I thought I was done with deer-goddesses, after the posts on Flidias, hunting goddesses and horned goddesses. Sometimes, however, you’re only done with a subject when it’s done with you.
The only evidence for a cult of Carvonia comes from a single dedication, found in the area of the Roman city of Celeia. (Now in Slovenia.) Found in Dobrteša vas, near Šempeter, it comes from a votive column, possibly for a statue:
[Ca]rvoniae Aug(ustae) sacr(um) p[r]o salute C[n.] Atili Iuliani, ‘Sacred to the August Carvonia for the safety of C[n.?] Atilius Iulianus’ (C.I.L. III: 5115)
The inscription called Carvonia “August”, suggesting an important goddess. (Augustus was the first Roman emperor, so the word connects her to the imperial cult.) The Romans gave the title to other important local goddesses, such as Tutela in Corinth and Brigantia in England. (McGrath)
The inscription asked Carvonia to look after Gnaeus Atilius Julianus, a Roman citizen (the three names tell us that), which suggests that Carvonia’s cult was not limited to locals. it does not, however, tell us who put up the dedication on Atilus’ behalf.
The translation above gives salute as “safety”, but it can also be read as “well-being”; her worshippers probably saw Carvonia as a beneficent goddess who looked after her followers. (Kos)
Her name, at least, is certain. “It is based on the Celtic word carvo signifying ‘stag’, ‘deer’, cognate with Irish carr, Welsh carw, Old Cornish caruu, Breton karo.” (Beck) In Gallia Carvonia appears as a personal name. There is also a place, Carvo, between Novimagus and Lugdunum. (Kos)
The Strettweg wagon, with its goddess and attendants, comes from the province Noricum as well. Some have connected this with Arrian’s account of a Celtic festivity celebrating the “nativity of Diana” with sacrifces according to each celebrant’s success in hunting. So either Carvonia’s cult was more widespread than we know, or Arrian’s “Diana” was another, similar, goddess of hunting and animals.
Carvonia would thus have been a goddess of hunting, deer, and wild things. This would seem to distinguish her from the horned goddesses of France, who were shown with cornucopia and paetera as goddesses of abundance and possibly the underworld, like Cernunnos.
They did share a concern with the welfare of their worshippers, especially with abundance and sustenance. While people then did not have the same attitudes towards the wild and nature that we do, they did recognize its importance, and the need to respect and propitiate it.
Beck, Noemi 2009: Goddesses in Celtic Religion Cult and Mythology: A Comparative Study of Ancient Ireland, Britain and Gaul, diss. (available here)
Crawford, Katherine 2011: “The Foundation of the Roman Imperial Cult”, Sunoikisis Research Symposium: 1-9. (pdf)
Kos, Marjeta Šašel 2008: “Celtic divinities from Celeia and its territory: who were the dedicators?” in Deidicanti et Cultores nella religione Celtiche, a cura di Antonio Sartori: 275-303. (academica.edu)
McGrath, Sheena 2015: Brigantia: Goddess of the North, Lulu.com.
Mele, M. & D. Modl 2014: “The cult chariot from Strettweg – and the wheels keep on turning”, in The practical value of the wooden wheel: the collected volume of the symposium 26. and 27. 9., ed. O. Habjanič, Regional Museum Maribor, Collection Museoeurope 1 (Maribor 2014), 13-22. (academica.edu)