Celts: Priene inscription on Galatian “impiety” and “savagery” during the invasion (ca. 278-270 BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Priene inscription on Galatian “impiety” and “savagery” during the invasion (ca. 278-270 BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified August 21, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=12077.

Ancient authors: Citizens of Priene in western Asia Minor (Turkey), in IPriene 17 (link to PHI Greek text, also reproduced below the translation here) = F. Hiller von Gaertringen, Die Inschriften von Priene (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1906), 23-26 (no. 17) (link) = OGIS 765 (link).

IPriene 17 (Source: Hiller von Gaertringen)

Sketch of IPriene 17 from Hiller von Gaertringen.

Comments: Non-dominant or disliked peoples rarely make an appearance in epigraphy produced by Greeks because, in part, many such monuments are graves, decrees, dedications to gods, or honours focussed on the particular contributions of certain wealthier individuals (although sometimes such individuals were foreigners). These monuments are not a good place to talk about the people you do not like. This means that inscriptions do not often provide glimpses into ethnic prejudice and ethnic tensions (or other tensions, for that matter) in local social settings. So it is very important to pay close attention when they do, as with this inscription which sheds light on how the citizens of Priene (near the modern town of Güllübahçe, Turkey) would characterize Galatians or Celts in the context of the earliest invasions from the north (likely dating between 278-270 BCE). (I am grateful to Antti Lampinen, Finnish Institute of Athens, who pointed me to this specific inscription).

The inscription is a decree by the civic institution of the People (the citizen body) honouring a man named Sotas. He is primarily praised for his important contributions in organizing citizens of Priene and some supporters in the surrounding countryside in order to fend off the Galatians, a subset of Celts (likely subdivided further into three peoples or tribes, as in Strabo [link]). In the process, the story paints a picture of stark violence – slaughtering of inhabitants, burning of farms and looting of sanctuaries – perpetrated by the Galatians against the Prienians and other Greeks. Most importantly for our purposes, the narrative characterizes Galatians not only as “barbarians” but also more specifically as “impious” and “savage.” They wreak havoc not only on the people but also on the patron goddess of Priene herself, Athena Polias. As we know from the many ethnographic writings produced by the Greek literary elites (many in category two to your right), the Galatians were among those northern peoples who were consistently portrayed as extremely violent and war-like, and in many ways as the epitome of uncivilized “barbarians.” But here we see similar postures working themselves out within the Greek populace in social settings at the local level, rather than in Polybios’ or Strabo’s imagination or library, so to speak.

While there are other inscriptions from other city-states in Asia Minor that likewise mention or allude to the Galatian invasion (Kyzikos, Ilion, Magnesia, Thyateira, Erythrai, Ephesos, and Didyma to list most of the locales), few provide such clear characterizations of these peoples. Unlike Priene’s apparent if delayed military response, Erythrai seems to have found a way to negotiate or pay ransoms or tribute to the Galatians in order to avert ongoing attacks (IErythrai 24 and 28). The People of Kyzikos enumerate the important contributions of Philetairos, the first ruler of the Pergamene kingdom, to the city of Kyzikos, including his supply of extra wheat during the “war against the Galatians” (IMT 1485 = OGIS 748, lines 18-27 – link). A focus on the “impiety” of the invaders is echoed in inscriptions dealing with the plundering of the sanctuary at Delphi in Greece (279 BCE), such as the inscription set up by the People of the island of Kos who speak of the god Apollo’s role in punishing the “barbarians”on behalf of the Greeks (SIG³ 398 – link). Decades later the Magnesians still had a living memory of their god’s (Artemis Leukophryene’s) actions and their own contributions in resisting the invaders as they speak about “the . . . epiphany (?) . . . of Artemis and the assistance that their ancestors gave to the temple of Delphi, when they defeated in battle the barbarians who were attacking it with the purpose of plundering the possessions of the god” (IMagnMai 46 – link; ca. 207 BCE). And we know from another inscription (IDidyma 426, line 6-16, from 277 BCE) that the temple at Didyma (beside Miletos) in Asia Minor was plundered from mention of treasures dedicated to Apollo and to Artemis that survived looting in “the war.” Furthermore, the role of the gods in protecting the Greeks from the Galatian invaders may be represented on a relief from Kyzikos (dated to 278/277 BCE) which pictures Herakles clubbing a barbarian who has quite Galatian looking pants and shield (link). Also noteworthy is the votive monument from near Thyateira set up by a father for his son who had been saved by Apollo out from under the “mob of Galatians” (link).

The other thing to closely note about the Priene inscription is how the composers of the material in the inscription refer to other ethnic or socioeconomic tensions or collaborations between different groups. For instance, there are hints that some of the inhabitants in the countryside (i.e. peasants working the land) around Priene were not too fond of Greek inhabitants in the city itself. The inscription implies that some joined the Galatians in the violent rampage once the Galatians arrived and some joined the Prienians in the resistance. Furthermore, the People of Priene here attempts to use honours for Sotas as a means to claim a role as protector of other Greeks, pointing to the alliances that would be renewed or created among different Greek city-states in order to fend off the invaders (also clear in the inscription from Kos mentioned earlier).

For those not familiar with epigraphy: when reading the Priene inscription, it is important to realize that (as usual with many inscriptions from thousands of years ago) the entire text does not survive intact.  Instead, there is considerable damage on both the left and right sides of the stone (as you may be able to see in the sketch above). The expert epigraphists (Hiller von Gaertringen leading the way in this case) have spent considerable time seeing what letters and words would fit in the gaps. In the translation below, the reconstructed portions are placed between ellipses (. . .) with a question mark at the end of the reconstructed bit (just to make the problems of historical interpretation clear), while in the Greek text epigraphists use square brackets for this missing material. As usual, the historian needs to focus most on what is on the stone itself (as I have in the earlier discussion), and thankfully there are substantial indications of the Prienians characterizations of Galatians in the surviving portions.

Works consulted: A. Coşkun, “Belonging and Isolation in Central Anatolia: Galatians in the Graeco-Roman World,” in Belonging and Isolation in the Hellenistic World, ed. Sheila Louise Ager and Faber Riemer (Toronto: UTP, 2013), 73–95; A. Lampinen, “Istae contra omnium religiones: Characterizing Northern Barbarian Religiosity in the Graeco-Roman Literary Tradition from Hellenism to the Later Empire” (Ph.D., Turku, University of Turku, 2013) (link); D. Magie, Roman Rule in Asia Minor to the End of the Third Century after Christ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950), 2.729-731, notes 9-11 on inscriptions pertaining to Galatian invasions (link).

Source of translation: Translation by Harland. Alternative translation in S.M. Burstein, The Hellenistic Age from the Battle of Ipsos to the Death of Kleopatra VII (Cambridge, UK: CUP, 1985), 17-19 (no. 17) (link).


[Preamble of the decree and cause of the honours relating to the invasion of “savage” Galatians]

When Poseidonios was civic crown-bearer in the month of Artemision, . . . it was resolved by the Council (?) . . . and the People: . . . Since Sotas (?) . . . both in former . . . times and (?) . . . [remainder of line missing] . . . himself to . . . what was advantageous (?) . . . to the People. (5) And now . . . when  the Galatians . . . first arrived in the (?) . . . countryside and many of those in the countryside. . . who were hostile (?) . . . towards the citizens [i.e. of Priene] . . . [missing words] . . . criminally wanting to attack . . . [missing words]. . . savagery (ōmotēs) no one resisted . . . [missing word] . . . (10) Also, not only in the countryside did they commit crimes against their . . . captives but they also (?) . . . were impious towards the deity [Athena], devastating the sanctuary, . . . the altars (?) . . ., and the temples . . . [several missing words] . . . They left (?) . . . no shameful action . . . undone (?) . . . towards the deity. And . . . they burned . . . all (?) . . . the farms . . . with the result that many of the Greeks who are settled in Asia were slaughtered . . . because they were not able (?) . . . to resist the barbarians.

(15) However, the People of the Prienians and Sotas resisted against the barbarians, taking revenge on those who were being impious towards the deity and who were acting criminally towards the Greeks. They did so by sending out paid citizen foot-soldiers and . . . other (?) . . . soldiers on horses and advancing (?) with full force. (20) Now Sotas brought the . . . strongest (?) . . . citizens and those from the countryside . . . who were eager to face the danger (?) . . . with the citizens against the barbarians. They decided to save the citizens in the countryside, themselves, their children, their wives, and their . . . property in (?) . . . the countryside so that they could be brought safely into the city.

(25) Occupying the . . . most favourable (?) . . . places . . . in the countryside so that . . . [several missing words] . . . with those who were facing danger together. Many of the citizens . . ., being led away as captives . . . by the Galatians (?), and some . . . [several missing or illegible words] . . . he saved, having endured . . . their savagery (ōmotēs). Having persuaded . . . [almost an entire line missing] . . . for the citizens. (30) As he kept together those who were endangering their lives along with him . . . for the sake of (?) . . . the common salvation of the . . . People (?) . . ., he remained in the countryside . . . resisting the barbarians. In general, not one . . . of the citizens with him . . . were (?) . . ., and completely . . . against the barbarians and coming to the rescue of the countryside.

(35) Furthermore, he brought it about . . . [missing word] that the city (?) . . . in no way experienced evil and that many of the citizens . . . survived (?) . . . and that the citizens, their children, their wives, and their land and possessions were saved and brought into the city. After these things happened, the People courageously committed itself to the Galatian war.

[Consequent honours]

(40) To good fortune, it has been resolved by the Council and the People that Sotas son of Lykos is to be praised on account of the . . . excellence (?) . . . and manly virtue he displayed on behalf of the People . . . by nobly fighting (?) . . . against the Galatians, and that he is to be crowned with a wreath of palm leaves in the theatre during the tragic contest at the next Dionysia festival. Also let the director of contests take care . . . of the announcement (?).

(45) Therefore, in order that the devotion of our People toward . . . good and noble men who desire (?) . . . eagerly and unhesitatingly to aid . . . [two or three words missing] . . . may be . . . clear to everyone (?) . . ., and that the wreath awarded to Sotas may be clearly visible, . . . this decree (?) . . . will be inscribed on a stone slab and set up in the temple of Athena. (50) Now the temple-warden (neopoios) Pammenes will provide from the sacred funds to cover the cost of the stone slab and the . . . inscribing (?) . . . of the decree.


[ἐπὶ] σ[τεφ]ανηφόρου Ποσ[ε]ιδ[ων]ί[ο]υ, μη[ν]ὸ[ς Ἀρτεμ]ισιῶνος, [ἔδο]|[ξεν τῆι βου]λ[ῆι καὶ] τῶι δήμω[ι· ἐπειδὴ Σωτᾶς ἔν τ]ε τοῖς πρότερον] | [χρόνοις] τοὺς ․․․σωις [․c.6․․]ΘΟΥ․Λ[․․․․․․․․c.20․․․․․․․․] | [παρέσχετο] αὑτὸν εἰς [τὰ συμφέροντ]α [τῶ]ι δήμωι, καὶ ν[ῦν, ὅτε] ||  [πρῶτον οἱ Γ]αλάται παρε[νέβαλον εἰς] τ[ὴγ] χώραγ καὶ πο[λλοὶ][τῶν στασιασάν]των ἐν τῆι χώραι κατὰ [τῶμ] πολιτῶν ἀν[τι․c.4․] | [․․․c.9․․․] παρανόμως προσπεσέσ[θ]αι βουλόμενοι [․․c.7․․] | [․․c.8․․․]κομένους ὠμότητος μηθένα ἀντιτάσσεσθ[αι ․c.3․] | [․c.6․․] οὐ μόνον δὲ ἐν τῆι χώραι εἰς τοὺς [ἁλ]όντας παρε[ν]ό[μουν,] || [ἀλλὰ ․c.3․ κ]αὶ τὸ θεῖον ἠσέβουγ, κείρο[ν]τες τ[ὰ] τεμένη καὶ [τοὺς] | [βωμοὺς] καὶ τοὺς ναοὺς καθα․αν[․․․12-13․․․․]οῦντες, [μηθὲν] | [ἐλλείπον]τες τῆς εἰς τὸ θ[εῖ]ον ἀναιδ[εί]ας· ὑπάγοντες [δὲ ․c.4․] | [πάντα] τὰ ἐπαύλια ἐνεπύρωσ[αν ․c.4․, ὅθεν συ]νέβ[η] πολ[λοὺς] | [τῶν Ἑλ]λήνων τῶν τὴν Ἀσίαν κατοικούντων φθαρῆναι, [μὴ δυ]||ν[αμέν]ο<υ>ς? πρὸς τοὺς βαρβάρους ἀνταγωνίζεσθαι· ὁ δὲ δῆμος | [ὁ Πριηνέ]ων αὐτός τε ἀντετά[ξ]ατο πρὸς τοὺς βαρβάρους ἀ̣[μυν]ό[με]|[νος τοὺς] καὶ εἰς τὸ θεῖον ἀσ[ε]βοῦντας καὶ εἰς τοὺς Ἕλληνας πα[ρα]|νομοῦ[ντ]ας, ἐκπέμψας μισθοφόρους τῶν πολιτῶν πεζοὺς καὶ [ἄλ]|[λους ἱππ]οτρόφους, καὶ ἐλα[ύν]ων? παντὶ σθένει· Σωτᾶς δὲ συνα[γα]||γὼν τῶ[μ] πολιτῶν τοὺς [κρατίστ]ο[υ]ς καὶ τῶν ἀπὸ τῆς χώρας τοὺ[ς] | [ἐπι]θυ[μήσ]αντας αὐτοῖς συγκ[ιν]δυ[ν]ε[ύ]ε[ι]ν π[ρ]ὸς τοὺς βαρβάρους | καὶ σώ[ιζ]ειν προελόμενος τοὺ[ς] π[ολίτ]ας τοὺς ἐν τῆι χώραι αὐ|τοὺ[ς] καὶ τ[έ]κνα καὶ γυναῖκας κα[ὶ τὰ ἐν] τῆι χώραι, ὅπως ἀνασ[ώι]|{σωι}[σηι αὐτ]οὺς εἰς τὴμ πόλιγ, καταλ[αβὼν τ]οὺς [ἐ]ν τῆι χώραι [ἐπιτη]||[δειοτάτ]ους τῶν τόπων, ὡς συν[․․․․․c.14․․․․․]․οις Κ․․Σ[․c.5․] | [․c.2․]μ[․c.5․]ησε μετὰ τῶν συγκινδυνε[υόντ]ων, καὶ πολ[λοὺ]ς τῶν πο[λι]|[τῶν ․c.5․]το, ἀγομένου[ς] ὑποχειρίου[ς ὑπὸ] τ[ῶγ Γαλ]α[τ]ῶν, τινας [δὲ] | [․c.2․]λ̣ελείας γενομενο[․c.4․] κα[ὶ] ἑλομ[ενο․] ․Ο[․]ΡΑΣ?[․c.3․]ς ἔσωσεν, | [τολμήσα]ς τὴν ἐκείνων ὠμότητα σ[․]Λ[․]Λ[ῆ]σαι, ἑλόμενος Τ․․․[—] || [․]Λ․[․․]Ο[․] τοῖς πολίταις, συνέχων τοὺ[ς μετ]ὰ αὐτοῦ κινδυνεύον|τα[ς ὑπὲρ τ]ῆς κοινῆς σωτηρίας τοῦ [δήμου,] διέμεινεν ἐν τῆι χώραι | [ἀντιτασ]σόμενος πρὸς τοὺς βαρβ[ά]ρους, καὶ? οὐθενὸς κοινοῦ ἀναλισ̣|[․c.4․]ωμ μεθ’ αὑτοῦ πολλοὺς τῶμ πολιτῶν, καθούλου δὲ ΕΝ?[․c.4․] | [π]ρὸς τοὺς βαρβάρους καὶ βοιηθῶν τῆι χώραι· διετέλεσεν δὲ καὶ Σ?[․c.2․]ήσας? || [τήμ πό]λι[γ] κατὰ μηθὲμ φαῦλομ παθεῖγ καὶ πολλοὺς τῶμ πολιτῶ[μ πε]|[ριεῖναι] καὶ σωθῆναι αὐτοὺς καὶ τέκνα καὶ γυναῖκας καὶ τὴγ χώρα[ν] | κ[αὶ τὰ κτή]ματα εἰς τὴ[μ] π[ό]λιγ καταχθῆναι, ὧγ γενομένων ὁ δῆ|μος εὐθαρσῶς ἐπετέθη πρὸς τὸν τῶγ Γαλατῶμ πόλεμον, τύχηι ἀγ[α]|θῆι, δεδόχθαι τῆι βουλῆι καὶ τῶι δήμωι, ἐπῃνῆισθαι Σωτᾶν Λύκου [τῆς] || [ἀρετ]ῆ[ς] ἕνεκα καὶ ἀνδραγαθίας ἧς ἐποήσατο ὑπὲρ τοῦ δήμου, ε[ὖ ἀ]|γω[νι]σ[άμενο]ς πρὸς τοὺς Γαλάτας, καὶ στεφανῶσαι αὐτὸν στεφάνω[ι] | θαλλοῦ [ἐν] τῶι θεάτρωι τραγωιδῶν τῶι ἀγῶνι τοῖς πρώτοις Διο[νυσί]|οις, [τῆς δ’ ἀναγγελίας] ἐπι[μελ]η[θή]τω ὁ ἀγωνοθέτης. ὅπως οὖν [ἡ τοῦ] | [ἡμετέρου δ]ήμου προ[α]ίρεσις ἣν ἔχει ὑπὲρ τῶ[ν καλῶν κἀγαθῶν ἀν]||[δρῶν, βουλομένων] προθύμως καὶ ἀόκνως βοιηθῆσαι [․․․․․c.15․․․․․․] | [․․ πᾶσι φανερὰ] γένηται καὶ ὁ στέφανος ὁ δοθεὶς Σωτᾶι φανερὸς ἦι· | [τ]ὸ [δὲ ψήφισμα τ]ό[δ]ε ἀναγράψαι εἰς στήλην λιθίνηγ καὶ στῆσαι εἰς τὸ ἱ[ε]|ρὸν [τῆ]ς [Ἀ]θην[ᾶς·] τὸ δὲ ἀνάλωμα τὸ εἰς τὴν στήληγ καὶ τὴν [ἀ]|[ν]αγ[ραφὴν τοῦδε τ]οῦ ψηφίσματος ὑπηρετησάτω ἐκ τῶν ἱερῶγ χρη||μάτων ὁ νεωποίης Παμ̣μένης.

Leave a comment or correction

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