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

Europeans never stop their attempts to link Anglo/Saxon/Wasp/Europe to Ancient Egypt.

Ok...Europeans are the first and best civilization ever. Just write it. rolling my fxn eyes.

First, i apology for my English.
Celtic people aren't Anglo/Saxon nor Wasp.
Then, it's well known that the celtic people invaded the Balkan penisula, they may even have took Delph. A part of this army migrated to Anatolia where they fonded the Galatian kingdom which survived until the Roman invasion of Anatolia.
The celtic culture was a warrior culture and they didn't care for who they fought, so a lot of celtic people were mercenaries (which was considered as an honor).
Considering the fact that they were very famous and efficient warriors (all of the Romain infantry equipment had celtic origin: helmet shape, chainmail, shield form, even the galdius came from the hiberic celt. The word "gladius" is a latin translation from the celtic word for sword) they were rapidly used by some of the mediterranean people (who had the money to pay them). We can find them in Hannibal's amy, in the Roman army, in the Seleucid army (were they even formed cataphract), in the egyptian army and maybe more...
There is nothing here that claim that "european is the best civilization" but the archeology allowed great discoveries on celtic people who were before only describe by there ennemies.
The Celtic people were not the barbarians described by the Romans, they had cities, did a lot of trade, were rich (Cesar invaded Gaul to pay his dept), had great arts and worked metal like no one at that time.

Hi LLylewyn, you are absolutely right, in fact in 1934 a French historian noted some similarities between Celtic and Egyptian religion. Christian Descormiers wrote a book about it :Ar Bihan. De quelques analogies ou divergences religieuses et sociales dans les civilisations celtique et égyptienne. Of course he was writing about the Celts of Europe since he was studying them in particular. It is also possible that Celts brought some other Egyptian habits outside of religious one.

It is unfortunate to see and read comments sometimes from people who have absolutely no clue on the reality of history.

Thanks for the ignorant rant (ignorant is indeed the right word).

You welcome, thanks for the (very constructive) feedback!
Could you just elaborate a little and tell me where i was wrong? I'm always eager to learn.

As Llewelyn said, the Anglo Saxons are not Celts. Such a basic error means you know very little.
As it says in the article, there has not been much research done in the area, but there are indeed links. You obviously read very little too, perhaps you should roll your eyes out of your head and take a look at the article. Nobody is saying Europeans are the best. If anything, this article is about the far reach of the Egyptians, rather than the superiority of Europeans. The boat used as an example in the article was an Egyptian one found in England, not a the other way around. You're reading what you want to read.
Also, if you're ever in Dublin take a look at the ancient gold works on display in the museum. There are some very interesting artifacts in the context of this article.

I am proud to be European, English. We have done a great deal around the world and there is much to be proud of. You write in my language and live in our social constructs. What is not great about that? White people concurred so much in an age of brutality and in a genius way. If you want I can list all the inventions that have come from my people so you can avoid using them.
If you want to look into Egyptian history you will find that most of the DNA collected from mummies is European, and it was only after Egypt was weak that the African Nubians could come in and invade.

Excellent article by the way.

Proud to be English. Not sure if one should be if you take a serious look at how they behaved in many places through out the world and still do. Pretty well every place that the British Crown/people invaded left a certain trail of destruction.

During the early years of Hitlers rule at a meeting which was held he stated the following; “ WE MUST LEARN TO EMULATE THE BRITISH.” What he was referring to here was how such a small group of British people (comparatively speaking ) in the name of the British Crown could gain control and rule over a country that at the time held one of the worlds largest populations – India.

Divide and conquer. Start and maintain a state of animosity between groups of people allowing no unity which ‘forced’ the British to do what they did in India and other places.

To this day in Britain no matter what you would like to believe there still exists a stratified structure to society. The upper class down to the lower classes. The stiff upper lip, I AM BRITISH there for ‘better’ then you, etc. Anyone, anything that is British is superior to anyone else making everything else inferior.

As a colonial power invading, conquering, taking control all over the world. Name one place on the face of the world where there is not some sort of trouble that exists stemming in part from being a former British colony. British rule did far more damage to various peoples throughout the world then it benefited.

It would be interesting to read through YOUR list of British inventions. Not so much for me to avoid but rather to compare what was invented in England by English citizens verses inventions borrowed or taken from others followed by a British claim to said invention.

Allow me to start your list ; concentration camps, using blankets to spread diseases, offering money/fees for any scalps taken from indigenous people, chartering a ‘Company’ creating a company/business that becomes the de facto rulers of a country such as the British East Indian Company of the Hudson Bay Company,

A question in regards to inventions; What was the invention that was applied to the ships that where built which allowed Britain/Crown to sail off and build their empire, “BRITANNIA RULES” as they say.

To gain a clear understanding of any people, culture society etc., one needs to be aware of all of the history. Not just that which is approved by the powers that be. The good, the bad and the very ugly. Then ask if one is truly proud and if so then ask WHAT FOR?

Oh and by the way, although I do not live in England or the United Kingdom I do live in a country that is part of the COMMON WEALTH where the Queen/Crown is still the head of state. On my fathers side their is a British and Scot heritage. My last name is after one of the rivers in England.

I'm white in I'm heard we didn't even exist until like 500 years ago and since we didn't invent anything like new jewelry, weapons, or tools is it cultural appropriation for whites to own anything and what if science finds one day that all earth's natural thongs like gems, minerals, wood, rock, water and fire was invented by man of a non white race would it be culture apprpp as well? Or would it be appropriation if we find that history of jewelry and tools and these civilizations never happened if we still love them?

Galician isn't a Celtic language, it's a Romance language closely related to Portuguese

I wrote Galatian with a T, not a C. The Galatian language is the celtic language spoke by the ancient Galatian people of Anatolia (modern Turkey). I agree with you, Galacian with a C is a romance language and so Galicia and Asturias (in modern Spain and Portugal) shoudn't be considered as Celtic as they did in this article

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

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.

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.

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.

Pacific, not Atlantic.

Pacific, not Atlantic.

I wrote Atlantic for a reason. You are confusing the Kon Tiki expedition and the Ra expedition

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/heyerdahl-sails-papyrus-boat

santafewriter's picture

In the somewhat heated discussion above concerning celts not being Anglo-Saxon/WASP/Europeans, I think a basic miscommunication has taken place. The writer protesting anglocentric interpretation of the Celts-Egypt connection is doing what many people in the USA where I live do: lumping all non-African, non-aboriginal, and non-Asiatic bloodlines/cultures into one category: "White." This was not the case even as late as the 1920s in the US. In the US in the 1920s, for example, Irish and Italians were often referred to disparagingly by persons of English Protestant heritage as inferior "races"—as "not White as we are White". Minorities of this sort were not permitted to attend New York University's main campus, but were made to attend the NYU branch in Greenwich Village. I know this because my father, a 2nd generation American Jew, was relegated to this branch.So for the protestor, the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons belong in the same conceptual category, "White Europeans," hence the protestor's disparagement of attempts to link them to an "exotic" heritage such as that of ancient Egypt.

 

Rand B. Lee
http://randlee.me
Reason and intuition are both necessary for a balanced view of self and the universe.

I found this article fascinating. I had heard of Scota before, but not that she may have been connected to Akhenaten/Amenhotep IV. That makes sense, though, so it will be interesting to find out more.

Both of my parents had DNA analysis done which reflected what they knew--descent from population groups generally found in people with ancestors of Celtic culture, but it also showed both parents as having a small percentage of Middle Eastern ancestry. When I first learned of this I thought it was unusual, but the more I learn about the peoples that made up the Celts, the more I realize that it isn't so surprising after all. My little bit of Middle Eastern ancestry could very well be Egyptian. Moroccan is another possibility. The DNA doesn't show countries, of course, only genetic populations, and my Middle Eastern DNA could come from more that one Middle Eastern country, but that it could be Egyptian is more of a possibility than I once thought.

Morgain's picture

Was surpirised the article did not mention the Celtic bodyguard of the most famous Ptolemy of all: Cleopatra VII – the great queen and stateswoman who almost brought Rome to its knees in 1stC BCE.

Another part of the Celtic diaspora of interest is the goddess Epona, matroness of horses. She accompanied Roman cavalry units across the Empire as they were mainly Celts. Ovid’s Matamorphoes mentions her. She was the only non-Roman, non-Greek deity who had an official festival in the Roman calendar – December 18th.

Epona is poignant as she is always portrayed as a peaceful female either among foals and mares, or riding sidesaddle, without weapons, often with a basket of food. This suggests she represented what the cavalry were fighting toi defend, peace and plenty.

Much later we find traces of her in the mediaeval Rhiannon, in the Mabinogi, whose magical and very political tale is much bound up with horses.

   

Shan Morgain www.mabinogistudy.com

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