Celts: Diodoros on Galatian origins, “savage” customs and invasions of Italy and Greece (mid-first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Diodoros on Galatian origins, “savage” customs and invasions of Italy and Greece (mid-first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 30, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=17216.

Ancient author: Diodoros of Sicily (mid-first century BCE), Library of History 5.24-32; 14.114-117; 22.9 and 31.13, fragments from the extracts (link).

Comments: Diodoros of SIcily provides one of the most extensive Greek characterizations of the origins, customs and nature of the Celts or Galatians. In terms of his categories, it should be noted that Diodoros thinks he is able to distinguish between northwestern and northeastern populations, using “Celts” for the former and “Galatians” for those to the northeast, and he also suggests some subsets may be the equivalent of the “Kimmerians” and “Kimbrians” (the latter often viewed as a subset of German peoples).

Galatians are portrayed at times in a somewhat straightforward manner with an emphasis on daily customs and appearance. Diodoros also stresses the cold and harsh environment, which matches with the portrayal of violent and war-like populations. However, there are numerous points at which Diodoros stresses their “savage” nature, including reference to supposed dismemberment of enemies, human sacrifice, and eating of human flesh. At times Diodoros focusses on the supposedly paradoxical or inverted nature of their lifestyle, including unusual (to him) gender roles and forms of sexuality. As discussed in other posts, such stock characterizations of foreign others as queer in some sense were common and should not be taken as descriptive any more than any other accusations launched here, even if they seem to hold promise for instances of ancient gender subversion.

For more on ethnography and gender see Kotrosits, “The Ethnography of Gender” (link).

What becomes clear as one progresses through the varied (and sometimes somewhat contradictory) description is that Diodoros is, in fact, describing a variety of different peoples (e.g. Kimmerians, Kimbrians, various sub-groups of Celts) from a Greek perspective rather than one coherent group. This may also reflect Diodoros’ combination of materials from a variety of different sources, some of which may have been more neutral and others more critical about the peoples in question. Unfortunately, Diodoros never expressly names any of his sources.

I have also now added Diodoros’ accounts of the Celts’ / Galatians’ invasion of Rome in the fourth century BCE and of Greece in the early third century BCE. Although ethnographic descriptions are piecemeal in these sections, there are brief comments that characterize Celts and the overall narratives cast them as dangerous but ultimately unsuccessful. So it is worth including them here.


[For Diodoros’ preceding discussion of Britons, go to this link.]

[Founder: Galates, son of Herakles]

(5.24) Since we have presented the facts concerning the islands which lie in the western regions, we think that it will not be out of place for our purpose to discuss briefly the peoples of Europe which lie near them and which we failed to mention in our earlier books. Now we are told that the Celtic region (Keltika) was ruled in ancient times by a renowned man who had a daughter who was of unusual stature and far excelled all other maidens in beauty. Because of her strong body and amazing beauty, she was so arrogant that she kept refusing every man who pursued her for marriage, since she believed that no one of her persuers was worthy of her. Now in the course of his campaign against the Geryonians, Herakles visited the Celtic region and founded there the city of Alesia. On seeing Herakles, this young woman was amazed at his physical prowess and superior body, and eagerly accepted his embraces after her parents had given their consent. From this union she bore to Herakles a son named Galates, who far surpassed all the youths of the same people (homoethnē) in quality of spirit and strength of body. And when he grew to be a man and had succeeded to the throne of his fathers, he subdued a large part of the neighbouring territory and accomplished great feats in war. Becoming renowned for his bravery, he called his subjects Galatians (Galatai)​ after himself, and these in turn gave their name to all of Galatia [i.e. the Celtic region in is mind, not the later migration to central Turkey].

[Peoples and land]

(5.25) Since we have explained the name by which the Galatians are known, we must go on to speak about their land. Galatia is inhabited by many peoples (ethnē) of different-sized populations. For the largest population is some two hundred thousand men and the smallest fifty thousand. One of the latter​ populations [i.e. the so-called Aeduians] standing on terms of kinship and friendship with the Romans, a relation­ship which has endured from ancient times down to our own day.

Because the land lies for the most part under the Bears [constellation], the land has a wintry climate and is extremely cold. For during the winter season on cloudy days snow falls deep in place of rain, and on clear days ice and heavy frost are everywhere and in such abundance that the rivers are frozen over and are bridged by their own waters. For not only can chance travellers, proceeding a few at a time, make their way on the ice, but even armies with their tens of thousands (together with their beasts of burden and heavily laden wagons) cross over the ice in safety to the other side.

Many large rivers flow through Galatia, and their streams cut this way and that through the level plain. While some of them flow from bottomless lakes and others having their sources and affluents in the mountains, others of them empty into the ocean and others into our sea. The largest one of those which flow into our waters is the Rhodanos [Rhone], which has its sources in the Alps and empties into the sea through five mouths. But of the rivers which flow into the ocean the largest are thought to be the Danube​ and the Rhine, the latter of which the Caesar who has been called a god [i.e. Julius Caesar] spanned with a bridge in our own day with astonishing skill, and leading his army across on foot he subdued the Galatians who lived beyond it [link to Julius Caesar’s account]. There are also many other navigable rivers in the Celtic region, but it would be a long task to write about them. And almost all of them become frozen over by the cold and so bridge their own streams. Since the natural smoothness of the ice makes the crossing slippery for those who pass over, they sprinkle chaff on it and thus have a crossing which is safe.

[Climate and drinking habits]

(5.26) A strange and unexpected thing happens throughout most of Galatia which we think we should not leave out. For from the direction of the sun’s summer setting​ and from the north winds blow with such violence and force that they pick up from the ground rocks as large as can be held in the hand together with a dust composed of coarse gravel. Generally speaking, when these winds rage violently, they tear the weapons out of men’s hands and the clothing off their backs and dismount riders from their horses. Furthermore, since temperateness of climate is destroyed by the excessive cold, the land produces neither wine nor oil, and as a consequence those Galatians who are deprived of these fruits make a drink out of barley which they call “zythos” [i.e. beer]. They also drink the water with which they cleanse their honeycombs. The Galatians are very addicted to the use of wine and fill themselves with the wine which is brought into their country by merchants, drinking it unmixed. Since they consume this drink without moderation by reason of their craving for it, when they are drunken, they fall into a stupor or a state of madness. Consequently many of the Italian traders, induced by the love of money which characterizes them, believe that the love of wine of these Galatians is a gift from the god Hermes [i.e. a godsend].​ For these traders transport the wine on the navigable rivers by means of boats and through the level plain on wagons. They receive an incredible price for it: in exchange for a jar of wine they receive a slave, getting a servant in return for the drink.

[Gold collection customs]

(5.27) Throughout Gaul practically no silver is found, but there is gold in great quantities, which Nature provides for the inhabitants without their having to mine for it or to undergo any hardship. For the rivers, as they course through the country, having as they do sharp bends which turn this way and that and dashing against the mountains which line their banks and bearing off great pieces of them, are full of gold-dust. This is collected by those who occupy themselves in this business. These men grind or crush the lumps which hold the dust, and after washing out with water the earthy elements in it [i.e. panning for gold] they give the gold-dust over to be melted in the furnaces. In this manner they amass a great amount of gold, which is used for ornament not only by the women but also by the men. For around their wrists and arms they wear bracelets, around their necks heavy necklaces of solid gold,​ and huge rings they wear as well, and even corselets of gold. A strange and astonishing practice is found among the upper Celts (Keltoi), in connection with the sacred precincts of the gods. In temples and precincts that are consecrated in their land, a great amount of gold has been deposited as a dedication to the gods. Not even a native of the country ever touches it because of fear of the lower spirits (deisidaimonia), despite the fact that the Celts are an exceedingly covetous people.

[Physical appearance and bodily customs]

(5.28) The Galatians are tall with rippling muscles and white skin. Their hair is blonde, and not only naturally so. They also make it their practice by artificial means to increase the distinguishing colour which nature has given it. For they are always washing their hair in lime-water, and they pull it back from the forehead to the top of the head and back to the nape of the neck, with the result that their appearance is like that of Satyrs and Pans, since the treatment of their hair makes it so heavy and coarse that it does not differ in any way from the mane of horses. Some of them shave the beard, but others let it grow a little. And the nobles shave their cheeks, but they let the moustache grow until it covers the mouth.

[Banqueting customs]

Consequently, when they are eating, their moustaches become entangled in the food, and when they are drinking, the beverage passes, as it were, through a kind of a strainer. When they dine, they all sit, not upon chairs, but upon the ground, using for cushions the skins of wolves or of dogs. The service at the meals is performed by the youngest children, both male and female, who are of suitable age. Nearby there are fireplaces heaped with coals, and on them are cauldrons and spits holding whole pieces of meat. They reward brave warriors with the best portions of the meat, in the same manner as the poet introduces Ajax as honoured by the chiefs after he returned victorious from his single combat with Hector:To Ajax then were given meat from the backbone / slices, full-length, to his honour” [Homer, Iliad 7.321]. They invite strangers to their feasts, and do not inquire until after the meal who they are and what the strangers need.

And it is their custom, even during the course of the meal, to seize upon any trivial matter as an occasion for keen disputation and then to challenge one another to single combat, without any regard for their lives. For the belief of Pythagoras prevails among them, namely that the souls of men are immortal and that after a prescribed number of years they commence upon a new life, the soul entering into another body.​ Consequently, we are told, at the funerals of their dead some cast letters upon the pyre which they have written to their deceased relatives, as if the dead would be able to read these letters.

[Battle customs]

(5.29) In their journeyings and when they go into battle, they [i.e. Galatians] use chariots drawn by two horses, which carry the charioteer and the warrior. And when they encounter horsemen in the fighting, they first hurl their javelins at the enemy and then step down from their chariots and join battle with their swords. Certain of them despise death to such a degree that they enter the perils of battle without protective armour and with no more than rappings around their loins. They also bring along their free men to war in order to serve them, choosing them out from among the poor. They use these attendants in battle as charioteers and as shield-bearers. It is also their custom, when they are formed for battle, to step out in front of the line and to challenge the most valiant men from among their opponents to single combat, brandishing their weapons in front of them to terrify their adversaries. And when any man accepts the challenge to battle, they then break out in song in praise of the valiant accomplishments of their ancestors and boasting of their own high achievements, reviling all the while and belittling their opponent. In a word, they use such talk to strip the enemy of his bold spirit before the combat.

[Dismemberment of the enemy]

When their enemies fall, they cut off their heads and fasten them around the necks of their horses. And turning over to their attendants the arms of their opponents, all covered with blood, they carry them off as plunder, singing a song over them and striking up a song of victory. These “first-fruits” of battle they fasten by nails upon their houses, just like men who hunt with the heads of wild beasts they have captured. The heads of their most distinguished enemies they embalm in cedar-oil and carefully preserve in a chest, and these they exhibit to foreigners, gravely maintaining that in exchange for this head some one of their ancestors, or their father, or the man himself, refused the offer of a great sum of money. Some men among them, we are told, boast that they have not accepted an equal weight of gold for the head they show, displaying a sort of barbarous greatness of soul. For not to sell that which constitutes a witness and proof of one’s bravery is a noble thing, but to continue to fight against one of our own, after he is dead, is to descend to the level of beasts. 

[Clothing and armour]

(5.30) The clothing they wear is striking: shirts which have been dyed and embroidered in varied colours; pants, which they call in their tongue “brakai”; and, they wear striped cloaks (fastened by a buckle on the shoulder) that are heavy for winter wear and light for summer, in which are set checks, close together and of varied hues.​ For armour they use long shields, as tall as a man, which are made in a peculiar way, some of them even having the figures of animals embossed on them in bronze. These are skilfully worked with an eye not only to beauty but also to protection. On their heads they put bronze helmets which have large embossed figures standing out from them and give an appearance of great size to those who wear them. For, in some cases, horns are attached to the helmet so as to form a single piece. In other cases, images of the fore-parts of birds or four-footed animals.

Their trumpets are of peculiar nature like barbarians use, for when they are blown they make a harsh sound, appropriate to the tumult of war. Some of them have iron breastplates, chain-wrought, but others are satisfied with the armour which Nature has given them and go into battle naked. In place of the short sword they carry long broad-swords which are hung on chains of iron or bronze and are worn along the right flank. Some of them gather up their shirts with belts plated with gold or silver. The spears they brandish, which they call “lankiai”, have iron heads measuring a forearm-length and even more, and a little under two palms wide. Their swords are not shorter than the javelins of other peoples, and the heads of their javelins are larger than the swords of others. Some of these javelins come from the forge straight, others twist in and out in spiral shapes for their entire length. The purpose of this is so that the thrust may not only cut the flesh, but mangle it as well, and that the withdrawal of the spear may lacerate the wound.

[Other social customs]

(5.31) The Galatians are terrifying in appearance and their voices are deep and very harsh. When they meet together, they converse with few words and in riddles, hinting darkly at things for the most part and using one word when they mean another. And they like to talk in superlatives, to the end that they may praise themselves and put other men down. They are also boasters and threateners and are fond of pompous language, and yet they have sharp wits and are not without cleverness at learning.

[Experts: Bards, Druids, Diviners]

Among them are also to be found lyric poets whom they call “bards.” These men sing to the accompaniment of instruments which are like lyres, and their songs may engage in either praise or abusive. Philosophers, as we may call them, and men learned in religious affairs are unusually honoured among them and are called by them “Druids.” The Galatians likewise make use of diviners, considering them worthy of high praise. These men predict the future by means of the flight or cries of birds and of the slaughter of sacred animals, and they have all the population subservient to them. They also observe a custom which is especially astonishing and incredible, in case they are taking thought with respect to matters of great concern.

[Supposed human sacrifice]

For, in such cases they devote to death a human being and plunge a dagger into him in the region above the diaphragm,​ and when the stricken victim has fallen, they read the future from the manner of his fall and from the twitching of his limbs, as well as from the gushing of the blood. They have learned to place confidence in an ancient and long-continued practice of observing such matters.

[Other customs relating to divination and experts]

It is a custom of theirs that no one should perform a sacrifice without a “philosopher,” for they say that thank-offerings should be rendered to the gods by the hands of men who are experienced in the nature of the divine, and who speak the language of the gods, so to speak. They also think that it is through the mediation of such men that blessings likewise should be sought. Nor is it only in the exigencies of peace, but in their wars as well, that they obey, before all others, these men and their chanting poets. Such obedience is observed not only by their friends but also by their enemies. For instance, many times when two armies approach each other in battle with swords drawn and spears thrust forward, these men step forth between them and cause them to cease, as though having cast a spell over certain kinds of wild beasts. In this way, even among the wildest barbarians, does passion give place before wisdom, and Ares stands in awe of the Muses.

[Distinguishing western “Celts” from northeastern “Galatians”] 

(5.32) Now it will be useful to draw a distinction which is unknown to many: The peoples who dwell in the interior above Massalia [Marseille], those on the slopes of the Alps, and those on this side the Pyrenees mountains are called “Celts.” Whereas the peoples who are established above this land of the Celtic region in the parts which stretch to the north, both along the ocean and along the Herkynian mountain, and all the peoples who come after these [i.e. to the northeast], as far as Scythia, are known as Galatians. The Romans, however, include all these peoples together under a single name, calling them one and all Galatians [i.e. “Gauls”].

[Further paradoxical or barbaric customs, including supposed gender-bending and eating human flesh]

Among Galatians, the women are not only like the men in their great size but they are a match for them in courage as well. Their children are usually born with grayish hair, but as they grow older the colour of their hair changes to that of their parents. The most savage peoples among them are those who live under the Bears [constellation] and on the borders of Scythia [i.e. close to the Black Sea area]. We are told that some of these eat human beings, even as the Britons do who live on the island of Iris [i.e. Ireland],​ as it is called.

[Relation to Kimmerians / Kimbrians and earlier invasions]

Since the bravery of these peoples and their savage ways are famous, some men say that it was they who in ancient times overran all Asia and were called Kimmerians, time having slightly corrupted the word into the name of Kimbrians, as they are now called.​ For it has been their ambition from ancient times to engage in banditry (lēsteuein), invading for this purpose the lands of others, and to regard all men with contempt. For they are the people who captured Rome. They plundered the sanctuary at Delphi,​ they levied tribute upon a large part of Europe and no small part of Asia, and they settled themselves upon the lands of the peoples they had subdued in war. Gradually they came to be called “Greco-Galatians,” because they became mixed with the Greeks. As their final accomplishment, they have destroyed many large Roman armies.

[Savage sacrifices and impiety]

In pursuing their savage ways, they demonstrate an outlandish impiety also with respect to their sacrifices. For they keep criminals prisoner for five years and then impale them in honour of the gods, dedicating criminals together with many other offerings of first-fruits and constructing pyres of great size. Captives are likewise used by them as victims for their sacrifices in honour of the gods. Certain of them likewise kill, together with the human beings, such animals as are taken in war, or burn them or do away with them in some other vengeful fashion.

[Supposed uncontrolled lust between men]

Although their wives are beautiful, they have very little to do with them. Instead, they rage with lust in an outlandish way for sex with other men. It is their practice to sleep on the ground on the skins of wild beasts and to tumble with a companion on each side.​ And the most astonishing thing of all is that they feel no concern for their proper dignity. Instead, they prostitute to others without a qualm the flower of their bodies. Nor do they consider this a disgraceful thing to do. Rather, when anyone of them is approached in this way and refuses the favour offered him, they consider this an act of dishonour.

[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of Celtiberians, go to this link]


[For Diodoros’ preceding discussion of Sikelians (in the fifth century BCE) on Sicily, go to this link]

Celts’ Invasion of Italy

[Senonians among Celts migrating into Italy]

(14.113) At the time that Dionysios [leading the Syracusans] was besieging Rhegion, the Celts who had their homes in the regions beyond the Alps streamed through the passes in great strength and seized the territory that lay between the Apennine mountains and the Alps, expelling the Tyrrhenians who lived there. These, according to some, were colonists from the twelve cities of Tyrrhenia; but others state that before the Trojan War Pelasgians fled from Thessaly to escape the flood of Deukalion’s time and settled in this region.

Now it happened, when the Celts (Keltai) divided up the territory by peoples (ethnē), that those known as the Sennonians (Sennōnes) received the area which was located farthest from the mountains and along the sea. But since this region was scorching hot, they were distressed and eager to move. So they armed their younger men and sent them out to seek a territory where they might settle. Now they invaded Tyrrhenia, and being about thirty thousand in number they sacked the territory of the Clusinians.

[Roman spies in Tyrrhenia and killing of a Celtic commander]

At this very time the Roman people sent ambassadors into Tyrrhenia to spy out the army of the Celts. The ambassadors arrived at Clusium, and when they saw that a battle had been joined, with more bravery than wisdom they joined the men of Clusium against their besiegers. One of the ambassadors was successful in killing a rather important commander. When the Celts learned of this, they dispatched ambassadors to Rome to demand the person of the envoy who had thus commenced an unjust war. The Roman senate at first sought to persuade the envoys of the Celts to accept money in as recompense for the injury, but when they would not consider this, the senate voted to surrender the accused. But the father of the man to be surrendered, who was also one of the military tribunes with consular power, appealed the judgement to the people. Since he was a man of influence among the masses, he persuaded them to void the decision of the senate. Now in previous times the people had followed the senate in all matters. With this incident they first began to rescind decisions of that body.

[Celts invade Rome and war with Romans]

(14.114) The ambassadors of the Celts returned to their camp and reported the reply of the Romans. At this they were greatly angered and, adding an army from members of their own people (homoethneis), they marched quickly towards Rome itself, numbering more than seventy thousand men. The military tribunes of the Romans, exercising their special power, when they heard of the advance of the Celts, armed all the men of military age. They then marched out in full force and, crossing the Tiber, led their troops for eighty stadium-lengths along the river. At news of the approach of the Galatians (Galatai) they drew up the army for battle. Their best troops, to the number of twenty-four thousand, they set in a line from the river as far as the hills and on the highest hills they stationed the weakest. The Celts (Keltai) deployed their troops in a long line and, whether by fortune or design, stationed their choicest troops on the hills. The trumpets on both sides sounded the charge at the same time and the armies joined in battle with great clamour. The elite troops of the Celts, who were opposed to the weakest soldiers of the Romans, easily drove them from the hills. Consequently, as the weakest fled in masses to the Romans on the plain, the ranks were thrown into confusion and fled in dismay before the attack of the Celts. Since the bulk of the Romans fled along the river and impeded one another by reason of their disorder, the Celts were not slow in killing again and again those who were last in line. Hence the entire plain was strewn with dead. Among the men who fled to the river, the bravest attempted to swim across with their weapons, prizing their armour as highly as their lives; but since the stream ran strong, some of them were taken down to their death by the weight of the weapons, and some, after being carried along for some distance, finally and after great effort got off safe. But since the enemy pressed them hard and was making a great slaughter along the river, most of the survivors threw away their weapons and swam across the Tiber.

[Slaughter, retreat of Romans, and siege of the city of Rome]

(14.115) The Celts, though they had killed great numbers on the bank of the river, nevertheless did not desist from enthusiasm for glory but showered javelins upon the swimmers. Since many missiles were hurled and men were massed in the river, those who threw did not miss their mark. So it was that some died at once from mortal blows, and others, who were wounded only, were carried off unconscious because of loss of blood and the swift current. When such disaster befell, the greater part of the Romans who escaped occupied the city of Veii, which had lately been razed by them, fortified the place as well as they could, and received the survivors of the defeat. A few of those who had swum the river fled without their weapons to Rome and reported that the whole army had perished. When word of such misfortunes as we have described was brought to those who had been left behind in the city, everyone fell into despair. They saw no possibility of resistance, now that all their youth had perished. The idea of fleeing with their children and wives was fraught with the greatest danger since the enemy were close at hand. Now many private citizens fled with their households to neighbouring cities, but the city magistrates, encouraging the populace, issued orders for them to bring speedily to the Capitoline grain and every other necessity. When this had been done, both the acropolis and the Capitoline were stored not only with supplies of food but with silver and gold and the costliest raiment, since the precious possessions had been gathered from over the whole city into one place. They gathered such valuables as they could and fortified the place we have mentioned during a respite of three days.

The Celts spent the first day cutting off, according to their custom, the heads of the dead. And for two days they lay encamped before the city, for when they saw the walls deserted and yet heard the noise made by those who were transferring their most useful possessions to the acropolis, they suspected that the Romans were planning a trap for them. But on the fourth day, after they had learned the true state of affairs, they broke down the gates and pillaged the city except for a few dwellings on the Palatine. After this they delivered daily assaults on strong positions, without, however, inflicting any serious hurt upon their opponents and with the loss of many of their own troops. Nevertheless, they did not relax their hard work, expecting that, even if they did not conquer by force, they would wear down the enemy in the course of time, when the necessities of life had entirely given out.

[Romans clash with Tyrrhenians near Veii]

(14.116) While the Romans were in such difficulties, the neighbouring Tyrrhenians advanced and made a raid with a strong army on the territory of the Romans, capturing many prisoners and not a small amount of plunder. But the Romans who had fled to Veii, falling unexpectedly upon the Tyrrhenians, made them flee, took back the plunder, and captured their camp. Having got possession of weapons in abundance, they distributed them among the unarmed, and they also gathered men from the countryside and armed them, since they intended to relieve the siege of the soldiers who had taken refuge on the Capitoline.

[Cominius Pontius as messenger to the Romans on the Capitoline, and Celts attempt to climb the hill]

While they were at a loss how they might reveal their plans to the besieged, since the Celts had surrounded them with strong forces, a certain Cominius Pontius undertook to get the cheerful news to the men on the Capitoline. Starting out alone and swimming the river by night, he got unseen to a cliff of the Capitoline that was hard to climb and, hauling himself up it with difficulty, told the soldiers on the Capitoline about the troops that had been collected in Veii and how they were watching for an opportunity and would attack the Celts. Then, descending by the way he had mounted and swimming the Tiber, he returned to Veii. The Celts, when they observed the tracks of one who had recently climbed up, made plans to ascend at night by the same cliff. Consequently about the middle of the night, while the guards were neglectful of their watch because of the strength of the place, some Celts started an ascent of the cliff. They escaped detection by the guards, but the sacred geese of Hera, which were kept there, noticed the climbers and set up a cackling. The guards rushed to the place and the Celts deterred did not dare proceed farther. A certain Marcus Mallius, a man held in high esteem, rushing to the defence of the place, cut off the hand of the climber with his sword and, striking him on the breast with his shield, rolled him from the cliff. In a similar way the second climber met his death, at which point the rest all quickly turned in flight. But since the cliff was precipitous they were all hurled headlong and perished. As a result of this, when the Romans sent ambassadors to negotiate a peace, they were persuaded, upon receipt of one thousand pounds of gold, to leave the city and to withdraw from Roman territory.

The Romans, now that their houses had been razed to the ground and the majority of their citizens killed, gave permission to anyone who wished to build a home in any place he chose, and supplied him at state expense with roof-tiles. Up to the present time these are known as “public tiles.” Since every man naturally built his home where it suited his fancy, the result was that the streets of the city were narrow and crooked; consequently, when the population increased in later days, it was impossible to straighten the streets. Some also say that the Roman matrons, because they contributed their gold ornaments to the common safety, received from the people as a reward the right to ride through the city in chariots.

[Volscians attack the Romans but lose]

(14.117) While the Romans were in a weakened condition because of the misfortune we have described, the Volscians went to war against them. Accordingly the Roman military tribunes enrolled soldiers, took the field with their army, and pitched camp on the Campus Martius, as it is called, two hundred stadium-lengths distant from Rome. Since the Volscians lay over against them with a larger force and were assaulting the camp, the citizens in Rome, fearing for the safety of those in the encampment, appointed Marcus Furius dictator. . . . These armed all the men of military age and marched out during the night. At day-break they caught the Volscians as they were assaulting the camp, and appearing on their rear easily put them to flight. When the troops in the camp attacked, the Volscians were caught in the middle and almost entirely wiped out. So a people that passed for powerful in former days was by this disaster reduced to the weakest among the neighbouring peoples (ethnē).

After the battle the dictator, on hearing that Bola was being besieged by the Aeculanians (who are now called the Aequicolians) led forth his troops and killed most of the besieging army. From here he marched to the territory of Sutrium, a Roman colony, which the Tyrrhenians had forcibly occupied. Falling unexpectedly upon the Tyrrhenians, he slew many of them and recovered the city for the people of Sutrium.

[Galatians attack other cities as they retreat]

The Galatians (Galatai) on their way from Rome laid siege to the city of Veascium which was an ally of the Romans. The dictator attacked them, killed the majority of them, and got possession of all their baggage, which included the gold which they had received for Rome and practically all the plunder which they had gathered in the seizure of the city. Despite the accomplishment of such great deeds, envy on the part of the tribunes prevented his celebrating a triumph. There are some, however, who state that he celebrated a triumph for his victory over the Tuscans in a chariot drawn by four white horses, for which the people two years later fined him a large sum of money. But we shall recur to this in the appropriate period of time.

[Subsequent slaughter of the Celts by the Cerians]

Those Celts who had passed into Iapygia turned back through the territory of the Romans; but soon thereafter the Cerians made a crafty attack on them by night and cut all of them to pieces in the Trausian Plain.

[Conclusion to section with reference to sources]

The historian Kallisthenes began his history with the peace of this year between the Greeks and Artaxerxes, the king of the Persians. His account embraced a period of thirty years in ten books and he closed the last book of his history with the seizure of the temple of Delphi by Philomelos the Phokian. But for our part, since we have arrived at the peace between the Greeks and Artaxerxes, and at the threat to Rome offered by the Gauls, we will make this the end of this book, as we proposed at the beginning.

[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of Persians and Alexander of Macedon’s decline into eastern ways, go to this link]


[For Diodoros’ preceding discussion of Thracians and the wise king Dromichaites, go to this link]

[Galatians’ invasion of Macedonia and Greece to Delphi, ca. 279 BCE]

(22.9.1-3 = extract from Eclogae Hoeschelianae, pp. 495-497) Brennos, the king of the Galatians, accompanied by one hundred and fifty thousand foot-soldiers, armed with long shields, and ten thousand horsemen, together with a horde of camp followers, large numbers of traders, and two thousand wagons, invaded Macedonia and engaged in battle. Having in this conflict lost many men . . . as lacking sufficient strength . . . when later he advanced into Greece and to the oracle at Delphi, which he wished to plunder. In the mighty battle fought there he lost tens of thousands of his fellow-soldiers, and Brennos himself was wounded three times.

Weighed down and near to death, Brennos assembled his army there and spoke to the Galatians. He advised them to kill him and all the wounded, to burn their wagons, and to return home unburdened. He advised them also to make Kichorios king. Then, after drinking deeply of undiluted wine, Brennos killed himself. After Kichorios had given him burial, he killed the wounded and those who were victims of cold and starvation some twenty thousand in all. And so he began the journey homeward with the rest by the same route. In difficult terrain, the Greeks would attack and cut off those in the rear, and carried off all their baggage. On the way to Thermopylai, food being scarce there, they abandoned twenty thousand more men. All the rest died as they were going through the country of the Dardanians, and not a single man was left to return home.

(22.9-4-5 = excerpts of Constantine Porphyrogennetos) Brennos, the king of the Galatians, on entering a temple found no dedications of gold or silver, and when he came only upon images of stone and wood he laughed at them, to think that men, believing that gods have human form, should set up their images in wood and stone.

At the time of the Galatian invasion the inhabitants of Delphi, seeing that danger was at hand, asked the god if they should remove the treasures, the children, and the women from the shrine to the most strongly fortified of the neighbouring cities. The Pythian priestess replied to the Delphians that the god commanded them to leave in place in the shrine the dedications and whatever else pertained to the adornment of the gods, because the god along with the “White Maidens” would protect everything. As there were in the sacred precinct two temples of extreme antiquity, one of Athena Pronaia and one of Artemis, they assumed that these goddesses were the White Maidens named in the oracle.

[For Diodoros’ subsequent discussion of Thracians, go to this link]


[Galatians sacrificing prisoners, ca. 160s BCE]

(31.13 = Constantine Porphyrogennetos excerpts) The general of the barbarian Gauls, returning from his pursuit, gathered the prisoners together and perpetrated an act of complete barbarity and arrogance. Those of the prisoners who were most handsome in appearance and in the full bloom of life he crowned with garlands and offered in sacrifice to the gods, if in fact there is any god who accepts such offerings. All the rest of the prisoners he had shot down, and though many of them were acquaintances known to him through prior exchanges of hospitality, no one received pity on the score of friendship. It is really not surprising, however, that barbarians, in the flush of unexpected success, should celebrate their good fortune with inhuman behaviour [perhaps the final moralizing comment of the extractor].


Source of the translation: C. H. Oldfather, Diodorus Sicilus: Library of History, volumes 1-6, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1935-1952), public domain (passed away in 1954), adapted by Victoria Muccilli and Harland.

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