The arrival of the Galatians to the Hellenistic world impacted on the region profoundly, not just in Asia Minor, but also in other areas such as Greece, Egypt or Macedon. Some of the regional rulers defined them as the new “barbarians” that wanted to conquer the Hellenistic world. They were pictured as a threat for Hellenistic freedom.
The Galatians became main subject of various kings and satraps’ propaganda, just as previously the Persians were. The new comers turned to be a perfect opportunity for some of the main leaders in the Hellenistic world to proclaim themselves the saviours and right leaders to govern their regions.
According to Rolf Strootman, royal propaganda was initiated by Aitolia and its leaders, who claimed to have played a key part on the victory against the Celts at Delphi in 279 BC. They converted this encounter into a fight won against the “new Persian barbarians” coming to conquer the Greek world. They used the Celts as propaganda while they took ownership for the victory. All of this was orientated at having the control of that area. By proclaiming themselves the saviours of the region they pretended to gain regional acceptance and power and control over their territory. Even a festival called Soteria was created to commemorate the great victory against the Celt invaders. All this propaganda was an agenda designed to frame the new comers as the barbarians that needed to be rejected from the Greek world.
Likewise, Antigonos II Gonatas used the arrival of the Galatians to Macedon as an opportunity to proclaim himself lord of the Macedon lands.
Similarly, Strootman writes on one of his articles that king Attalos Soter (the saviour) released Pergamon and its kingdom from the Galatian invaders. They created a mausoleum in which there was a comparison of the encounter against the Galatians with the battle of the Olympian gods against the Titans. Attalos and his subsequent dynasty built a mausoleum that had sculptures with gods fighting against the Titans, the Amazons, the Persians and the Galatians, making the comparison very clear. They even connected their ancestors with Heraklion, half human half god, with the intention to deify their kings and to give continuity to their dynasty, proving their right to reign the area.
Different authors wrote about the “Elephant victory” which seemed to have been a battle between the king of the Seleucids Antiochus I and the Galatians. Authors such as Altay Coskum or Bar-Kochva researched about this battle. They claim that the battle was used as a propaganda tool by the Seleucid king. As Coskum and Bar-Kochva wrote, the battle wasn’t as it was written by the writers of that time. Apparently, the king used diplomacy to arrive to terms with the Galatians. At the same time the battle happened he was also having some difficulties in other areas in Syria. He could not afford fighting for long periods in different fronts and at the same time. The Galatians were allowed to stay in a territory near Bithynia, place where they settled for centuries.
Looking at documents such as the decree of the Ionian League (Decree of Illion), C. P. Jones states that the battle was used as propaganda, taking the king Antiochus I the opportunity to reinforce his royal figure amongst his territories. F. Piejko looked at the decree and stated that a festival was created to commemorate the saviour Antiochus I winning battle against the Galatians.
During the times that the Galatians stayed in Asia Minor, the Hellenistic world pictured them as the chaos bringing instability to the region (Strootman R. 2005). They were framed as the barbarians that plundered the cities and slaughtered its citizens. Rolf Strootman seems to confirm this by saying that the only reason for the Galatians arrival to the Hellenistic world was to plunder its regions. Karl Strobel though describes how organised those different tribes were. Among many other things, he writes that the Galatians were looking for land to settle down.
According to this same author, these new comers were different communities such as the Trocmi, the Tolistobogii or the Tectosages. They had really advanced forms of organisation and a clear hierarchy within their communities. They had their own religious beliefs and used advanced forms for burying their dead. Strootman even provides evidences that prove that they managed to integrate themselves within the area, adapting local and Hellenistic forms of religion, customs and so on.
Strobel wrote that these communities accomplished quiet an organised social system within Asia Minor. From the beginning and during the time they stayed in those areas they became key players in the politics of the region. Just few examples will explain this. They fought alongside Antiochus Hierax and against his brother in the “Fratricidal War”, as explained by Daniel Ogden or Altay Coskum. Gareth Darbyshire also commented on how the Galatians fought alongside the Romans and against the Seleucids or how they managed to be autonomous after the Seleucid kingdom was taken by the Romans. According to the same author, they continued having their own customs and adapted also to become part of the Roman Empire. Only a really well organised and advanced community would have been able to achieve so much in such turbulent times.
Therefore, from the evidences provided by all the authors mentioned, the Galatians seemed to have established a relationship of conflict and cooperation with the Seleucids for the time they stayed in Asia Minor. They were pictured as “barbarians” and intruders of the Hellenistic world for political reasons. They were framed as the “new Persians”, and within this new context, some of the ruling class claimed regional ownership and political control of the Hellenistic world. However, they achieved an a semi or fully independent status that probes their culture and advanced civilised organisation.
Map found on:
Coşkun, Altay. 2011. ‘Galatians and Seleucids: a Century of Conflict and Cooperation’, in: Kyle Erickson/Gillian Ramsey (eds.): Seleukid Dissolution: Fragmentation and Transformation of Empire (Exeter, July 2008), Wiesbaden, 85-107.
Coşkun, Altay. 2012. ‘Deconstructing a Myth of Seleucid History: the So-Called ‘Elephant Victory’ over the Galatians Revisited’, Phoenix 66.
Darbyshire, Gareth, Stephen Mitchell and Levent Vardar. 2000. “The Galatian Settlement in Asia Minor.” AnatSt 50, 75–97.
Jones, C. P. (1993), ‘The Decree of Illion in Honor of a King Antiochus’, GRBS 34, 73-92.
Mitchell, Stephen: The Galatians: Representation and Reality, in: Andrew Erskine (ed.): A Companion to the Hellenistic World, Cambridge 2003, 280-293.
Piejko, F.: Decree of the Ionian League in Honour of Antiochus I, ca 267–262 B.C., Phoenix 45.2, 1991, 126–47.
Strobel, Karl: State Formation by the Galatians of Asia Minor. Politico-Historical and Cultural Processes in Hellenistic Central Anatolia, Anatolica 28, 2002, 1–44.
Bar-Kochva, B.: On the Sources and Chronology of Antiochus I’s Battle against the Galatians, PCPS 199, 1973, 1–8.
Strootman, Rolf: Kings against Celts. Deliverance from Barbarians as a Theme in Hellenistic Royal Propaganda, in: Karl AE Enenkel/Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer (eds.): The Manipulative Mode. Political Propaganda in Antiquity. A Collection of Case Studies, Leiden 2005, 101–41.
Ogden, Daniel: Polygamy, Prostitutes and Death. The Hellenistic Dynasties, London 1999.