Celts: Dio Cassius on spirited and untrustworthy Galatians (early third century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Dio Cassius on spirited and untrustworthy Galatians (early third century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified December 29, 2022, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=9770.

Author: Dio Cassius, Roman History, book 12, fragments 50 and 57.6b (link).

Comments: Lucius Cassius Dio, or Cassius Dio (who wrote his history about the Romans some time after 229 CE), was an intellectual from Nikaia in Bithynia who was also firmly embedded in the upper echelons of the Roman imperial elites as a son of a Roman senator who himself followed the career path of a senator. In this passage regarding Roman actions against Insubrians, who were a subset of Celtic or Galatian peoples, Dio outlines his overall stereotypes concerning the character of the Galatian people. The focus is on their supposed lack of intelligence and their corresponding highly “spirited” nature (which is often attributed to northern peoples in cold climates). This results, Dio claims, in their unpredictability in rushing from one emotion to another, from rash bravery to utter fear, for instance. In this respect, Dio’s view is also reflected in Polybios’ repeated notion about the “fickle” or “unpredictable” (athesia) Galatians / Celts (e.g. Polybius, Histories 2.32.8, 3.70.4, and 3.78.1). For the most substantial passages on Celts in Polybios’ Histories, go to this link.

Works consulted: B. Jones, “Cultural Interactions and Identities in Cassius Dio’s Early Books,” in Cassius Dio’s Forgotten History of Early Rome: The Roman History, Books 1-21, ed. Christopher Burden-Strevens and Mads Lindholmer (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 285–310.

Source of the translation: E. Cary and H.B. Foster, Dio’s Roman History, 9 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1914-27), public domain, adapted by Harland.


Book 12

[Dio’s overall stereotypes on Galatians / Celts]

50 The Romans were alarmed over an oracle of the Sibyl which told them that they must beware of the Galatians when a thunderbolt fell upon the Capitol near the temple of Apollo [ca. 228-225 BCE]. (2) The Galatians (Galatoi) [i.e. Gauls / Celts, and the Insubrians / Insybroi specifically] became dejected on seeing that the Romans had already taken the most favourable locations [for battle].

All men if they obtain the object of their first aim proceed more readily toward their subsequent goals, but if they miss it, lose interest in everything else. They, however, after the Galatic fashion and more than is usual with the rest of humanity, lay hold very eagerly to what they desire and cling most tenaciously to any success. But if they meet with the slightest obstacle, they have no hope left for the future. The lack of an ability to think (anoia) makes them inclined to expect whatever they want, and their spirited temperament (thymos) makes them ready to attack anything they encounter. They are prone to violent anger and rush into enterprises. For that reason, they do not possess within themselves any endurance, since it is impossible for reckless audacity to prevail for any time. If they ever face any setback they are unable (especially due to fear which takes them over) to recover themselves. They are plunged into a state of panic corresponding to their previous fearless daring. In a brief period they rush suddenly between the most opposite extremes, since they can supply no reasonable motive for either action.

After conquering the Insubrians, Aemilius celebrated a triumph and in it conveyed the foremost captives wearing armour up to the Capitol, making jokes at their expense because he had heard that they had sworn not to remove their breastplates before they had ascended the Capitol.


57 (6b) The entire Galatian descent group (genos) is naturally more or less easy-going (kouphos) [in a bad sense], cowardly (deilos), and untrustworthy (apistos). Just as they are readily over-confident in their expectations, even more readily they are frightened and fall into a panic. And the fact that they were no more trustworthy towards the Carthaginians (Karchedonians) will not only teach the rest of humankind a lesson never to dare to invade Italy . . .[remainder of fragment missing].

Leave a comment or correction

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *