Brennus (3rd century BC)

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Brennus (or Brennos) (died 279 BC at Delphi, Ancient Greece) was one of the Gaul leaders of the army of the Gallic invasion of the Balkans. While invading the Greek mainland he managed to momentarily reach as far south as Delphi in an attempt to loot the rich treasury of the sanctuary of Apollo. His army suffered a devastating defeat at Delphi, he was heavily injured during the battle and committed suicide there. His militarily inexperienced army was forced to a continuous retreat by the tactical attacks of the Greek city-states and was cut down to a remaining band that fled from Greece.

Delphi archaeological site and town in Greece

Delphi, formerly also called Pytho (Πυθώ), is famous as the ancient sanctuary that grew rich as the seat of Pythia, the oracle who was consulted about important decisions throughout the ancient classical world. The ancient Greeks considered the centre of the world to be in Delphi, marked by the stone monument known as the omphalos (navel).

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.

Gauls Celtic inhabitants of a large part of Europe called Gaul, before the Roman domination

The Gauls were a group of Celtic peoples of West-Central Europe in the Iron Age and the Roman period. The area they inhabited was known as Gaul. Their Gaulish language forms the main branch of the Continental Celtic languages.


In 280 BC a great army, comprising about 85,000 warriors, [1] coming from Pannonia and split in three divisions, marched south [2] in a great expedition [3] to the Greek mainland against Macedonia and then further south to central Greece as far south as Delphi during a failed and short-lived campaign against the Greek city-states. The division led by Brennus and Acichorius moved against the Paionians.

Pannonia ancient province of the Roman Empire

Pannonia was a province of the Roman Empire bounded north and east by the Danube, coterminous westward with Noricum and upper Italy, and southward with Dalmatia and upper Moesia. Pannonia was located over the territory of the present-day western Hungary, eastern Austria, northern Croatia, north-western Serbia, northern Slovenia, western Slovakia and northern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Central Greece Traditional region of Greece

Continental Greece, colloquially known as Roúmeli (Ρούμελη), is a traditional geographic region of Greece. In English the area is usually called Central Greece, but the equivalent Greek term is more rarely used.

Acichorius was one of the leaders of the Gauls, who invaded Thrace and Macedonia in 280 BC. He and Brennus commanded the division that marched into Paionia. In the following year, 279, he accompanied Brennus in his invasion of Greece. Some writers suppose that Brennus and Acichorius are the same persons, the former being only a title and the latter the real name.

Some writers suppose that Brennus and Acichorius are the same person, the former being only a title and the latter the real name. [4] [5]

The other two divisions were led by Cerethrius and Bolgios, moving against the Thracians and Triballi, and against the Macedonians and Illyrians, respectively. [6]

Cerethrius was a Gallic king in Thrace. He was defeated in 277 BC, by Antigonus II Gonatas at the Battle of Lysimachia.

Bolgios was a Gaulish leader during the Gallic invasion of the Balkans who led an invasion of Macedon and Illyria in 279 BC, killing the Macedonian king Ptolemy Keraunos.

Thracians ancient Indo-European people that lived in eastern parts of Europe

The Thracians were a group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting a large area in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. They spoke the Thracian language – a scarcely attested branch of the Indo-European language family. The study of Thracians and Thracian culture is known as Thracology.

Brennus is said to have belonged to an otherwise unknown tribe called the Prausi. [7] These Gauls had settled in Pannonia because of population increases in Gaul, and sought further conquests.

Military campaign

The army was initially led by Cambaules, who led them as far as Thrace, where they stopped. When they decided to advance again in 279 BC, they split their forces into three divisions. One division was led by Cerethrius against the Thracians and Triballi; another by Bolgios against the Macedonians and Illyrians; and the third against Paionia by Brennus and Acichorius. Bolgios' expedition inflicted heavy losses on the Macedonians and killed their king, Ptolemy Keraunos, but was repulsed by the Macedonian nobleman Sosthenes. Brennus' contingent then attacked Sosthenes and defeated him, and proceeded to ravage the country. After these expeditions returned, Brennus urged a united, and potentially lucrative, attack on Greece, led by himself and Acichorius. The army numbered 152,000 infantry and 24,400 cavalry. Pausanias describes how they used a tactic called trimarcisia , where each cavalryman was supported by two mounted servants, who could supply him with a spare horse if he was dismounted, or take his place in the battle if he was killed or wounded, so the actual number of horsemen was in fact 61,200. [8]

Thrace kingdom of Thracians

Thrace is a geographical and historical region in Southeast Europe, now split between Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, which is bounded by the Balkan Mountains to the north, the Aegean Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the east. It comprises southeastern Bulgaria, northeastern Greece and the European part of Turkey.

Illyria Historical region in Western Balkan, Southeast Europe

In classical antiquity, Illyria was a region in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula inhabited by numerous tribes of people collectively known as the Illyrians. Besides them, this region was also settled, in various times, by some tribes of Celts, Goths and Thracians. Illyrians spoke Illyrian languages, a group of Indo-European languages, which in ancient times perhaps had speakers in some parts in southern Italy. The Roman term Illyris was sometimes used to define an area north of the Aous valley, most notably Illyris proper.

Ptolemy Keraunos King of Macedon

Ptolemy Keraunos was the King of Macedon from 281 BC to 279 BC. His epithet Keraunos is Greek for "Thunder" or "Thunderbolt".

route of the Gauls Gaul Migration Map (English).svg
route of the Gauls

Battle of Thermopylae

The Greeks, mustered at Thermopylae under the Athenian general Calippus, learned that the Gauls had reached Phthiotis and Magnesia, sent their cavalry and light infantry to meet them at the river Spercheios and oppose their crossing. They broke down the bridges and camped on the bank, but that night Brennus sent 10,000 men to cross further downriver, where the river formed a marshy lake. The Gauls were strong swimmers, some of them using their shields as floats, and the river was shallow enough for the tallest to wade across. The Greeks retreated to the main army, while Brennus forced the locals to rebuild the bridges to allow the rest of his forces to cross. [9]

The Gauls attacked the Greeks at Thermopylae, but were initially forced to retreat by their better armed opponents. [10] Brennus sent 40,000 infantry and 800 cavalry under Combutis and Orestorius back over the Spercheius to invade Aetolia, hoping to persuade the Aetolian contingent in the Greek army to leave Thermopylae and return to defend their homeland. The plan worked, but the returning Aetolians inflicted such losses on the Gauls that less than half of them returned to Thermopylae. Meanwhile, the locals were intimidated into showing Brennus a mountain pass that would allow him to attack the Greek rear. He led 40,000 men, hidden until the last minute by fog, over the pass, and dispersed the Phoceans who were guarding the pass. However, the Phoceans informed the Greek army at Thermopylae in time to safely retreat before encirclement. The Athenian fleet evacuated the army, and Brennus marched for Delphi, not waiting for Acichorius and the rest of the army to catch up. [11]

Attack on Delphi

Both the historians who relate the attack on Delphi, Pausanias and Justin, say the Gauls were defeated and driven off. They were overtaken by a violent thunderstorm which made it impossible to manoeuvre or even hear their orders. The night that followed was frosty, and in the morning the Greeks attacked them from both sides. Brennus was wounded and the Gauls fell back, killing their own wounded who were unable to retreat. That night a panic fell on the camp, as the Gauls divided into factions and fought amongst themselves. They were joined by Acichorius and the rest of the army, but the Greeks forced them into a full-scale retreat. Brennus took his own life, by drinking unwatered wine according to Pausanias (the Greeks believed that doing so was poisonous)[ citation needed ] or by stabbing himself according to Justinus. Pressed by the Aetolians, they fell back to the Spercheius, where they were cut to pieces by the waiting Thessalians and Malians. [12]


The Gauls who escaped this defeat settled on the Hellespont in the country around Byzantium, where they founded the kingdom of Tylis, and around Ancyra where they founded the kingdom of Galatia. [13] The Amphictyonic League instituted new games, the Delphic Soteria ("deliverance" or "salvation") to commemorate their victory. [14]

Strabo reports a story told in his time of treasure – fifteen thousand talents of gold and silver – supposed to have been taken from Delphi and brought back to Tolosa (modern Toulouse, France) by the Tectosages, who were said to have been part of the invading army. Strabo does not believe this story, arguing that the defeated Gauls were in no position to carry off such spoils, and that in any case Delphi had already been despoiled of its treasure by the Phocians during the Third Sacred War the previous century. [7]

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In the Archaic Greece, an amphictyony, a "league of neighbors", or Amphictyonic League was an ancient religious association of Greek tribes formed in the dim past, before the rise of the Greek poleis. The six Dorian cities of coastal southwest Anatolia, or the twelve Ionian cities to the north, the dodecapolis forming an Ionian League emerging in the aftermath of a faintly remembered "Meliac war" in the mid-7th century BCE, were already of considerable antiquity when the first written records emerge.

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  1. Venceslas Kruta, Les Celtes, histoire et dictionnaire, p. 493.
  2. The Ancient Celts, Barry Cunliffe pp. 80–81
  3. The term is a calque of the parallel French Grande expédition, that indicates, in French scholarly usage, the 279 BC surge of military campaigns on Greece.
  4. Schmidt, "De fontibus veterum auctorum in enarrandis expeditionibus a Gallis in Macedoniania susceptis," Berol. 1834
  5. Smith, William (1867), "Acichorius", in Smith, William (ed.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology , 1, Boston, MA, p. 12
  6. Pausanias, Guide for Greece (on
  7. 1 2 Strabo, Geography 4:1.13
  8. Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.19; Junianus Justinus, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus' Histories 24.4-6
  9. Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.20
  10. Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.21
  11. Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.22
  12. Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.23, Junianus Justinus, Epitome of Pompeius Trogus' Histories 24.7-8
  13. Polybius, Histories 4.46; Memnon, History of Heracleia 11
  14. Jon D. Mikalson, Religion in Hellenistic Athens, University of California Press, 1998, Chapter 4