Except for the Matres and Matronae (‘Mother Goddesses’), who are widely depicted in the iconography of Britain and Gaul, Celtic goddesses are scarcely represented. It is generally agreed that the Celts did not represent their gods withanthropomorphic* traits.58 Diodorus Siculus besides reports in his 1st-century BC Library of History that Brennos of the Prausi, the Tolistobogii leader, who launched a raid against Delphi in 279 BC to seize its treasures, laughed at the sight of the statues of the Greek gods when he attacked the temple.59 This passage would indicate that the Celts were reluctant to represent their gods:‘Brennus, the king of the Gauls, on entering a temple found no dedications of gold or silver, and when he came only upon images of stone and wood he laughed at them, to think that men, believing that gods have human form, should set up their images in wood and stone.60 ’
Brunaux argues that, in Celtic times, deities were not represented in human form but were probably symbolized by a simple object, such as a sword or a spear.61 A few sculptures in wood, dating from the Bronze Age, such as the male idol made of yew discovered in a bog at Ralaghan, in Co. Cavan (Ireland), however tend to prove that ancient peoples did on occasion represent their gods with human features.62 But these wooden figurines cannot be interpreted with certainty: where there human or divine figurations?
Iconographical representations of Celtic goddesses, combined with an inscription identifying them, dating unambiguously from Gallo-Roman and Romano-British times, remain limited in number and are always modeled on Classical figurations.63 Anepigraphic* representations have not been included in this work, except for a few the identification of which is undisputable. The iconographical material is catalogued in the twelve volumes of the Recueil Général des bas-reliefs, statues et bustes de la Gaule romaine, published between 1907 and 1938 by Emile Espérandieu. This work was completed by four additional volumes edited by Raymond Lantier from 1947 to 1965 and is being completely revised and updated by Henri Lavagne in his Nouvel Espérandieu.
Celtic goddesses are generally represented majestically sitting or standing, with a diadem in their hair. They wear long tunics and bear the traditional Greco-Roman attributes of fertility, such as the cornupia*, the patera*, fruit or cakes. Celtic goddesses are also sometimes represented with the traits of specific Roman goddesses. Such is the case of the goddess Abnoba, who is pictured with the attributes of the Roman woodland-goddess, Diana: she wears boots, a quiver and arrows. Occasionally, distinctive elements of indigenous types can be noted, notably in the plastic conception; the style and type of a garment or a jewel, for example the traditional Celtic bardocucullus* and torque*; the seating or crouching position, which is a typical feature of Celtic divine or heroic representation; and singular attributes of non-Classical style, such as the duck-shaped boat of Sequana, the house-on-pole emblem of Nantosuelta, or the antlers of the two unidentified goddesses from Besançon (Doubs) and Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dôme).
Finally, iconography can shed light on the functions of a goddess. Brigantia is for instance pictured wearing a helmet and holding a spear: she is thus endowed with protective and war aspects. Artio (‘Bear’) is accompanied by a huge bear which she personified and protected as her name indicates. Sometimes the attributes of a goddess are difficult to identify and determine. Their significance remains thus obscure and subject to various interpretations, like in the case of Nantosuelta’s emblems.
Boucher, 1976, p. 173 ; Green, 2003, pp. 7-8.
The Tolistobogii were one of the three ancient Celtic tribes of Galatia, in central Asia Minor, together with the Tectosages and the Trocmi. The Prausi were a Celtic people of unknown origin. Brunaux, 2005, pp. 278-279 ; Koch, 2006, p. 246 ; Kruta, 2000, pp. 493-494, 786, 842.
Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, Book 22, 9, 4.
Brunaux, 2004, p. 90.
Mahr, 1930, p. 487 ; Coles, 1990 ; Cooney & Grogan, 1994, pp. 155-156.
Boucher, 1976, pp. 160-179.