Celts: Anyte and Parthenios on wife abductions during the Galatian invasion (third-first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Anyte and Parthenios on wife abductions during the Galatian invasion (third-first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 26, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=12190.

Ancient authors: Parthenios of Nikaia (in Bithynia), Sufferings of Love / Erōtika Pathēmata 8, “The Story of Herippe” (first century BCE), expressly drawing on Aristodemos of Nysa, Histories (perhaps second century BCE) (link); Anyte of Tegea or Mytilene on Lesbos (early third century BCE), Palatine Anthology 7.492 (link).

Comments: Set in the context of Galatians kidnapping Milesian women, the story by the poet Parthenios of Nikaia (first century BCE) is ostensibly drawn in part from another history by Aristodemos (second century BCE), perhaps a history of the Galatian invasion or of Miletos. Parthenios’ larger work is expressly dedicated to a Roman living in the Roman colony of Narbonensis in Gaul, which suggests why some Celtic elements might be expected. Once again we are dealing with what I have called “ethnographic fiction” in other posts (link).

The narrative combines both standard negative stereotypes regarding the supposed extreme violence of Celts or Galatians and a twist which spins a particular Celtic “barbarian” as in some sense trustworthy man-to-man, in a patriarchal sort of way. So on the one hand, the story gives the impression of the Celt welcoming Xanthos and appreciating Xanthos’ personality. In a sense, the Celt is pictured identifying with Xanthos, which takes an awful turn when the Celt sacrifices the previously kidnapped Herippe for her apparent betrayal of Xanthos. It feels a little bit like Parthenios (or Aristodemos) has consciously been playing on stereotypes and has been leading his audience on with the apparently friendly Celt in order to make the finale of human sacrifice even more shocking. Such novelistic or fictional tales told years later can be juxtaposed with contemporary perceptions of Galatians during the invasion itself (in the early third century), such as the story about Sotas at Priene (link).

In addition to Parthenios’ story, I have now added one of the poems preserved in the so-called Palatine Anthology (also known as the Greek Anthology), which alludes to a similar story of abductions from the perspective of the women. This is attributed to Anyte of Mytilene or of Tegea, an early third century poet (on which go to this link).

Works consulted: A. Lampinen, “Cruel and Unusual? The Idea of ‘Celtic Justice’ in the Greco-Roman Lighter Literature,” Studia Celtica Fennica 10 (2013): 8–23 (link).


Parthenios of Nikaia

[Preface to the story]

(8) This was taken from the first book of Aristodemos of Nysa’s Histories of these things, but he changes the names, calling the woman Euthymia instead of Herippe and the barbarian the name Kauaras.

[Invasion of the Galatians as a context for the tragic love story]

During the invasion of Ionia by the Galatians [i.e. 279 BCE and following] and the devastation by them of the Ionian cities, it happened that on one occasion at Miletos, the feast of the Thesmophoria [in honour of Demeter and Kore] was taking place, and the women of the city were gathered in the temple just outside the town. At that point, part of the barbarian army had become separated from the main body and had entered the territory of Miletos. By a sudden raid, they carried off the women. Some of them were ransomed for large amounts of silver and gold. However, there were others to whom the barbarians became closely attached, and these were carried away. Among the women who were carried away was one Herippe, the wife of Xanthos, an excellent man of noble birth among the men of Miletos. She also left behind her two year old child.

[Xanthos’ journey to the land of the Celts]

Xanthos felt her loss so deeply that he sold his best possessions for money and, gathering together two thousand pieces of gold, he first crossed over to Italy. There he was helped by close friends and went on to Massalia [Greek colony, modern Marseilles, France]. From there he went into the Celtic region. Finally, reaching the house where Herippe lived as the wife of one of the most honoured leaders among the Celts, he asked to be taken in. The Celts readily received him with hospitality. After entering the house, he saw his wife and she, flinging her arms around his neck, welcomed him with all the signs of affection.

Immediately the Celt arrived. Herippe related to him her husband’s journeyings, and how he had come to pay a ransom for her release. The Celt was delighted with Xanthos’ spirit and, calling together his nearest relatives to a banquet, entertained him warmly.

Now when they had drunk a lot, the Celt placed Xanthos’ wife by his side and asked him through an interpreter how large a fortune he had. “It amounts to a thousand pieces of gold,” said Xanthos. The barbarian then instructed Xanthos to divide his fortune into four parts, one each for himself, his wife, and his child, and the fourth to be left for the woman’s ransom. After Xanthos returned to his room, Herippe yelled at Xanthos for promising the barbarian this large amount of money which he did not own, and told him that he would be in a extremely dangerous situation if he did not follow through on his promise. Xanthos replied that he even had another thousand gold pieces which had been hidden in the soles of his slaves’ (or, possibly: children’s; paides) boots to use, seeing that he could hardly have hoped to find such a reasonable barbarian and would have had to pay an enormous ransom for her anyways.

The next day Herippe went to the Celt and told him about the amount of money which Xanthos had in his possession, advising him to kill Xanthos. She added that she preferred the Celt far more than both her homeland and her child. Regarding Xanthos, she said she completely hated him.

[Tragic ending: Celtic human sacrifice]

Right away, what she had said was far from satisfying to the Celt, and he decided to punish her. So, when Xanthos was anxious to get going, the Celt accompanied him in a most friendly manner for the first part of his journey, taking Herippe with them. However, when they arrived at the limits of the Celtic territory, the Celt announced that he wished to perform a sacrifice before they separated from one another. The victim was brought up, and he instructed Herippe to hold it. She did so, as she had been accustomed to do on previous occasions, and he then drew his sword, struck her with it, and cut off her head. He then explained her treachery to Xanthos, telling him not to take in bad part what he had done, and gave him all the money to take away with him.


Palatine Anthology / Greek Anthology

[Poem from the perspective of the abducted women, attributed to Anyte of Mitylene or of Tegea from the third century BCE]

(7.492) We leave you, Miletos, dear homeland, refusing the lawless love of the impious Galatians (Galatai), three young women, your citizens, whom the sword of the Celts (Keltai) forced to this fate. We stayed away from the unholy act and such a wedding, but we secured the protection of Hades.


Source of the translation: S. Gaselee in G. Thornley, J. M. Edmonds, and S. Gaselee, Daphnis and Chloe by Longus. The Love Romances of Parthenius (London: Heinemann, 1916), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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