An Introduction to the Historical Background and Religious Customs of the Celts


Three water nymphs (stone bas relief of the “Triple Coventina”), found in Coventina’s Well, Carrawburgh, near Hadrian’s Wall in England. Coventina was a Romano-British goddess of wells and springs / Chester’s Museum on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland


By Dr. Noémie Beck / 12.04.2009
Professor of Irish Studies
Concordia University

Introduction

This work consists of a comparative study of the female deities venerated by the Celts of Gaul, Ancient Britain and Ancient Ireland. To begin with, a number of terms need to be defined, the background sketched in, and the methodology to be adopted outlined. In particular the following questions will be considered: What is meant by ‘Celts/Celtic’ and who were the Celts? What are the sources relating to the Celtic goddesses and what problems do they raise? And finally, what are the aim, methods and outline of this study?1

Historical Background

Who Were the Celts?

The terms ‘Celts’ and ‘Celtic’ are nowadays widely used to designate different peoples and concepts in space and time. Manuel Alberro explains that “the terms have different and often contradictory meanings in different contexts, and that linguists, social anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, folklorists and others use it according to how they perceive it.”2 The adjective ‘Celtic’ is for instance used to refer to 5th– and 6th-century Irish Saints, such as Patrick of Armagh, Brigit of Kildare or Columcille of Iona;3 early medieval illuminated Irish manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells or the Book of Armagh;4 Arthurian Romance, consisting of the legends relating to the British King Arthur and his knights;5 and the culture, art, music, dance and legends of modern Celtic-speaking countries or regions, such as Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Britanny. This thesis does not include such subjects and focuses rather on the ancient pagan Protohistoric6 peoples, speakers of a basic Celtic language, who appeared in the 8th c. BC in Central Europe and, who, from the 4th or 3rd c. BC, occupied a vast territory from Eastern Europe to Spain and Ireland in the west, until the Roman invasions of Gaul in the 1st c. BC and Britain in the 1st c. AD, and the Christianization of Ireland at the beginning of the 5th c. AD.

The Celts belong to the family of the Indo-Europeans, who appeared in Europe and Asia in the Copper Age (in around the 5th to 4th millennia BC). This group of peoples, who shared common linguistic, societal, religious and cultural features, developed the first metal tools and introduced the horse and the wheeled vehicle. When and how the Celts appeared remains difficult to determine with certainty and is still a matter of debate among historians.7 They are generally accepted as being the direct ancestors of the Megalithic and Urnfield civilizations of the Middle and Late Bronze Age (c. 1700-1300/1300–900 BC), respectively characterized by the funerary practices of the tumulus*, which consisted in interring the dead in burial mounds, and of incineration, which consisted in cremating the deceased and placing their ashes in pots buried in flat cemeteries.8 The appearance of the Celtic civilization is associated with the development of a new material culture of iron-working at the beginning of the Iron Age. The earliest historical references to the Celts are by the 6th-century Greek geographer Hecataeus of Miletus, who used the word Keltoi to refer to the peoples living to the north of the Greek colony of Massilia (Marseilles), and by the mid-5th-century Greek historian Herodotus, who stated in his Histories that the Celts inhabited the region near the source of the Danube.9 Subsequently, Greek and Latin writers used this name to designate the peoples living in western and central Europe. This indicates that, despite their political disunity, those non-Mediterranean European peoples had a sufficient unity, in material culture, religion, ethnology and language, to be identified as a homogeneous entity by Classical writers.

Celtic civilization consists of two main historical periods: the 1st-Iron Age period, known as ‘Hallstatt Culture’, lasting from about 800 BC to 450 BC, and the 2nd-Iron Age period, called ‘La Tène Culture’, which started in 450 BC and ended in 52 BC in Gaul with the Roman conquest by Julius Caesar, and in 43 AD in Britain with the Roman invasion led by Claudius (fig. 1). These two dates marked the beginning of the Gallo-Roman and Romano-British civilizations in Gaul and Britain. In Ireland, the La Tène culture endured until the Christianization of the isle at the beginning of the 5th c.

Fig. 1: Chronology of the Iron Age. Brunaux, 2005, p. 35.
1st Iron Age
Culture of Hallstatt
Early Ha C 800 BC – 650 BC
Late Ha D 650 BC – 475 BC
2nd Iron Age
Culture of La Tène
Early LT A 475 BC – 375 BC
LT B 375 BC – 275 BC
Middle LT C 275 BC – 150 BC
Final LT D 150 BC – 25 BC

The Hallstatt period takes its name from a small village situated to the north of Lake Hallstatt in the valley of Salzburg, in the heart of Austria, where about 2,000 inhumation and incineration tombs, dating from the last third of the 8th c. BC to the beginning of the 5th c. BC, have been discovered since 1710. The main excavations, which revealed 994 tombs, were carried out by Johann Georg Ramsauer between 1846 and 1864.10 Archaelogical evidence of the Hallstatt culture has been found in central Europe, Austria, in the south of Germany and in the west of the Czech Republic. It was characterized by the development of a military class run by powerful and prestigious chiefs or princes belonging to an aristocratic élite, who built hill-top fortified residences, called ‘hill-forts’, and were interred in impressive and richly decorated mound burials – that is funerary rooms covered by a tumulus* – with their tools, weapons, four-wheeled carts and harnesses, drinking equipment (cauldrons, horns, etc) and food offerings.11 This funerary practice is exemplified by the sumptuous 530 BC-inhumation-burial of the Prince of Hochdorf (Bade-Wurtemberg, Germany), and the 500 BC-mound burial of the Princess of Vix (Côte d’Or, France).12 From the 6th c. BC, the decline of the wealth of the region seems to have caused some populations to migrate to the west of the Rhine (in what is now Switzerland), the south-west of Germany and the east of France.

The La Tène period, which is generally said to have started around 450 BC, takes its name from a small Swiss village situated on the bank of Lake Neuchâtel, where thousands of metal votive offerings, such as jewelry, tools and weapons, have been dredged from 1853 onwards.13 The La Tène period was a significant phase of expansion. The Celtic communities progressively settled in the whole of present-day France, the Netherlands, North Italy, North and West Spain, Britain and Ireland (fig. 2). The La Tène culture was characterized by important social, cultural and political changes, and significant artistic development. The phenomenon of princely tombs in mound burials considerably developed and became differenciated from the Hallstatt period by the ritual deposit of two-wheeled carts and weapons. Hill-top fortified cities, referred to as oppida*, covering an area between 30 to 1,500 hectares, were built in a large part of Europe, Britain and Ireland, from the beginning of the 2nd c. BC until the end of the 1st c. BC.14 Finally, remarkable artistic innovations, denoting the ability, inventiveness and ingenuity of the Celtic craftsmen, gave birth to a typical Celtic artistic style, referred to as ‘La Tène Art’ or ‘Celtic Art’, evidenced by jewels (torques*, fibulas*), coins, weapons (swords, helmets, shields) horse trappings, tools (cauldrons, spits, firedogs) and vessels (vases, bowls) principally in bronze, iron and gold. Items in wood have not survived, while work in stone is unusual.15 La Tène art is stylistically characterized by inscribed and intricately inlaid designs; its spirals and interlacing designs combining motifs borrowed from the natural world (such as human faces, animals and plants), geometric forms of the Hallstatt period and themes adapted from Classical and Oriental arts. The La Tène period thus clearly appears as the period of the full flowering of the Celtic civilization.

Fig. 2: Map of Celtic expansion in Europe in the La Tène period. Raftery, 2006, p. 11.

Celtic Tribes

In Celtic times, Gaul, Britain and Ireland were a patchwork of different communities or tribes, who were not politically or militarily united: each tribe was ruled by a chief – for example Ambiorix, leader of the Eburones, or Ambigatos, king of the Bituriges – and had its own specific organisation. However, despite their political disunity and diversification, the Celtic peoples were linked by economic ties and shared common linguistic, cultural, artistic, societal and religious values. The tribes lived on a territory delimited by frontiers which were generally natural, such as a river, a forest, a mountain, etc. Even though a certain number of tribes remain unrecorded, many of them are identified by the evidence of archaeology and the statements of Classical authors, notably Julius Caesar in his 1st-century BC Gallic Wars, the Greek geographer Strabo in his late 1st-century BC or early 1st-century AD Geography, the Latin historian Tacitus in his 1st-century AD Annals and Histories, and the Greek geographer Ptolemy in his 2nd-century AD Geography.

The name and location of the around twenty Celtic tribes settled in Ireland about the 1st c. AD are given by Ptolemy (fig. 3): in the north-east, the Rhobogdii; in the north-west, the Vennicnii; and in the west, the Nagnatae, settled in today’s Co. Mayo, the Autinni and the Gangani near the River Shannon, and the Vellabri in the area of present-day Co. Kerry.16 The south was occupied by the powerful tribe of the Iverni, later called Erainn, who gave their name to Ireland (Erin) and are generally regarded as being at least partially decended from the first Celtic people to have settled in Ireland around the 5th c. BC.17 The Brigantes, who were certainly an off-shot of the potent British Brigantes tribe settled in Yorkshire (GB), inhabited the south-east of Ireland.18 Finally, in the east, from south to north, six peoples are mentioned: the Coriondi, the Menapi, the Cauci, settled near Dublin, the Eblani, who were probably the ancestors of the Ulaid, and the Darinii.

Fig. 3: Ptolemy’s map of Ireland with the name and location of the Celtic tribes. Freeman, 2001, fig. 18, p. 69.

In Britain, about thirty Celtic tribes are recorded by Strabo, Tacitus and Ptolemy (fig. 4).19The powerful Brigantes sept* occupied the present-day counties of Yorkshire and Northumbria. They were ruled between 50 and 70 AD by the famous Queen Cartimandua, who, contrary to her husband Venutios, became allied with the Romans and handed her people over to them.20 The potent Ordovices tribe was situated in North Wales to the south of Anglesey, and was neighboured to the south by the Demetae and to the east by the Cornovii (in the Severn Basin).21 In the south-west and centre were settled the Dobunni, between Bristol Channel and the River Severn, and the Belgian Catuvellauni and Atrebates tribes, respectively situated to the north and south of the Thames.22 The Iceni tribe, led by the celebrated Queen Bouddicca, who, with the help of the Trinovantes, raised a revolt against the Roman invasion in 60 AD, inhabited present-day Norfolk and Suffolk.23

Fig. 4: Map of the main Celtic tribes in Britain. RDG, p. 9, fig. 1b.

In Gaul, about sixty tribes have been reported, not counting the unrecorded septs* and the tribes of the Narbonese region, annexed earlier by the Romans in 125 BC. The most powerful were the Allobroges, the Sequani, the Lingones, the Aedui, the Arverni, the Remi, the Treveri, the Carnutes, the Pictones, the Santones and the Volcae (fig. 5). The Sequani inhabited the present-day regions of Franche-Comté and Burgundy, and were neighboured to the east by the Helvetii of today’s Switzerland and to the west by the Lingones, who inhabited the area of Langres (Haute-Marne), and by the Aedui, who had their territory between the River Saône and the river Loire.24 The powerful sept* of the Arverni dwelled in the present-day region of Auvergne and had their stronghold at Gergovia, near Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme), while the Allobroges occupied a vast territory situated between the Alps and the départements of Isère and Rhône.25 The Remi exercised their power over the region of Champagne, and were neighboured to the east by two smaller tribes: the Mediomatrici, living in the département of Moselle, and the Leuci, inhabiting the area of Toul (Meurthe-et-Moselle).26 To the north-east of the Remi, in present-day Luxembourg, were settled the potent Treveri, who had Titelberg as their chief oppidum*.27 As for the Carnutes, they inhabited a vast territory in the centre-west of Gaul, while the Pictones and the Santones were settled on the south-west coast, in the present-day Poitou and Charente-Maritime, and the Volcae Arecomici and Tectosages in the départements of Gard, Hérault, Tarn and Haute-Garonne.28

Fig. 5: Map of the main Gaulish tribes. RDG, p. 8, fig. 1a.

The Gallo-Roman and Romano-British Periods

In 125 BC, the Romans annexed the Mediterranean coast and named it the Provincia.29 The rest of the territory, designated by the Romans as Gallia Comata or ‘Long-Haired Gaul’, remained Celtic and the La Tène culture flourished until the conquest of Gaul undertaken by Julius Caesar from 58 to 51 BC (fig. 6).30 After the defeat of Vercingetorix in 52 BC at Alésia (Côte d’Or), which marked the beginning of the Gallo-Roman civilization, the Provincia was renamed Narbonnensis, and the Gallia Comata became a Roman province and was divided into three territories: Lyonnaise, Aquitaine and Belgica (fig. 7). As regards Britain, Caesar’s attempts to invade the isle in 55 BC and 54 BC were unsuccessful. Celtic culture endured until the mid-1st c. AD, when, in 43 AD, the Emperor Claudius subdued the Britons and created the Roman province of Britannia.31

The Roman conquest of Gaul and Britain was facilitated by the political and military disunity of the Celtic tribes, who regularly fought among themselves. The quarrel between the Aedui and the Sequani, which triggered the Gallic Wars, is a good example of the instability prevailing within the Celtic communities. After the Sequani – allied with the Arverni and the Germanic mercenaries of Ariovistus – invaded their territory, the Aedui sent their chief Diviciacos to Rome in 61 BC to ask for assistance. In 58 BC, Roman legions were stationed in modern-day Alsace and defeated Ariovistus. Similarly, in Britain, some tribes revolted against the Roman invasion, such as the Iceni and their Queen Boudicca in 60 AD, while others, such as the Brigantes, led by Queen Cartimandua, allied with Rome. Caratacos, the king of the Atrebates tribe, who led the revolt of the Britons against the Roman invasion from 43 AD to 49 AD, took refuge in the Brigantes kingdom, but was betrayed by Queen Cartimandua and handed over to the Romans.32

Fig. 6: Map of the Roman invasion of Gaul by Julius Caesar (the ‘Gallic Wars’) from 58 BC to 51 BC. Brunaux, 2005, p. 46.

Fig. 7: Map of Roman Gaul after Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars. De Vries, 1963, p. 17, fig. 2.

After the defeat of Gaul and Britain, roads were built for commercial purposes and the ancient territories of the Celtic tribes were transformed into civitates* or ‘cities’, where the Roman political, administrative, commercial and religious values were embraced by the newly Romanized aristocracy – for example the Allobroges’ territory became the city of Vienne, and the Volcae Tectosages’ territory the city of Toulouse.33Each civitas* had a county town and was subdivided into rural districts, called pagi*, and secondary towns, called vici*. Juridically speaking, there were three different types of civitates*: Roman coloniae, inhabited by Roman citizens only; Latin coloniae, composed of Roman and Latin citizens, who had an intermediary status between full Roman citizenship and non-citizen status; and peregrine cities, constituted of people who had neither the Roman citizenship nor the Latin Right*. Gaulish and British warriors placed themselves in the service of Rome, integrated the Roman army and were given Roman citizenship and the functions of command.34 Recruitment was later extended to Romanized peregrines (non-Roman citizens), aged between sixteen and twenty-six, who obtained Roman citizenship as a reward for their incorporation.35

As regards religion, the ancient cults and beliefs of the Celts were not proscribed by Rome, but the druidic sacerdotal function and sacrifices were banned. Since the Celts did not use writing, ancestral beliefs, traditions and myths died out with the disappearance of the druids, who were the holders of the sacred knowledge. The cult of the Roman deities and of the Emperor imposed by Rome in the civitates* significantly influenced Celtic religious life, but the Britons and Gauls did not renounce their culture and religious beliefs for all that. Despite Romanization, Celtic deities went on being prayed to, worshipped and honoured. In other words, British and Gaulish peoples accepted the administrative, political and religious framework of the Romans, while remaining attached to their original way of life, customs and religious practices. This mutual assent led to a complete syncretism between the two religions and gave birth to a new type of religion referred to by researchers as ‘Gallo-Roman’ and ‘Romano-British religion’. The indigenous deities were subjected to what Tacitus calls the interpretatio Romana, a habit which consisted in giving Latin names to gods who did not belong to the Roman pantheon.36 Subsequently, the indigenous gods, who were profoundly different in nature and functions from the Roman gods, undeniably lost a part of their original essence and characteristics in this forced equation. Through this fusion, three modes of worship emerged in the epigraphy. Some of the Celtic deities were entirely replaced by Roman deities (Apollo, Mercury, Mars, Minerva, Maia, etc), and definitely lost their name and identity. Others became epithets of Roman gods or had their name juxtaposed to those of Roman deities, such as Belisama Minerva, Brigantia Victory, and Abnoba Diana. Finally, others were not equated with Roman gods and kept their indigenous name. Such is the case of Damona, Segeta, Segomanna, Bergusia, Rosmerta, Nantosuelta, etc. Within this category, it is interesting to note that some were coupled with Celtic gods, for example Bergusia and Ucuetis, Nantosuelta and Sucellus or Damona and Borvo, while others were partnered with Roman gods, for example Rosmerta and Mercury.

Sources

Gaul and Britain

Classical Texts

Gilt bronze head from the cult statue of Sulis Minerva from the Temple at Bath, found in Stall Street in 1727 / Roman Baths in Bath, England

Many Greek and Latin writers commented on the religion, practices and cults of the Celts, but very little is said about the deities they worshipped, particularly as regards the filiations of the gods and a possible pantheist structure of belief. The only mention is by Julius Caesar, who wrote in the mid-1st c. BC. In a famous passage of the Gallic Wars, in which he describes the five chief gods of the Gauls, he refers to a potent goddess presiding over craftsmanship, whom he names Minerva.38 The main Classical authors referred to in this study as regards Celtic religion are Diodorus Siculus (writing between 30 and 60 BC), Strabo (c. 40 BC – 25 AD), Pliny (23-79 AD), Lucan (39-75 AD), Tacitus (c. 56-117) and Dio Cassius (c. 155-230 AD). Those works represent a significant body of information on the religious practices and beliefs of the Celts: war, divination, philosophy, sacrifices, the belief in the afterlife, etc, but many of them are fragmentary and remain difficult to interpret. Moreover, it must be borne in mind that the vision of the Classical authors on the Celts was distorted, for they considered them as uncivilized peoples who had recourse to ‘barbaric’ practices. This is certainly why they sometimes reported unusual and cruel rituals, such as human sacrifices or head-hunting.39

Votive Epigraphy

Votive inscription to Lug / Museo Aqueolóxico de San Antón, A Coruña

Votive epigraphy, which is the study of inscriptions dedicated to goddesses with the aim of honouring, imploring or thanking them, is an important tool as regards our subject, for it reveals the names of goddesses, who, although they were venerated in Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times, were undeniably Celtic on account of their name. Votive epigraphy is a Roman practice, which was adopted by the Celts after the Roman conquest. Inscriptions to Celtic deities thus date from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times only. This means that the Celts were in the process of Romanization and that their religion and beliefs had already been significantly influenced and altered by Roman culture.

Inscriptions to deities were engraved on various objects of different materials, such as steles*, altars, vases, plaques and jewels, in stone, bronze, silver, gold or lead. The formula traditionally used in recognition of a granted vow was v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), that is ‘(the dedicator) paid his or her vow willingly and deservedly’. Gaulish and British votive inscriptions fall into four categories: inscriptions in the Latin language (the most numerous); inscriptions in the Greek language; ‘Gallo-Latin inscriptions’, which are in the Gaulish language with Latin lettering; and ‘Gallo-Greek inscriptions’, which are in the Gaulish language with Greek lettering. These last two groups of dedications are of great interest and importance for several reasons. First and foremost, they are in the Gaulish language, which means they were written by Gaulish people.40 Furthermore, although they are limited in number, they are more ancient than the numerous Gallo-Roman inscriptions, which generally date from the 1st c. AD to the 3rd c. AD. Indeed, as has been noted, some Gaulish people first came into contact with the Greek language when a Greek colony was founded at Massilia (Marseilles) in about 600 BC. Accordingly, some Gaulish people were able from an early period to use Greek script to write their language down. Gallo-Greek inscriptions date from the 3rd c. BC to the 1st c. AD, the ones from Narbonese Gaul being the most ancient ones.41 They are more ancient than the Gallo-Latin inscriptions, which belong to between the 1st c. BC and the 4th c. AD and probably preceded or co-existed with the time when inscriptions were uniquely in the Latin language and script.42

Inscriptions from Gaul and Germany discovered before the end of the 19th c. are listed in the volumes XII and XIII of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), which is in Latin and reproduces a facsimile of the inscriptions without transcription and translation. The Année Epigraphique (AE), created in 1888 by René Cagnat, completes the CIL and publishes every year a facsimile of the inscriptions. Various other works have recently republished the ancient and newly discovered inscriptions of the Roman provinces of Gaul, such as the five volumes of the Inscriptions latines de Narbonnaise (ILN), the six volumes of the Inscriptions latines d’Aquitaine (ILA) and the two volumes of the Les inscriptions latines de Belgique (ILB). Other published collections of inscriptions relate to particular tribes or cities, such as the Inscriptions de la cité des Lingons by Yann Le Bohec. Those works generally give comprehensive details and information on the origin of the dedication, the nature, dimension and date of the material, a transcription, a translation and a picture. The Gallo-Greek, Gallo-Etruscan and Gallo-Latin inscriptions have been compiled in the first two comprehensive volumes of the Recueil des inscriptions gauloises (RIG). The Roman inscriptions of Britain have been listed in the two volumes of the Roman Inscriptions of Britain (RIB), which offer transcriptions, translations and drawings of the dedications. Finally, Nicole Jüfer and Thierry Luginbul have indexed all the epigraphic references relating to the gods and goddesses of the British, Gaulish, Italian and Iberian Celts in Répertoire des dieux gaulois (RG).

As far as possible, inscriptions will be given with a translation – except for a few of them which have not been translated by epigraphists -, dated and studied in their archaeological context – particularly when the place of discovery was a place of devotion. Finally, the name of the goddess invoked will be analyzed and the origin and name of the dedicators will be considered.

          Sources

A bas relief depiction of Coventina in the typical Roman nymph style and form. On the altars she was shown as a water sprite, sometimes as a trinity with two attendants, or sometimes alone. In triplicate Coventina is shown with two nymphs with vessels flowing with water. As a goddess of freshwater springs Coventina was regarded as a healing deity and beneficent protectress. / Chester’s Museum on Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland

Votive epigraphy, which is the study of inscriptions dedicated to goddesses with the aim of honouring, imploring or thanking them, is an important tool as regards our subject, for it reveals the names of goddesses, who, although they were venerated in Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times, were undeniably Celtic on account of their name. Votive epigraphy is a Roman practice, which was adopted by the Celts after the Roman conquest. Inscriptions to Celtic deities thus date from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times only. This means that the Celts were in the process of Romanization and that their religion and beliefs had already been significantly influenced and altered by Roman culture.

Inscriptions to deities were engraved on various objects of different materials, such as steles*, altars, vases, plaques and jewels, in stone, bronze, silver, gold or lead. The formula traditionally used in recognition of a granted vow was v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), that is ‘(the dedicator) paid his or her vow willingly and deservedly’. Gaulish and British votive inscriptions fall into four categories: inscriptions in the Latin language (the most numerous); inscriptions in the Greek language; ‘Gallo-Latin inscriptions’, which are in the Gaulish language with Latin lettering; and ‘Gallo-Greek inscriptions’, which are in the Gaulish language with Greek lettering. These last two groups of dedications are of great interest and importance for several reasons. First and foremost, they are in the Gaulish language, which means they were written by Gaulish people.40 Furthermore, although they are limited in number, they are more ancient than the numerous Gallo-Roman inscriptions, which generally date from the 1st c. AD to the 3rd c. AD. Indeed, as has been noted, some Gaulish people first came into contact with the Greek language when a Greek colony was founded at Massilia (Marseilles) in about 600 BC. Accordingly, some Gaulish people were able from an early period to use Greek script to write their language down. Gallo-Greek inscriptions date from the 3rd c. BC to the 1st c. AD, the ones from Narbonese Gaul being the most ancient ones.41 They are more ancient than the Gallo-Latin inscriptions, which belong to between the 1st c. BC and the 4th c. AD and probably preceded or co-existed with the time when inscriptions were uniquely in the Latin language and script.42

Inscriptions from Gaul and Germany discovered before the end of the 19th c. are listed in the volumes XII and XIII of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), which is in Latin and reproduces a facsimile of the inscriptions without transcription and translation. The Année Epigraphique (AE), created in 1888 by René Cagnat, completes the CIL and publishes every year a facsimile of the inscriptions. Various other works have recently republished the ancient and newly discovered inscriptions of the Roman provinces of Gaul, such as the five volumes of the Inscriptions latines de Narbonnaise (ILN), the six volumes of the Inscriptions latines d’Aquitaine (ILA) and the two volumes of the Les inscriptions latines de Belgique (ILB). Other published collections of inscriptions relate to particular tribes or cities, such as the Inscriptions de la cité des Lingons by Yann Le Bohec. Those works generally give comprehensive details and information on the origin of the dedication, the nature, dimension and date of the material, a transcription, a translation and a picture. The Gallo-Greek, Gallo-Etruscan and Gallo-Latin inscriptions have been compiled in the first two comprehensive volumes of the Recueil des inscriptions gauloises (RIG). The Roman inscriptions of Britain have been listed in the two volumes of the Roman Inscriptions of Britain (RIB), which offer transcriptions, translations and drawings of the dedications. Finally, Nicole Jüfer and Thierry Luginbul have indexed all the epigraphic references relating to the gods and goddesses of the British, Gaulish, Italian and Iberian Celts in Répertoire des dieux gaulois (RG).

As far as possible, inscriptions will be given with a translation – except for a few of them which have not been translated by epigraphists -, dated and studied in their archaeological context – particularly when the place of discovery was a place of devotion. Finally, the name of the goddess invoked will be analyzed and the origin and name of the dedicators will be considered.

          Dating

Inscriptions can be dated according to the use of specific formulas or phrases. Marie-Thérèse Raepsaet-Charlier, in a work entitled Diis Deabusque Sacrum, Formulaire votif et datation dans les Trois Gaules et les deux Germanies, has studied closely the various votive phrases and their possible dating. The use of the formulas Dea (‘Goddess’) /Deo (‘God’) and In h(onorem) d(omus) d(ivinae) (‘In honour of the Divine House’), which associates the Imperial House to private and public cults, were in use from the mid-2nd c. AD.43 Their association in the inscriptions dates from the first half of the 3rd c. AD.44 The term sanctus/sancta (‘sacred’), sometimes given to the deities, appeared in the mid-2nd c. AD and survived until the end of the 3rd c. AD.45 The formula pro salute (‘for the safety of’), generally followed by the genitive form of the person’s name or by the adjective suo/sua (‘his’,‘her’), indicates that the inscription dates from the end of the 2nd c. AD to around 250 AD.46 As for the terms sacrum (‘sacred’) and Augustus/Augusta (‘August’), associating the invoked deities to the Emperor, they cannot be used as chronological criterions, for they were used from the beginning of the 1st c. AD until the 3rd c. AD.47

          Dedicators

A tria nomina inscription / Wikimedia Commons

Votive inscriptions were offered by pilgrims who sought the favours of the gods and wished to have their vows granted. The study of the names of the dedicators is particularly interesting, for it brings significant information on the dedicator’s origin and his (or her) social status. Some of the dedicators had Latin names and were Roman citizens, soldiers in the Roman army or people in charge of administrative functions, while others had typical Celtic names and were peregrines, that is free provincial subjects of the Empire who inhabited areas recently conquered by the Romans and who did not hold the Roman citizenship. Inscriptions dedicated by people of Celtic stock are the most significant, for they produce evidence of a pre-Roman worship to Celtic goddesses. Moreover, such evidence indicates that the Celtic beliefs were still vivid among the local population after the conquest and, that, despite the Romanization of the country in terms of administration, politics and religion, people of Celtic origin went on paying homage to their ancient deities.

Firstly, the Celtic origin of a dedicator’s name can be ascertained by Alfred Holder’s Alt-Celtischer Sprachschatz, a work in three volumes published in 1896-1913, and by Xavier Delamarre’s Noms de personnes celtiques dans l’épigraphie classique, released in 2007. Secondly, peregrines distinguished themselves from Roman citizens by the ‘unique name’ or single name they bore. They generally indicated their filiation with the abbreviated term fil(ius) (‘son of’) or fil(iae) (‘daughter of’). Interestingly, different degrees of Romanization can be noted within this group. When the dedicator and the father’s dedicator are both peregrines bearing Celtic names, it evidences their attachment to their Celtic roots and their wish not to become Romanized. When the dedicator is a peregrine but has Latin name, whereas his father has a Celtic name, it indicates that the father deliberately chose a Latin name for his son. This proves his desire to become Romanized – the choice of a Latin name was the first step in the long process of gaining Roman citizenship.48 Finally, it is noticeable that some Roman citizens had a Celtic gentilice* or cognomen*, which provides proof of their Celtic origin. By keeping a Celtic name, they displayed profound respect for their indigenous origins.

Roman citizens can be identified in the epigraphy by the tria nomina (‘three names’) or duo nomina (‘two names’) they bore.49 The official name of a Roman citizen was generally composed of three constitutive elements: the praenomen (‘first name’), the nomen or gentilice (‘second name’) and the cognomen (‘nickname’). While the praenomen and gentilice were usually abbreviated, the cognomen was unabridged, for it was the constitutive element of the name.50 The use of the cognomen became general at the beginning of the 1st c. BC, while the use of the praenomen disappeared in the 2nd c. AD.51 From that time onwards, and more particularly in the 3rd c. AD, Roman citizens usually bore the duo nomina. Finally, some dedicators were freed slaves – they are recognizable by the abbreviated term l(ibertus), which indicated they were freed from their master -,52 while others were soldiers in the Roman army (prefect*, centurion*, optio*, etc) or held peculiar administrative functions (decurio*, tabularius*, etc.). Inscriptions offered by soldiers are particularly attested in Britain, the Roman Province of Belgica and the two Germanies.

          Etymology of Divine Names

Votive of Dea Nutrix, Roman version of a Celtic goddess of childbirth and fertility. / British Museum

The study of the significance of divine names is essential as regards this work, insomuch as it can shed light on the possible nature and functions of the goddesses. While Irish goddess names can be explained by the Irish language, which was written down from the 7th c. AD by Christian monks, Gaulish goddess names reflect a dead language which did not survive the Roman conquest and which nowadays remains largely unknown. A few fragmentary inscriptions engraved on coins, ceramic vessels, stone altars, and bronze or lead plaques, such as the Calendar of Coligny, discovered in 1987 in the département of Ain, the ‘Plomb du Larzac’ found in 1982 in Aveyron, or the ‘Plomb de Chamalières’ excavated in 1971 in Puy-de-Dôme, have nonetheless survived.53 Despite their fragmentary aspect, limited number and difficulty of interpretation, these recent discoveries are significant for the study of the Gaulish language, which have been partly reconstructed through comparative linguistics by Pierre-Yves Lambert in La langue gauloise published in 1994, and by Xavier Delamarre in Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise released in 2003. The Gaulish language is part of the Celtic languages, composed of the Celtiberian, Lepontic, Brittonic (Welsh, Cornish and Breton), and Goidelic (Irish, Manx and Scotish) languages, which all belong to the family of the Indo-European languages.54 Comparative linguistics consists in comparing the various Celtic languages which are attested by the 8th-/9th-century literary data and which are still spoken, such as Irish, Welsh and Breton.55

In The Gods of the Celts and the Indo-Europeans, published in 1994, Garrett Olmsted has gathered the various works carried out so far on the etymology of the Celtic goddess names of Ireland, Britain and Gaul, but his analyses do not always fall into the province of scientific work, and are sometimes inaccurate and misleading. Recently, various works on Celtic divine names have been published within a programme of research called Fontes Epigraphici Religionis Celticae Antiquae or F.E.R.C.A.N. [‘Epigraphic Sources of the Ancient Celtic Religion’], coordinated by Manfred Hainzmann (University of Graz, Austria).56 The article by Lambert, entitled ‘Les noms des dieux’, published in 2006 in Religions et Histoire, is also worth mentioning. All these works show the limits of etymology, which is not always an exact science and often gives rise to different interpretations. The fact that various etymologies are possible for a particular divine name is problematic regarding the identification of the nature and functions of a goddess. Votive dedications have thus to be studied principally in their archaeological context. When combined with etymology, the study of the place of discovery of the inscription and the votive material can throw light on the essence of the goddesses.

Places of Devotions and Religious Offerings

Ruins of a Romano-Celtic Temple at Caerwent, Wales / Wikimedia Commons

Except in cases of re-employment* – which does not give any information on the religious context -, inscriptions will be studied in their archaeological context: the structure and function(s) of the place of devotion and the nature of the votive offerings will be analysed. Since, as we have noted, the Celts did not write, dedications belong to sanctuaries dating from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times only. The Celts had nonetheless significant places of worship, which they undeniably dedicated to deities, but their identity remains unknown and open to speculation. Celtic sanctuaries and Celtic religious cults are comprehensively studied by Jean-Louis Brunaux in his works entitled Les Gaulois, Sanctuaires et rites (1986), La religion des gaulois (2000) and Guerre et religion en Gaule (2004). Celtic places of devotion were generally enclosed areas, marked out by a wooden fence or a ditch, with a single entrance and a central pit, called ‘hollowed altar’ or ‘offering well’, where food, animal carcasses or weapons were deposited and left to decompose as an offering to the deity of the place. Examples of such types are the 3rd/2nd-century BC sanctuary of Gournay-sur-Aronde (Oise) and the early 3rd-century BC sanctuary of Ribemont-sur-Ancre (Somme).57

Gallo-Roman and Romano-British religious monuments were often erected on ancient Celtic foundations or places of worship, but this remains difficult to prove, as the materials used by the Celts were putrefiable – they did not use stone but wood – and the places of devotions are not always identifiable – they could be marked out by a ditch, an altar dug in the ground, a tree, etc. In Gallo-Roman/Romano-British times, the sanctuaries, known as ‘fana’, were usually composed of two square or rectangular rooms in stone fitted into each other. The inner room, called a ‘cella’, was open to the east and generally contained a cult image or statue representing the particular deity venerated in the temple and an altar where the votive offerings were deposited. The outer wall of the second room formed a gallery around the cella, where pilgrims would ritually walk around. Such types are exemplified by Coventina’s Well near Carrawburgh (GB) or by the sanctuary dedicated to Apollo and Sirona in Hochscheid (Germany). Other important religious buildings were the water sanctuaries, composed of baths and religious rooms erected near a sacred spring, where pilgrims would come to take the waters, pray to the deities and leftex-votos or ‘votive offerings’ in their honour. The ex-votos fall into different categories: dedications; statuettes in white earth representing protective deities, such Mother Goddesses or Venus; wooden or stone statuettes picturing pilgrims and swaddled infants; coins; jewels; and anatomic ex-votos, which depicted diseased body parts, such as heads, legs, arms, torsos, feet, hands, internal organs (lung, heart, etc) and eyes. They were for example found in large number at the sanctuary of the Sources-de-la-Seine (Côte d’Or), presided over by Sequana, the goddess of the River Seine. Ex-votos are important to study, for they attest to a cult rendered to a goddess and can shed light on her nature and attributes. Anatomic ex-votos for instance clearly evidence the healing function of a goddess.

Iconography

“Ralaghan Man”, male idol made of yew discovered in a bog at Ralaghan / British Museum

Except for the Matres and Matronae (‘Mother Goddesses’), who are widely depicted in the iconography of Britain and Gaul, Celtic goddesses are scarcely represented. It is generally agreed that the Celts did not represent their gods withanthropomorphic* traits.58 Diodorus Siculus besides reports in his 1st-century BC Library of History that Brennos of the Prausi, the Tolistobogii leader, who launched a raid against Delphi in 279 BC to seize its treasures, laughed at the sight of the statues of the Greek gods when he attacked the temple.59 This passage would indicate that the Celts were reluctant to represent their gods:

‘Brennus, the king of the Gauls, on entering a temple found no dedications of gold or silver, and when he came only upon images of stone and wood he laughed at them, to think that men, believing that gods have human form, should set up their images in wood and stone.60

Brunaux argues that, in Celtic times, deities were not represented in human form but were probably symbolized by a simple object, such as a sword or a spear.61 A few sculptures in wood, dating from the Bronze Age, such as the male idol made of yew discovered in a bog at Ralaghan, in Co. Cavan (Ireland), however tend to prove that ancient peoples did on occasion represent their gods with human features.62 But these wooden figurines cannot be interpreted with certainty: where there human or divine figurations?

Iconographical representations of Celtic goddesses, combined with an inscription identifying them, dating unambiguously from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times, remain limited in number and are always modeled on Classical figurations.63 Anepigraphic* representations have not been included in this work, except for a few the identification of which is undisputable. The iconographical material is catalogued in the twelve volumes of the Recueil Général des bas-reliefs, statues et bustes de la Gaule romaine, published between 1907 and 1938 by Emile Espérandieu. This work was completed by four additional volumes edited by Raymond Lantier from 1947 to 1965 and is being completely revised and updated by Henri Lavagne in his Nouvel Espérandieu.

Celtic goddesses are generally represented majestically sitting or standing, with a diadem in their hair. They wear long tunics and bear the traditional Greco-Roman attributes of fertility, such as the cornupia*, the patera*, fruit or cakes. Celtic goddesses are also sometimes represented with the traits of specific Roman goddesses. Such is the case of the goddess Abnoba, who is pictured with the attributes of the Roman woodland-goddess, Diana: she wears boots, a quiver and arrows. Occasionally, distinctive elements of indigenous types can be noted, notably in the plastic conception; the style and type of a garment or a jewel, for example the traditional Celtic bardocucullus* and torque*; the seating or crouching position, which is a typical feature of Celtic divine or heroic representation; and singular attributes of non-Classical style, such as the duck-shaped boat of Sequana, the house-on-pole emblem of Nantosuelta, or the antlers of the two unidentified goddesses from Besançon (Doubs) and Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme).

Finally, iconography can shed light on the functions of a goddess. Brigantia is for instance pictured wearing a helmet and holding a spear: she is thus endowed with protective and war aspects. Artio (‘Bear’) is accompanied by a huge bear which she personified and protected as her name indicates. Sometimes the attributes of a goddess are difficult to identify and determine. Their significance remains thus obscure and subject to various interpretations, like in the case of Nantosuelta’s emblems.

Ireland

As has been noted, the existence of Gaulish and British goddesses is not evidenced by ancient indigenous literary texts, but by scarce and often obscure epigraphic, iconographical and archaeological material. Conversely, there are no votive dedications, divine representations or places of cult related to specific goddesses in Ireland. Irish goddesses are known only from the corpus of mythological texts in the vernacular language which was written down from the 7th c. by Christian monks.

Irish Medieval Literature

Image from Lebor na hUidre (The Book of the Dun Cow), late 11th century / British Library

As Ireland was never invaded by the Romans, the Celtic culture and religion flourished until the Christianization of the island at the beginning of the 5th c.64  Unlike Gaulish and British mythology, of which there are no written sources, Celtic Irish tradition, myths and beliefs was preserved in written form by the Christian monks from the 7th c. AD. Although much of the material culture described in these sources was largely expurgated by the Church and comprises many Christian beliefs, the basically pagan, pre-Christian character of the mythology presented in this literature cannot be disputed.

Irish mythology, which reflects the various traditions, beliefs and customs of the Celtic Irish peoples, is a large corpus of divine and heroic tales, collected in manuscripts dating from the 11th to the 15th c., the earliest ones of which are Lebor na hUidre [‘The Book of the Dun Cow’], probably compiled at the end of the 11th c., Lebor Laignech [‘The Book of Leinster’], dating to c. 1150, and others, such as Leabhar Bhaile an Mhóta [‘The Book of Ballymote’] and Lebor Buide Lecáin [‘The Yellow Book of Lecan’], compiled at the end of the 14th.65 In the codices, the legends are organized by theme. The Book of Leinster for instance contains 187 legends, classified in twelve themes, such as Togla (‘Stronghold Destructions’), Tána (‘Cattle Raids’), Tochmarca (‘Wooings’), Catha (‘Battles’), Uatha (‘Caves’), Imrama (‘Sea Voyages’), Fessa (‘Feasts’), Airgne (‘Massacres’), etc.66 The archaic character of the language of some texts clearly evidences the antiquity of the legends, which undeniably predated the compilation of the manuscripts. The earliest legends date from the 7th c. AD to the 9th c. Because of oral tradition, various versions of a same legend are known, which explains why it remains difficult to establish a reference text.

Irish mythology has been organized by modern scholars in four categories or ‘Cycles’. The first cycle, known as ‘Mythological Cycle’, is organized around three main legends: the Lebor Gabála Érenn [‘The Book of Invasions’], Cath Muige Tuired Cunga [‘The Battle of Moytirra of Cong’] and Cath Maige Tuired [‘The Second Battle of Moytirra’], which relate the mythical origins of Ireland and the stories of the various pagan gods and goddesses.67 The Lebor Gabála Érenn [‘The Book of Invasions’], composed at the beginning of the 12th c. and edited by Stewart Macalister (1938-1956), recounts the successive invasions of Ireland by six divine races: Cessair, Partholón, Nemed, the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danann (‘the Tribe of the Goddess Dana’), who, after being defeated at Sliabh Mis68 by the human sons of Míl, retreated beneath the earth and dwelt in ancient cairns and tumuli*. From that time on, the world was divided in two: human beings inhabited the surface of the earth, while gods and goddesses lived in the sídh or ‘Underworld’. The Tuatha Dé Danann are the main gods and goddesses of Ireland: the Dagda, an old and huge father-god, who resides at Brugh na Bóinne (Newgrange) in Co. Meath and has for attributes a cauldron of plenty and a staff, dispensing death on one side and restoring life on the other; Lug, a young and powerful leader-god, who is known as the Samhildánach (‘the one who possesses all the arts’); Nuadu, the King; Dían Cécht, the physician; Oghma, the champion; Goibhniu, the Smith; the Mórrígain, Badb and Macha, the three goddesses of war; Bóinn, the goddess of the river Boyne, wife of the Dagda and mother of Oengus, who is the god of youth and beauty; and Brigit, the poetess and daughter of the Dagda.

Cath Muige Tuired Cunga [‘The Battle of Moytirra of Cong’], edited and translated by J. Frazer in 1916, tells of the first divine battle which occurred at Cong, in Co. Mayo, between the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha Dé Danann, who after their victory, took possession of the island. The First Battle of Moytirra is a duplication of the famous Cath Maige Tuired [‘The Second Battle of Moytirra’], which relates the battle at Moytirra (Co. Sligo) between the Tuatha Dé Danann, led by the powerful Lug Lámhfhada (‘Long-Armed’), and the sinister race of the Fomhóire (‘Underworld Phantoms’), commanded by Lug’s grandfather, Balor of the Evil Eye. Lug defeated Balor and led his tribe to victory. There are two original independent narrative versions of the conflict, each represented by a single manuscript. The earlier full version, edited and translated by Gray, dates to the 11th century, but is based on earlier texts – pieces of which are found in the literature from the 8th c. onwards -, while the later version, edited by O’Cuiv in 1945, dates from about the 16th c. In this present work, only the earliest narrative will be referred to, for the second version is of late date and differs considerably from the first one in subject matter as well as in language: some passages have been omitted and new elements, which are found again in folk legends, have been added.69

The second cycle, known as ‘the Ulster Cycle’, recounts the prodigious deeds of the royal and warrior class of Ulster, including the renowned characters King Conchobhar mac Neasa, King Fearghus mac Róich, and the celebrated warrior Cú Chulainn (‘the Hound of Culann’).70 The central elementary story of the Ulster Cycle is an 11th-century saga, entitled Táin Bó Cuailnge [‘The Cattle Raid of Cooley’]. It narrates the cattle-raid launched by Queen Medb of Connachta against the Ulaidh of Ulster, led by King Conchobhar mac Neasa and protected by the young powerful hero Cú Chulainn, to gain Donn Cuailnge, the great bull of Cooley. This legend has been preserved in three different recensions. The reference text for this work is Recension I, the oldest manuscript version of the mythical epic tale, edited and translated by Cécile O’Rahilly in 1976.

The third cycle, called ‘Fianna Cycle’, is a large corpus of mythological and folk legends, dating from the 8th c. onwards, which describe the adventures of a band of warriors, called the Fianna, led by the mythical hero Fionn mac Cumhaill and his son Oisín.71 Fionn mac Cumhaill is a warrior-seer who acquired the gift of imbas forosna (‘wisdom that illuminates’) by burning his thumb on the salmon of knowledge fished in the River Boyne. From that time on, each time Fionn would chew his thumb, mystical knowledge and foresight would be granted to him. Finally, the fourth cycle, called ‘Historical Cycle’ or ‘Cycle of the Kings’, tells of the lives of the legendary kings of Ireland at the royal sites of Emain Macha in Ulster, Cruachan in Connacht, Cashel in Leinster and Tara in Midhe, from the 3rd c. to the 7th c.72 The most celebrated of earlier kings, who is described as the first king to have seated at Tara from 227 to 266 AD, is certainly Cormac mac Art, the grandson of Conn Cétchathach (‘Conn of the Hundred Battles’), the 2nd-century mythical ancestor of Irish kings.73

Welsh medieval literature has often been compared to Irish literary tradition by modern scholars, for it has preserved some pieces of mythological material, but it is late, poorly documented and the legends were reshaped within a different context from Ireland.74 Britons, and particularly those who lived in the south of the country, were directly subjected to Roman culture from 43 AD and converted to Christianity in the 3rd c. AD.75 The ancient Welsh legends had thus undergone important distortions when they were written down from the 11th c. or 12th. The most relevant material, which relates the adventures of King Arthur and his companions and associates them to ancient mythological themes and characters, who sometimes bear names similar to those of the Irish deities, principally consists of Culhwch ac Olwen [‘The Tale of Culhwch and Olwen’] and the Mabinogi, composed of four branches entitled Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed; Branwen, Daughter of Llŷr; Manawydan, Son of Llŷr; and Math, Son of Mathonwy. For all these reasons, Welsh medieval literature will only be referred to occasionally in this work, notably in terms of divine name similarities between Irish goddesses and Welsh mythical characters.

Mythology and Folklore

It is important, for the purposes of this study, to determine the difference between the terms ‘mythology’ and ‘folklore’, which have to be differentiated in terms of content, form and time. Mythology represents the body of myths related to an ancient people or civilization and its polytheist religion, written down in antiquity or early medieval times. It describes the adventures and filiation of the gods and goddesses and points to hieratic beliefs, cults and ceremonies. It is thus profoundly imbued with sacredness. Conversely, folklore is not written but handed down orally from individual to individual and from generation to generation. Folklore encompasses the traditional and popular beliefs, practices, customs, legends, jokes, songs, etc, of a present-day society. It does not refer, strictly speaking, to deities, but to supernatural characters, such as fairies and a variety of otherworld beings such as sprites, elves, apparitions, spirits haunting forests, rivers, lakes and hills, etc. One celebrated solitary being is the bean sí (‘banshee’), an otherworld lady who is heard to lament at the imminent death of a person of Gaelic stock. Same particular features or motifs, such as an invisible cape, fairy changeling or the slaying a dragon by a bold hero, are repeatedly encountered in the legends.

Mythology and folklore also differ from one another by their ‘literary genre’. While mythology was an esoteric literature, reserved for learned and initiated people, folklore is an exoteric literature which is orally transmitted and evolves within a society. As a general rule, mythology is learned, conscious and set, while folklore is popular, unorganized and in perpetual evolution. These dissimilarities show that mythological and folk legends should not be confused and that mythology and folklore are two distinct subjects. Nonetheless folklore is believed to have resulted from the popularization of the ancient sacred myths and thus undeniably reflects ancient pagan Celtic beliefs and customs. In this study, consideration will be limited to the study of the mythological accounts pertaining to the world of the gods and mythical heroes, but reference will occasionally be made to folklore when survivals of ancient deities and beliefs are traceable and worth mentioning.

Outline

Wikimedia Commons

The geographical scope of this study thus consists principally of Ireland, Britain and Gaul. Celt-Iberia, North Italy, Central and Eastern Europe will also be referred to occasionally. Historically, it encompasses a period from about the 8th c. BC, when the first Celts appeared in central Europe, to about the 400 AD, when Ireland became Christianized and Gallo-Roman and Romano-British cultures came to an end. This work does not aim, however, at identifying all the goddesses of the Gallo-Roman and Romano-British peoples. It intends rather to reconstruct, through sources dating from Irish early medieval times and Gallo-Roman/Romano-British times, the goddesses which are specific to the Celts.

The oral tradition of the Celts, the conquest of Gaul and Britain by the Romans and the rare comments of the Classical authors explain why we have so little knowledge of Celtic goddesses; of their character, attributes, functions and place with in systems of religious belief. The scarcity, disparity and indirect character of the sources make the study of the goddesses complex and hazardous. There are dangers in becoming too speculative and going beyond the limits of the material. We have thus tried to collect and analyze the data in the most accurate and objective way possible.

Even though the Irish texts were written down from the 7th c. A.D. by Christian monks, it cannot be denied that they describe some of the ancient cults and deities of the Insular Celts, who undoubtedly had traditions, rites, myths and deities in common with the British and Continental Celts. The similarity which exists between the names of gods or goddesses known from Irish mythology and from dedications discovered in Gaul or Britain is not insignificant and supports this contention. From this, it follows that Irish mythology can sometimes bring the abstruse Gaulish and British Celtic deities to light, explain their personality and clarify some of their functions. This work thus attempts, by gathering, comparing and analysing the various linguistic, literary, epigraphic and iconographical data from Gaul, Ancient Britain and Ireland, to answer the questions ‘Which goddesses did the Celts believe in?’ and ‘Did the Celts from Ireland, Britain and Gaul venerate similar goddesses?’. Despite the spatial and temporal differences in the sources – archaeological and linguistic data from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times in Gaul and Britain, and early medieval literature in Ireland – is it possible to reconstruct some myths concerning the Celtic goddesses? What were their nature and functions? How were they worshipped and by whom? Were they hierarchically organized within a pantheon? Because of the substantial number of Celtic goddesses and the large scope of this work, it was not possible to deal with all of the goddesses – although most of them have been studied. We have chosen not to deal with goddesses whose cult was certainly more Gallo-Roman than Celtic, and who have formed the subject of extensive work by other researchers, such as the horse-goddess Epona. The cult of Epona, studied notably by Katheryn Linduff, is attested by around 280 figural representations and sixty-seven inscriptions from Romania, Slovenia, Hungary, Austria, Italy (Rome), the Rhineland, Gaul, Britain, and Spain; and apart from her name, which can be derived from the Celtic language, the material is of late date and dedicated mostly by soldiers in the Roman army.76

Because of the lack of evidence, the disparity of the sources and, above all, the large number of Celtic goddesses and their complex nature, classifying and organizing the goddesses into ‘categories’ turned out to be a difficult task. The five chapters which follow treat subject areas that intertwine in numerous ways, for Celtic goddesses seem to have a multi-faced character and to have fulfilled functions of a different nature. We have attempted to establish a clear focus for each chapter, yet allowing overlapping where this seemed unavoidable.

Chapter 1 ‘The Mother Goddesses (Matres, Matrae, Matronae)’ analyses the character of the Matres, Matrae and Matronae, who represent the ancestral concept of the earth as a mother goddess sustaining her people through the natural resources emanating from her womb. Their cult is attested by around 700 epigraphic and iconographical devices, dating from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times, in Britain, northern Spain, Gaul, Germany and Cisalpine Gaul (North Italy). While their generic name matres / matronae seems to be Latin, their epithets are exclusively of Celtic or Germanic origin. The reliefs, which generally represent them in groups of three bearing attributes of sovereignty (diadems, thrones and tunics) and fertility (cornucopiae*, paterae*, fruit, cakes and swaddled babies), are clearly modelled on the Classical figurations of mother goddesses. This chapter discusses and questions the origin of the cult of the Matres, Matrae and Matronae: were they of Roman, Gallo-Roman, Germanic or Celtic origin?

Chapter 2, ‘Nature and Bounty’, concentrates mainly on the concept of the goddess as the embodiment of Nature, exemplified, among others, by goddesses personifying the land, such as Irish Ériu, Macha or Tailtiu, and Gaulish Litavi and Nantosuelta; animals, such as Gaulish Artio and Irish Flidais; trees or forests, such as the Dervonnae, the Eburnicae or Abnoba; and high places (hills and mountains), such as British Brigantia and Irish Brigit, Gaulish Bergusia/Bergonia or Alambrima. This chapter will also question the long-established image of some goddesses, such as Irish Flidais, who is generally understood as a woodland-deer-goddess, or Gaulish Arduinna, who is universally accepted as a woodland-boar-goddess. It also explores the function of the land-goddess as a purveyor of natural riches, which is greatly illustrated by goddesses of bounty, such as the Irish Mór Muman and the Gaulish Rosmerta, Cantismerta and Atesmerta.

Chapter 3, ‘Territorial- and War-Goddesses’, examines the notions of divine sovereignty and protection of the territory and the tribe. Compared to Irish mythology, which tells of a trio of powerful and terrifying goddesses of war, appearing in the shape of a raven, very little material evidencing a cult to protective and martial goddesses in Gaul and Britain has survived. The aim of this chapter is to compare the descriptive elements of the Irish medieval texts to surviving linguistic, literary and archaeological data from Britain and Gaul, so as to recontruct some myths concerning Celtic divine warrioresses.

Chapter 4 ‘Water-Goddesses’ delves into the subject of goddesses related to water, such as river, spring and fountain goddesses. It gathers the literary and archaeological material which provide proof of the existence of such cults and examines the different functions fulfilled by water-goddesses in Ireland, Britain and Gaul.

Finally, chapter 5 ‘Intoxicating Goddesses’ looks into the subject of goddesses linked to drunkenness, ecstasy or trance by purveying ‘intoxicating’ beverages – notably mead – which they personify. It discusses the possibility that such goddesses were the representatives or personifications of specific cults and rites attached to intoxication in Celtic times. The aim of this chapter is thus to collect, analyze and reconstruct the essence and functions of those singular goddesses and examine the nature of their cults, in order to determine the context in which they may have been worshipped and appealed to.

Notes

1. * Asterisk indicates term defined in the glossary.

2. Alberro, 2008, p. 1005.

3. Saint Patrick, Saint Brigit and Columcille are the three major saints of Ireland. Saint Patrick (c. 385 AD – c. 461 AD) was not the first Christian missionary in Ireland, but was the most influential. He is traditionally believed to have Christianized Ireland from 432 AD to 461 AD, but alternative dates (456-493 AD) are sometimes given. Saint Brigit (c. 439 AD – c. 524 AD) founded a celebrated convent at Cill Dara (Kildare), while Columcille (c. 521 AD – c. 597 AD) founded monasteries at Doire (Derry, Co. Londonderry) and Dairmhaigh (Durrow, Co. Offaly), and left Ireland for Iona, an island off the south-west coast of Scotland, in 563 AD to evangelize the Scottish people. See Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 417-423, 51-55, 89-93 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 363-365, 58, 95-96.

4. The Book of Armagh or Liber Ardmachanus was compiled from 807 AD by Feardomnach in Armagh (Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland). It is presently housed at Trinity College, Dublin. The Book of Kells or Leabhar Cheanannais was written at the monastery of Kells in Co. Meath at the end of the 8th c. or beginning of the 9th c. It is kept at Trinity College, Dublin. See Mackillop, 2004, pp. 48, 281.

5. Mackillop, 2004, pp. 26-27.

6. Protohistory is a period situated between Prehistory and the emergence of writing (recorded history), designating cultures making and using metallurgy. It consists of three main periods: the Copper Age or Chalcolithic period (c. 3500-1800 BC), the Bronze Age (c.2000-800 BC) and the Iron Age (800-52 BC).

7. Kruta, 2000, pp. 123-135 ; Kruta, 2002, pp. 58-63 ; Brunaux, 2005, pp. 29-30 ; Green, 1992a, p. 10.

8. Brunaux, 2005, p. 30 ; Kruta, 2002, p. 60; Green, 1992a, p. 10.

9. Powell 1983, pp.13-14 ; Alberro, 2008, p. 1007 ; Cunliffe, 2006, p. 13. Hecataeus of Miletus’s work is lost and is referred to by later Greek historians. Herodotus, The Histories, Book II, 35: I am willing to believe that [the Nile] rises at the same distance from its mouth as the [Danube], which has its source amongst the Keltoí at Pyrēnē and flows right through the middle of Europe, to reach the Black Sea at Miletos’s colony of Istri. The Keltoí live beyond the Pillars of Hercules, next to the Kunēsioi who are the most westerly people of Europe.

Book IV, 48: the [Danube], that mighty stream which, rising amongst the Keltoí, the most westerly, after the Kunētes, of all the European nations, traverses the whole length of the continent before it enters Scythia.

10. They were composed of 538 inhumation tombs and 455 inceneration tombs, which are housed in the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna (Austria). Kruta, 2000, p. 657 ; Cunliffe, 1997, pp. 37-38.

11. Kruta, 2000, pp. 135-155, 657-659 ; Kruta, 2002, pp. 61-63 ; Cunliffe, 2006, pp. 56-57, 61-69 ; Brunaux, 2005, pp. 30-34.

12. Kruta, 2000, pp. 667-668, 863-864 ; Biel, 1987, pp. 95-188. See Chapter 5 for more details.

13. Kruta, 2002, pp. 64-110 ; Kruta, 2000, pp. 155-335, 837-838 ; Brunaux, 2005, pp. 34-35.

14. Fichtl, 2000, pp. 1-15, 31-34 ; Kruta, 2000, pp. 762-763 ; Brunaux, 2004, pp. 84-86.

15. Cunliffe, 2006, pp. 123-144 ; Kruta, 2000, pp. 429-433 ; Kruta, 2002, pp. 47-51 ; Duval, 1977 ; Megaw & Megaw, 1986 ; Megaw & Megaw, 2005.

16. Freeman, 2001, pp. 69-81.

17. Ó hÓgáin, 2002, pp. 104-105 ; Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 204-206 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 190-191 ; Freeman, 2001, pp. 74-75.
18. Ó hÓgáin, 2002, pp. 193, 195 ; Ó hÓgáin, 2006, p. 50 ; Joliffe, 1941, p. 37.
19. See the various entries in Kruta, 2000 for the references to the Classical authors
.
20. Kruta, 2000, pp. 496, 519 ; Ó hÓgáin, 2002, pp. 181-184.
21. Kruta, 2000, pp. 764, 573, 561.
22. Kruta, 2000, pp. 577, 526, 438.
23. See Chapter 3 for more information. Kruta, 2000, pp. 486, 677 ; Tacitus, Annales, XIV, 30-35 ; Tacitus, Agricola, 16 ; Dio Cassius, History of Rome, LXII, pp. 1ff ; Dudley & Webster, 1962 ; Webster, 1978 ; Andrews, 1972 ; Green, 1995, pp. 33-34.
24. Kruta, 2000, pp. 816, 595, 708.
25. Ibid, pp. 435-436, 404 ; Jospin, 2002, pp. 96-98 ; Beck, 2007, p. 4.
26. Kruta, 2000, pp. 793, 706, 726.
27. Ibid, pp. 844.
28. Ibid, pp. 517-518, 776, 809.
29. Brunaux, 2005, pp. 44-45.
30. Brunaux, 2005, pp. 44-55.
31. Ó hÓgáin, 2002, pp. 179-186 ; Kruta, 2001, pp. 233-255.
32. Caratacos was the son of Cunobelinos, King of the Trinovantes sept. See Kruta, 2000, p. 516.
33. Brunaux, 2005, pp. 51-55 ; Pelletier, 1993, pp. 68-69.
34. Lassère, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 745-752.
35. Lassère, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 785, 788-789 ; Southern, 2006, p. 100.
36. Germania, 43, 4-5.
38. Caesar, De Bello Gallico, Book 6, 17 ; De Quincey, 1923.
39. Duval, 1957, pp. 15-16 ; Green, 2004, pp. 29-32 ; Brunaux, 2000, pp. 150-171.
40. Lambert, 1995, p. 12.
41. Lambert, 1995, p. 81.
42. Lambert, 1995, pp. 117-118.
40. Lambert, 1995, p. 12.
41. Lambert, 1995, p. 81.
42. Lambert, 1995, pp. 117-118.
43. Raepsaet-Charlier, 1993, pp. 9-17.
44. This formula was very common in the epigraphy of Belgica and the two Germanies. Raepsaet-Charlier, 1993, p. 18.
45. Raepsaet-Charlier, 1993, pp. 22-23.
46. Raepsaet-Charlier, 1993, pp. 26-27.
47. Raepsaet-Charlier, 1993, pp. 19-21, 24-25.
48. Lassère, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 167-168.
49. Lassère, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 81-94.
50. The praenomen* was given to men on their 9th day of birth and to girls on their 8th day. The nomen* originally indicated the filiation of the dedicator and the cognomen* was generally attributed at birth and was a distinctive element. It could reflect a physical peculiarity, for example Rufus (‘Red’); the vow of a moral quality, for example Clemens (‘indulgent’) or Maximus (‘the Greatest’); a biographical detail, for example Sospes (‘the one who has avoided a danger’); a craft or profession, for example Mercartor (‘merchant’) and Agricola (‘labourer’); or an animal, for example Taurus (‘Bull’). See Lassère, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 82-102.
51. Lassère, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 93, 99-100.
52. For insctance: Cratea Caecili(us) M(arci) l(ibertus), ‘Cratea freed from Caecilius Marcus’. During the Empire, they generally received the praenomen* and nomen* of their ancient master, for example C(aius) Cassius C(aii) l(ibertus) Moderatus, ‘Caius Cassius Moderatus freed from Caius’. See Lassère, 2005, vol. 1, pp. 158-160.
53. Lambert, 1995, pp. 109-114, 150-173.
54. The family of Indo-European languages is composed of about ten main languages: Hittite, Indo-Iranian, Albanian, Armenian, Balto-Slavic, Tocharian, Italic, Hellenic and Germanic. See Lambert, 1995, p. 13.
55. In Wales: Old Welsh is attested from 800 AD. In Ireland: Ogams (from 350 AD) and Old Irish (from 750 AD). In Brittany: Old Breton (from 800 AD). Old Cornish is attested from 800 AD, but the Cornish language became extinct at the end of the 18th c. The Scottish Gaelic and Manx languages are attested from the 16th c. Manx died out around 1960, while Scottish Gaelicis a living language. See Lambert, 1995, pp. 14-15.
56. Spickermann & Wiegels, 2005 ; Hainzmann, 2007.
57. Brunaux, 1986, pp. 17-26 ; Brunaux, 2000, pp. 91-112 ; Brunaux, 2004, pp. 92-124.
58. Boucher, 1976, p. 173 ; Green, 2003, pp. 7-8.
59. The Tolistobogii were one of the three ancient Celtic tribes of Galatia, in central Asia Minor, together with the Tectosages and the Trocmi. The Prausi were a Celtic people of unknown origin. Brunaux, 2005, pp. 278-279 ; Koch, 2006, p. 246 ; Kruta, 2000, pp. 493-494, 786, 842.
60. Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book 22, 9, 4.
61. Brunaux, 2004, p. 90.
62. Mahr, 1930, p. 487 ; Coles, 1990 ; Cooney & Grogan, 1994, pp. 155-156.
63. Boucher, 1976, pp. 160-179.
64. Kruta, 2000, pp. 382-386 ; Kruta, 2001, pp. 255-268.
65. The Book of the Dun Cow was compiled at the abbey of Clonmacnoise (Co. Offaly) by, among others, the scribe Máel Muire mac Céileachair, who was murdered in the monastery in 1106. It is so called because the original vellum upon which it was written was supposedly taken from the hide of the famous cow of St. Ciarán of Clonmacnoise. It is currently housed in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. The Book of Leinster was formerly known as Lebor na Nuachongbála [‘The Book of Noughaval’] and was compiled by several scribes in Leinster, one of the five ancient provinces of Ireland. It is now divided between Trinity College and the Franciscan Library, Dublin. The Book of Ballymote was compiled in c. 1390 in Ballymote, Co. Sligo. It is currently housed at the Royal Irish Academy, in Dublin. The Yellow Book of Lecan was compiled at Lecán (now Lacken), near Inishcrone, in Co. Sligo, around 1390. It is housed today in Trinity College, Dublin. See Mackillop, 2004, pp. 48-49, 430 ; Lambert, 1981, pp. 21ff ; Dottin, 1924, pp. 5-26, 52-118.
66. D’Arbois de Jubainville, 1883, pp. 350-354.
67. Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 366-370, 478-481 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 340-341, 414-416.
68. Sliabh Mis is a mountain south of Tralee, in Co. Kerry.
69. Gray, 1982, p. 10 ; Ó Cuív, 1945, pp. 5-8.
70. Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 109-112, 137-146, 217-219, 488-492 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 99-100, 115-117, 216-217, 422-423 ; Green, 1992a, pp. 65-66, 70-72, 96-97.
71. Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 227-233, 238-249 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 221-222, 230-233 ; Green, 1992a, pp. 98-99.
72. Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 301-302 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 122-123.
73. Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 115-118, 121-129 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 101-102, 105-106.
74. Green, 1992a, pp. 20-21 ; Ross, 1996, pp. 42-44 ; Kruta, 2000, pp. 55-57.
75. Kruta, 2000, pp. 55-57.
76. The etymology of her name is explained in Delamarre, 2003, p. 163. The epigraphic references are listed in Jüfer, 2001, pp. 38-39. The iconographical representations are listed by Sterckx, 1986, pp. 19-38 and in LIMC, t. 5.1, pp. 985-999 & t. 5.2, pp. 619-628. A comprehensive study of the goddess’ cult and its origin was published by Linduff, Katheryn, ‘Epona: a Celt among the Romans, in Latomus, 38, 4, 1979, pp. 817-837. Two other articles are worth mentioning: Oaks, Laura, ‘The Goddess Epona: concepts of sovereignty in a changing landscape’, in Henig & King, 1986, pp. 77-83 ; Boucher, Stéphanie, ‘Notes sur Epona’, in Burnand & Lavagne, 1999, pp. 14-22 & plates I-VII.

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