The battles against the Gauls were of the last to be fought by the hoplites. During the fifty years that followed, hoplite warfare was abandoned mainly due to the new socio-political conditions that prevailed in the Greek World. In the artwork: Hoplites of the Archaic era (artwork/copyright: Karl  Kopinski).


By Periklis Deligiannis

Continued from PART I

The hordes of Bolgios and Kerethrios were the vanguards of the Gauls because shortly after (279 BC) the main Gallic army appeared led by Brennos (Brennus) and Akichorios, which invaded Macedonia through the Axios Valley. The Senonian Gaul conqueror of Rome (387 BC) was also called Brennos, a ‘name’ which was probably the Celtic title for the king. Centuries later, the Welsh word brennin had the same meaning (king). Brennos was the supreme warlord of the Galatians while Akichorios, Bolgios and Kerethrios were probably his lieutenants (commanders). The Celts were marching with their families in wagons, evidence that they intended to settle in the area. They were strengthened by their vassal warriors: Illyrians, Dardanians, Thracians, fugitive slaves and others. The ancient sources quote that the third (and main) Gallic horde consisted of 150,000 infantry and 15,000 to 60,000 cavalry, figures generally dismissed as exaggerated. The number of infantry is almost common in all ancient writers and probably account for all combatants and non-combatants. If we remove from that number the non-combatants (about 3/4 of the ancient populations), then the warriors would be around 35 to 40,000 men. The real number of the cavalry cannon be estimated, but a figure of 10,000 is plausible. Each Gaul cavalryman (a noble with armor) was accompanied by two horsemen. This military unit of three riders was called “Trimarkesia” (from the Celtic word “mark” which meant among other things, the horse).


A Gallic gilded helmet.


Sosthenes understood that he could not fight a battle against the large barbarian force, and so continued the tactics of sudden attacks and guerilla warfare. The Southern Greeks watched the invasion taking place in Northern Greece, remaining inactive. It seems that the main reason for their inaction was that they saw the Gallic invasion as a good opportunity to get rid of the 60-year old suzerainty of Macedonia on South Greece (which was initiated since the Macedonian victory at Chaeronea in 338 BC against the Athenians and Thebans). According to their point of view, the Gauls would weaken Macedonia and then would withdraw to their homes, while the southern Greeks could again be involved in endless wars between their city-states. If this was their assessment, it was completely wrong. Brennos left a Gallic force in Macedonia under Bolgios to maintain communications with their bases in the North, and marched with the bulk of the army in Thessaly (Central Greece). The Thessalian landowners were forced to conciliation with him and allow him to cross their lands on the condition not to harm their crops and their country. The attitude of the Thessalians, analogous to that which they had during the Persian Wars (480-479 BC), was a consequence and result of the neglect and misunderstanding of the Southern Greeks, the same with those which characterized them during the Persian Wars and prompted the Thebans, Boeotians and Thessalians to the Persian alliance. The Spartans and generally the Peloponnesians were indifferent to the Gallic threat and did not join the South Greek alliance then set up against it. The Peloponnesians, protected by the “natural moat” of the Corinthian Gulf, knew that the barbarians had no fleet. Thereby if the Peloponnesian forces gathered at the Isthmus and the Achaean coast (North Peloponnesian coast), it would be very difficult for the Celts to invade Peloponnesus. There was additionally a political expediency for the able king of Sparta, Areus. The invasion of the Gauls would weaken his Aetolian enemies, who were evolving in a significant politico-military power.


Α Greek  helmet of  the  Phrygian  type.

Finally, I have to make some remarks on a dramatic change in Southern Greek warfare, which is often associated with the Celtic invasion in Southern Greece that followed: the abandonment of hoplite warfare.

From the aforementioned attitude of the Peloponnesians and Ptolemy Keraunos (part I), it seems that until then the Greeks in general did not esteem the Celts as warriors and regarded them as mere barbarian bandits, who could easily be defeated by their phalanxes. This attitude appears also in the aforementioned ironic commentary of Alexander on them (part I). Besides the Celtic military success in Macedonia is rather due to the foolish decisions of Ptolemy Keraunos. As we shall see, Brennos after his attack at Thermopylae refrained on fighting a pitched battle against the southern Greek hoplites and when later the Gauls finally were forced to confront the organized Greek combatants in the battle of Lysimacheia (277 BC), they were killed en mass after falling in their ambush. However, the warriors of Greece were impressed by the flexible Gallic tactics which caused them heavy losses (during the Celtic invasion in southern Greece). These flexible tactics were supported by analogous light military equipment. Most researchers believe that this influence is responsible for the gradual abandonment of hoplite military equipment by the mainland Greeks after the Galatian invasion, and their rearmament with thyreos shields (Italo-Gallic scuta) and Celtic mail armor. My opinion is that they were probably influenced by the much similar Italian warfare of the Romans and the Samnites. Pyrrhus’ campaigns in Italy at the same time, where although he was not defeated, his army had very heavy losses because of the flexible Roman tactics (Pyrrhic victory) and the metropolitan Greek contacts with Italy, were probably responsible for this effect. The main reason, however, was the new political and socio-economic conditions in southern Greece which was facing serious economic and social problems: the new arms and armor were quite cheaper and the new tactics did not require as strong social cohesion as the hoplite tactics did. This socio-economic situation, which was combined in time with the Italian and Gallic influence, brought about the end of hoplite warfare and the hoplite.

Celts in Greece
Despite the claims of some ancient writers that the Gauls were unable to invade the Sanctuary of Delphi, some reports of Latin authors and the Greek Strabo for the recovery in 106 BC of a part of the gold of Delphi by the Romans in Tolosa of the Tectosages Gauls (modern Toulouse), findings from Italy depicting Pythia of Delphi having been decapitated by the Gauls, or the Temple of Delphi burned by them and other evidence, suggest that the Celts conquered the Sanctuary. They invaded it rather on the first day of their attack when the hero Aleximachos was killed, while on the second day the advent of the Aetolians of Philomelos reversed the situation in favor of the Greeks who probably then managed to oust the intruders from the Sanctuary. The Gauls retreated with order and with rich booty, especially gold. It seems that most Greek writers responded to this calamity as later did Titus Livy, who insisted that the Celts did not capture Rome in 387 BC while her capture and sack are undeniable facts. In the picture: Brennos and his men in the sanctuary of Delphi, and the start of the storm that eventually strengthened the Greek defenders (Source: Newark, T. & McBride A., Ancient Celts, Concord).


Thus arose the Greek thureophoros or thyreophoros (thureos-bearer or scutum-bearer) and the Greek thorakites of the Hellenistic age: in the 2nd and 3rd quarter of the 3rd century BC, most cities of southern Greece abandoned the hoplite equipment. Their combatants adopted lighter equipment, differing little from the common peltasts. The hoplite shield was abandoned in favor of the Italo-Celtic thureos (or thyreos) together with any other armor except the helmet. The new combatant was called thureophoros and his main feature was the use of the thureos instead of the Thracian pelte used till then by the Greek peltasts. Later some thureophoroi were supplied with mail armor, the type used by the Celts and Romans, and thus were called thorakitae  thureophoroi (cuirassiers). Very soon the equipment of the thureophoros and the thorakites and their flexible tactics, expanded also in the Greek cities of Italy, Sicily and the other areas of the old Greek colonization.

The new Greek combatants who replaced the hoplites: D: thureophoros, A: thorakites (source: Sekunda N & McBride A. , Ptolemaic army, Montvert)


Despite the expansion of this kind of equipment and the corresponding peltastic tactics, the armies of Macedonia and Sparta, the traditionally most powerful armies of Greece never adopted these changes (beyond the employment of thureophoroi and thorakitae mercenaries from other areas). Instead, in 226 BC Sparta adopted the formation of the Macedonian phalanx. Also the great Kingdoms of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, the larger politico-military powers of the Hellenistic world, did not adopt these changes for the combatants of the Royal Army until after 167 BC, only partially and only due to the Roman influence. Furthermore, we saw that the cities of Southern Greece adopted them mainly because of their downturn: the new equipment was considerably cheaper than the hoplite one.

In a future article, I will deal with the invasion of the Gauls in Southern Greece and the struggle for the Sanctuary of Delphi .


Periklis    Deligiannis



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(5) CAMBRIDGE ANCIENT HISTORY, First edition, Cambridge, 1925-1930