Celtic mercenaries in Egypt

Exploring the Little Known History of Celtic Warriors in Egypt


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 (

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.

Bronze Age boat being excavated in North Ferriby, Yorkshire.

Bronze Age boat being excavated in North Ferriby, Yorkshire. Credit: Penn Museum .

Another link between the history of the Egyptians and Celts comes from the period known in Egyptology as the New Kingdom (ca. 1640–1550 BC). In 1955, archaeologist Dr. Sean O’Riordan of Trinity College, Dublin, made an interesting discovery during an excavation of the Mound of Hostages at Tara in Ireland. The site, dated to the Bronze Age, was connected with the history of the ancient kingship of Ireland. Archeologists discovered the skeletal remains of what is believed to have been a young prince. The most interesting aspect of this finding was a rare necklace of faience beads, made from a paste of minerals and plant extracts that had been fired. They were Egyptian and the skeleton was carbon dated to around 1350 BC. The boy from Tara lived in the same times as Tutankhamun. Even more surprising is the fact that both Tutankhamun and the Tara skeleton had the same golden collar around their neck, which was inlaid with matching conical, blue-green faience beads.

The Mound of Hostages, Tara, Ireland

The Mound of Hostages, Tara, Ireland ( Sean Rowe / Flickr )

There are still many mysteries behind the Celtic-Egyptian connection. In Egypt, archaeologists have found many figurines of Celts presented in Ptolemaic style. Due to a lack of resources, this area of research remains largely unexplored. Only future excavation expeditions may find an answer to questions surrounding the full history of Celtic connections to Egypt.

Featured image: Celtic mercenaries in Egypt (

By: Natalia Klimcsak


B. Maier, Celts: A History from Earliest Times to the Present. 2003.
S. James, Simon. The World of the Celts, 2005.
B.Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. 1997.
L. Evans, Kingdom of the Ark, 2000.
Adams, H. (2009). The Story of Princess Scota. Available from:



To the fellow who is upset at any claim that Celtic warriors might have been in pre-Hellenic Egypt, Yes, it is true that Anglo-Europeans like to say that ZImbabwe and other places couldn't have been black-African, but, Egypt was never Nubian. They were distinct ethnically, and in terms of appearance, even if, as regional neighbors, they influenced each other.

To the white-european guy claiming the Egyptians were genetically European, you are so wrong, wrong, wrong. Yes, the Ptolmeys were Hellenic-Macedonian. But, the Egyptrians were clearly an Afro-Asiatic people.

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 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.

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.

dont respond to people with nothing to say other than ''das racist'' its a waste of time

great article
great follow up from LLTWELYN


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