The Galatian Shield in Egypt

Abstract

In the Hellenistic world Galatian mercenaries were extremely popular in the armies of the successor kingdoms. They were a non-aligned ethnic mercenary element which would be loyal to its employer, the king, rather than the local community. The Ptolemaic kingdom was no exception, hiring many of these mercenaries and settling them in Egypt. Once the Galatians arrived in Egypt, an effort was made to preserve the uniqueness of these “barbarian” troops among the rest of the population. Nowhere is this distinction clearer than in the symbols used to identify Galatians in art. The most prevalent of these symbols is the shield. With its distinctive boss and horizontal handle, the Celtic shield used by the Galatians has an appearance that conveys an ethnic attachment. Greek and Egyptian shields are smaller with a different boss and handle combination that would have made the distinction clear for a person living in Egypt at the time. In Ptolemaic Egypt the Galatian shield became an identifying symbol of the Galatian mercenaries living in the kingdom, a symbol reinforced by their Greek neighbors.

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Coleman, M., (2012) “The Galatian Shield in Egypt”, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 4(1), p.1-8. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/azu_jaei_v04i1_coleman

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Matthew Coleman (University of Arizona)

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