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p566 Galli

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp566‑567 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

GALLI, the priests of Cybele, whose worship was introduced at Rome from Phrygia, in B.C. 204 (Liv. XXIX.10, 14, XXXVI.36). The Galli were, according to an ancient custom, always castrated (spadones, semimares, semivir, nec viri nec feminae), and it would seem that impelled by religious fanaticism they performed this operation on themselves (Juv. VI.512, &c.; Ovid, Fast. IV.237; Martial, III.81, XI.74; Plin. H. N. XI.49). In their wild, enthusiastic, and boisterous rites, they resembled the Corybantes (Lucan. I.565, &c.; compare Hilaria), and even went further, in as much, as in their fury, they mutilated their own bodies (Propert. II.18.15). They seem to have been always chosen from a poor and despised class of people, for while no other priests were allowed to beg, the Galli (famuli Idaeae matris) were allowed to do so on certain days (Cic. de Leg. II.9 and 16). The chief priest among them was called archigallus (Servius, ad Aen. IX.116). The origin of the name of Galli is uncertain; according to Festus, (s.v.), Ovid (Fast. IV.363), and others, it was derived from the river Gallus in Phrygia, which flowed near the temple of Cybele, and the water of which was fabled to put those persons who drank of it into such a state of madness, that they castrated themselves (Compare Plin. H. N. V.42, XI.40, XXXI.2; Herodian. 11). The supposition of Hieronymus (Cap. Oseae, 4) that Galli was the name of the Gauls, which had been given to these priests by the Romans in order to show their contempt of that nation, is unfounded, as the Romans must have received the name from Asia, or from the Greeks, by whom, as Suidas (s.v.) informs us, Gallus was used as a common noun in the sense of eunuch. There exists a verb gallare, which signifies to rage (insanare, bacchari), and p567which occurs in one of the fragments of Varro (p273, ed. Bip.) and in the Antholog. Lat. vol. I p34, ed. Burmann.


Thayer's Note:

A good photograph of one of the most famous Roman sculptures representing an archigallus can be seen on this page at Metro'on: a site with further good information on the Galli and related material.


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Page updated: 30 Jun 09