Ancient Galatia was an area in the highlands of central Anatolia in modern Turkey. Galatia, an ancient region of Asia Minor, was named for the immigrant Gauls from Thrace (cf. Tylis), who settled here and became its ruling caste in the 3rd century BC. It has been called the "Gallia" of the East, Roman writers calling its inhabitants Galli.
The modern capital of Turkey, Ankara (ancient Ancyra), was also the capital of ancient Galatia.
The Galatians were in their origin a part of the great Celtic migration which invaded Macedon, led by the 'second' Brennus, a word for chief. The original Celts who settled in Galatia came through Thrace under the leadership of Leotarios and Leonnorios circa 270 BC. Three tribes comprised these Celts, the Tectosages, the Trocmii, and the Tolistobogii.
Brennus invaded Greece in 281 BC with a huge war band and was turned back in the nick of time from plundering the temple of Apollo at Delphi. At the same time, another Gaulish group of men, women, and children were migrating through Thrace. They had split off from Brennus' people in 279 BC, and had migrated into Thrace under their leaders Leonnorius and Lutarius. These invaders appeared in Asia Minor in 278–277 BC; others invaded Macedonia, killed the Ptolemaic ruler Ptolemy Ceraunus but were eventually ousted by Antigonus Gonatas, the grandson of the defeated Diadoch Antigonus the One-Eyed.
The invaders came at the invitation of Nicomedes I of Bithynia, who required help in a dynastic struggle against his brother. Three tribes crossed over from Thrace to Asia Minor. They numbered about 10,000 fighting men and about the same number of women and children, divided into three tribes, Trocmi, Tolistobogii and Tectosages. They were eventually defeated by the Seleucid king Antiochus I, in a battle where the Seleucid war elephants shocked the Celts. While breaking the momentum of the invasion, the Galatians were by no means exterminated.
Instead, the migration led to the establishment of a long-lived Celtic territory in central Anatolia, which included the eastern part of ancient Phrygia, a territory that became known as Galatia. There they ultimately settled, and being strengthened by fresh accessions of the same clan from Europe, they overran Bithynia and supported themselves by plundering neighbouring countries.
The Gauls invaded the eastern part of Phrygia on at least one occasion.
The constitution of the Galatian state is described by Strabo: conformably to custom, each tribe was divided into cantons, each governed by a chief ('tetrarch') of its own with a judge under him, whose powers were unlimited except in cases of murder, which were tried before a council of 300 drawn from the twelve cantons and meeting at a holy place, twenty miles southwest of Ancyra, which was likely to have been a sacred oak grove, for it was called 'Drynemeton' the "fane of the oaks" drys + nemeton "sacred ground". The local population of Cappadocians were left in control of the towns and most of the land, paying tithes to their new overlords, who formed a military aristocracy and kept aloof in fortified farmsteads, surrounded by their bands.
These Celts were warriors, respected by Greeks and Romans (illustration, right). They hired themselves out as mercenary soldiers, sometimes fighting on both sides in the great battles of the times. For years the chieftains and their war bands ravaged the western half of Asia Minor, as allies of one or other of the warring princes, without any serious check, until they sided with the renegade Seleucid prince Antiochus Hierax, who reigned in Asia Minor. Hierax tried to defeat king Attalus I of Pergamum (241–197 BC), but instead, the hellenised cities united under his banner, and his armies inflicted several severe defeats upon them, about 232 forcing them to settle permanently and to confine themselves to the region to which they had already given their name. The theme of the Dying Gaul (a famous statue displayed in Pergamon) remained a favorite in Hellenistic art for a generation.
Their right to the district was formally recognized. The three Celtic Galatian tribes remained as described above:
The Attalid Pergamene king employed their services in the increasingly devastating wars of Asia Minor; another band deserted from their Egyptian overlord Ptolemy IV after a solar eclipse had broken their spirits.
In the early 2nd century BC they proved terrible allies of Antiochus the Great, the last Seleucid king trying to regain suzerainty over Asia Minor, but after the defeat of the Seleucid king by the Romans, Rome at last proved a worthy protection against them. In 189 BC Rome sent Gnaeus Manlius Vulso on an expedition against the Galatians. He defeated them. Galatia was henceforth dominated by Rome through regional rulers from 189 BC onward. Galatia declined and fell at times under Pontic ascendancy. They were finally freed by the Mithridatic Wars, during which they supported Rome.
In the settlement of 64 BC Galatia became a client-state of the Roman empire, the old constitution disappeared, and three chiefs (wrongly styled “tetrarchs“) were appointed, one for each tribe. But this arrangement soon gave way before the ambition of one of these tetrarchs, Deiotarus, the contemporary of Cicero and Julius Caesar, who made himself master of the other two tetrarchies and was finally recognized by the Romans as 'king' of Galatia.
On the death of the third king Amyntas in 25 BC, however, Galatia was incorporated by Octavian Augustus in the Roman empire, becoming a Roman province, though near his capital Ancyra (modern Ankara) Pylamenes, the king's heir, rebuilt a temple of the Phrygian goddess Men to venerate Augustus (the Monumentum Ancyranum), as a sign of fidelity. It was on the walls of this temple in Galatia that the major source for the Res Gestae of Augustus were preserved for modernity. Few of the provinces proved more enthusiastically loyal to Rome. The Galatians also practiced a form of Romano-Celtic polytheism, common in Celtic lands.
During his second missionary journey Paul, accompanied by Silas and Timothy (Acts 16:6), visited the "region of Galatia," where he was detained by sickness (Epistle to Galatians 4:13), and had thus the longer opportunity of preaching to them the gospel. On his third journey he went over "all the country of Galatia and Phrygia in order" (Acts 18:23). During the journeys of Paul he was received with enthusiasm in Galatia. In Acts 14:8-23, at Lystra the multitude could scarcely be restrained from sacrificing to Paul, assuming that he and Barnabas were gods (calling them Hermes and Zeus) after Paul healed a man who "was crippled from birth and had never walked" (Acts 14:8). It is reported that even "the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds" (14:13). Paul emphatically urged them not to do so; he was later stoned by a crowd of Galatians (Acts 14:18-19) and left for dead. Despite this, a portion of the Galatians seem to have retained belief in the gospel Paul preached to them (Gal.1:2b, where the plural phrase "churches of Galatia" is used). Crescens was sent thither by Paul toward the close of his life (2 Timothy 4:10).
Josephus related the biblical figure Gomer to Galatia (or perhaps to Gaul in general). "For Gomer founded those whom the Greeks now call Galatians, [Galls,] but were then called Gomerites." Antiquities of the Jews, I:6. Although others have related Gomer to Cimmerians.
The Galatians were still speaking the Celtic Galatian language in the time of St. Jerome (347–420 AD), who wrote that the Galatians of Ancyra and the Treveri of Trier (in what is now the German Rhineland) spoke the same language (Comentarii in Epistolam ad Galatos, 2.3, composed c. 387). In an administrative reorganisation about 386-95 two new provinces succeeded it, Galatia Prima and Galatia Secunda or - Salutaris, which included part of Phrygia.
The fate of the Galatian people is a subject of some uncertainty, but they seem ultimately to have been absorbed into the Greek-speaking populations of west-central Anatolia.
There was a short-lived eleventh century attempt to re-establish an independent Galatia by Roussel de Bailleul.