The Roman Empire was never shy about adopting deities from other lands. Isis, Mithra, Cybele all became wildly popular, perhaps because their cults were different from the staid Roman deities. All three of these cults came to Rome, but others had the Romans come to them.
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 Roman god Silvanus may not be the best-known, but he was popular with the people. He had no official cult or priests dedicated to his worship – his was a cult of country people, farmers, labourers and slaves.
Historically, the interpretatio has been diverse. In late sources, Silvanus and Faunus were equated, as indicated by Peter Dorcey in his Cult of Silvanus (1992, 34). According to the same scholar, Augustine’s reference to a childbirth ritual in Civitas Dei intended to ward off Silvanus may also derive from a confusion between Him and Faunus, but I’ll get to that later. Earlier sources are no less complex, since they appear to refer to the two gods interchangeably, but then there are also cases of distinction: Martial mentions altars to Silvanus and trees of Faunus (
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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.
Sucellos was a god of Eastern Gaul and the Rhineland. Images of him from the Roman period show a mature man dressed in a tunic, with a pot (olla) in one hand and a large hammer in the other. He sometimes has a barrel at his feet, and occasionally a dog accompanies him. The goddess Nantosuelta occasionally appears beside him. His name means “The Good Striker”.
It may seem strange that in Roman times the British god Nodens, famous for his healing shrine, was associated with Mars, a god more likely to do damage than to cure it. However, other Celtic “Mars” gods such as Lenus and Ocelus were healers, and not just to soldiers or men, but women and children.
These three gods have a lot in common: they’re all brawny types whose worshippers were mainly working people, farmers, labourers, miners and even slaves. But what intrigued me about them was that their followers all wore their symbol – the hammer or club each god wielded.
These goddesses are easier to read, because they appear under their own names, while Diana may or may not be hiding a native goddess. (The god Silvanus presents the same problem.) Ironically, the only real evidence we have for Diana being assimilated into a native cult is from the continent, in the form of Diana Mattiaca and Abnoba.