Condatis: where waters meet

I know I tend to write about goddesses more than gods, but the slightly mysterious god Condatis has a special place in my heart, because I used to live in Durham. He seems to be a local god, with three altars dedicated to him dotted around the county. A further one was recently unearthed in Cramond, Scotland.

Condatis: god of Chester-le-Street

His name means confluence, or watermeet, to be Anglo-Saxon about it. The first find of an altar to Condatis was at Chester-le-Street, where the local Cong Burn joins the larger River Wear. The river Wear winds its way through the county, and the altar was six feet deep in the river soil, about 365 metres from the confluence itself.

Clearly Condatis was meant to be a god of rivers, but as we’ve seen with river-deities like Adsalluta and Savus, or even the traveller’s goddess Ritona, rivers were places for commerce and travel as well as providing water. A place where a little river met a larger one would be important for local business, as the Wear was navigable in those days.

Ritona was the Goddess of the Ford, a place where you could cross the river, and it seems that she became a goddess of travel and travellers more generally. No doubt Condatis took on a similar role. (As Leenna Naidoo pointed out in the comments below, travel by water was safer in those days, and easier.)

The Arbre Celtique site lists five places in France named Condate, and Northwich in Cheshire was called Condate in Roman times. Only in Co. Durham, however, did they name their god rather than the town after the place where rivers meet.

Chester-le-Street, or Concangis, was a little British town that found itself on the main Roman road to the North of England. The town itself had a large number of ex-military men living in it, and presumably it benefited from the trade passing through, as well as the food and other items supplied to the fort itself.

Mars and Condatis

You might expect a place full of Roman soldiers and ex-soldiers to have a special fondness for Mars, and sure enough the altar found at Chester-le-Street calls him Mars Condates, as do the ones found at Bowes (another fort) and Piercebridge (dedicated by an ex-Praetorian).

In 1978 another altar turned up at Cramond in Scotland, inscribed Deo Marti Condati, although it would be more accurate to write D(eo) M(arti) Con[dati] where the parts in brackets represent common abbreviatons and the square brackets are a reconstruction of lost text. So it’s probably an altar to Mars Condatis, just as an altar to the Yorkshire goddess Brigantia was found in Birrens.

It may seem odd for a river-god to be assimilated to Mars, but to the Celts water had a healing power, and they credited many of the gods who were associated with Mars with healing powers too, such as Nodens and Lenus.

Inscriptions

Condatis may or may not have been a healing god, but the altars from Chester, Bowes and Piercebridge all fulfill a vow. The Bowes one is the simplest: To Mars Condates Arponatus willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow. (RIB 731) The Chester-le-Street altar expands the vow to an entire household: To the god Mars Condates, Valerius Probianus for himself and his household willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow. (RIB 1045)

And the Piercebridge one is the most idosyncratic: To the god Mars Condates, Attonius Quintianus, surveyor, evocatus, gladly fulfilled the command by order. (RIB 1024) An evocatus was a soldier of the Praetorian Guard who had served for 16 years, and might have been centurion as well. It’s worded in a more military way than the other two, but this may reflect Attonius Quintianus rather than the god Condatis.

There’s also a possible inscription from Allones in France, although it reads merely Condati (CIL 13, 12737) and could just as easily be a personal or place name. (It appears in the CIL under military inscriptions, so it may well be a name or part of a name.)

Vinotonus: the god of Bowes

It may seem like any god in the heavily-fortified North of England was going to be equated to Mars, but there was another possibility. At the Bowes fort they dedicated four altars to Vinotonus, a god whom they compared with the wilderness god Silvanus. (The god Cocidus, another Northern deity, did both, as Mars Cocidus and Cocidus Silvanus.)

There was a round temple on Scargill Moor, close to a small river, which may have been dedicated to Vinotonus. The Roman altars came from that site, although the temple was there before the auxillaries set up their altars in the third century CE. (van der Weij: 54)

Vinotonus may mean God of the Vines, which would also tie in with Silvanus, who also protected the fields. Another interpretation makes him a god of streams, which would give him something in common with Condatis. (Dorcey: 55)

Links and References:

Dorcey, Peter 1992: The Cult of Silvanus: a Study in Folk Religion, Brill. (Google Books)
van der Weij, Anna 2017: Deabus and Dis Communibus, thesis. (pdf here)

Wikipedia
Arbre Celtique
RIB 731, 1045, 3500, and 1024 and CIL 13, 12737

4 thoughts on “Condatis: where waters meet

  1. Leenna Naidoo

    Interesting! Another intriguing god from the North. Could he also have something to do with safe travel as I believe travelling along rivers would have been safer than travelling overland at that time?
    Also, a post on Silvanus would be awesome!
    Thanks as always for your sharing and knowledge!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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