2. The leader of a body of Gauls, who had settled in Pannonia, and who moved southwards and broke into Greece B. C. 279, one hundred and eleven years after the taking of Rome.
Pyrrhus of Epeirus was then absent in Italy.
The infamous Ptolemy Ceraunus had just established himself on the throne of Macedon. Athens was again free under Olympiodorus (Paus. 1.26
), and the old Achaean league had been renewed, with the promise of brighter days in the Peloponnesus, when the inroad of the barbarians threatened all Greece with desolation.
Brennus entered Paeonia at the same time that two other divisions of the Gauls invaded Thrace and Macedonia. On returning home, the easy victory which his countrymen had gained over Ptolemy in Macedon, the richness of the country, and the treasures of the temples, furnished him with arguments for another enterprise, and he again advanced southward with the enormous force of 150,000 foot and 61,000 horse. (Paus. 10.19
After ravaging Macedonia (Just. 24.6
) he marched through Thessaly towards Thermopylae. Here an army of above 20,000 Greeks was assembled to dispute the pass, while a fleet of Athenian triremes lay close in shore, commanding the narrow road between the foot of the cliffs and the beach.
On arriving at the Spercheius, Brennus found the bridges broken, and a strong advanced post of the Greeks on the opposite bank.
He waited therefore till night, and then sent a body of men down the river, to cross it where it spreads itself over some marshy ground and becomes fordable. On the Gauls gaining the right bank, the advanced post of the Greeks fell back upon Thermopylae. Brennus repaired the bridges and crossed the river, and advanced hastily by Heracleia towards the pass.
At daybreak the fight began.
But the illarmed and undisciplined Gauls rushed in vain upon the Grecian phalanx, and after repeated attacks of incredible fury they were forced to retire with great loss. Brennus then despatched 40,000 of his men across the mountains of Thesssaly into Aetolia, which they ravaged with horrible barbarity.
This had the intended effect of detaching the Aetolians from the allied army at Thermopylae; and about the same time some Heracleots betrayed the pass over the mountains by which, two hundred years before, the Persians had descended on the rear of the devoted Spartans. The Gaul followed the same path.
But the Greeks this time, though again surrounded, escaped; for the Athenian fleet carried them safely away before the Gauls attacked them. (Paus. 10.22
Brennus, without waiting for those whom he had left on the other side of the pass, pushed on for the plunder of Delphi. Justin says the barbarians laughed at the notion of dedication to the gods (24.6): " The gods were so rich themselves that they could afford to be givers instead of receivers ;" and as he approached the sacred hill, he pointed out the statues, and chariots, and other offerings, which were conspicuous around the temple, and which he promised as the golden prizes of the victory. (Just. 24.8
The Delphians had collected about 4000 men on the rock,--a small number to oppose the host of Brennus.
But they were strongly posted, and the advantage of the ground, and their own steady conduct, manifestly saved the temple without the supernatural help of Apollo, which is given to them by the Greek and Roman historians.
As the Gauls rushed on from below, the Greeks plied their darts, and rolled down broken rocks from the cliff upon them.
A violent storm and intense cold (for it was winter) increased the confusion of the assailants. They nevertheless pressed on, till Brennus fainted from his wounds, and was carried out of the fight. They then fled. The Greeks, exasperated by their barbarities, hung on their retreat, through a difficult and mountainous country, and but few of them escaped to their comrades, whom they had left behind at Thermopylae. (Paus. 10.23
Brennus was still alive, and might have recovered from his wounds, but according to Pausanias he would not survive his defeat, and put an end to his life with large draughts of strong wine--a more probable account than that of Justin (24.8
), who says that being unable to bear the pain of his wounds, he stabbed himself.