In ancient Roman religion, the Galli were the eunuch priestesses of the Phrygian goddess Cybele. The chief of these priests was referred to as a battakes, and later as the archigallus. The Galli were castrated voluntarily, typically during an ecstatic celebration called Dies Sanguinis, or Day of Blood, which took place on March 24.
Cybele's Galli were similar in form to other colleges of priests in Asia Minor that ancient authors described as "eunuchs", such as the priests of Atargatis described by Apuleius and Lucian, or the galloi of the temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
It has been suggested that this sect was named after the first priest of Cybele, who was named Gallus. The name may also be derived from the Gallus river in Phrygia. One of the first temples to Cybele was built near this river, which led to a rumor that drinking from the Gallus would cause such madness that the drinker would castrate himself. Hieronymus believed the sect was named by the Romans because many of the priests were Gauls who were castrated as punishment for the burning of Rome, but this was disputed because the Phrygians had no interest in sacking Rome and Hieronymous had a strong anti-pagan and anti-Gallic bias, writing at the time of the sack of Rome by the Gauls in 390 BC, in support of the persecution of the Gauls and other pagans. (Other possible origins of the sect's name include the Sumerian Gallu, (from "Gal" = Great, "Lu" = Man) special servants of the Sumerian God Enki; gallus, which meant eunuch in Asia and Greece, or galli, the plural of the Latin word for rooster.)
The first Cybelian Galli arrived in Rome when the Senate officially adopted Cybele as a state goddess in 203 BC. Until the first century AD, however, Roman citizens were prohibited from becoming Galli. Under Claudius, this ban was lifted.
Further information is difficult to come by, given the persecution faced by followers of Cybele and other pagan deities after the Theodosian edict of 391 AD. All of her temples were destroyed, with orders that they should never be built upon (in contrast to the usual practice of converting non-Christian religious sites). As a result the only surviving records of the Gallae come from historians and archivists.
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