Celtic Migration and Military Adventurism

History of the Southern Celtic Migrations

Our wargames campaign can be effectively defined around the main movements of the Celtic Migration. Again the causes and motivations of the Celtic migration are widely speculated. The expansion of the early Celts in central Europe is initially slow and it is not until the 4th Century BCE that there is an agressive movement into southern Europe. The main documented thrusts were the invasion of the Po Valley and the establishment of Cisalpine Gaul, the Balkan Invasion and expansion down the Danube, and the thrusts through Greece and Thrace into Asia Minor and the eventual establishment of Galacia in the land around Ankara in modern Turkey.

The migrations south are recorded by the Latin and Greek writers. Their perspective suggests the first campaign is supposed to have been started by a desire for comodities like olive oil and particularly the wine plentiful south of the Alps. Such accounts can be found here and are clear examples of cultural imperialism. Whilst clearly highly symbolic the stories only thinly disguise genuine reasons for incentives to move south; however it is highly unlikely that the Transalpine Celts were unaware of the goods and opportunities offered in Italy and elsewhere as the Massalians and particularly the Etruscans had been trading widely in greater Europe since the 8th Century BCE.

The Italian Invasion and Cisalpine Gaul

At some point in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE the Etruscans expanded their empire into direct contact with Celts, either Transalpine or some already resident in Cisalpine regions. It is uncertain as to how the initial incursions were made and no historians of Greece or Rome appear to record events clearly but the result was that by around 400 BCE a number of Celtic tribal groupings established themselves in Cisalpine territory, either side of the Po. They included the Taurini, Insubres and Cenomani north of the Po and the Boii and their allies the Senones to the south. Unlike the Celts north of the Po the Boii appear to have operated a cooperative system assimilating the Etruscan cities within their territory. This seems logical as the Boii have extensive trading connections throughout Europe and a steady market for Etruscan wine, pottery and luxury goods. Indeed the initial movement of the Boii may well have been intended to secure their supply line and gaurantee the continued supply of trade goods threatened by the movement of other tribes. It is certain that they held to this territory strongly and resisted attempts of other Celtic groups to move into or through it.

See The Celts by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin page 83 descripption of Boii resistance to Celtic invasion in 235 BCE. They defended it also against the Romans and held out far longer than any other on the Italian Peninsular only capitulating in 192 BCE.

Eastward Expansion

The Celts also expanded down the Danube river and its tributaries. One of the most influential tribes, the Scordisci, had established their capital at Singidunum (modern Belgrade in Serbia) in 3rd century BCE. The concentration of hill-forts and cemeteries shows a density of population in the Tisza valley of modern-day Vojvodina, Serbia, Hungary and into Ukraine.
Ancient Settlements of the Danube Delta
Expansion into Romania was however blocked by the Dacians. Although there is clear evidence for Celtic settlement towards the Danube Delta. The Black Sea coast was settled by the Greeks during the 7th century BCE and the towns fell under a range of influences. The Persians under Darius I campaigned in the area in 512 BCE against the Scythians. An important supplier of grain and slaves to Athens and Greece in general the area was highly important from a trade perspective. The Celtic settlement was further upriver at the northern most point of the river. Noviodunum (latin: New Hillfort, modern: Isaccea, Romania) clearly an oppidum in a critical location as far as trade goes. The town has been inhabited for thousands of years, as it is one of the few places in all the Lower Danube that can be easily forded and thus an easy link between the Balkans and the steppes of Southern Ukraine and Russia. This would be a critical trading point with the Scythians for goods from the steppes such as gold, amber and slaves. On the opposite side of the river the crossing is controlled by Aliobrix (modern: Orlovka, Ukraine). On the map opposite Noviodunum is too far west and Aliobrix is too far north. Another Celtic oppidum Arrubium was close to these. Also important would have been the settlement that controlled riverine access to the region at Durosiorum.

The Boii tribe gave their name to Bohemia and Bologna, and Celtic artefacts and cemeteries have been discovered further east in what is now Poland and Slovakia. A celtic coin (Biatec) from Bratislava's mint is displayed on today's Slovak 5 crown coin.

As there is no archaeological evidence for large scale invasions in some of the other areas, one current school of thought holds that Celtic language and culture spread to those areas by contacts such as trade or political alliance rather than invasion. Another possible model is the sort of high level takeover common to the later Germanic migrations of the later Roman Empire (300 to 600 CE), where an elite warrior caste would defeat and usurp the position of the native rulers with very little general effect on the resident population. However, the Celtic invasions of Italy and the expedition in Greece and western Anatolia, are well documented in Greek and Latin history.

Expeditions and Mercenaries to the Successor states.

The Upper Balkans

Sava, Tisza and Danube

The Celts spread down the Danube from Bratislava. The majority of La Tene finds are in the region north of the Sava and west of the Tisza.
The main Thrust into Thracian territory was down the Morava valley.
Morava river

From their base at the bottom of this river they were close enough to launch their raids into Thrace, Illyria and Macedon and ultimately Greece.

The Grande Expédition

The establishment of Galacia in Western Anatolia.

Further south, Celts settled in Thrace (Bulgaria), which they ruled for over a century, and Anatolia (Turkey), where they settled as the Galatians (see also: Gallic Invasion of Greece). Despite their geographical isolation from the rest of the Celtic world, the Galatians maintained their Celtic language for at least seven hundred years. St Jerome, who visited Ancyra (modern-day Ankara) in 373 AD, likened their language to that of the Treveri of northern Gaul.

Other Mercenary Activity

There are records of Celtic mercenaries in Egypt serving the Ptolemies. Thousands were employed in 283-246 BC and they were also in service around 186 BC. They attempted to overthrow Ptolemy II.c nvas.


1 - The Celts A Chronological History by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin p60