This famous structure on the Island sector of the city has long intrigued us and we have previously commented upon it. We took its name as being probably because it had a quadriga of elephants drawing a chariot (as sometimes appears on Roman and Seleucid coins) atop the structure.
However, we stumbled upon a reference to the Victory of the Elephants in 273 BC and this started us wondering if the structure maybe had its origins in this event very early on in Seleucid history and thus was some sort of triumphal monument (not an uncommon purpose in an Arch or its more complex manifestation, the Tetrapylon).
The sequence of events that led to this victory (and maybe its commemoration was that in 280 BC, after personally assassinating Seleucus I and murdering his two young rival claimants to the throne, Ptolemy Ceraunos managed to seize the kingdom of Lysimachos (who had died the previous year, leaving no heirs strong enough to hold their father's throne). However this unscrupulous adventurer had little time to enjoy his successes. The following year he met a large army of migrating Celts. As a result of this battle, Ptolemy Ceraunos' head was forcibly removed and used to decorate a pike. These Celts were to become known to the Greeks as the Galatians. These Eastern Celtic people seemed to have fought much like their better known Gallic counterparts who later invaded Italy and sacked Rome. Except for their chieftains, these warriors were poorly armed and trained. However their terrifying, impetuous ferocity made them irresistible in battle, as Ptolemy discovered to his detriment.
The Galatians quickly scattered to plunder Macedonia, Thrace and Greece. The Greeks avoided any pitched battles with these barbarians from the north, and although the Galatian looting met with some initial success, eventually the Greek harassment drove the invaders out of Greece and Macedonia.
Retreating to Thrace, the Celts were invited to intervene in a Bithynian civil war that was raging. Around 20,000 Galatians crossed the Bosporus where they quickly settled the Bithynian question of succession. Naturally, having completed their task, the Galatians were not about to leave. They enthusiastically set about pillaging Asia Minor.
Unlike Greece, the inhabitants of Asia Minor did not resist the Celtic invaders. To avoid destruction, they paid the Galatians protection money. The Galatians thus settled down in the centre of Asia Minor to continue their profitable blackmail.
About six years later, in 273 BC, the king of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochios I, decided to deal with the Galatian interlopers. According to the (somewhat sparse) sources, the Galatians had about 20,000 cavalry alone, heavily outnumbering Antiochios. Since the Celts had crossed into Asia with only 20,000 men in total a few years ago, this number is obviously greatly inflated. Still, even if Antiochios wasn't outnumbered, most of his army consisted of light troops. The Galatians, and everyone else, were also highly convinced of the Celts' invincible fighting prowess. So the morale in Antiochios' army was probably rather poor at the outset of the battle.
The Galatians began the battle by opening their ranks of warband to let their scythed chariots pass through the infantry. However, Antiochios had taken the advice of a tactician Theodotos of Rhodes, and managed to conceal his elephants from the Celts. The chariots were bearing down on the Seleucid ranks, when the elephants suddenly appeared. Eight elephants faced the chariots in the centre; an additional four faced the Galatian cavalry on each flank.
The terrified Galatian horses, unused to the sight of these behemoths, bolted and dragged the deadly scythed chariots back through the warbands in great bloody swathes. The elephants followed up their success and trampled into the Celtic ranks, completing the rout. Antiochios I had defeated the feared Galatians.
Thus there is good reason we believe to think that the tetrapylon may have had its origin in this victory.