Celtic Victory

The Celtic peoples had many gods of war, if the number linked to Mars is anything to go by. They also had a lot of war-goddesses, whom we would expect to be associated with Minerva, Bellona or Victoria.

Surprisingly, goddesses paired with Victoria are pretty rare (I will look at Minerva in another post), although there are a few. There are also some native goddesses named “Victory”, all from modern France.

The Roman goddess Victoria was a personification, an abstract concept given divine form, and pictured in human shape. Unlike many of these deities, she was an important goddess who accompanied Jupiter and Mars, and was associated with Minerva, three of Rome’s most honoured deities.

As goddess of victory, she was worshipped by the army, and over time she grew in importance until she had several sanctuaries in Rome, and an altar in the Senate. (One of her temples was on the Palatine Hill, the nucleus of the city where the aristocrats lived. All the major gods had temples there.) She can be seen on Trajan’s Column, inscribing his victory over the Dacians on a shield.

The Roman army sometime honoured particular Victories, named for the battle they had won, such as Victoria Parthica. It seems, however, that the Victorias abroad were often goddesses like Brigantia, Nemetona and Segeta, who shared the names of their people. Presumably the title “Victoria” honoured a goddess who protected her people, even if she hadn’t ensured a victory against Rome.

Brigantia Victoria

The British goddess Brigantia appears as Victoria on two altars, both probably dedicated by military men. One from Castleford (R.I.B. 626) was dedicated by Aurelius Senopianus, and the other from Greetland (R.I.B. 277), was dedicated by Titus Aurelius Aurelianus, naming both Victoria Brigantia and the Divinities of the Emperors. Although both are from Yorkshire, one is from East and one from West Yorkshire, different counties.

The Brigantia statuette. From Pinterest.

There is one image of Brigantia, an impressive relief statuette that portrays her with the attributes of several goddesses, including Minerva and Juno Regina. The wings, however, could only come from Victoria.

While there are many dedications to Victoria in Britain, she never was associated with any other goddess there.

German Victoria

We have to go to Germany to find another goddess paired with Victoria. In fact, we find two: Nemetona and Cassibuoda.

Nemetona was the goddess of Nemetes, a German tribe. Her name means “Goddess of the Grove”, or possibly she was the goddess of the people of the grove.

Three of her seven dedications pair her with Mars Loucetios, a local war-god, and one from Eisenberg calls her Nemetona Victoria. (This fits Norah Joliffe’s (40) theory that Celtic Victorias were the feminine equivalent of the indigenous Mars-types.) She appears with just Mars on another, from Altrip, although the dedicator may have meant Loucetios.

As a side note, one of the three inscriptions which name her and Lucetius came from Bath, in England. Perhaps a pilgrim, or a German in the Roman army seeking relief at Sulis’ shrine?

Cassibodua is a more obscure goddess, whose one inscription calls her Cassibodua Victory. This comes from Herbitzheim, reads:

I(n) h(onorem) d(omus) d(ivinae) Victoriae [C]assi(b)oduae, ‘In honour of the Divine House and to Victoria Cassibodua’ (CIL 13, 04525).

There have been many attempts to interpret her name, linking it with “elegant”, “sacred”, “full of hatred”, and “tin or bronze”. Beck links it to other battle-crow names like Cathuboda and Badb, so that Cassibodua would mean “Sacred Crow” or “Strong, Powerful Crow”. (253-4) This makes sense given the connection between carrion birds and battle.

Since there are no other mentions of Cassibodua in the record, all we have to work with is her name and her connection to Victoria, but they both point to a goddess of war.

Statuette of the goddess Victoria. Wikimedia.

A little statue found among Roman ruins in Ergste, known as the Angel of Ergste, is actually a Roman statuette of Victoria, only 10cm high. Like the image above, she stands on a globe, but the hands are broken off. It’s interesting to speculate on whether she accompanied a Roman soldier abroad or belonged to a German, either an enlisted man or a trader.

Noreia and Epona

Two other popular goddesses, Noreia (from Noricum, present-day Austria and Slovenia) and Epona (Gaul) appear on altars alongside Victoria, usually as the only Celtic goddess in a list of Roman divinties.

Noreia’s name might mean “The Courageous One”, which fits with her role as a tutelary goddess like Brigantia. As if to reinforce this one dedication calls her Veica Noriceia: Veica could mean “Combat” from *weik-ā, that is ‘the one of the battle’. (Beck: 316) The dedication mentions a sanctuary to the goddess, now lost.

Like Brigantia, her cult was popular with Romanized citizens and civil servants, and she was frequently paired with various Roman deities, including one inscription that lists her along with Hercules, Mars and Victoria (CIL III, 5193), and another that leaves out Hercules (CIL 03, 05193).  In addition, one from Fedjana (AE 1975, 00951) pairs her as Victoria Noriea with Jupiter Optimus Maximus. (Jupiter Best and Greatest)1

Epona was a Gaulish goddess adopted by the Romans, as a goddess of horses generally and of the cavalry in particular. Because so many Romans either owned horses or desired to, probably chariot-racing fans, Epona became incredibly popular, so that she could be named alongside Diana, Jupiter and Victoria in dedications.

12 of the 13 dedications that mention Epona and Victoria come from Rome, according to Epona.net, while only one comes from elsewhere, Roman Britain in fact. (RIB 2177)

Other Goddesses of Victory

While those are the only Celtic goddesses who were directly associated with Victoria, there were others, also named Victory, who fufilled the same need for their peoples.

Segeta: her name means “Victory”, and the three inscriptions with her name come from healing shrines in the Loire region of France. Like Mars Lenus and others, she presided over the healing of warriors as much as war itself. We know the two weren’t exclusive from the German Celtic goddess Vercana, another goddess of healing water, whose name means “Fury”.

Another inscription comes from Feurs, known to the Romans as Forum Segusiavorum, founded by the Segusiavi. (CIL 13, 01641) She was probably their tribal goddess, like Brigantia and Nemetona. She and the goddess Dunisia (from Celtic dunon, fort) had temples at Montbrison, also in the Loire, providing offensive and defensive protection.

Segomanna: “Victory-Giver”. She shares the I-E root *segh– with Segeta and the Celtic god Segomo. She has only one inscription, from Serviers-et-Labaume in France, a joint father-son dedication to Segomanna. (AE 1906, 00033) Her name is a compound of sego, ‘victory’, ‘force’ and manos, ‘good’ or ‘favourable’.

Boudina/Boudiga: the German goddess Boudina and the French Boudiga (along with the British queen Boudicca) have names derived from –boudi, victory. Boudina was honoured along with Mars Smertius and Vindoridius at Liesenich (CIL 13, 11975), while at Patenburg she teamed up with the goddess Alanua. (Her name may mean Nurturer, or Nomad, or be related to the Alauni tribe. As with Vercana and Meduna, the two goddesses seem to have different functions.)

We know Boudiga from a stone found in the walls of Bordeaux, which calls her Tutela Boudiga. (AE 1922, 00116) Tutela was another Roman goddess, whose name means “guardian” and protected cities all over Italy, then abroad as the Roman empire spread.

1. Both Noreia and Brigantia were paired with Jupiter, Noreia with Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and Brigantia with Jupiter Dolichenus.↩

Beck, Noémie 2009: Goddesses in Celtic Religion: a Comparative Study of Ancient Ireland, Britain and Gaul, University College Dublin, diss. (online here)
Joliffe, Norah 1941: “Dea Brigantia.” Archaeological Journal (48): 34-61. (Taylor and Francis, has a paywall)
McGrath, Sheena 2015: Brigantia: Goddess of the North, Lulu Books.

Epigraphik Datenbank (Unlike the RIB, you can’t link back to searches or inscriptions, so I have given the reference numbers in the text for you to look up.)
Roman Inscriptions of Britain (RIB)