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Barbarian Invasion- Forgotten Settlements in the Middle East

posted on: May 11, 2022

Barbarian Invasion- Forgotten Settlements in the Middle East
Celtic warriors, “Gaesatae” mercenaries marching through the desert

BY: Lyric Ludwig / Arab America Contributing Writer

The Middle East is no stranger to foreign visitors throughout its millennia of history, with the most notable examples to most being the Greeks, Macedonians, Crusaders, and in modern times, Great Britain, various European powers, and the United States. Many of these interactions between East and West changed the course of world history as we know it. However, many other cultures interacted with the Middle East that often went unnoticed by much of the general public and even some scholars. This article will focus on the interaction of ancient Celtic and Germanic tribes in the region.

Modern pop culture is no stranger to the term “barbarian”, it is a word used by “uncivilized cultures” of Northern Europe. In modern-day France, Spain and Belgium lived the Gallic Celts. Modern-day Germany and the Netherlands were home to the Germanic tribes. In the second century BC, armies of Gallic Celts attacked the Hellenic world, even sacking Delphi. Greeks and Macedonians eventually defeated the fierce invaders, but pockets of Celtic influence remained, with a Celtic ruled region called “Galatia” being established in Anatolia. This region would continue to play an active role throughout the Hellenistic age. Galatian Celts regularly played a role in the wars of Hellenic kingdoms throughout the Mediterranean. Ptolemaic Egypt hired large numbers of Celtic warriors who would fight all over the states of the Near East. During this time, Celts became a regular populous of Egypt. Celtic warriors settled down permanently in the region, marrying native Egyptians, creating a new generation that was unique to Egypt at the time. Cleopatra herself is even said to have hired Celtic bodyguards. Also, celts are regularly portrayed in artwork during this period in the Near East.

Celtic mercenaries in Egypt

The Celts were not the only group of people from Northern Europe to make a cultural and historical impact in the Near East and North Africa. The Germanic tribes eventually made their mark in the area, as well. At first in service of the Roman Empire, but eventually found a kingdom of their own. During the fifth century AD, Rome was in decline, and the Germans were gradually moving west, settling in former Roman land. One tribe known as the Vandals, led by King Gaiseric settled in modern-day Tunisia, with Carthage as its capital. Culturally, the Vandals continued their Germanic warrior culture, as Gaiseric sacked Rome itself and continued piracy in the Mediterranean. The Vandal Kingdom itself ruled alongside former Roman land ownership and aristocracy, creating an effectively governed Kingdom. The Vandals also practiced and spread Arian Christianity, a branch that believed in the holy trinity as all distinct entities, which in itself is an important facet of the religious history of the Near East. The following video gives an important in-depth look into the history of the Vandals in North Africa.

Overall, the Vandals proved to be a unique presence in North Africa, appropriating much of the former Roman world into their hands. Although they may be known as Barbarians (the origins of the word vandalism), Roman infrastructure and agriculture were appropriated rather than destroyed. However, following the death of the charismatic Gaiseric, the Vandal Kingdom slowly fell apart, being raided by Amazigh tribes and destroyed entirely by the Eastern Roman Empire’s reconquest under Justinian. Following this, most remaining Vandals were enslaved or absorbed by the Eastern Romans.

Reconstruction of a Vandal couple

To a modern eye, the presence of Celts and Germans in the Middle East may seem irrelevant in the grand scope of world history. However, the respective migrations of each culture gives us a greater understanding of the very nature of military, cultural, and artistic interactions between cultures. Beyond that, it is simply fascinating that cultures we may believe to have been separate and with little interaction, in fact, had regular relations with each other. The presence of Celts and Germans in Egypt in the middle east is still a topic that will continue to fascinate scholars and regular people alike.

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A popular Hellenistic depiction of a Gallic warrior (top) and a smaller statue (bottom)

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