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In Search of Celtic Tylis


An interdisciplinary colloquium arranged by the National Institute of Archaeology with Museum (NIAM), Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, and the Welsh Department, Aberystwyth University, on the 8th of May 2010 at NIAM (the Museum) in Sofia.


09:00-09:15 Opening speech by Lyudmil Vagalinski, Deputy Director of NIAM
09:15-09:40 Simon Rodway: Celtic – Definitions, Problems and Controversies
09:40-10:00 Discussion
10:00-10:25 Dilyana Boteva / Dimitar Mitov: The Ancient Historians on the Celtic Kingdom in South-Eastern Thrace
10:25-10:45 Discussion
10:45-11:10 Kamen Dimitrov: Celts, Greeks and Thracians during 3rd C BC. Interactions in History and Culture
11:10-11:30 Discussion
11:30-11:45 Break
11:45-12:10 Julij Emilov: In Search for Tylis. Ancient Texts on Galatian Residence and Context of La Tène Finds in Southern Thrace
12:10-12:30 Discussion
12:30-12:55 Metodi Manov: In Searching of Tyle (Tylis). Problems of Localization
12:55-13:10 Discussion
13:10-14:15 Lunch for the lecturers provided by NIAM
14:15-14:40 Lachezar Lazarov: The Celtic State with Centre Tylis under Cavar
14:40-15:00 Discussion
15:15-15:40 Totko Stoyanov: The Mal Tepe Tomb at Mezek and the Problem of the Celtic Kingdom in South-Eastern Thrace
15:40-16:00 Discussion
16:00-16:15 Break
16:15-16:40 Alexander Falileyev: Ancient Place-Names of the Eastern Balkans: Defining Celtic Areas
16:40-17:00 Discussion
17:00-17:30 Final Discussion; Closing
17:30-18:30 Visiting the National Archaeological Museum



Dr. Simon Rodway (Aberystwyth University)

A number of scholars have published critiques of the established ‘Story of the Celts’ in recent decades. Indeed the validity of the term ‘Celtic’ has been questioned. Some critics of this ‘post-Celticist’ or ‘Celtosceptic’ approach have perceived a political agenda at work here, particularly in the work of English archaeologists such as John Collis and Simon James who have been accused of Euroscepticism and anti-devolutionism. In fact ‘Celtoscepticism’ seems largely to be a reaction to the pervasiveness of primitivist preconceptions about ‘Celtic spirit’, ‘Celtic culture’, ‘Celtic society’ and so forth in the orthodox ‘Story of the Celts’ which are part of the ideological hangover from nineteenth-century Romanticism. Another factor is the ongoing questioning by archaeologists of the ‘invasion hypothesis’ which underpinned the traditional view of the expansion of the Celts. Naturally, any responsible academic will exercise caution when combining historical and linguistic evidence to build a synthetic picture of the ancient Celts, and even more caution is required when applying archaeological, art historical and genetic data to the problem. Indeed the discipline of Celtic studies does have a history of critical analysis of its own parameters which pre-dates ‘Celtoscepticism’. In this paper I shall examine a number of specific problems with ‘Celticity’, including: (1) Who were the Keltoi/Celtae, Galatae and Galli referred to by Classical authors? (2) Why were the Britons and Irish apparently not considered to be Celts before the modern period? (3) What are the limitations of linguistic evidence as regards the origin and spread of the Celts? (4) Can archaeology and/or population genetics be used diagnostically to identify areas of Celtic settlement in the ancient period? (5) To what extent is it valid to speak of ‘Celts’ in the medieval and modern periods?


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sc. Dilyana Boteva, Assistant Prof. Dimitar Mitov MA (Sofia University)

The paper studies available reports of the ancient authors on the Celtic kingdom in South-Eastern Thrace. The main focus is put, of course, on the histories written by Polybios, Titus Livius and Pompeius Trogus/Justinus. Although these texts have often been discussed, each re-reading is worth when trying to create a correct historical picture of the Celtic presence at Tyle in Thrace.


Dr. Kamen Dimitrov (Center of Thracology by Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia)

The interactions between Celts, Greeks and Thracians in the Eastern Balkans after the Celtic invasion in 279 BC can be examined in two main directions: 1. hostile, and 2. peaceful and creative.

  1. The theory of the totally devastating role of the Celts in Thrace was not confirmed. Some settlements as Seuthopolis and Pistiros were probably demolished at that time. The Celtic danger was probably a subject of a treaty between the citizens of Kabyle and Antiochos II. The victory of Antigonos II over the Celts near Lysimachia in 277 BC, attributed by the royal propaganda to divine help had a huge impact on the coin iconography as well. A Celtic state in southeastern Thrace was established after driving out the Thracians. This state constantly threatened the coastal cities as Byzantion with plundering and devastation requiring heavy taxes. By the end of the 3rd c BC the Celtic kingdom vanished in another clash with the Thracians.
  2. Many of the Celts who remained in the Southeast Balkans after the invasion were recruited in the army of Antigonos II. Huge amounts of gold staters were produced in the mint of Pella in the 270s BC, especially to pay the Celtic mercenaries. In some Danubian areas Celts infiltrated to the local aristocracy creating a new mixed upper layer of the society as in the case of the little (“mali”) Scordisci. They exploited the older economical infrastructure connecting the Aegean and the Danubian lands as attested by some numismatic evidence. It is very probable similar processes to have occurred on the Celtic territory near Byzantion although no particular evidence is available. The last Celtic king Kavaros acted as an intermediary in the trade conflicts between some Greek cities and Hellenistic states and protected the trade in the Propontic area. He pursued a typical Greek monetary policy minting silver tetradrachms of the Alexander type and bronze coins of various denominations. Their iconography featured standard Greek deities as Apollo, Hermes, Helios, etc. No doubt Kavaros joined the religion and the ideology of Southeastern Thrace (i.e. the common Thracian-Greek contact language) to facilitate his relations to the local communities.


Julij Emilov, PhD student (Sofia University)

Geographical location of Tylis is a focal point in modern discussions, concerning the Thracian Galatians, results of the Celtic raids in Eastern Balkans during the first quarter of the 3rd century BC as well as their impact on political or cultural development in the region. Scanty mention of the place-name in ancient written sources like the fourth book of Polybius’ Histories or ambiguous reference in Ethnika by Stephanus of Byzantium constitute the basis of various suggestions on “palace” location. Critical examination of the available evidence leads to reconsideration of different options for its historical interpretation and hypotheses about Tylis.
An overview of La Tène finds in the lands of the Thracians, south of the Haemus mountain present archaeological aspects of the problem about Celtic presence in South-eastern Thrace. Elements of costume and armament are discovered in settlement centers or grave inventories, but their context does not support the ethnical interpretation of these objects as indicator of compact Celtic enclaves in the area. Lack of data from settlements, inhabited by the Galatians with Comontorios and Cavarus, as well as the necropoleis of the groups under their command contribute to the elusive image of their kingdom. Among the objective reasons for such state of current research could be mentioned the differences between regional level of exploration. Another important factor is mobility of the warrior groups, which corresponds to information about Thracian Galatians from Polybius and raises doubts on the concept of static political entity.


Dr. Metodi Manov (National Institute of Archaeology with Museum by Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia)

The place and the role of the Celtic state in Thrace, established about 277 BC by one of the chieftains of the Celtic hordes, invaded the Balkan Peninsula between 279 and 277 BC – Comontorius, continues provoking sharp disputes in the contemporary historiography. The opinions imposed in recent years concerning the localization of this Celtic state in the hinterland of Byzantium were put lastly to serious corrections surely based on well dated archaeological materials, found on the territory of today Bulgaria. Also new observations and definite conclusions were made recently based on very well documented, precisely localized and dated numismatic materials. Because of these facts together with the very careful using of scarce data in the ancient authors, the new studies must give new directions of scholarly searches concerning the presence of a powerful Celtic state in Thrace.
The author of the present paper makes here a critical review of all the opinions up to now as for the localization of the Celtic “capital” of Tyle (Tylis), mentioned by Polybius and Stephanus Byzantinus. It is pointed out explicitly that more serious attention must be paid to the laconic data of both ancient sources and it has not to be neglected the specific indication of Stephanus Byzantinus, that “Tyle is a town in Thrace, [disposed] near the Haemus mountain” (Steph. Byz., 640, 20).
Having reviewed the data about the political situation in Thrace from the beginning of the second quarter to the middle of the 3rd century BC, as well as in view of some archaeological finds from the region of the ancient town of Seuthopolis, combined with the evidence of the ancient sources (such as Polybius and Stephanus Byzantinus), the author made a daring, but necessary hypothesis. It is possible that namely the Celts of Comontorius after the battle at Lysimacheia in 277 BC came back inside Thrace and had defeated the Thracians at Seuthopolis. After that, somewhere very near to Seuthopolis or even just on the place of this old settlement, they founded their own capital Tyle (Tylis) – “near to the Haemus mountain”, according to Stephanus Byzantinus (640, 20).
It becomes obvious generally, that more attention has to be paid, and the exact place and role of the Celtic state in Thrace should be more precisely defined, as it left strong traces in the history of the Southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula in 3rd century BC, despite of its short existence of about 60 years – between 277 BC and 218 BC.

(new arguments in support of my hypothesis, 17 years later)

Lachezar Lazarov MA (Dalgopol)

In 1993 and next years I put forward my point of view about the important Celtic state situated, during (and before) the Сavar’s time, on both sides of the Eastern Balkan mountain including the areas of Varna, Burgas, Shumen and Sliven. Under the last ruler this state was the main political and military factor in the Eastern part of the Balkan peninsula getting tribute from nearby Odessos, Mesambria and Kabyle and even from the far distanced Byzantion. During Cavar’s time its centre was the fortress on Peak Arkovna (with ancient name Arkunis?). This thesis of mine was then in full dissonance with the opinion officially accepted in the Bulgarian historical and archaeological literature and manifold expressed during the last 3-4 decades describing the Tylite Celtic State as a tiny organization close to Byzantion.
In the next years, a bulk of new archaeological and numismatic evidence appeared, that supported my opinion, including:

  1. Several dozens of Cavar’s bronze coins were published originating from various fortresses and villages in the Dulgopol, Provadia, Shumen and Aytos districts. The most important of them are the coins found during the partial archaeological excavations on the fortress on Peak Arkovna.
  2. New coins from the fortress of Arkovna were found that have the smallest Cavar’s nominal (Hermes/ Caduceus). The coins of smallest values circulated predominantly around the centre of their minting, according to the numismatic rules.
  3. There have not been discovered, so far, bronze coins, minted by Cavar, in the south eastern part of Bulgaria as it should be if the opinion opposite to mine was correct. By contrast, a huge amount of coins were disclosed north of this area where the Celtic state was situated according to my thesis.
  4. During the past years a great number (tens, even hundreds) of archaeological materials such as fibulas, bracelets, rings, weaponry have been published which unambiguously have Celtic outlook. They all originated from the district of Varna, including Dulgopol and Provadia area, and the district of Shumen, including Smyadovo and Kaspichan area, and were under no circumstances dated III c. BC.
  5. Of particular importance are the findings of Celtic materials, including ceramics, with the characteristics LTB2-LTC1, which were disclosed in the Arkovna peak area. They confirm my opinion about this archaeological complex as being the heartland of the Tylite State of Cavar.
There is no doubt that the number of Celtic archaeological materials and coins, found in that area, will grow in future. Consequently, they deserve a more appropriate interpretation such as that obtained by leaving behind the old anachronistic view regarding the Tylite Kingdom as a miniature little state nearby to Byzantion.


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Totko Stoyanov (Sofia University)

The monumental tomb in the huge tumulus Mal-tepe near the village Mezek in SE Bulgaria is among the most representative Thracian monuments in respect of its architecture and burial inventory. It reveals at least three stages of development as a memorial complex. At the final one, ca. the middle of 3rd c. BC, when it has acquired characteristics of a heroon, in the inventory appeared artifacts unusual for Thrace. Since in 1941 P. Jacobstahl identified these as parts of a Celtic chariot made in the canons of the ‘Plastic style’ and posed in the literature the question of the existence of a Celtic (prince’s) burial in the complex, this version remained actual in the western literature on the Celtic presence in Thrace.
A critical analysis of the Celtic artifacts within the context of the whole tomb-complex, the necropolis and the settlement nearby, and the political one is to be presented in the paper.


Dr. Alexander Falileyev (Aberystwyth University)

In this paper I will summarize my findings resulted from the study of ancient toponymy of the Eastern Balkans. I will first consider methodological problems of extracting linguistically Celtic data from the onomastic landscape of the area. It should be stressed that both Thracian and Gaulish are basically onomastic languages, although for the latter idiom we have albeit a limited but still a corpus of texts. On top of that, Gaulish (like Celt-Iberian) is historically connected with the so-called Insular Celtic languages, which allows to consider their data in an analysis of that of Gaulish. Thracian data, on the contrary, does not allow such maneuvers. However, there is still a possibility to differentiate between place-names coined in these two languages on several purely linguistic levels, although some of these names may be treated both as indigenous and Celtic. Needless to say, that a layer of Celtic place-names in a restricted area in antiquity speaks in favour of a physical presence of speakers of Celtic at some time there.
I will then briefly outline the areas of Ancient Thrace where we allegedly find Celtic toponyms, and afterwards concentrate on the eastern part of the area. I will slightly reconsider my argument first presented in 2002, according to which a notable layer of Celtic (and presumably Celtic) place-names is localized in the south-east, cf. e.g., Orcelis and (less surely) Valla (both Ptolemy III,11,7) or Casibona (Procop. De aed. 146, 41), thus favouring a hypothesis on the localisation of the kingdom with its centre in Tylis shared by a number of historians. There is also a less definitive layer of Celtic place-names in another region associated with the eastern part of Haemus (cf. Arkovna Mt. or Rimesica, the exact location of the latter is disputable). It should be stressed that these place-names may allow also a different linguistic attribution. And finally, I will comment on the possible provenance of the place-name Tylis itself.

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