Mysians, Cilicians, Galatians, and Thracians: Polybios on the mixed composition of Antiochos IV Epiphanes’ army (second century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Mysians, Cilicians, Galatians, and Thracians: Polybios on the mixed composition of Antiochos IV Epiphanes’ army (second century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 11, 2024,

Ancient author: Polybios, Histories 30.25-27 as cited by Athenaios, Sophists at Dinner, 5.194 and 10.439 (link to Greek text and translation)

Comments: Writing after 146 BCE, Polybios (Latinized as Polybius) of Megalopolis outlines the ethnic composition of the Seleukid king Antiochos IV Epiphanes (ruled 175-164 BCE) in connection with a procession set at Daphne near Antioch in Syria (ca. 166 BCE). The presence of Mysians, Cilicians, Thracians and Galatians in the parade suggests some degree of encounters among peoples within the Seleukid army.

Mixed ethnic composition of armies series:

  • Herodotos on the Persian king Xerxes’ army (link)
  • Curtius Rufus on the Persian king Darius III’s army (link)
  • Polybios on Hannibal’s army at the battle of Cannae and on military equipment (link)
  • Polybios on Italian armies and the Celtic invasion of 225 BCE (link)
  • Polybios on Ptolemy IV’s and Antiochos III’s armies (link)
  • Polybios on Antiochos IV’s army (link)


Book 30

25 This same king [Antiochos IV Epiphanes of the Seleukid kingdom] when he heard of the games celebrated in Macedonia by Aemilius Paullus the Roman general and ambitious of surpassing Paullus in magnificence, sent out embassies and sacred missions to the towns to announce the games he was about to give at Daphne, so that people in Greece were very eager to visit Antioch then.

The festival opened [in 166 BCE] with a procession composed as follows: It was headed by five thousand men in the prime of life armed after the Roman fashion and wearing breastplates of chain-armour. Next came five thousand Mysians, and immediately behind them three thousand Cilicians (Cilicians) armed in the manner of light infantry, wearing gold crowns. Next came three thousand Thracians and five thousand Galatians [i.e. Celts or Gauls]. They were followed by twenty thousand Macedonians of whom ten thousand bore golden shields, five thousand brazen shields and the rest silver shields. Next marched two hundred and fifty pairs of gladiators, and behind them a thousand horsemen from Nisa and three thousand from Antioch itself, most of whom had crowns and trappings of gold and the rest trappings of silver. Next to these came the so-called “companion cavalry,” numbering about a thousand, all with gold trappings, and next the regiment of “royal friends” of equal number and similarly decorated. Next a thousand picked horse followed by the so‑called “agema“, supposed to be the crack cavalry corps, numbering about a thousand. Last of all marched the “kataphract” or mailed horse, the horses and men being armed in complete mail, as the name indicated. All the above wore purple coats in many cases embroidered with gold and heraldic designs. Next came a hundred chariots drawn by six horses and forty drawn by four horses, and then a chariot drawn by four elephants and another drawn by a pair, and finally thirty-six elephants in single file with their housings.

It is a difficult task to describe the rest of the procession but I must attempt to give its main features. About eight hundred young men wearing gold crowns made part of it as well as about a thousand fat cattle and nearly three hundred cows presented by the various sacred missions and eight hundred ivory tusks. The vast quantity of images it is impossible to enumerate. For representations of all the gods and spirits mentioned or worshipped by men and of all the heroes were carried along, some gilded and others draped in garments embroidered with gold, and they were all accompanied by representations executed in precious materials of the myths relating to them as traditionally narrated.

Behind them came images of Night and Day, of Earth and Heaven, and of Dawn and Midday. The quantity of gold and silver plate may be estimated from what follows. The slaves of one of the royal “friends,” Dionysios, the private secretary, marched along carrying articles of silver plate none of them weighing less than a thousand drachmas, and six hundred of the king’s own slaves went by bearing articles of gold plate. Next there were about two hundred women sprinkling the crowd with perfumes from golden urns, and these were followed by eighty women seated in litters with golden feet and five hundred in litters with silver feet, all richly dressed. Such were the more remarkable features of the procession.

26 When the games, gladiatorial shows, and beast-fights, which lasted for the thirty days devoted to spectacles, were over, for the first five succeeding days every one who chose anointed himself in the gymnasium with saffron ointment out of gold jars: of those there were fifteen, and there were the same number of jars with ointment of cinnamon and spikenard. On the succeeding days ointments of fenugreek, marjoram, and orris were brought in, all of exquisite perfume. For banqueting there were sometimes a thousand tables laid and sometimes fifteen hundred, all furnished with most costly foods.

All the arrangements were made by the king in person. He rode on a pitiful pony along the procession, ordering it to advance or pause as the case might be. At banquets, again, he stood himself in the entrance and led in some of the guests, and ushered others to their seats, himself leading in also the attendants who carried the dishes. Then he would walk round the room, occasionally sitting down and occasionally reclining. Then, putting down as the case might be the cup or the morsel he was holding, he would jump up and change his place, going all round the banquet, accepting toasts standing from this man or that and making fun of the musical performance. Finally when the party had been going on for long and many of the guests had already left, the king, entirely wrapped up, was carried in by the mimes and deposited on the ground as if he were one of themselves. The band was now summoned, and he, jumping up, would dance and act with the burlesque players, so that all the guests were embarassed and left the feast. All the above display and outlay was provided for by the robberies he had committed in Egypt when he treacherously attacked king Philometor while yet a child, and partly by contributions from his friends. He had also sacrilegiously despoiled most of the temples.

27 Shortly after the end of the games Tiberius Gracchus and the other legates arrived in the quality of inspectors. Antiochos, however, was so clever and courteous when he met them that Tiberius and his colleagues, far from acquiring any real suspicion about him or detecting anything indicative of disaffection due to what had happened at Alexandria, even discredited those who said anything of the kind, owing to their exceedingly kind reception. For in addition to other favours, he even gave up his palace to them. He very nearly gave up his crown to them as well, so far his demeanour went, his real feelings were not so, but quite the reverse.


Source of the translation: W.R. Paton, Polybius: The Histories, 6 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1922-27), public domain (Paton passed away in 1921), adapted by Harland.

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