Celts: Kyzikos monument with Herakles clubbing a Galatian (278/277 BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Kyzikos monument with Herakles clubbing a Galatian (278/277 BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified November 8, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=12123.

Sketch of the Kyzikos relief of Herakles and a barbarian from Mendel 1914, 71. Public domain.

Comments: This relief (with major damage in the centre) from Kyzikos in northwestern Turkey depicts Herakles holding his usual club and about to strike a death blow to a cowering barbarian figure, likely a Galatian (Istanbul Archaeological Museum, inv. 564). The barbarian is partially naked and wears pants with his oval shield out of reach to the right.  Above and below the relief is the inscription IMT 1547 (link) = J. H. Mordtmann, “Zur Epigraphik von Kyzikos III,” MDAI(A) 10 (1885), 200-201 (no. 28) (link), which reads:

“When Phoinix was commander of the horsemen [in 278/77 BCE], the generals and the leaders of the tribal horsemen dedicated this to Herakles. The generals were: Nikoteles son of Apollodoros, Dadouchos son of Apollodoros, Protagoras son of Telesandros, Athenaios son of Ephesios, and Nikolochos son of Aristonikos. The leaders of the tribal horsemen were: Menippos son of Archebios, Pytys son of Aristokleios, Aineias son of Blastos, Euenos son of Polyanthos, Aphthonetos son of Theoboulos, and Aristolochos son of Apollonios.”

This may be the earliest Greek representation of a Galatian in connection with the invasion into western Asia Minor beginning in 278 BCE. The cowering and soon to be defeated figure on the right is depicted partially naked with a cloth around the waist and an oval shield out of reach. There are also slight signs of wild hair (according to Mendel and others who saw the monument). Although these features are associated with “barbarians” generally, they are also associated with Celts or Galatians in particular (see Launey and Gale). The dating of the monument to 278/277 BCE (based on the appearance of Phoinix as a cavalry commander) makes it more likely that this is in fact depicting a Galatian, with the monument expressing the idea that Herakles will protect the Greeks in Kyzikos or elsewhere from the Galatian invasion.

Several other inscriptions show the important role the gods had to play  – in the imagination of Greeks in Asia Minor, at least – in warding off the invading Celts (link to the Priene inscription; link to the Thyatira inscription). My discussion of the Priene inscription also mentions another inscription from Kyzikos in which the Pergamene king supplies wheat to the Kyzikenes specifically during the “war against the Galatians” (IMT 1485 = OGIS 748, lines 18-27 – link). So there are further signs of the impact of the invasion on Kyzikos specifically (see Launey 1944 for more details in French).

It is worth quoting Gale’s (2018, 102) overall conclusion on the matter after his comparison with other roughly contemporary depictions:

“These reliefs and sculptures represent the earliest visual depictions of the Galatians in Asia Minor and show that from an early date the Galatians were viewed as inferior enemies to be crushed by superior Greek might. This falls in line with their presentation in the epigraphic sources from the same region and show that the image of the barbarian was being applied to, and moulded around, the Galatians. These depictions might also have played a part in the development of later third century BC Attalid sculptures which employ similar stylistic techniques and motifs to represent the Galatians.”

The pose of Herakles in the Kyzikos scene, towering over the barbarian who kneels cowering is similar to other depictions of barbarians about to be conquered and killed that you can view on this website (under category three to your right). See for instance, the Amazon from a frieze at Halikarnassos (ca. 350 BCE) who is in a similar posture in relation to two Greeks, each of whom holds a sword or other weapon (one not preserved) high above their heads about to strike death-blows (link to full post on depictions of Amazons).  Also see the cowering Persian kneeling on one knee among  the dead or dying figures from Athens (although the figure about to deal the death blow is not preserved in that case). That Persian figure may have been part of a monument built by Attalos of Pergamon later in the third century BCE (link).

Works consulted: L. Gale, “Hellenistic Galatians: Representation and Self-Presentation” (Ph.D., Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh, 2018), 96-102 (link); M. Launey, “Études d’histoire hellénistique,” Revue des études anciennes 46 (1944): 217–36 (link); G. Mendel, Catalogue des sculptures grecques, romaines, et byzantines, 3 vols. (Constantinople: Musée Impérial Ottoman, 1912-1914), 3.70-72, no. 858 (564)  (link); François Queyrel, “Les Galates comme nouveaux Géants ? De la métaphore au glissement interprétatif,” in Géants et gigantomachies entre Orient et Occident, ed. F.-H. Massa-Pairault and C. Pouzadoux (Naples: Publications du Centre Jean Bérard, 2020), 203–15 (link).

Source of images: Photo by SĂ©bah & Joaillier taken between 1888-1908, public domain (via Queyrel 2020). Sketch by Mendel 1912-14, 3.71, no. 858, public domain.

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