There are some intriguing deities on Hadrian’s Wall. Some might have been ‘born’ or ‘re-born’ when incomers from foreign lands, trying to make sense of their new situation, created brand new ‘gods of place’. The enigmatic Veteres are possible candidates here. 61 altars to a god called Veteris (or to gods called the Veteres) have been found in Britain, with the great majority coming from the wall zone, including 13 from Carvoran and 11 from Vindolanda.
Silvanus was a popular god in Rome, up there with Jupiter and Mercury in terms of altars and other devotional evidence. As a god of the common people, he had a large audience, and soldiers, slaves and freedmen to spread his cult abroad.
His popularity worked both ways, too: a British craftsman explained his god Callirius as Silvanus, and many of the other examples in this post could have worked the same way.
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.
The Austrian goddess Noreia, like the British goddess Brigantia, has always been dogged by the suspicion that she was a Roman invention rather than a native deity. They both share their name with a Roman province, and worshippers with Roman or Romanized names made offerings to them.
We’ve all wondered what god Julius Caesar meant when he said that Mercury was the most important of all Gaulish gods. He was right in one sense, and wrong in another – there are many Gaulish Mercuries, and they have many different functions.
The Celtic god Maponos had followers on both sides of the Channel: he was also one of the most commonly invoked gods along Hadrian’s Wall. He was no war-god, however, but a youthful deity, a musician and hunter. In the Roman era he was often called Apollo Maponos, linking him to another god of youth and youths.
The title of this post might seem a bit catchall, but it was inspired by the goddess Alauna and Boudina, who appear together on a couple of altars in Romanized Germany, while the similarly-named Alounae seem to be mother-goddesses from modern Austria.
As with Dea Vecana and Meduna, another pair of Germanic goddesses, one is warlike, while the other is more peaceful. The name Boudina comes from the Celtic root boudi-, victory, while Alauna means either nourisher or wanderer.
I was seriously tempted to call this piece “Cernunnos: God of Bling”. This may seem a wildly inappropriate way to describe a god revered by neo-Pagans and possibly the divine ancestor of the Gauls, but when so many images of him feature one or more torcs, which are simply enormous gold necklaces, how can you resist?
Searching out Minervas always feels like seeing through a scrim; when you look at the Roman goddess, you see her through the Greek and Etruscan influences that went into her making. Looking at the Celtic goddesses who were compared to Minerva, named for her, or depicted in her image, you see through yet another veil, trying to discern the Celtic form under the Roman covering.
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.