race of Galatians, who were the first to make Ankara one of their main tribal centres, the headquarters of the 'Tectosage' tribe. Other centres were Pessinos, today's Balhisar, for the 'Trocmi' tribe; and Tavium, to the east of Ankara, for the 'Tolstibogii' tribe. The city was then known as Ancyra. The Celtic element was probably relatively small in numbers; a warrior aristocracy which ruled over Phrygian-speaking peasants. However, the Celtic language continued to spoken in Galatia for many centuries. At the end of the 4th century AD, St. Jerome, a native of Galatia, observed that the language spoken around Ankara was very similar to that being spoken in the northwest of the Roman world near Trier. See Tectosages of Volcae


Pessinus was the city in Asia Minor (presently Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey) on the upper course of the river Sangarios (modern day Sakarya River), 120 km SW of Ankara, from which the mythological King Midas is said to have ruled a greater Phrygian realm. It certainly dated back to 700BC. It was a major, hellenized city in the region of Galatia since the fourth century BC. The Seleucids lost it to Attalid Pergamon, which became part of the Roman Empire where it is was assigned to the provincia Galatia (later part of Pontus diocese).

Its greatest pride was the greatest temple of the Mother Goddess Cybele, said to be founded by Midas, which gave it prestige and even temporary political autonomy, but in 205BC a Roman Senate delegation got the aniconic statue transferred to Rome, introducing the Magna Mater cult there to help fight Carthage's Hannibal. The statue was first placed in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill, but in 191BC a new sanctuary was built for her on the summit of the hill, one of the most sacred places in Rome.

It is known to be reached by Christianity in the fifth century AD. After the Byzantines lost it to the Seljuk Turks, it became an inconspicuous mountain village at 900m height, gradually getting depopulated since it was fully protected, no modern construction allowed. The last constructions from Antiquity were pulled down in the 19th century, but archeologists from the Ghent University are digging there since 1967.

The Kybele Archaeological Culture Center, located in Ballihisar Village of Eskişehir's Sivrihisar district, has on display artifacts dating to the Phrygian and Roman eras from the ancient city of Pessinus.


Figure of Celtic Bull Head, Tavium, Yozgat, TurkeyTavium, or Tavia, was the chief city of the Galatian tribe of Trocmi, one of the three Celtic tribes which migrated from the Danube Valley to Galatia in the 3rd century BCE. Owing to its position on the high roads of commerce was an important trading post. The site was successively occupied by Hittites, Cimmarians, Persians, Celts, Greeks, Romans, and Ottoman Turks. At the time of the Roman Empire, Tavium was an important crossroads and a stopping place on the caravan routes.

One of the few things we do know about Tavium was that there was metalworking, because coins have been found that were minted there in the early 1st century bearing the likenesses of Marcus Aurelius and Elagabalus. Copper, tin, iron and silver were mined in the nearby mountains. If we can draw parallels with other Celtic sites of the time, the smelting and stamping was done by a small group of artisans working in one or two stone huts.

In the temple at Tavium there was a colossal statue of Jupiter in bronze, greatly venerated by the Galatians. There was some doubt about the exact site of the city, but it is today generally believed to be the ruins situated close to the village of Nefez Keui (Nefes Köy, today known as Büyüknefes), inhabited during the winter by nomadic Turkish tribes, lying in a very fertile plain east of River Halys, in Yozgat Province.

House built most probably with the same technique which Hittites and Celts built their houses using earth and wood in the ancient times (except the glass windows)

These ruins were partly used in building the neighbouring village of Yuzgat. We find there the remains of a theatre and possibly of a temple of Jupiter; these have a number of inscriptions, mostly Byzantine. In the Notitiæ Episcopatuum this see is mentioned up to the 13th century as the first suffragan of Ancyra.

The names of five bishops of the area are known: Dicasius, present at the Councils of Neocæsarea and Nice; Julian, at the Robber Synod of Ephesus (449), and at the Council of Chalcedon (451), and a signer of the letter from the Galatian bishops to the Emperor Leo (458); Anastasius, present at the Council of Constantinople (553); Gregory at the Council in Trullo (692); Philaretus at Constantinople (869).

Roman and Christian Galatia

On the death of the third king Amyntas in 25 BC, however, Galatia was incorporated by Octavian Augustus in the Roman empire, though near his capital Ancyra (modern Ankara) Pylamenes, the king's heir, rebuilt a temple of the Phrygian goddess Men to venerate Augustus (the Monumentum Ancyranum), as a sign of fidelity. It was on the walls of this temple in Galatia that the major source for the Res Gestae of Augustus were preserved for modernity. Few of the provinces proved more enthusiastically loyal to Rome. The Galatians also practiced a form of Romano-Celtic polytheism, common in Celtic lands.

During his second missionary journey Paul, accompanied by Silas and Timothy (Acts 16:6), visited the "region of Galatia," where he was detained by sickness (Epistle to Galatians 4:13), and had thus the longer opportunity of preaching to them the gospel. On his third journey he went over "all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order" (Acts 18:23). During the journeys of Paul he was received with enthusiasm in Galatia. In Acts 14:8-23, at Lystra the multitude could scarcely be restrained from sacrificing to Paul, assuming that he and Barnabas were gods (calling them Hermes and Zeus) after Paul healed a man who "was crippled from birth and had never walked" (Acts 14:8). It is reported that even "the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds" (14:13). Paul emphatically urged them not to do so; he was later stoned by a crowd of Galatians (Acts 18:19-20) and left for dead. Despite this, a portion of the Galatians seem to have retained belief in the gospel Paul preached to them (Gal.1:2b, where the plural phrase "churches of Galatia" is used). Crescens was sent thither by Paul toward the close of his life (2 Timothy 4:10).

Josephus related the biblical figure Gomer to Galatia. "For Gomer founded those whom the Greeks now call Galatians, [Galls,] but were then called Gomerites." Antiquities of the Jews, I:6. Although others have related Gomer to Cimmerians.

The Galatians were still speaking the Celtic Galatian language in the time of St. Jerome (347–420 CE), who wrote that the Galatians of Ancyra and the Treveri of Trier (in what is now the German Rhineland) spoke the same language.

In an administrative reorganisation about 386-95 two new provinces succeeded it, Galatia Prima and Galatia Secunda or - Salutaris, which included part of Phrygia.

The fate of the Galatian people is a subject of some uncertainty, but they seem ultimately to have been absorbed into the Greek- and/or Turkish-speaking populations of west-central Anatolia. Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Celtic Tomb Near Gordium of King Midas

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