A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 1

Society and Religion in Central Asia Minor in the Time of St. Paul

Chapter 8

The Galatian State

STRABO, p. 567, gives a sketch of the Galatian organisation and government. The three tribes all spoke the same language and were of similar character. Each tribe was divided on the old Gaulish system into four cantons, called by the Greeks tetrarchies. Each tetrarchy was administered by a special chief under whom were a judge and a general and two lieutenant-generals. There was a senate of 300 members, drawn from the twelve tetrarchies, which met at a place called Drynemeton,1 and judged cases of murder; but everything else was arranged by the tetrarchs and the judges. This constitution lasted till B.C. 64.

In time of war the disadvantage of multiplication of leaders made them sometimes, at least, entrust the conduct of operations to three chiefs, one for each tribe, as was the case in B.C. 189. In other respects also Strabo’s account must not be pressed too closely as implying an unvarying, cast-iron system. But its general truth is beyond question. Strabo was a very careful writer, and abundant evidence was open to him. The meeting of the 300 representatives at the holy place Drynemeton was clearly in accordance with an old Gaulish custom. It may be compared with the meeting of the representatives of the sixty-four Gallic states at Lugudunum beside the central altar: this meeting, instituted in its Roman form in B.C. 12, was “adapted to a pre-existing national institution, for ist August, the day of the dedication of the altar (to Rome and Augustus) and of the meeting, was also the great Celtic festival of the Sungod Lug”.2

Doubtless there was an altar at Drynemeton. The altar, as distinguished from the temple, was a feature of the Gaulish religion (and of all primitive religions).

As Livy mentions, the Gauls had no cities. They were too barbarous to found cities, or to maintain the Phrygian cities. They dwelt in villages, and in time of war they sent women and children, flocks and herds, to strongholds on hill tops.3 The chiefs seem to have maintained rude state in castles, surrounded by their tribesmen, and exercising sway over the subject Phrygians around. The evidence of Livy (i.e., of his authority Polybius) is confirmed by the facts of history and of archaeological discovery (see Anderson and Crowfoot in Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1899, pp. 34-130).

There had been cities of the Phrygians, Ancyra, Gordium, Pessinus, Gorbeous, and others unknown to fame. But Gordium was utterly destroyed by the Gauls.4 Pessinius was a city of importance, but it was not Gaulish in the same sense as Ancyra. It was not taken by the Gauls until between 190 and 164, and even then there seems to have been a compromise between the old families and the Gauls. Deiotarus, B.C. 64-40, ruled the tribe, not from Pessinus, but from the fortresses Peion and Bloukion. Such was the state of things among the Tolistobogii.

Among the Tectosages, Aricyra, which had been a great city in the pre-Galatic period, became a mere chief fort among the Gauls; and Strabo does not call it a πόλις, but only a φρούριον, implying that it had not that municipal organisation which was essential to a πόλις. Gorbeous, an old Phrygian city, had also sunk to a village, and was the residence of Castor about B.C. 50.

Among the Trocmi three forts are named, Tavium (also called a trade-centre, ἐμπόριον, for the surrounding country), Mithridation, and Danala.5

These facts show that the Gaulish conquest caused an almost complete destruction of the civilisation and commerce of Galatia. The archaeological evidence points to the same conclusion. As Mr. Crowfoot, who has carefully explored a large part of Western Galatia, says: “Most of these sites reached the height of their prosperity perhaps in early times,6 and only supported feeble settlements in the Greek and Roman periods. Only on this hypothesis can I account for the fact that early ware still appears upon the surface.”7

Gallic virtues and faults, which made a deep impression on Polybius from personal knowledge, and on all Greeks, were such as are natural to their origin, situation and history. They were haughty and fierce, but straightforward and truthful personally. They set high value on their personal promise and word,8  though this was not inconsistent with stratagem and deceit in war. They were quick to resent any insult, and to avenge it even at the risk of their life.9

Plutarch speaks of Celts and Galatians as the noblest of barbarians, who never give way to vehement sorrow and mourning, as Egyptians, Syrians, Lydians, etc., do.10

Without insisting on the exact truth of the stories about the Gauls that are reported by our authorities, we note that they are all of the same tone, and that they are a safe index to the character of the people, as reflecting the impression likely to be made by the northern barbarians on the Greeks.

It is not strange that their qualities should have impressed the Greeks so deeply: they are the qualities of an aristocracy, proud of their own individual superiority, which gives them a certain standard of personal honour — qualities that were lacking among the Greeks.

So long as the Gauls continued to be a nation of warriors, this character would persist without serious change. Such, as we saw, was probably the case with the old Phrygian conquerors: the warrior caste kept itself free from the manners of its subjects. In the time of Polybius the Galatae were as great a terror to the Greeks as ever, and one of the most striking stories illustrating the Galatian character is not earlier than B.C. 88-86.11

Strabo says, p. 567, the Gauls retained their original form of government until his own time, i.e., until the changes introduced by Pompey, B.C. 64, who appointed three chiefs. There is, therefore, every reason to think that the Gauls continued to preserve their native character, vigour and haughty aristocratic spirit of separation from the surrounding Asian peoples unimpaired, at least until the middle of the first century; and that the country was reduced to a state of barbarism. Art and literature had no home there. It was a country of shepherds and rude warriors, with a scanty trade carried on by the Phrygians of the few remaining towns.

And what about the conquerors? It is impossible that they should have remained entirely unaffected by their new surroundings. Experience and travel are educative; and the Gauls had much of both before they finally settled down in their new country as heirs to the old-standing Phrygian order and religious organisation. What can be discovered as to the relations between conquerors and conquered?

It would be absurd to suppose that the older race was exterminated, or expelled, or even seriously diminished in numbers. It constituted from the first the great majority of the population, amid which the Gauls settled as a conquering and aristocratic caste, not unlike the Normans among the Saxons in England about A.D. 1066. All evidence shows that the settlement took place in a comparatively peaceful way: the kings of the surrounding lands agreed and the Phrygian people quietly accepted the new situation with their usual placid resignation.

The resulting situation was probably like that which occurred in Gaul when a not dissimilar, though less peaceful, settlement occurred: the conquerors took one-third of the soil and left two-thirds to the older people.12

The total number of Gauls who settled in Galatia cannot have been large. The first great army which entered Asia Minor with Leonnorios and Lutafios in 278 is stated by Livy13 to have numbered 20,000, of which one-half were armed men: the rest presumably being women and children. Others afterwards joined them; but these seem not to have been so important. The births in the following hundred years are not likely to have much more than counterbalanced the deaths in the unceasing wars.

This small aristocratic caste, then, owned one-third of the whole country; and the writers who describe their wars in the second century think only of the Gauls and never allude to the subject population. Fortunately, they give an unusually detailed description of the Gaulish manners and men and women, from which we can picture their condition in that century.

Evidently they did not take to agriculture or to trade. They were warriors; and, so far were they from condescending to adopt the improved tactics and weapons of the disciplined Greek armies, that they were still fighting naked14  in B.C. 189, without order or tactics, armed with swords and long wooden or wicker shields; and Polybius, who was writing after 145, evidently considered that these customs still continued among them. Their simple plan of battle was that one fierce, terrible charge, which swept almost every Greek army before it like chaff before the wind, but which skilful opponents soon learned to elude. They offered up their captives in sacrifice to the Celtic gods.

That is true to the old Gaulish customs. Even in 216, Hannibal’s Gaulish allies fought naked at Cannae.15 Caesar and other writers mention the Gaulish custom of sacrificing their captives (pp. 61, 133).16

A people of that character cannot be thought of as agriculturists. In their own land they had thought it dishonourable to cultivate the ground, as Cicero mentions;17  and they were not likely to change as a conquering race in Asia Minor. So far as their third of the land was cultivated, doubtless the work was done by the subject population. The Gauls, as Van Gelder18 says, were pastoral, so far as they were anything except warriors; and the pastoral life, while it kept them hardy, would also maintain their barbarism and isolation from the settled old population: the shepherd is the natural enemy of the agriculturist. But, doubtless, the labour was done almost entirely by the subject Phrygians; and the Gauls, when not at war, feasted in the castles of the nobles in the rude but plentiful style described by Phylarchus.19

But, if the Gaulish tribes proper were so few in numbers, how shall we account for the immense numbers who are mentioned as composing the Galatian armies in the second and first centuries before Christ? We notice that such numbers do not appear in the third century. The Gauls, then, are found as mercenaries in the kings’ armies, or as raiding bands. If not regular mercenaries, they appear as acting in conjunction with some king’s army, and not as constituting great armies of their own.

Evidently Mommsen’s view is right that the Galatian state, after Galatia was constituted a political reality about 232, contained both Gauls and Phrygians. The old native population was merged in the new state.

Only in this way can we account for the recorded facts. Livy’s estimate of the Galatian loss in B.C. 189 is 18,000 slain, and 40,000 captives at Mt. Olympus,20 and 8000 slain with a great number of captives at Mt. Magaba. How can these numbers be reconciled with our indubitable information as to the small numbers of the Gauls? Evidently the captives (about whom Livy is very positive) included not merely persons of Gaulish race, but also their Phrygian servants and dependants. No doubt the Gauls had learned to make the most use of the Phrygian people, as the Dorian conquerors of Laconia did of the Helot population. Now all captives were useful as spoil; all could be sold to increase the prize-money of the victorious Romans; all were treated as equally belonging to the hostile state.

But this fact, which can hardly be doubted, shows us Galatia as a roughly unified state, containing two distinct classes of population, but with both classes driven to cooperate against an invasion, and both classes treated by the enemy without distinction as Galatae. The headlong flight of the Galatians in both battles is easily explained, when the composition of their defensive armies is taken into account. Hence, also, we understand why Aemilius Paullus spoke so strongly in the senate of the mixture among the Galatian foes.21

Lucullus had 30,000 Galatae in his army, as he marched from Bithynia into Pontus.22 That contingent cannot be taken as the whole fighting force of Galatia. A considerable number must have been left in the country to guard the home population, the families and the property, from the Pontic attacks. There can hardly have been less than 60,000 fighting men in arms, when 30,000 were serving in Bithynia. That is the army of a country, and not of a small separate ruling caste within the country.

Obviously no distinction was made by external nations as to the stock from which sprang the soldiers in these armies. They are all summed up by historians as Galatae; and this term in those cases is to be taken simply as “men of Galatia,” and not as “men of Gaulish blood”. Galatia had been since 232 recognised as a political fact, a definitely bounded country with its own form of government; and all who belonged to the country and contributed to its strength were Galatae.

But some New Testament critics have either practically ignored this in their exposition of the “Galatian Question,” or even explicitly denied it.23 We must therefore examine more closely the use of the name Galatian Γαλάτης. It is not, of course, denied that the name often was associated by the ancients with Gaulish descent. The element in the Galatian state that gave it firmness, vigour and character was Gaulish; and people ignored and forgot about the undistinguished element.

In the fragmentary records of enfranchisement at Delphi,24 we are struck with the number of Galatian slaves that were set free between the years 169 and 100 B.C. There are more from Galatia than from any other country, except Syria and Thrace.25 This is in itself strange, if Gauls by blood must be understood by the term Galatae. Those proud and untamable warriors, “the noblest of barbarians,” were among the three most frequent nations in slavery! We should have imagined from the pictures sketched by Polybius, Plutarch, and others, that the Gaul would fight to the death and would pine in captivity. Moreover, the slaves that were enfranchised were those who behaved peaceably and well, and worked out their freedom by their industry.

It is quite probable that some of the captives, Phrygians by birth, whom Manlius took in 189, were among those Galatian slaves whose enfranchisement is recorded at Delphi, for many of his captives were, beyond doubt, sold in the slave markets of the Greek world.

Further, what has become of the Phrygians, the nation marked out by nature for slavery? Compared with the Galatians in the deeds of enfranchisement they are as three to eight! Yet Socrates remarks on the industry of the Phrygian slaves; and a Phiygian slave is a frequent character in the Greek drama.26

Further, one of these enfranchised slaves is “Sosias, by nationality Galatian, by trade a shoemaker”;27 and he was set free between B.C. 150 and 140. Another was Athenais, a skilled artisan (τεχνῖτες),28 B.C. 140-100. We remember that the trades and handicrafts in Galatia were wholly in the hands of the subject population, while the Gaulish aristocracy had war as their only trade; and we refuse to recognise in Sosias a Gaulish noble turned shoemaker and good at his trade, or in Athenais a Gaulish lady who had taken to a handicraft.

Another of these enfranchised slaves from Galatia was called Maiphates, a typical Anatolian and especially Phrygian name;29 and Strabo, p. 304, mentions that it was customary for slaves to bear names characteristic of their nation.

The case is clear. These “Galatian” slaves were simply brought from Galatia and sold in the slave-market, labelled with the name of the country from which they had been brought.

It would appear that Galatia was a great seat of the slave trade. Ammianus mentions Galatae, XXII 7, 8, as having in their hands even the trade in Gothic slaves. It is a feature of the country still, which has been preserved from ancient times, that the same trades persist in special places from generation to generation. The Galatian slave trade was likely to be much stimulated in the third century B.C., when a considerable addition was made to the population and a great deal of the land was taken away from the former owners. The food supply must have become insufficient; and the slave market was the natural resource. Even in countries such as Boeotia, where ordinarily the father had no right to sell his children into slavery, it was allowed that he should do so in case of destitution; while Phrygians and Galatians are mentioned as being in the regular habit of selling their children.

The Galatian customs in treating slaves may then be assumed to spring, not from Gaul, but from the Asiatic practice. One of these customs was that they marked their slaves by cuts or wounds, as Artemidorus the Lydian mentions. The word which he uses might refer to branding, but his meaning in this case is shown by the context.30

The same custom has been practised in the country until recently, and one sees still ex-slaves thus marked by cuts on the face, which have been prevented from closing, so as to leave scars.31 We may then assume that this was the usual practice of central Asia Minor in general; but the pre-eminence of the Galatian slave traders made it known to the world as a Galatian custom.

It seems clearly proved that so early as the second century B.C. the Phrygian origin of the larger half of the Galatian population was forgotten by ordinary people of the surrounding countries; and the whole state was thought of as Galatia and its people as Galatians.

The distinction, of course, was much more clearly perceived in the country, where the aristocratic class was marked off from the masses. But even in the country a certain approximation was brought about through the influence of the common religion.

Once more, Pausanias mentions that on account of the boar having ravaged Lydia, where Attis was, the Galatians that lived at Pessinus refrained from eating pork.32 It is clear that the abstinence from swine’s flesh was an old Asiatic and East Anatolian custom, found also at the temple of Comana Pontica. The Gaulish stock was evidently weaker in Pessinus than in most places,33 and half of the higher priests were of the old native families. Evidently Pausanias used the word Galatian in that passage of the entire Pessinuntine population, and not only of the section that had Gaulish blood.


[1] M. Perrot took Drynemeton as the Oak-grove, and placed it seven hours south-west of Ancyra, where a few oaks still grow in that treeless land. But Holder, Altcelt. Sprachschatz, explains dry as an intensive prefix, and nemeton as sanctuary.

[2] Rushforth, Latin Histor. Inscrip., p. 48 f.; Rhys, Hibbert Lectures, pp. 409, 421, 424.

[3] Livy, XXXVIII 18, 15; 19, 1; 19, 5.

[4] It disappeared from history soon after 190, having previously been a great trade centre, though not a large city. Professor A. Korte has placed it at Pebi on the Sangarios, on a site which shows no remains except of the early period.

[5] Possibly Δάναλα is a form of the strange name which appears also as Ἐδκαύμανα, Γλαύαμα, etc., implying an original something like ΓδαFμαλα or ΓδαFμανα. This identification would imply that the territory of the Trocmi extended west of the Halys to embrace the country called “Added,” see p. 64 f.

[6] On that early period Mr. Crowfoot quotes Histor. Geogr. of Asia Minor, pp. 27-35.

[7] Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1899, p. 38.

[8] Compare the story of Chiomara; when she brought to her husband the head of her Roman captor, he said: “Woman! Good faith is a noble thing!” knowing that she must have broken faith before she could have slain him. Polyb., XXII 21; Plutarch, de Mul. Virt., 22. Also the story of Camma faithful, avenging her dead husband at the cost of her own life, Plutarch, de Mul. Virt., 20.

[9] Compare the story of the sixty Gaulish nobles whom Mithridates invited to Pergamos as friends and treated as inferiors, Plutarch, de Mul. Virt., 23.

[10] Cons, ad Apoll., 22. Here Κέλτοι evidently is used either in the generic sense of all Celtic tribes, as distinguished from Γαλάται, or as European Gauls distinguished from Galatae of Asia. The latter is more probable, and in either case it is impossible here to take Γαλάται as meaning only the Gauls of Gallia (in which sense it is often used).

[11] See Plutarch, Mul. Virt., 23 (referred to on p. 69).

[12] Caesar, Bell. Gall., I 31.

[13] Livy, XXXVIII 16 (on the authority, doubtless, of Polybius).

[14] Livy, XXXVIII 21. Not merely without armour, but actually without clothing, which they took off for battle, showing their skin, which the Greeks remarked on as white, because they never removed their clothing at any other time (whereas the Greeks were accustomed to daily naked exercise, and their skin became darker). See Grote’s note on Ch. LXXIII, p. 369, vol. IX, and Xenophon, Hell., III 4, 19.

[15] Livy, XXIX 46, 6.

[16] Compare Diodor., V 32, 6; Livy, XXXVIII 47, 12; Cicero, de Rep., III 9, 15 and 21, p. Font., 14, 31; Caesar, Bell. Gall., VI 16; Athenaeus, IV, p. 160.

[17] De Rep., III 9, 15.

[18] De Gallis in Graecia et Asia, ch. V, de Gal. moribus, p. 193.

[19] About B.C. 215, Athenceus, IV, p. 150.

[20] “Numerus captivorum baud dubie quadraginta millia explevit,” Livy, XXXVIII 23. See p. 57.

[21] Livy, XXXVIII 46.

[22] Plutarch Lucullus, 14.

[23] So e.g. Professor F. Blass, Acta Apostolorum, 1895, p. 176: Gravius autem errarunt qui Galatas Pauli intellegi voluerunt [Phrygas et] Lycaonas, quippe qui a Romanis Galatiae provinciae essent attributi; neque enim, ut mittamalia, ea re ex [Phrygibus et] Lycaonibus Galli facti erant. It is characteristic of the haste with which North Galatian theorists decide the case, that one has almost everywhere to amend their statements in essential points (as here by inserting two words twice) before one can begin to discuss it.

[24] Best given in Collitz, Sammlung der Gr. Dialektinschr., II, parts 3-5; also Wescher-Foucart Inscr. rec. a’ Delphes.

[25] Stähelin, Gesch. der Kleinas. Galater, p. 57, counts thirty-three Syrians, twenty-eight Thracians, ten Galatians, eight Macedonians, five Sarmatians, four Illyrians, four Cappadocians, four Armenians, three Phrygians, three Arabs, two Jews, two Lydians, etc. A few more may be identified, e.g., a slave Armenios is certainly Armenian (cp. Strabo, p. 304), in W. F., 258.

[26] See “The Slaves in the Wasps,” Classical Review, 1898, p. 335.

[27] W. F., 429.

[28] Collitz, 2154.

[29] See “Phrygo-Galatian Slaves,” Classical Review, 1898, p. 342.

[30] Among the Thracians noble children, and among the Galatae slaves, are marked (στίζονται), Oneirocr., I 8.

[31] Mrs. Ramsay, Everyday Life in Turkey, p, 7.

[32] VII 17, 10, Γαλατῶν οἱ Πεσσινοῦντα ἔξοντες ὑῶν οὐχ ἁπτόμενοι.

[33] See p. 62.

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