About the Galli
The first Galli arrived in Rome when the Senate officially adopted Cybele as a state goddess in 204 BC. Roman citizens were prohibited from becoming Galli, which meant that they were all orientals or slaves. Under Claudius, this ban was lifted. Eventually Domitian reaffirmed that Roman citizens were forbidden to practice eviratio (castration).
The Galli castrated themselves during an ecstatic celebration called the Dies sanguinis, or "Day of Blood", which took place on March 24. At the same time they put on women's costume, mostly yellow in colour, and a sort of turban, together with pendants and ear-rings. They also wore their hair long, and bleached, and wore heavy make-up. They wandered around with followers, begging for charity, in return for which they were prepared to tell fortunes. On the day of mourning for Attis they ran around wildly and dishevelled. They performed dances to the music of pipes and tambourines, and, in an ecstasy, flogged themselves until they bled.
Origins of the name
Stephanus Byzantinus said that the name came from King Gallus. Ovid (43 BC - 17 AD) says that the name is derived from the Gallus river in Phrygia. The name may be linked to the Gauls (Celtic tribes) of Galatia in Anatolia, who were known as Galli by the Romans. The word "Gallus" is also the Latin word for rooster.
While these efforts at "folk" etymologies were widespread in classical times, it has been suggested that gallu comes from the Sumerian Gal meaning "great" and Lu meaning "man", humans or sexually ambivalent demons that freed Inanna from the underworld. They originally seem to have been consecrated to the god Enki.
By coincidence there was a category of Mesopotamian priests called kalu; in Sumerian gala. These priests played the tympanum and were involved in bull sacrifice. Another category of Mesopotamian priests called assinnu, galatur, and kurgarru had a sacred function. These transgender or eunuch priests participated in liturgical rites, during which they were costumed and masked. They played music, sang, and danced, most often in ceremonies dedicated to the goddess Ishtar.
The Galli and Attis
Fundamental to understanding the meaning and the function of the myth and ritual related to Attis in Rome is his relationship with the Galli. The role of prototype of the mythical castration of Attis for the institution of the "priesthood" of the Galli has almost always been emphasised, even if to different degrees. Scholars have attempted to draw a connection between the episode of the castration of Attis and the ritual mutilation of the Galli as a reflection in myth of a secondary ritual action or conversely, as the mythical foundation of a ritual action. This kind of interpretation appears to be too simplistic as, to some extent, it fails to consider that this connection has served different purposes in different periods. The emasculation of Attis in the "Phrygian" version of the myth is the basis for an institution that is both political and religious, the institution of his priests in Pessinous, the "non-kings", who don't simply coincide with the Galli.
The earliest references to the Galli come from the Anthologia Palatina although they don't explicitly mention emasculation. More interesting is the fragment attributed to Callimachus, in which the term Gallai denotes castration that has taken place.
The high priests are well-documented from archaeology. At Pessinus, the centre of the Cybele cult, there were two high priests during the Hellenistic period, one with the title of "Attis" and the other with the name of "Battakes". Both were eunuchs. The high priests had considerable political influence during this period, and letters exist from a high priest Attis to the kings of Pergamon, Eumenes II and Attalus II, inscribed on stone. Later, during the Flavian period, there was a college of ten priests, not castrated, and now Roman citizens, but still using the title "Attis".
In Rome, the head of the galli was known as the archigallus, at least from the period of Claudius on. A number of archaeological finds depict the archigallus wearing luxurious and extravagant costumes. The archigallus was always a Roman citizen chosen by the quindecimviri sacris faciundis, whose term of service lasted for life.
Being a Roman citizen, as well as being employed by the Roman State, meant that the archigallus had to preserve the traditions of Cybele's cult while not violating Roman prohibitions in religious behavior. Hence, the archigallus was never a eunuch, as all citizens of Rome were forbidden from emasculation. The signs of his office have been described as a type of crown, possibly a laurel wreath, as well as a golden bracelet known as the occabus.
Along with the institution of the archigallus came the Phrygianum sanctuary as well as the rite of the taurobolium as it pertains to the Magna Mater, two aspects of the Magna Mater’s cultus that the archigallus held dominion over.
- Luther H. Martin, Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction, Oxford University Press, 1987, ISBN 019504391X p. 83
- Maarten J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis: the myth and the cult, translated by A. M. H. Lemmers, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, p.96: "Furthermore Cybele was to be served by only oriental priests; Roman citizens were not allowed to serve until the times of Claudius."
- Maarten J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis: the myth and the cult, translated by A. M. H. Lemmers, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, p.97.
- Maarten J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis: the myth and the cult, translated by A. M. H. Lemmers, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, p.115: "The Day of Blood (dies sanguinis) is the name given to the ceremonies on 24 March. On this day the priests flagellated themselves until the blood came 662 and with it they sprinkled the effigy and the altars in the temple."
- Maarten J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis: the myth and the cult, translated by A. M. H. Lemmers, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, p.96: "But according to others their name was derived from King Gallus 495 who in a state of frenzy had emasculated himself..." and p.199, "495. Steph. Byz. s.v. γάλλος (= H. Hepding, Attis, 74)."
- Maarten J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis: the myth and the cult, translated by A. M. H. Lemmers, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, p.85, referencing Ovid, Fasti IV.9
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