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 9

The Religion of Galatia

FEW traces of the old Gaulish religion can be detected in Galatia. It would be difficult to mention any except the sacrifice of captives, which was practised as late as about B.C. 160, and presumably the rites at Drynemeton.1 It is hardly probable that the Gaulish religion was wholly disused or forgotten in the last century B.C. But, certainly, almost all the references — unfortunately very few — to Galatic religion point to the rapid adoption of the ancient and impressive religion of Cybele. That was the one possession of the old Phrygian people that exercised a really great influence on the world. The Galatians may perhaps have modified to some degree the character of the Phrygian ritual by their own nature and customs, as both the Phryges and the Greeks did.2 But we have no evidence on this point.

There were two reasons why the Gauls should adopt the religion of the conquered race.

(1) They had to govern the conquered people; and the easiest way of doing so was to use the already existing forms of rule. The priests of the great religious centres had hitherto been dynasts and had ruled the country round; and the Gaulish chiefs made themselves easily heirs to the immense power of the Phrygian priests by taking their place as far as possible. At Pessinus the Gauls took only half the places in the great priestly college. It is uncertain whether this can be taken as typical for other cases; but probably it was not typical. Pessinus was the greatest and most powerful of the sanctuaries; it was not taken possession of by the Gauls until after 189, and would certainly be able to make a much better bargain with the Gauls than the lesser hiera could. Probably the higher priesthoods elsewhere were almost all monopolised by Gaulish chiefs: examples on pp. 62, 88.

(2) A strange people always found it needful to adopt the gods of their new country. Those gods were the gods of the land; and any calamity that happened to the immigrants was naturally attributed to the wrath of the native gods, offended at the loss of their privileges: compare the story in 2Ki 17:26. Thus Cybele was soon an object of worship to the Gaulish conquerors.

An example of the influence of the Anatolian religion on the Galatian tribes, probably as early as the second century, is found in a tale recorded by Plutarch.3 The wife of Sinatos, one of the most influential of the tetrarchs, was Kamma, a beautiful woman, much respected for her character and wisdom and kindliness to the subject people.4  She was hereditary priestess of Artemis,5 and the magnificent attire in which she was seen in the processions and sacrifices of the goddess made her a conspicuous figure in the country.

Sinorix, another tetrarch, fell in love with her, and slew Sinatos by treachery. Then he wooed Kamma, and made a merit of having murdered Sinatos from love of her, and not from malice of heart. Her friends pressed her to accept Sinorix, who was a man of specially great influence; and she accepted him, and invited him to complete the betrothal in presence of the goddess. When he came, she led him before the altar of Artemis. Then, taking a cup, she poured a libation, drank of the cup, and handed it to him to drink. When she saw that he had drunk, she cried out calling the goddess to witness that for this day alone had she survived Sinatos, and that now having avenged his death she was going down to join him. Then to Sinorix she added: “For you, let your folk prepare a tomb instead of a marriage”. The Gaul, as the poison began to work, leaped on to his chariot, hoping to work off the effect through the rapid tossing motion; but he soon changed from the car to a litter, and expired the same evening (presumably on the homeward road). Kamma heard of his death, and died rejoicing.

Van Gelder (p. 199) remarks that the ceremonial preceding the marriage— formal betrothal, the great crowd of people convoying the pair, the offering of vows at the altar of Artemis, the drinking of the pair from a common cup — must be Gaulish, and certainly is not Greek or Oriental. His judgment seems to be mistaken. Professor Rhys, when consulted, says that he knows of no Celtic custom suggesting that bride and bridegroom drank of the same cup as a ceremony of marriage, or of betrothal; but that one expression6 may possibly (though not necessarily) indicate that eating of the same dish, something like confarreatio in the Roman religious ceremony, was a marriage custom.

Now drinking of the common cup is to this day part of the Greek marriage ceremony;7 and this makes it probable that the custom was not Gallic, but part of old Anatolian ritual. Plutarch’s words convey the impression that Kamma made the ceremonial as priestess, that it belonged to the ritual of Artemis and was novel to Sinorix. Artemis, then, was here not a Greek name for a Gallic goddess (which would be a reasonable hypothesis at the first glance). The Artemis, whose priestess Kamma was, was the Anatolian Goddess, Ma or Bellona, in whose ritual the annual procession, the Exodos of the deity, formed an important part. In that procession Kamma, in the gorgeous robes of the goddess herself, whom she represented, would play the conspicuous part that Plutarch describes.

With regard to marriage ceremonial in the Anatolian religion, we have unfortunately no evidence. While in all probability true marriage was not in accordance with the spirit of that religion, still it is certain that the relation between man and woman was always a very important fact in it, being closely associated with the temple service and considered as a religious act; and it is probable that some common ritualistic ceremony would be performed in the temple and before the altar of the goddess by the two parties. It is also certain that a mixed cup was a feature in the Phrygian Mysteries, and that the celebrants partook of this cup.

It is quite probable, therefore, that this drinking of the cup in the Mysteries might be adapted to a sort of marriage ceremony. A similar adaptation is known in respect of another act in the Mysteries. It is well known that the celebrant initiated in the Phrygian Mysteries pronounced the formula, “I have escaped evil, I have found a better”; and that this same formula was pronounced as part of the Athenian marriage ceremony.

That some ceremony in the temple of Artemis formed an accompaniment of marriage in ancient Anatolia is indicated in one place. In the legend of St. Abercius, it is said to have been arranged that, after the return of Verus from the Parthian War, his marriage with Lucilla, daughter of Marcus Aurelius, should be celebrated in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. As the legend, though embodying a real tradition, was not written down before about A.D. 400, it would be a plausible explanation that “this detail is suggested (to the person who gave literary form to the legend) by the Christian ceremonial of marrying in church”.8 But the story of Kamma suggests that the author may have correctly incorporated in the legend of St. Abercius a detail taken from the pagan marriage ceremonial of Asia Minor, for he wrote before paganism was extinct in the country.9

The romance of Kamma carries us back to the time when relations between the ruling Gauls and the subject Phrygians were beginning to be less purely that of lord and serf. Kamma was recognised by the Phrygians as a friend, partly because of her kindliness to them, still more because she was a priestess of their religion.

It is most unfortunate that no clue is given in the story to her date, except that she lived and died before B.C. 86. If the suspicion expressed above, that Polybius was Plutarch’s authority, be correct, she could not be much later than B.C. 140. That is probable from other facts of history, stated in Section 7. It was during the period 181- 160 that the moderating and civilising influence was strongest; and this influence was thereafter weakened. Kamma represents the progressive and milder type among the Gauls. However that may be, the second century is the period to which, doubtless, the incident belongs.

The tale points, beyond doubt, to the inference that participation in the common religion led to a gradual approximation between the Gauls and the Phrygians of Galatia. This is in itself probable: a common religion was the uniting bond in every society or association in ancient time.

Again, Deiotaros was devoted to divination and augury, and guided his life by them. According to Cicero, who had seen a good deal of him, and conversed with him on this subject, comparing their augural principles, he never did anything important without taking the omens. He often turned back from a journey, even after several days’ progress, when an unfavourable omen occurred; and he won Cicero’s heart by declaring that the favourable omens which accompanied him, as he went to join Pompey before the battle of Pharsalos, had come true, for they had led him to defend the senate and freedom and constitutional government, and the glory of this conduct outweighed in his estimation the loss of territory by which Caesar had punished him.

The augury which he followed, and which had once saved his life, was very different from the Roman principles of interpretation. It drew omens from almost all birds, whereas the Romans paid regard only to a few; it interpreted their flight and direction in different ways, sometimes drawing a conclusion exactly the opposite of the Romans.10

Deiotaros’s augury was not of Gaulish origin. It was that of Cilicians, Pamphylians, Phrygians, Pisidians, Lycians.11 It was the system of which an Ephesian fragment has been preserved.12 The Great Goddess of Asia Minor made Phrygian birds fly and had taught her priests to interpret the signs. Pausanias (X 21) mentions that the Gauls did not practice augury (yet see Diodorus, V 31, 3.

Aelian mentions that, when a plague of locusts afflicts the country, the Galatians of Asia offer prayers and perform rites invoking certain birds,13 which come and destroy the locusts. Aelian does not vouch for the truth of this, but it is the truest thing in his book. I have seen the locust bird often during the plague that ended in 1882. 14 It is a singularly beautiful bird of bright and variegated plumage, about the size of a starling, I should think, which follows and preys on the armies of locusts, and is never seen at any other time in the country. That the inhabitants would pray for the birds and invoke them with rites, as soon as the locusts appeared, may be regarded as certain. Doubtless they do so to the present day.

This custom is attributed to the Galatians by Aelian, but it was obviously not a Gaulish custom, but a native Anatolian practice, which the immigrant Gauls adopted. The persistence of ancient feeling about locusts is noteworthy in the horror with which the idea of eating them is still regarded in Anatolia, whereas the Arab tribes eat them with relish. The same contrast between the natives of Phrygia or of Pontus and the Arabs struck St. Jerome in the fourth century.15 This, incidentally, proves how keen was his observation as he travelled through the country, and confirms his other statements about the people.

In the inscriptions of the Roman period no allusion is made to any religion except that of the old Phrygian gods and that of the Emperors. It is possible, even probable, that the Koinon of Galatians, by which the imperial religion was maintained, was the successor of the old meeting at Drynemeton, and thus concentrated in itself the relics of Gaulish feeling and cultus; but the officials mentioned do not differ from the ordinary type in the provincial associations.

The inscriptions (all of Roman time) alluding to the religion of private individuals are quite undistinguishable from the ordinary Phrygian votive inscriptions, except that the personal names are often recognisably Celtic. The chief collection of inscriptions from the country districts, distinguished from the city of Ancyra, is that of J. G. C. Anderson in Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1899.


[1] See p. 73.

[2] See p. 41 f.

[3] De Mul. Virt., 20; Amat., 22.

[4] ποθεινὴ τοῖς ὑπηκόοις διαφερόντως ὑπ̓ εὐμενείας καὶ χρηστότητος. Plutarch’s authority, some earlier writer (possibly Polybius, from whom Mul. Virt. 22 is quoted), undoubtedly understood ὑπηκόοι as the subject Phrygian population, whom most of the Gauls treated with harshness and contempt.

[5] (πατρῷος ἱερωσύνη, Plut., Amat., 22.

[6] At the opening of the story of Kulhweh and Olwen, a prince wants a wife of the same food, with himself. This may refer to a marriage ceremony of eating food together, but more probably implies a wife of rank fitting her to sit always along with him at food.

[7] The Kubarra, or assistant, who also drinks of the same cup, is thenceforward a close relation: if a man, he may not marry the bride, if the bridegroom dies: if a woman, she may not marry the groom, if the wife dies.

[8] So in Expositor, April, 1889, p. 256.

[9] Abbé Duchesne places the composition of the Abercius legend much later than I do. His arguments seem to be wholly founded on misapprehension, as Prof. A. Zahn, Forsch. zur Gesch. des N. T. Kanons, V, p. 62 n, has recognised: see Cities and Bish. of Phrygia, II, pp. 709 ff, 723 ff.)

[10] Cicero de Div., I 15, 26 f.; II 8, 20; 36, 76 f.; 37, 78, composed in B.C. 44.

[11] Cicero de Div., I 15, 26, compare De Legibus, II 13, 33.

[12] In the collections of Hicks, Brit. Mus., 678; Roberts, 144; Roehl, 499; Cauer, 478; Bechtel, 145; see Bouché-Leclercq, Hist. de la Divin., I, p. 140 f.)

[13] Aelian, De Naf. Anim., XVII 19: read ἐστιν ὧν according to Valckenaer’s certain emendation.

[14] On the facts and the superstitions connected with locusts in Asia Minor see my Impressions of Turkey, p. 274 ff.

[15] Jerome, Adv. Jovin., II 7.

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