Celts: Livy on the Galatian invasion of Asia Minor and the Roman army’s subsequent victory, ca. 189 BCE (late first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Celts: Livy on the Galatian invasion of Asia Minor and the Roman army’s subsequent victory, ca. 189 BCE (late first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 26, 2024, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=18083.

Ancient author: Livy, Roman History 38.16-27 (link; link to Latin).

Comments: Following up on Livy’s earlier account of the supposed invasion of Gauls into Italy (placed around 391 BCE in Livy’s chronology – link), Livy returns to Gauls or Galatians in a way that echoes that earlier account’s story of the bravery and superiority of Romans over erratic and animalistic Gauls. In this section, Livy briefly relates the initial Galatian invasion of Asia Minor before turning to subsequent Roman encounters with Galatians in Asia Minor, including the three sub-groups of Tolistobogians, Trokmians, and Tektosagians (see also Strabo at this link). The characterization of Gauls or Galatians as a people is interwoven in Livy’s narrative here, so it is worthwhile providing most of the material so as not to miss the overall portrait. Quite interesting in light of Livy’s mainly derogatory portrayal is the brief interlude relating a tale about Orgiagon, a Tektosagian woman violated by a Roman.


[Gauls / Galatians in Dardania, a schism, and activity around Byzantion, ca. 280 BCE]

16 . . . [digression in the context of the war between the Romans and Antiochos III ca. 189 BCE] A large body of Gauls [Galatians in Greek terminology], pushed by either a need for space or desire for plunder and convinced that none of the peoples (gentes) through whom they intended to pass was a match for them in battle, marched under the leadership of Brennos (Brennus) into the country of the Dardanians [northwest of Macedonia]. (2) Here a quarrel arose, and as many as twenty thousand of them left Brennos and went off under two of their leaders, Lonorios (Lonorius) and Loutarios (Lutarius), into Thrace. (3) Fighting with those who opposed their progress and exacting tribute from those who asked for peace, they reached Byzantion. (4) Here they remained for some time occupying the coast of the Propontis with all of the cities in that region paying tribute to them.

[Entrance into Asia Minor to assist Nikomedes ruler of Bithynia, ca. 279 BCE]

When reports from those acquainted with Asia of the fertility of its soil reached their ears, they were seized with the desire of crossing over to it, and after capturing Lysimachia by treachery and making themselves masters of the whole of the Chersonese, they moved down to the Hellespont. (5) They were very eager to make the passage when they saw that there was only a narrow strait which separated them, and they sent to Antipater, the governor of the coastal district, asking him to arrange for their transport. (6) The matter took longer than they expected, and a fresh quarrel broke out between the leaders. Lonorios, with the greater part of the soldiers, returned to Byzantion. Loutarios took two decked ships and three light barques from some Macedonians who had been sent by Antipater, ostensibly as negotiators, but really as spies, and in these vessels he transported one detachment after another, night and day, until he had carried his whole force across. (7) Not long afterwards, Lonorios, with the assistance of Nikomedes king of Bithynia, sailed across from Byzantion. (8) The re-united Gauls assisted Nikomedes in his war against Ziboitas, who was holding a part of Bithynia, and it was mainly owing to them that Ziboitas was defeated and the whole of Bithynia brought under the rule of Nikomedes.

[Three tribes controlling the cities: Tolostobogians, Trokmians, and Tektosagians]

(9) From Bithynia they went further into Asia. Out of the twenty thousand men not more than ten thousand were carrying weapons, yet so great was the terror they inspired in all the peoples west of the Taurus, that those who had no experience of them, as well as those who had come into contact with them, the most remote as well as their next neighbours, all submitted to them. (11) They were made up of three tribes, the Tolostobogians (Tolostobogii), the Trokmians (Trocmi) and the Tektosagians (Tectosagi). In the end they divided the conquered territory of Asia into three parts, each tribe retaining its own cities paying tribute. (12) The coast of the Hellespont was given to the Trokmians, the Tolostobogians took Aiolis and Ionia, and the Tektosagians received the inland districts. They levied tribute on the whole of Asia west of the Taurus mountains, but fixed their own settlement on both sides of the river Halys [Kızılırmak]. (13) Their name and the growth of their numbers caused such terror that, finally, even the kings of Syria did not dare to refuse the payment of tribute.

(14) The first man in Asia to refuse was Attalos the father of Eumenes [Attalos I, reigning ca. 241-197], and contrary to universal expectation, fortune favoured his courageous action; he proved himself superior in a planned battle. The Gauls, however, were not so far disheartened as to renounce their supremacy in Asia. Their power remained unimpaired down to the war between Antiochos [III] and Rome [ca. 192-188 BCE]. (15) Even then, after the defeat of Antiochos, they quite expected that owing to their distance from the sea the Romans would not advance so far.

[Supposed speech of the Roman consul, ca. 189 BCE, on the character of the Gauls / Galatians]

17 As it was this enemy – feared so much by all the people in that part of the world – that was to be met in battle, the consul [Gnaius Manlius Vulso] paraded his soldiers and delivered the following speech to them:

(2) “I am quite aware, soldiers, that among all peoples of Asia the Gauls have the highest military reputation. (3) This fierce people, after wandering and warring over almost the entire world, have settled among the gentlest and most peaceable peoples. (4) Their tall stature, their long red hair, their huge shields, their extraordinarily long swords and, even more, their songs as they enter into battle, their war-howls and dances, and the horrible clash of weapons as they shake their shields in the way their fathers did before them – all these things are intended to terrify and appal.”

(5) “But let those who experience them as strange and startling, such as the Greeks, Phrygians, and Carians, fear the Gauls. We Romans are familiar with tumults caused by Gauls and know how they come to nothing. (6) Once in the old days when our ancestors met them for the first time, they fled from them at the Alia river; from that time for the last two hundred years they have routed and killed them like so many herds of cattle, and almost more triumphs have been won over the Gauls than over the rest of the world put together [link to Livy’s account of supposed invasion of Italy, ca. 391 BCE]. (7) Our experience has taught us this: if you withstand their first rush with its wild excitement and blind fury, their limbs become powerless with sweat and fatigue, their weapons hang idly. Their flabby bodies and, when their fury has spent itself, their flabby spirits as well, are lying on the ground due to sun, dust and thirst, even though you did not lift a sword against them. (8) We have made trial of them, not only legions against legions, but man against man. T. Manlius and M. Valerius have shown how steady Roman courage can get the better of the frenzy of Gauls. M. Manlius flung down single-handed the Gauls who were climbing the capitol. (9) And, besides, those ancestors of ours had to deal with genuine Gauls bred in their own land.”

[Inferior Gallo-Greeks and the negative effect of Gauls on Greeks]

“These ones are degenerates who are mixed and truly what they are called: Gallo-greeks (Gallograeci). Just as in the case of fruits and cattle, the seed is not so effective in keeping up the strain as the nature of the soil and climate in which they are reared are in changing it. (10) The Macedonians who occupy Alexandria, Seleukeia, Babylonia and their other colonies throughout the world, have degenerated into Syrians, Parthians, and Egyptians. (11) Massilia, situated among Gauls, has contracted something of the temperament of its neighbours. How much of the rough and stern discipline of Sparta has survived among the Tarentines? (12) Everything grows most vigorously in its own home; when planted in an alien soil its nature changes and it deteriorates into that from which it gets its subsistence.”

[Asian environmental effects on the character of the Gauls / Galatians]

“As in the battle with Antiochos you killed the Phrygians in spite of their heavy Gallic weapons, so you will kill them now, you the victors, they the defeated. (13) I am more afraid of our gaining too little glory in this war than of gaining too much. Antiochos has often defeated and scattered them. (14) Do not imagine that it is only wild animals which preserve their ferocity when newly-captured but after being fed for some time at the hands of men grow tame. (15) Nature works in the same way in softening the savagery of men. Do you suppose that these men are the same as their fathers and grandfathers were? Driven from their home by a need for space they wandered across the rugged coast of Illyria, and after traversing the whole length of Paionia and Thrace and fighting their way through warlike peoples took possession of these countries. (16) After becoming hardened and savage by all they had to go through, they have found a home in a land which makes them fat with bountiful supplies of every kind. (17) All the ferocity which they brought with them has been tamed by a most fertile soil, a most genial climate and the gentle character of the people among whom they have settled. (18) You, sons of Mars, believe me, will have to be on your guard against the attractions of Asia and shun them from the very first; such power have the pleasures of other lands to weaken and destroy your energies, so easily can the habits and practices of the people around you affect you. It is, however, fortunate for us that though they cannot oppose you with anything like the strength they once could, they still enjoy their former reputation among the Greeks. (19) You will therefore gain as much credit with our allies in conquering as if the Gauls you defeat had retained all the courage of the old days.” . . . [omitted lengthy description of the movement of Roman soldiers under the consul Manlius Vulso].

[Animalistic battle style of the Gauls / Galatians]

21 The Gauls feeling confident that on two sides they were unassailable directed their attention to the southern slope. To close all access on this side they sent 4000 men to seize a height which commanded the road, distant rather less than a mile from their camp, where, as in a fort, they might prevent the enemy’s advance. (2) When they saw this, the Romans made ready for battle. Somewhat in front of the legions went the light-infantry (velites), the Cretan archers and slingers and the Trallians and Thracians under Attalos. (3) The heavy infantry advanced slowly as the ground was steep and they held their shields in front of them, not because they expected a hand-to-hand contest, but simply to avoid the missiles. (4) With the discharge of missiles the battle began, and at first it was fought on even terms as the Gauls had the advantage of their position, the Romans that of the variety and abundance of their missile weapons. As the struggle went on, however, it became anything but equal; the shields of the Gauls though long were not broad enough to cover their bodies, and being flat also afforded poor protection. Moreover, they had no weapons but their swords, and as they could not come to close quarters these were useless. (5) They tried to make use of stones, but as they had not got any ready, they had to use what each man in his hurry and confusion could lay hands on, and unaccustomed as they were to these weapons, they could not make them more effective by either skill or strength. (7) On all sides they were being hit by the arrows and leaden bullets and javelins which they were powerless to ward off.

Blinded by rage and fear they did not see what they were to do, and they found themselves engaged in the kind of fighting for which they were least fitted. (8) In close fighting where they can receive and inflict wounds in turn, their fury stimulates their courage. So when they are being wounded by missiles flung from a distance by an unseen foe and there is no one against whom they can make a blind rush, they dash recklessly against their own comrades like wild animals that have been speared. (9) Their practice of always fighting naked makes their wounds more visible, and their bodies are white and fleshy as they never strip except in battle. Consequently more blood flowed from them, the open gashes appeared more horrible, and the whiteness of their bodies showed up the stain of the dark blood. Open wounds, however, do not trouble them much. (10) Sometimes, where it is a surface bruise rather than a deep wound, they cut the skin, and even think that in this way they win greater glory in battle. (11) But when the head of an arrow has gone in or a leaden bullet buried itself and it tortures them with what looks like a slight wound and defies all their efforts to get rid of it, they fling themselves on the ground in shame and fury at so small an injury threatening to prove fatal.

(12) So they were lying around everywhere, and some who rushed down on their enemy were being pierced with missiles from all sides; those who got to close quarters the light-infantry (velites) killed with their swords. These soldiers carry a shield three feet long, javelins in their right hand for use at a distance and a Spanish sword in their belts. (13) When they have to fight at close quarters they transfer the javelins to their left hands and draw their swords. (14) Few of the Gauls now survived, and when they found themselves outdone by the light infantry and the legions coming on, they fled in disorder back to their camp, which was full of tumult and panic, as the women and children and other non-combatants were all crowded there together. (15) The Romans took possession of the heights from which the enemy had fled.

[Romans’ final defeat of the Tolistobogian Gauls / Galatians near Gordion]

22 L. Manlius and C. Helvius in the meanwhile had marched up as far as the mountain-side afforded a path, and when they came to a place where it was impossible to advance they each turned towards the only part which was accessible, and as though by mutual understanding, they followed the consul at some distance from each other. (3) Necessity compelled them to adopt now what would have been the best course at the outset, for over such difficult ground supports have often proved of the greatest use; when the first line has been thrown into disorder the second line can shelter them and go into action fresh and unshaken. (4) When the foremost ranks of the legions had gained the heights which the light infantry had captured, the consul ordered his men to rest and recover their breath. (5) He pointed to the bodies of the Gauls scattered over the ground and said: “If the light infantry could fight as they have done, what may I not expect from the legions, from those who are fully armed, from the valour of my bravest soldiers? Surely after the light infantry have driven the enemy in confusion into their camp, you legionaries must storm and capture it.” (6) During this halt the light infantry had been busy collecting the missiles which were lying everywhere, in order that they might have a sufficient supply, and the consul now ordered them to advance. (7) As they approached the camp, the Gauls, fearing that their entrenchments would not provide sufficient protection, were standing with weapons in front of the rampart. They were at once overwhelmed by a general discharge of missiles, for the greater their numbers and the closer their formation so much more surely did every weapon find its mark. In a few minutes they were driven inside their lines, leaving only strong bodies to guard the camp gates. (8) A heavy shower of missiles was now directed upon the masses in the camp, and the mingled shrieks of women and children showed that many of them were hit. (9) Against those who were holding the gates the legionaries hurled their javelins. They were not wounded by them, but their shields were pierced, and thus hopelessly entangled together they were not able long to resist the Roman attack.

23 As the gates were now open, the Gauls fled in every direction from the camp before the victors burst in. Blindly they ran along the paths and over places where there was no path; no precipices, no cliffs stopped them; they feared nothing but the enemy. (2) Most of them fell head-first from the heights; they died, maimed and crushed. The consul kept his men from plundering the captured camp and ordered them to do their best to pursue and harass the enemy and increase the enemy’s panic. (3) When the second division under L. Manlius came up, he forbade them from entering the camp and sent them off at once in pursuit. After placing the prisoners in charge of the military tribunes he joined in the pursuit, because he believed that the war would be at an end if as many as possible were killed or made prisoners while they were in such a state of panic. (4) After the consul had gone, C. Helvius came up with his division, and was unable to restrain his men from plundering the camp, and so by a most unfair chance the plunder went to those who had no share of the fighting. (5) The horse-men stood for a long time knowing nothing of the battle or the victory which their comrades had won. Then they rode, wherever their horses could travel, after the Gauls dispersed round the mountain, and either killed or took them prisoners.

(6) It was not easy to know the number of those killed, for the flight and the carnage extended over all the spurs and ravines of the mountain, and a great many losing their way had fallen into the deep recesses below; many, too, were killed in the woods and thickets. (8) Claudius, who states that there were two battles on Olympos, puts the number of killed at forty thousand; Valerius Antias, who is usually more given to exaggeration, says that there were not more than ten thousand. The prisoners, no doubt, amounted to forty thousand, because they had carried with them a multitude of both sexes and all ages, more like emigrants than men going to war. (10) The enemy’s weapons were gathered into a heap and burned, and the consul ordered the troops to collect the rest of the plunder. That portion which was to go to the city [of Rome] he sold; the rest he distributed with most scrupulous fairness among the soldiers. (11) He then paraded them, and after warmly commending the services which the whole army had rendered, he conferred rewards on each according to their merit, especially on Attalos, who was unanimously applauded, for the exemplary courage and untiring energy which the young prince had shown in facing toils and dangers was only equalled by his modesty.

[Interlude on the story of the captive Orgiagon, a Tektosagian woman]

24 Now came the campaign against the Tektosagians, and the consul [Manlius Vulso] began his advance against them. In a three days’ march he reached Ankyra, a city of importance in that district, and the enemy were only ten miles distant from it. (2) While he was here in camp a remarkable incident occurred in connection with a female prisoner. The wife of a leader named Orgiagon, a woman of exceptional beauty, was with other captives in the custody of a centurion who was notorious even among soldiers for his lack of sexual restraint and greed. (3) At first he made improper proposals to her, but finding that she treated them with abhorrence, he took advantage of her servile condition and violated her. (4) Then, to alleviate her anger and shame at the violation, he held out hopes to her of returning to her friends, but not as a lover would have done without ransom. He stipulated for a certain weight of gold, and to prevent his men from knowing anything about it, he allowed her to choose one of the prisoners and send a message by him to her friends. (5) A spot by the river was fixed upon where not more than two of her friends were to come with the gold on the following night and receive her. (6) There happened to be among the prisoners one of her own slaves, and this man was conducted by the centurion beyond the ramparts as soon as it was dark. (7) The following night two of her friends and the centurion with his captive met at the place. (8) While they were showing him the gold, which amounted to an Attic talent – the agreed-upon sum – the woman speaking in her own language ordered them to draw their swords and cut off the centurion’s head while he was counting out the gold. (9) Wrapping up the murdered man’s head in her robe, she took it to her husband, who had fled home from Olympos. (10) Before embracing him she flung down the head at his feet. While he was wondering whose head it could possibly be, or what such an unwomanly act could mean, she told him about the violation she had endured and the revenge she had taken for her violated chastity. (11) It is recorded that by the purity and strictness of her life she maintained to the very last the honour of a deed so worthy of a matron.

[Defeat of the Tektosagians near Ankyra]

25 While the consul [Manlius Vulso] was in camp at Ankyra he was visited by envoys from the Tektosagians, who begged him not to advance any further until he had had met with their kings, and assured him that they would prefer any terms of peace to war. The next day was fixed for the interview. The spot selected was one that seemed to be halfway between Ankyra and the Gauls’ camp. (3) The consul went there at the appointed time with an escort of five hundred horse-men. However, since not a single Gaul was in sight, he returned to camp. (4) The envoys reappeared and excused the absence of the leaders due to concerns about ritual obligations; they promised that some of their principal men would come, as matters could be equally well transacted with them. (5) The consul said that he would send Attalos to represent him. Both parties came, Attalos with an escort of three hundred horse-men. (6) The terms of peace were discussed, but no final result could be reached in the absence of the leaders. So it was arranged that the consul should meet the leaders on the following day.

[Plot of the Gauls]

(7) The Gauls had a double object in delaying negotiations. First, they aimed to gain time, so that they could transport their property – which might, they feared, expose them to danger – across the Halys, together with their wives and children. Secondly, they did this because they were hatching a plot against the consul, who was not taking any precautions against treachery at the conference. (8) For this purpose they had selected out of their entire force one thousand men who were proven to be daring. The plan would have succeeded if Fortune had not defended the common law of peoples which they intended to violate. (9) The Roman troops were sent to collect forage and wood near the place of the conference, as this appeared to the military tribunes to be the safest course, since they would have the consul and his escort between them and the enemy. Another detachment of six hundred mounted men was stationed nearer their camp.

(10) On receiving Attalos’ assurance that the kings would come and that the negotiations could be completed, the consul started from the camp with the same escort as before. (11) He had ridden nearly five miles and was not far from the appointed place when he suddenly saw the Gauls coming on at full gallop with hostile intent. Halting his force and bidding them prepare themselves and their weapons for battle, he met the first charge firmly without giving ground. (12) Then when the weight of numbers began to tell he slowly retired, keeping his ranks unbroken. Finally, when there was more danger in remaining on the field than safety in keeping their ranks, they all broke and fled. (13) Thus scattered they were hard pressed by the Gauls, as they cut them down, and a large proportion of them would have been destroyed had not the six hundred who were posted to protect the foragers met them in their flight. (14) They had heard the shouts of alarm among their comrades, and hurriedly getting their weapons and horses ready they came fresh into the fight when it was almost over. This turned the fortunes of the day (15) and the panic recoiled from the defeated on to the conquerors. The Gauls were defeated in the first charge, and as the foragers came running up from the fields, the enemy found themselves met on every side, with hardly any way of escape open. The Romans on fresh horses were pursuing those which were tired and exhausted, and few escaped. No prisoners were taken. By far the greater number paid the death penalty for their breach of good faith. (16) Furious at this treachery the Romans advanced in full strength against the enemy the following day.

[Final battle and further descriptions of Gauls’ approach]

26 The consul spent two days in making a close inspection of the natural features of the mountain that he might be familiar with every detail. The next day, after taking the auspices and offering the sacrifices, he led out his army. (2) It was formed into four divisions; two of these he intended to take up the middle of the mountain, the two others were to ascend the sides and take the Gauls in both flanks. (3) The dispositions of the enemy were as follows: the Tektosagians and the Trokmians, who formed his strongest opposition, numbering fifty thousand men, held the centre; the horse-men, ten thousand strong, were dismounted as horses were useless on that broken ground, and formed the right wing; the Cappadocians under Ariarathes and the Morzian auxiliaries, in all about four thousand, were posted on the left. (4) The consul placed his light infantry in the first line as he had done in the battle on Olympos, and took care that they should have an equally ample supply of weapons at hand.

(5) When they approached the enemy all the features of the former battle were reproduced except that the courage of the one side was raised by their recent victory and that of the other side depressed. This was because the enemy, though not yet themselves defeated, looked upon the defeat of their fellow-countrymen as tantamount to their own. (6) As the battle began, so it ended in the same way. A perfect cloud of missiles overwhelmed the Gauls. (7) None dared to run forward from his entrenchments in case he would expose his naked body to the certainty of being hit from all sides, and while they remained standing within their lines in close formation, they received more wounds the more densely they were packed, as though each man was specially aimed at. (8) The consul thought that the sight of the standards of the legions would put the already demoralised Gauls to instant flight, and accordingly he retired the light infantry and other skirmishers within the ranks of the legions and ordered an advance.

27 The Gauls, unnerved by the memory of the defeat of the Tolostobogians, exhausted by their long standing and their wounds, with the javelins sticking in their bodies, did not wait for the first charge and battle-shout of the Romans. (2) They fled towards their camp, but few gained the shelter of their entrenchments. The majority rushed past them right or left, wherever their eagerness to escape carried them. (3) The victors pursued them up to their camp, killing them from behind, but once at the camp they stopped in their eagerness for plunder. No one continued the pursuit. (4) The Gauls held their ground somewhat longer on the wings, as it took longer to reach them. They did not, however, wait for the first discharge of missiles.

(5) As the consul could not keep his men from looting the camp, he sent the other two divisions in instant pursuit. (6) They followed them up for a considerable distance and killed in all about eight thousand men as they fled; there was no attempt at fighting. The survivors crossed the Halys river. A large part of the Roman army passed the night in the enemy’s camp. The consul led the rest back to their own camp. (7) The following day, the consul counted up the prisoners and the plunder. The plunder was as great as even a people that was always focussed on forceful seizure, and had for many years held by force all the country west of the Taurus, could possibly have amassed. (8) After the Gauls had collected from their scattered flight, most of them wounded, without weapons, and stripped of all their belongings, they sent to the consul to request peace. Manlius ordered them to go to Ephesos. (9) He himself, anxious to get out of the cold district near the Taurus (it was now the middle of autumn) led his victorious army back to the coast for their winter quarters.


Source of the translation: W.M. Roberts, Livy: The History of Rome (London: Dent and Sons, 1912-24), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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