A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Grim deposits of butchered bones attest ritual slaughter by Galatians at Gordion.
Following his death, Alexander's empire broke up into smaller, competing states whose rulers sometimes hired mercenaries to supplement their own armies. In 278 B.C., King Nicomedes I of Bithynia welcomed as allies 20,000 European Celts, veterans who had successfully invaded Macedonia two years earlier. These warriors, who called themselves the Galatai, marched into northwestern Anatolia with 2,000 baggage wagons and 10,000 noncombatants: provisioners and merchants as well as wives and children. Ancient texts tell us that some of these immigrants settled at Gordion, the old Phrygian capital of King Midas, about 60 miles southwest of modern Ankara. Exactly when Galatians took over the town is unknown, but archaeological evidence suggests they were there soon after 270 B.C., the time when documentary sources tell us that Celts began raiding in central Anatolia.
Earlier excavations at Gordion recovered coins of the sort used to pay Celtic mercenaries, a few artifacts with parallels in Celtic Europe (a helmet flap, sheep shears, and pin), and a sherd inscribed with a clearly Celtic name, Kant[x]uix. Nevertheless, the archaeological evidence for a large Galatian presence at the site was not overwhelming until our discovery of grisly evidence of rituals involving humans. The broken-necked bodies and decapitated heads at Gordion cannot be attributed to any local Anatolian group, but are characteristic of European Celts.
Our view of Galatian Gordion has changed considerably over the past few decades. The picture of a simple farming community has been replaced by one of a prosperous town. But when the Galatians settled permanently in central Anatolia, they did not simply shed their old ways and adopt those of the native peoples (presumably Hellenized Phrygians in the case of Gordion), as our discoveries of sacrificial ritual involving humans as well as animals have shown. Major questions remain. For example, was the Galatian presence limited to a religious and military elite or did they form a larger segment of the population that gradually integrated with the local peoples? Our next step will be to compare the material culture of the pre-Galatian and Galatian settlements. If we can then distinguish immigrant from indigenous households, we should be able to discuss issues of ethnicity as well as the ways in which a farming and herding people adapt and prosper in an environment very different from that of their homeland.
Jeremiah R. Dandoy has been the Gordion Project's zooarchaeologist since 1994. Page Selinsky is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing on skeletal biology and molecular anthropology. Mary M. Voigt is Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. In 1987 she became associate director of the Gordion Project in charge of excavation and survey. The authors would like to thank G. Kenneth Sams, director of the Gordion Project; T. Cuyler Young, Jr., head of the Royal Ontario Museum team; and Keith DeVries.