Numism > Reading For the Advanced Collector

The Tectosages


Dear Friends of ancient History!

Recently, a friend gave me a small silver drachm of the Volcae Tectosages. This gives me the occasion to write something about this Celtic people.  But first the coin.

The coin:
Celtic tribes in Gaul, Volcae Tectosages, 2nd-1st century BC.
AR - Drachm, 3.33g, 12.57mm
Obv.: Head in cubist style n.l.
Rev.: Cross with elliptical symbols in 3 corners and an axe in the fourth.
Ref.: Monnaies XV 241; De La Tour 3132
almost VF
So-called Monnaies a la Croix, Cubist type.   
ex Archer M. Huntington Coll., HSA 1001 57.5803

Archer Milton Huntington (1870-1955) was a US multimillionaire philanthropist, museum founder, poet, bibliophile and Hispanist.

This is a coin of the Tectosages, a tribe of the Celtic Volcae from southern France, from the 1st century BC. The coins are modelled on the silver drachms of Rhoda, a Spanish port city in the northeast. Originally, the obverse showed a portrait of Ceres left and the reverse the so-called "Rose of Rhoda". In the abstract style that was characteristic of the Celts, this became a more cubist portrait and the rose petals became humps until it developed into the cross with various objects in the angles.

The Tectosages
Early on I wondered why the statue of the "Dying Gaul", which is now in the Capitoline Museums in Rome, dates from 230/220 BC, although Caesar only conquered Gaul in 57-53 BC, almost 200 years later. This contradiction should be clarified here.

Eratosthenes (276/273 - about 194) already knew the Tectosages and then they were mentioned by Livius and in detail by Caesar. According to the Celtic scholar Helmut Birkhan, their name comes from the Latin "tecto-sag = looking for a roof (a home)", so their name was given to them by the Romans. Among the Germanic peoples, the Volces were called Welsche. This is where the term Welschland for Romanic countries comes from and still today Welschschweiz for French western Switzerland or the name of the walnut, which is actually oming from Welsche nut.

Migration to Gaul
The Volcae were an important Celtic people and originally came from the area north of the Danube and east of the river  Rhine, which in ancient times was called the Hercynia silva (= Hercynian Forest). At that time, this included the entire area from the Black Forest to the Thuringian Forest. Between 250 and 230 BC they invaded Gaul and turned to southern Gaul. Around 215-200 they appeared on the banks of the Garonne and finally occupied Gallia Narbonensis north of the Pyrenees, between the Rhone, the Garonne and the Cevennes, today's Languedoc. They were made up of various tribes, including the Volcae Arecomici, whose capital was Nemausus (Nimes), and the Volcae Tectosages, whose capital was Tolosa (Toulouse). When they took over the country, they destroyed the Iberian oppida there, but took over their coins. Livius describes how Hannibal passed through their territory on his march to Rome.  In 121/118 they were subjugated by the Romans, but were given a certain autonomy (Strabo).  In the Roman civil war they stood against Pompeius, as we can read in Caesar. They were Romanised, absorbed into the Celto-Roman culture and disappeared from history. The problem of the Celts was that they were never able to form a unified people. This contradicted their innate desire for freedom.

Migration to Greece
The history of the Tectosages would be incomplete, however, without mentioning the migration to Greece, which finally ended in Asia Minor. In 258(?) another part of the Volcae set off to the southeast. The Tektosages also took part in this migration. Under the leadership of Brennus, they travelled through Thrace, bypassing Thermopylae and reaching Delphi, where they plundered the temple. In the process, huge treasures fell into their hands, the so-called "Gold of Tolosa", because they brought it to Toulouse and sank them in a lake there. However, this may also be pure fantasy. This Brennus, however, is different from the one who after the battle of the Allia ("dies ater") sacked Rome ("Vae victis!")  in 387 BC. Therefore, it is also assumed today that Brennus was not a person, but a Celtic rulership title. Finally, in 277, they were defeated by Antigonos Gonatas at Lysimacheia and retreated to Thrace.

The Galatians
Another part of the Celts who had invaded Greece was invited by Nicomedes I of Bithynia to help him as mercenaries against his brother Zipoites. They then invaded Asia Minor. There were about 20,000 of them, half of them warriors. After Nicomedes had released them, they began to ravage the lands of Asia Minor. For example, the great temple of Apollo at Didyma fell victim to them. The Tectosages devastated the territory of the Phrygians. In 268 BC, Antiochos I went to war against them. In the so-called "elephant battle" he won against the numerically superior Galatians, as they were now called, by using war elephants. Afterwards he assigned them permanent residences (Wikipedia).

The 3 large peoples that made up the Galatians (= Gauls!) were the Tolistobogians around Gordion and Pessinus, the Tectosages with their 3 sub-tribes Ambitouti, Toutobodiaci and Voturi around Ankyra (today's Ankara), and the Trokmer around Tavium. These cities were repeatedly besieged by the Galatians, but not conquered. This area was named Galatia after them.

Galatia was agriculturally difficult, too hot in summer and too cold in the long winters. So the Galatians continued to live by raiding and plundering neighbouring areas and began to spread out. In the process, they came into conflict with the empire of Pergamon under the Attalids. Under Attalus I the Tolistobogians were defeated in 230, and in 228 these and the Tectosages.

The famous sculptures "The Dying Gaul" in the Capitoline Museums in Rome and "The Gaul Ludovisi", who kills himself and his wife, today in the Museo Nazionale Romano, also date from this period. Both sculptures were part of a large victory monument erected in the Temple of Athena in Pergamon. The sculptures found in the Ludovisian Gardens in Rome are Roman marble copies of the original Greek bronzes.

The depiction of both sculptures does not humiliate the enemy, but presents him as a warrior to be taken seriously. This, of course, enhances the glory of the victor.

After further victories of his son Eumenes II over the Galatians, the famous Zeus altar was erected on the castle hill of Pergamon, which is now in the Pergamonmuseum on Museum Island in Berlin. The altar's frieze depicts the Gigantomachia, the battle between the Olympic gods and the giants. This frieze celebrates the victory of Eumenes over the Galatians - one recognises some Celtic weapons carried by giants - but it is at the same time an exaggeration and celebrates the victory of Greek civilisation over barbarism.

After the Tolistobogians had attacked 196 Lampsakos, its inhabitants called for help from the Romans. Antiochos III, an enemy of the Romans, allied himself with the Galatians against the Romans. The latter, however, succeeded in forcing the Tolistobogians to take refuge in their refuge on Mount Olympos, and the Tectosages to  to entrench themselves on the mount Magaba near Ankyra. There they were almost completely destroyed and sold into slavery.

After that, the Galatians had to give up their raids and stay within their borders. They became loyal followers of the Romans. Thus they fought against Mithradates VI, whom, however, they recognised as lord after his victories (Pauly), After Sulla's victory in 86, Mithradates had the entire Galatian nobility murdered, except for 3 tetrarchs. In 64/63 Pompey reorganised the situation: instead of 4 tetrarchs for each tribe, he put one at the head of each tribe and made Galatia a client state of Rome. After Caesar's death, Deiotaros united the Tectosages with the other Galatians and became their common king. After the death of their last king Amyntas, Augustus made Galatia a Roman province in 25 BC, ruled by imperial legates.
Galatia always provided the Romans with good troops and as late as 200 AD with noble leaders, e.g. Roman consuls such as 155 AD the  Galatian Gaius Iulius Severus.

There are even Roman coins on which the Tektosages are mentioned by name. This is a provincial coin of Titus (69-79 a.d.) from Sebaste in Phrygia with the legend ΣΕΒΑΣΤΗΝΩΝ ΤΕΚΤΟΣΑΓΩΝ, SNG of Aulock 6132 (Kölner Münzkabinett Tyll Kroha Nachfolger, Auktion 112, Los 186):

Paul's Letter to the Galatians
The New Testament preserves a letter of Paul to the Galatians, which he wrote to the Gentile Christians of Galatia around 100 AD. At that time, they were strongly influenced by Jewish-Christian missions. In this letter he strongly opposed the observance of Jewish rites and circumcision. Paul, on the other hand, insisted that the character of salvation came only from faith and could not be acquired through the observance of laws. This incendiary letter ultimately prevented Christianity from becoming a Jewish-Christian sect.

The Galatians retained their Celtic customs for a long time. Thus they offered human sacrifices and fought naked, as is reported and as they are also depicted on the surviving sculptures. They wore mighty red moustaches, which they coloured white with plaster, and a twisted gold ring around their necks, the torques. This seems to have been a sign of power among the Celts.

But not only the Celtic men were brave warriors. Plutarch (45-125) portrays in his "Moralia" Kamma as an example of strength of character and marital fidelity. Kamma, an Artemis priestess, was the wife of the Tolistobogian king Sinatus, who was killed by Sinorix. Afterwards he forced Kamma to marry him. At the wedding, it was customary for both to drink from the same goblet. Kamma had poisoned it beforehand, so that she judged her husband's murderer, but also committed suicide herself, which she preferred to a violent marriage. The painting «L’Empoisonnement de Camma et Synorix» (c. 1650) of the French painter Charles Poerson (1609-1667) depicts this scene.

Telesphoros, the Pergamenian companion of Asklepios, was adopted from the Celtic hooded deity Cucullatus. In 400 AD, Celtic is said to have still been spoken in Phrygia, as reported by the church father Jerome: Besides Greek, they spoke a language similar to the language of the Treverians! Nothing remains of the language of the Galatians today except for a few place and personal names that go back to Celtic.

I have added the following pics:
(1) The wanderings of the Tectosages (David Descamps, Wikipedia)
(2) "The Dying Gaul" (BeBo86, Wikipedia)
(3) "The Gaul Ludovisi" (Wikipedia)
(4) Charles Poerson "L’Empoisonnement de Camma et Synorix"
(5) Phrygia, Sebaste, Titus, SNG von Aulock 6132

(1) Gaius Julius Caesar, De bello Gallico
(2) Gaius Julius Caesar, De bello civile
(3) Plutarch, Moralia
(3) NT, Paul, Letter to the Galatians.

Secondary literature:
(1) Der Kleine Pauly
(2) Robert Forrer, Keltische Numismatik der Rhein- und Donaulande, 1908 (I have not read this. A reprint of volume 1 costs 108.-).
(3) Wikipedia: Tectosages, Volcae, Galatians.

I hope you enjoy this article

Tracy Aiello:
Wonderful write-up, Jochen. I always learn so much from reading your posts. Thank you.



--- Quote from: Jochen on September 05, 2023, 01:44:35 pm --- and fought naked

--- End quote ---
My wife used to think I was crazy because every time I got drunk I ended up naked and fighting with someone. Now I have proof that it's not my fault, it's in my bloodline.

Enjoyed reading this write-up with my morning tea.

Thanks Jochen!


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