The goddess Litavis or Litavi presents us with a dilemma. If we follow the etymology, her name connects to the Hindu earth-goddess Prithivi, and means something like ‘the Vast One, the Broad One’. On the other hand, the Romans may have equated her to Bellona, the fierce companion of Mars.
Litavi was worshipped by the Lingones, who lived in eastern France, around Dijon in the Burgundy region. The town of Mâlain, or Mediolanum to the Romans, was her cult centre. She had a consort, Mars Cicolluis1, whose name could mean “Fierce Striker” or “Very Muscular”. They shared a sanctuary at the foot of Mount Chauvin.
To make their cult even more complex, they shared the sanctuary with Apollo and Sirona, whose healing cult was linked with water, and the building had a subterranean canal. (We know they were worshipped there, since archaeologists found a statue dedicated to Sirona, and a votive to Apollo Mogetimarus2.) So they may have had a healing aspect as well. (Another two inscriptions honour Sucellos, the god with the hammer, who was very popular in this part of France.)
While we can assume that Mars was a war or protector god, the evidence we have left gives us no clue as to the nature of Litavi’s powers. As you will see with the inscriptions below, the god and goddess had grateful followers, but they did not record what it was that they were grateful for. This makes the few clues we have all the more valuable.
Four of them come from Mâlain, and were either stone plaques or altars:
CIL XIII, 5599 Marti Cicolluis et Litavi […]
CIL XIII 5601 [Ma]rti Ci[co]llui et Litavi L. Mattius Aeternus Ex voto
and another from Aignay-le-Duc, in the same region:
CIL 13, 02887 Aug(usto) sac(rum) / deo Marti Ci/collui et Litavi / P(ublius) Attius Paterc[l]u[s] / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito) (also an altar)
(AE 2010, 1066) Titalaius / Sesti Silius / civis Lingon(us) / Marti Men/obi et Litavi / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)
It’s interesting that Titalius stresses his identity as one of the Lingones, the Celtic tribe who worshipped Litavi as their goddess. Sennius, who dedicated an inscribed plaque at Mâlain, also has a Celtic name, although his co-dedicatees have Roman (or Romanized) names.
Mars Cicolluis appears with Litavi in each of these inscriptions (note that the inscription from Dammartin-Marpain pairs her with another Mars, presumably the local version.)
Mars Cicolluis also appears with the Roman goddess Bellona in an inscription from Mâlain:
(CIL XIII, 5698) [Mar]ti Cic[ollui] [e]t Bell[onae]
The god has ten inscriptions in all, at Mâlain, Dijon, and Xanten in Germany. Bellona appears with local versions of Mars in Trier and Mayence. It’s interesting that she and Litavi would appear with various war or battle gods.
The German scholar Thurneysen2 was the first to establish the connection between the rather obscure Gaulish goddess and Privithi, the Hindu earth goddess. The Proto-Indo-European root word plt(hx)-h2w-iha derives from *pleth- “broad, flat”, as in Old English folde, land, Armenian hol, country, and Sanskrit prthivi, earth. The medieval Irish and Welsh used a similar word for Brittany (Letha, Llydaw) and the Greeks had another, Plátaia.
Ceiswr Serith expands on this:
Jackson (2002:80-81) suggests the name “Pltwī” (his actual form is *plth2wih2-), “broad one” as a title. This is found in India (Pṛthivī), Greece (Plataia, where she was worshiped (Burkert, 1985, 17)), and perhaps Gaul (Litavi) (West, 2007, 174, 175, 177). Pausanias (7.25.13) describes a sanctuary where the Earth is given the title “Broadbosomed.” An extended form, *dhéǵhōm pḷtu- “wide earth” is found in Sanskrit, Avestan, and Old Norse (Orel, 1995, 119).
The only other Celtic deity with this sort of name is the even more obscure Apollo Cobledulitavus, from Perigueux in the south of France (Roman Aquitaine). Naturally, most scholars see Litavi as an earth-goddess. Beck, for example, lists her along with the Irish goddesses Éiru, Banba and Fotla, three goddesses of the land.
You don’t normally think of the earth as warlike. The notion of the land getting up and fighting seems nonsensical, although it would make a nice reversal of the trope of the conquering hero raping/marrying the land.
The Irish goddesses mentioned above were well able to fight, however, and so perhaps it’s not so strange that the Romans may have equated Litavi with Bellona, the bloodthirsty companion of Mars. (You might argue that they made her Bellona simply because she was Mars Cicolluis’ partner. But she could just as easily have been Venus, a more accomodating figure.)
And again the Bellona inscription may well have been a simple desire to link the local Mars with a Roman deity, although linking a local god to a Roman goddess would be unusual, to say the least. It was usually the other way around: local goddess plus Roman god.
So if we assume that the Bellona inscription represents an interpretation of Litavi, then she must have been a fierce earth-goddess. Statius’ poem the Thebaid describes Bellona as waving a blood-stained torch, driving Mars’ chariot and goading his team of horses with her spear. The poem uses her as a personification of war itself, a common trope in Roman poetry.
Her own cult was pretty blood-stained, as her priests used to wound themselves on the arms or legs every March 24, the dies sanguinis or day of blood. On a more sedate note, the Senate used to meet in her temple outside the city to plan wars and receive generals before a Triumph, and the war column that represented Rome’s boundary stood there.
The Deo Mercurio site distinguishes between healer gods like Mars Lenus, who are paired with Victoria or the Celtic Ancamna, and more bellicose gods like Mars Cicolluis, partner to Bellona or Litavi. (He also notes that inscriptions to Mars and Bellona are almost unknown outside Gaul, so the fierce goddess plus Mars must be a local quirk. Given the numerous Celtic war-goddesses, this may not be surprising.)
If he is right, and goddesses likened to Victoria (such as Brigantia) are different in kind from a goddess linked to Bellona, then we have to assume that Litavi was a fierce earth-goddess indeed, perhaps more of a defender/protector than the helpless, fecund embodiment of the land that we tend to think of when we think of an earth-goddess.
It’s worth remembering that even Gaia rebelled against her husband, and the goddesses of Ireland were also able to put together an army and bring down magic on invaders.
1. Some see a link between Mars Cicolluis and the Irish Cíocal Gricenchos, an obscure mythological figure.↩
2. The name Mogetimarus may be related to Mogetmarus, from mag/mog “great” and marus, “power”. (Beszédes & Lassányi: 125)↩
3. Thurneysen also wrote a book on Irish mythology, and translated the Tain bo Flidias. ↩
References and Links:
Raepsaet-Charlier, Marie-Thérèse “Le culte de la cite des Lingons. L’apport des inscriptions,” in Étudier les lieux de Culte de Gaule romaine, eds. Olivier de Cazanove and Patrice Méniel, Éditions Monique Mergoil: 37-73. academia.edu
Widehen, Marie-Agnès and Michel Kasprzyk 2016: “Au fil de Sirona… Mediolanum: Nouvelles données épigraphique et iconographique,” in Archéopages 43: 28-33. academia.edu (English summary)
Noemi Beck on Litavi
The Wikipedia article
Oxford Intro to PIE
Gods and Goddesses blog
Theoi.com on Enyo and Bellona
Deo Mercurio on Ancamna and others
Map of Litavis sites
From the fort/chateau at Mediolanunum
Wikisource copy of Anwyl’s Ancient Celtic Goddesses