Celtic mercenaries in Egypt

Exploring the Little Known History of Celtic Warriors in Egypt

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Celtic warriors were one of the most important supports of Mediterranean armies. However, it is a little known fact that apart from their role in the Byzantium, these powerful warriors also had a strong connection with ancient Egypt.

Nowadays, the Celtic languages and cultures are restricted to Ireland, parts of Scotland, Wales, Galicia in Spain and Brittany in France. However, Celtic-speaking tribes once controlled much of Europe before the rise of the Roman Empire. Groups of Celtic mercenaries and adventurers made their presence felt as far afield as Thrace, Greece, Judea, and Africa.

It was during the 4 th century BC that Celtic warriors first appeared in Greece, Italy and the Mediterranean islands. In 390 BC they sacked a small city along the Tiber River in Etruria. Celtic warriors were famous for the quality of their weapons, their impressive courage and their wild battle-cries. Some of them went on foot, but the nobles rode to battle on horses. They wore long hair and favored decorated shields and long swords.

During the 4 th and the beginning of the 3 rd centuries BC they were employed in the region from Sparta to Syracuse. There they formed an important part of the Carthaginian army and fought in both Punic Wars. They supported Hannibal and traveled with him through the Alps.

It is rarely reported that during the 3 rd century BC, the Celts also acted as a support for the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.

Celtic warriors.

Celtic warriors. (Copyright:  Zvezda  /Karatchuk, artist).

Celts in Ptolemaic Egypt

Many Celts in the armies of foreign countries came from Galatia, an area once situated in the highlands of central Anatolia in what is now Turkey. From the early 3 rd century, Celtic warriors from the Eastern European tribes were included in the Egyptian battle-order. During the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphios, a band of four thousand Celtic warriors were recruited from the Balkans, with the aid of Antigonos Gonatas of Makedon.

According to the Greek historian Pausanias, the 4,000 Celtic warriors helped Ptolemy to win a crushing victory over his half-brother usurper, Ptolemy Keraunos. He also claims that the war-leaders of the Celtic bands wanted to overthrow both Ptolemy and Magas of Cyrene, a Greek Macedonian nobleman who was a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Their goal was to set themselves up as the rulers of Egypt. To punish this Celtic rebellion, Ptolemy expelled these exotic warriors to a small island in the Nile to die of starvation. However, this episode did not mean the end of the association between the Celts and the Ptolemies.

In 250 BC, Ptolemy II hired more Celtic warriors to assist the native Egyptian army in road construction and to put down rebellions. He and his son Ptolemy III Euergetes, who became Pharaoh in 247 BC, also employed Celtic mercenaries. This time they marched through Syria and Judea in a victorious campaign against Seleukos Kallinikos, a ruler of the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire, in the invasion of the Seleucid Empire, ravaging Mesopotamia and western Persia. During the reign of Ptolemy IV Philopater (222-205 BC), Celtic soldiers had become a part of the culture of Ptolemaic Egypt. Until the fall of Ptolemaic dynasty, they remained a very important part of the army. Ptolemy V Epiphanes hired an army of Thracian Celts to put down a revolt of the native Egyptian population in Upper Egypt. It is also known that the last ruler of the dynasty – Cleopatra – used the Celtic mercenaries.

Many Celtic warriors found a new home in Egypt, married local women and stayed in the land of the Pharaohs for the remainder of their lives. According to the Greek historian Polybios, the intermarriage between Celtic warriors, and native Egyptian and Greek girls were very common.  The children of Celtic-Egyptian marriages were known by the slang term e pigovoi.

Celtic soldiers (bottom left) in Egypt

Celtic soldiers (bottom left) in Egypt ( scout.com)

The oldest footsteps between the two civilizations

According to Lorraine Evans, who reveals in her compelling book Kingdom of the Ark , the relationship between Egypt and the Celts is much older than the 3 rd century BC. She believes that the remains of an ancient boat discovered in 1937 in North Ferriby, Yorkshire, belonged to ancient Egyptians. The boat was at first thought to be a Viking longship, but according to radiocarbon dating, it was created around 1400 to 1350 BC. Evans argues that these boats originated from Egypt. In the Scotichronicon, a 15th-century chronicle or legendary account, by the Scottish historian Walter Bower, Evans discovered the story of Scota, the Egyptian princess and daughter of a Pharaoh who fled from Egypt with her husband Gaythelos. They settled in Scotland until they were forced to leave and landed in Ireland. The Egyptian names used in Bower's manuscript come from Mentho's work. According to the text, Scota's father was Achencres, what is a Greek version of the name Akhenaten. Evans believes that legendary Scota could be the daughter of the heretic king from Egypt.

Comments

Pacific, not Atlantic.

Many boats have been found in Egypt and were always considered to be only symbols for the going in the other world, however some studies have shown that those vessels were in fact sea worthy. Thor Heyerdhal proved you could travel across the Atlantic in reed boat.

I was also surprised by that, but it seem logical, if a people want to do trade by road, it have to pay taxes to the owner of the land it have to pass through, they might even refuse to let them pass if their relationship is bad. Roman and Chinese people tried to bypass the silk road many times because of that.
Sea is like a free road for trade and long distance trade, no one really control the sea so i guess it's easier (maybe even faster, a trading caravan must be pretty slow).
In "Celtic from the west" some of the authors spoke of that too, the north atlantic formed a big trading zone, like the mediterranean sea in the south. So the cultures in those area had a lot of similarities. For example, Portugal (during the north atlantic period) might have more in common with the Celt from Ireland than with the east of Spain. The same might be true for the south. Massalia (now in France) had more in common with Carthago (nowday Tunisia) than with Paris. And it's funny to see that some of those differences might still be perceptible now, Marseille and Brest (both in France) don't have a lot in common, the people's mentalities are really different...
I found that very interesting.

Very, very interesting - I find it so astounding that as many ancient history articles as I read I am always finding out new facts & new peoples I had never met before - a book written some time back suggested this link between the Mediterranean & the Celts, and the concept was considered because the peoples of those ancient eras used ships to get around - it was actually easier to get somewhere that way rather than tramp thousands of miles overland. He suggested the sea was a natural passageway if following the coast - you battle the waves, but you don't have to fight your way through the various tribes lands.
Good point I thought, he was suggesting that peoples of those early days were much more mobile than we give them credit for - "The Atlantean Irish - Ireland's Oriental & Maritime heritage" by Bob Quinn - fascinating proposals.

La culture c'est comme la confiture moins on en a plus on l'étale

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