Gallic invasion of the Balkans

Gallic invasion of the Balkans

The Gallic Invasion of Balkans was a mass migration of Gauls that moved into the Balkan peninsula in 281 BCE to 279 BCE. A part of the invasion crossed over to Anatolia and eventually settled in the area that came to be named after them, Galatia.

The 279 BCE invasion of Greece proper was preceded by a series of other military campaigns waged toward southern Balkans and against the Macedonian Kingdom, favoured by the messy climate ensuing from the intricated succession to Alexander. All the invasions involved a coalition of Celtic tribes arising from those Transdanubian and Illyric areas that they occupied during the 4th century BCE.

Former relations between Celts and Greek world

During the 4th century BCE, Celtic peoples settled on Adriatic and Danubian areas, and began friendly relationships with the Greek world. [cite web |url=*.html#ref132 |title=The Geography of Strabo |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work=Lacus Curtius | |date= ] In 335 BCE, Alexander the Great launched a campaign against Thracian and Illyrian tribes in order to secure the Danube as the northern boundary of the Macedonian Kingdom. During this campaign, a delegation of Celtic ambassadors met him near the confluence between Danube and Morava rivers and exchanged of hospitality gifts.

A Celtic delegation met with the Macedonian king again in 323 BCE.

Early invasions

After the death of Alexander the Great, Celtic armies began to bear down on the southern regions, threatening Greece and Macedon. The first attacks against Paeonians and Triballi were launched in 310 BCE. In 298 BCE, they attempted a deep penetration attack into Thrace and Macedon where they suffered a heavy defeat near Haemus Mons at the hands of Cassander, son of Antipater.

The "great expedition" of 279 BCE

281 BCE marks the turning point of the Celtic military pressure southward in the Balkans, and towards Greece. The collapse of Lysimachus' successor kingdom in Thrace opened the way for the migration [cite book |title=Alexander to Actium |last=Green |first=Peter |authorlink= |coauthors= |year= |publisher= |location= |isbn= |pages=133 |url= ] . The cause for this is explained by Pausanias as greed for lootcite web |url= |title=Guide for Greece |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work=Pausanias | |date= ] and Justin as a result of overpopulation [cite web |url= |title=Justin Book XXIV |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work=Justin | |date= ] . According to Pausanias, an initial probing raid was led by a Cambaules which withdrew when they realized they were too few in numbers.

In 280 BCE a great army, comprising about 85,000 warriors [cite book |title=Les Celtes, histoire et dictionnaire |last=Kruta |first=Venceslas |authorlink= |coauthors= |year= |publisher= |location= |isbn= |pages= |url=493 ] , coming from Pannonia and split into three divisions, marched South in a "great expedition" [cite book |title=The Ancient Celts |last=Cunlife |first=Barry |authorlink= |coauthors= |year= |publisher= |location= |isbn= |pages=80-81 |url= ] [The term is a calque of the parallel French Grande expédition, that indicates, in French scholarly usage, the 279 BCE surge of military campaigns on Greece.] to Macedon and central Greece. 20,000 of those, headed by Cerethrius, moved against the Thracians and Triballi. Another division, led by Brennus [Brennus is said to have belonged to an otherwise unknown tribe called the Prausi. See: Strabo, "Geography" [*.html#1.13 4:1.13] . Not to be confused with the Brennus of the previous century, who sacked Rome in 387 BCE.] and Acichorius [Some writers suppose that Brennus and Acichorius are the same persons, the former being only a title and the latter the real name. Schmidt, "De fontibus veterum auctorum in enarrandis expeditionibus a Gallis in Macedoniania susceptis," Berol. 1834] [Citation
last = Smith
first = William
author-link = William Smith (lexicographer)
contribution = Acichorius
editor-last = Smith
editor-first = William
title = Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology
volume = 1
pages = 12
publisher =
place = Boston, MA
year = 1867
contribution-url =
] moved against Paionians while a third division, headed by Bolgios, aimed for Macedonians and Illyrians.

Bolgios inflicted heavy losses on the Macedonians, whose young king, Ptolemy Keraunos, was captured and decapitated. However, Bolgios' contingent was repulsed by the Macedonian nobleman Sosthenes. Sosthenes, in turn, was attacked and defeated by Brennus and his division, who were then free to ravage the country.

After these expeditions returned home, Brennus urged and persuaded them to mount a third united expedition against central Greece, led by himself and Acichorius. The army featured 152,000 infantry and 24,400 cavalry, but, as a matter of fact, the actual number of horsemen has to be intended half as big: Pausanias describes how they used a tactic called "trimarcisia", where each cavalryman was supported by two mounted servants, who could supply him with a spare horse should he have to be dismounted, or take his place in the battle, should he be killed or wounded. [cite web |url= 10.19 |title="Description of Greece" |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work=Pausinus | |date= ] [cite web |url= 24.4-6 |title=Epitome of Pompeius Trogus' Histories |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work=Junianus Justinus | |date= ]

The battle of Thermopylae (279 BCE)

A Greek coalition made up of Aetolians, Boetians, Athenians, Phocians, and other Greeks north of Corinth took up quarters at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, on the east coast of central Greece. During the initial assault, Brennus' forces suffered heavy losses. Hence he decided to send a large force under Acichorius against Aetolia. The Aetolian detachment, as Brennus hoped, left Thermopylae to defend their homes. The Aetolians joined the defense en masse - the old and women joining the fight. [cite web |url= |title=Guide of Greece, |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work=Pausanias | |date= ] . Realizing that the Gallic sword was dangerous only at close quarters, the Aetolians resorted to skimishing tactics [cite book |title=Alexander to Actium |last=Green |first=Peter |authorlink= |coauthors= |year= |publisher= |location= |isbn= |pages=133 |url= ] . According to Pausanias, only half the number that had set out for Aetolia returned.

Eventually Brennus found a way around the pass at Thermopylae but the Greeks escaped by sea.

The attack on Delphi

Brennus pushed on to Delphi where he was defeated and forced to retreat, after which he died of wounds sustained in the battle. His army fell back to the river Spercheios where it was routed by the Thessalians and Malians.

Both historians who relate the attack on Delphi, Pausanias and Junianus Justinus, say the Gauls were defeated and driven off. They were overtaken by a violent thunderstorm which made it impossible to manoeuvre or even hear their orders. The night that followed was frosty, and in the morning the Greeks attacked them from both sides. Brennus was wounded and the Gauls fell back, killing their own wounded who were unable to retreat. That night a panic fell on the camp, as the Gauls divided into factions and fought amongst themselves. They were joined by Acichorius and the rest of the army, but the Greeks forced them into a full-scale retreat. Brennus took his own life, by drinking neat wine according to Pausanias, by stabbing himself according to Justinus. Pressed by the Aetolians, the Gauls fell back to the Spercheius, where the waiting Thessalians and Malians destroyed them. [cite web |url= 10.23 |title=Pausanias, Description of Greece |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work= | |date= ] [cite web |url= 24.7-8 |title=Junianus Justinus, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus' Philippic Histories |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work= | |date= , [ 24.7-8] ]

The damned gold of Delphi

Despite of the Greek accounts about the defeat of the Gauls, the Roman literary tradition liked best a far different version.
Strabo reports a story told in his time of a semi-legendary treasure - the "aurum Tolosanum", fifteen thousand talents of gold and silver - supposed to have been the curse gold looted during the sack of Delphi and brought back to Tolosa (modern Toulouse, France) by the Tectosages, who were said to have been part of the invading army.

More than a century and a half past the alleged sack, Romans will rule the Gallia Narbonensis.On 105 BCE, while marching to Arausio, the Proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul Quintus Servilius Caepio plundered the sanctuaries of the town of Tolosa, whose inhabitants had joined the Cimbri, finding over 50,000 15 lb. bars of gold and 10,000 15 lb. bars of silver. The riches of Tolosa were shipped back to Rome, but only the silver made it; the gold was stolen by a band of marauders, who were believed to have been hired by Caepio himself. The Gold of Tolosa was never found, and was said to have been passed all the way down to the last heir of the Servilii Caepiones, Marcus Junius Brutus.

In 105 BCE, Caepio refused to co-operate with his superior officer, Gnaeus Mallius Maximus, on the basis he thought of him as a "novus homo", deciding by himself to engage in battle against the Cimbri, on the Rhone. There the Roman army suffered a crushing defeat and complete destruction, in the so called Battle of Arausio (modern Orange).

Upon his return to Rome, Caepio was tried for "the loss of his Army" and embezzlement. He was convicted and given the harshest sentence allowable; he was stripped of his Roman citizenship, forbidden fire and water within eight hundred miles of Rome, fined 15,000 talents (about 825,000 lb) of gold, and forbidden from seeing or speaking to his friends or family until he had left for exile.

He spent the rest of his life exiled in Smyrna in Asia Minor. His defeat and the ensuing ruin were looked upon as a punishment for his sacrilege theft.

Strabo distances himself from this account, arguing that the defeated Gauls were in no position to carry off such spoils, and that, in any case, Delphi had already been despoiled of its treasure by the Phocians during the Third Sacred War in the previous century.cite web |url=*.html#1.13 4:1.13 |title=Strabo, Geography |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work= | |date= ] However, Brennus' legendary pillage of Delphi is presented as fact by some popular modern historians. [As did, for example, Peter Berresford Ellis, in his "The Celtic Empire", Constable, 1990, pp. 82-84.]

The kingdom of Tylis and the enclave of Galatians

Some of the survivors settled in Thrace, founding a short-lived city-state named Tyle. [cite web |url= |title=Celtic Settlement in North-Western Thrace during the Late Fourth and Third Centuries BC |accessdate=2008-09-21 |work=Nikola Theodossiev | |date= ] A group of Gauls were transported over to Asia Minor by Nicomedes I in order to help him defeat his brother and secure the throne of Bithynia. They eventually settled in the region that came to be named after them as Galatia. They were defeated by Antiochus I, and as a result, they were confined to barren highlands in the center of Anatolia. [cite book |title=The Ancient Celts |last=Cunliffe |first=Barry |authorlink= |coauthors= |year= |publisher= |location= |isbn= |pages=83 |url= ]


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