Historical Battle of Telamon – Wilder Than Fiction

Insubre Warrior

Every now and then, we discover a historical incident more exciting and fascinating than anything fiction and fantasy writers can create. One such event was the historic battle of Telamon, Italy. Telamon is a hill near Pisa where two Roman armies managed to trap and annihilate a huge force of Gallic warriors in 224 B.C. According to Polybius (2, 28-3) 40,000 Celtic warriors from Boii, Taurisci, and Insubres, tribes were slain and 10,000 were captured, securing Roman domination of the area known as Cisalpina Gallia, which was largely northern Italy.

The Celtic tribes from Transalpina Gallia(France) crossed the Alps to join forces with the Celtic tribes of Cisalpina Gallia and swept into Etruria (Tuscany). The Celts attacked Etruria because they feared Roman domination and saw an opportunity to fill their wagons with Roman treasure. But another reason for the attack may have been encouragement from the Carthaginians. This was during the years of Rome’s struggle with Carthage. Several of Rome’s Legions were engaged in Spain struggling for dominance with the Carthaginians. The threat at home forced Rome to agree to less than desirable terms, withdraw her legions, and return to Italy to meet the Celtic threat.

Initially, the Celtic tribes had a free rein, pillaging their way across Etruria, easily defeated Etruscan militias, and Roman legions led by Consul-General, Lucius Aemelius Papus. It looked dark for Rome, and many were certain the invaders would sack their beloved city, just as the Celtic Chieftain, Brennus, had done in 387 BC.

Nothing stood in their way until Consul-Genereal Caius Atilius Regulus returned from Spain, landing his legions at Pisa. Hard luck for the Celtic invaders. Now Atilius' legions  were ahead of them and Amelius’ regrouped legions were  behind them. The Roman vise squeezed tight dooming and the Celtic horde.

What captivated me about the battle was that Atilius was fighting in the front ranks of his soldiers. This was a Roman Consul-General commanding multiple legions, over 20,000 men. It would be like Patton personally leading the charge in WWII. Atilius, heroically stormed up Telamon hill, leading a contingent of cavalry and ran head on into Celtic Calvary. Sadly, Atilius’ reward for his bravery was decapitation, a time honored Celtic tradition. Yes, his head was taken as a trophy. It infuriated his legions and they continued the attack ferociously without him. At the end day, Rome was the undisputed power in Cisalpina Gallia and this was the beginning of the end for a Celtic  dominated Europe.

It was such a great story that it inspired me to include it in my novel, Cult of Camulos, which begins with a depiction of this decisive, but not so famous battle. In, "Cult of Camulos", I depict Atilius having single combat with the foremost Celtic warrior, which is suggested in some accounts, but not well documented. However, there is a documented account of a Celtic Chieftain challenging the Roman general Marcus Claudiau to single combat at the battle of Clastidium three years earlier. Marcus fared better than Atilius, easily slaying his opponent. Little has been published on the battle of Telamon, but if you are interested in further reading, you might start with Simon James. He presents an excellent account in his book “The World of the Celts”.

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