The Elephant Victory

The Elephant Victory
273 B.C.

"...the whole Celtic race is most formidable in spirit..."   Polybios

In 280, after personally assassinating Seleucus I and murdering his two young rival claimants to the throne, Ptolemy Ceraunos managed to seize the kingdom of Lysimachos (who had died the previous year, leaving no heirs strong enough to hold their father's throne).  However this unscrupulous adventurer had little time to enjoy his successes.  The following year he met a large army of migrating Celts.  As a result of this battle, Ptolemy Ceraunos' head was forcibly removed and used to decorate a pike.  These Celts were to become known to the Greeks as the Galatians.  The Invasion had begun.

Aside from such novel methods of decoration, these Eastern Celtic people seemed to have fought much like their better known Gallic counterparts who later invaded Italy and sacked Rome.  Except for their chieftains, these warriors were poorly armed and trained.  However their terrifying, impetuous ferocity made them irresistible in battle, as Ptolemy discovered to his detriment.

The Galatians quickly scattered to plunder Macedonia, Thrace and Greece.  The Greeks avoided any pitched battles with these barbarians from the north, and although the Galatian looting met with some initial success, eventually the Greek harassment drove the invaders out of Greece and Macedonia.  Retreating to Thrace, the Celts were invited to intervene in a Bithynian civil war that was raging.

Ever eager for battle, about 20,000 Galatians crossed the Bosporus where they quickly settled the Bithyian question of succession.  Naturally, having completed their task, the Galatians were not about to leave.  They enthusiastically set about pillaging Asia Minor.

"As a race, the Celts possess an insatiable appetite for money..."   Plutarch

Unlike Greece, the inhabitants of Asia Minor did not resist the Celtic invaders.  To avoid destruction, they hurriedly paid the Galatians protection money.  The Galatians thought this was a wonderful idea, and settled down in the centre of Asia Minor to continue their profitable blackmail.

About six years later, in 273 BC, the king of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochios I, decided he'd had enough of the Galatian interlopers.  After pausing to put down a local rebellion (an increasingly common activity of the Seleucids) he arrived in Asia Minor.

According to the (somewhat sparse) sources, the Galatians had about 20,000 cavalry alone, heavily outnumbering Antiochios.  Since the Celts had crossed into Asia with only 20,000 men in total a few years ago, this number is obviously greatly inflated.  Still, even if Antiochios wasn't outnumbered, most of his army consisted of light troops.  The Galatians, and everyone else, were also highly convinced of the Celts' invincible fighting prowess.  So the morale in Antiochios' army was probably rather poor at the outset of the battle.

"For it was by defeating the Galatians in battle, the most violent and warlike people in Asia at the time..."   Polybios

The Galatians began the battle by opening their ranks of warband to let their scythed chariots pass through the infantry.  However, Antiochios had taken the advice of a tactician Theodotos of Rhodes, and managed to conceal his elephants from the Celts.  The chariots were bearing down on the trembling Seleucid ranks, when the elephants suddenly appeared.  Eight elephants faced the chariots in the centre; an additional four faced the Galatian cavalry on each flank.

The terrified Galatian horses, unused to the sight of these great behemoths, bolted and dragged the deadly scythed chariots back through the warbands in great bloody swathes.  The elephants followed up their success and trampled into the Celtic ranks, completing the rout.

Antiochios I had defeated the feared Galatians.  After his decisive victory, the Galatians still remained in Asia Minor, still causing trouble, albeit less than before.  Although their myth of invincibility was shattered, the Galatians served as mercenaries in many armies around the Mediterrean.  Apparently still armed and fighting in the Celtic style, the Galatians were always highly regarded by the Seleucids as superb warriors.


Click  here  for a DBA scenario of the Elephant Victory

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