II) The Land-Goddess as a Purveyor of Riches

It is stating the obvious to say that human beings remain alive and sustain themselves thanks to the products of the earth. Water, fruit, crops were logically interpreted as offerings from the land-goddess, who was thus envisaged as a nurturer. It was the earth-goddess who was believed to feed the people by providing them with food and water. As studied in Chapter 1, this function is clearly evidenced by the worship of the Matres and Matronae, who are portrayed holding classical attributes denoting the fertility of the earth, such as cornucopiae*, fruit, cakes or patera*. The Nutrices, represented in the Gaulish iconography swaddling or feeding infants, obviously hold the same role. The land is the mother who nurtures her beings.

This role is also evidenced by the worship of single goddesses from Ireland and Gaul who have names literally meaning ‘Nurturer’ or ‘Provider’. This is the case for instance in the name of the goddess presiding over Munster Mór Muman, ‘theMór of Munster’, who presides over the land of Munster (Mumu, later Mumhain). Her name does not signify ‘the Great Mother’, as Olmsted suggests,755 but ‘the Great Nurturer’, as Ó hÓgáin explains.756 Mumain is not to be related to the word muman meaning ‘mother’, but to mumu, later mumhain, signifying ‘nurturer’. Mór Muman is clearly a land-goddess, for the first element of her name mór was used to characterize earth-goddesses, such as the Mórrígain. Moreover, she is described marrying various kings of Munster in Mór Muman Ocus Aided Cuanach Meic Ailchine [‘Mór of Munster and the Tragic Fate of Cuanu Son of Cailchin’],757 a pattern which is characteristic of land-goddesses (see Chapter 3 and 5). Similarly, Sanas Cormaic [‘Cormac’s Glossary’], dated 9th c., explains that the land-goddess Ana/Anu, whose name is a later pet name for Danu, is the mother of the gods of Ireland and that she is the one who feeds them. The Tuatha Dé Danann (‘Tribe of the Goddess Danu’) also bear her name. The equation of her name with Irish anai, ‘wealth’ or ‘abundance’ is however a fanciful and inaccurate interpretation by medieval glossators.758 The image of the land-goddess as a mother nurturing her people clearly illustrates her function as distributor of wealth and food.

‘Ana .i.mater deorum Hibernensium. Robo maith didiu robīathais sī deos; de cuis nominee ana .i. imed, et de cuius nomine Dá Chic[h] hAnund īar Lūachair nominant[ur], ut fibula fertur .i. amail aderait ina scēlaide.

Ana: the mother of the gods of Ireland. It was well she nursed deos i.e. the gods: ana i.e. ‘plenty’, for whom are named the ‘Two Paps of Ana’ beyond Luachair, as the story-tellers say.759

The concept of the land-goddess nurturing her people may also be echoed in the goddess name Alauina / Alauna, mentioned in two inscriptions discovered in Pantenburg (Germany), where she is associated with the goddess Boudina ‘Victory’.760 The inscriptions read: [Bo]udi{i}n{u}ae [et] Alaunae C(aius) Sextilius Sollemnis, ‘To Boudina and Alauna, Caius Sextilius Sollemnis’ and Deo Voroi[o] Boudina E et Alau{i}nae C(aius) Sextilius Sollemnis, ‘To the god Voroio, Boudina (E?) and Alauina, Caius Sextilius Sollemnis’.761 The inscriptions are offered by the same dedicator, who is a Roman citizen on account of his tria nomina. It is worth noting that Alauna may be the feminisation of the god name Alaun(i)us, honoured alone in Notre-Dame-des-Anges (Var): ]us Tacitus [----] Alaunio [---] sp vslm,762 and equated with Mercurius in Mannheim (Germany): [Ge]nio Mercur(ii) Alaunii Iul(ius) Ac[co]nius Augustinus ex vsllm.763 In addition, Alauna might be cognate with the goddesses Alounae, known from three dedications discovered in the area of Salzburg (Austria), more precisely in Chieming and Seeon: Bedaio Aug(usto) sacr(um) Alounar(um) Setonius Maximianus ; Sacro Alounarum Aug(ustarum) Non(ius) Iu(v)enalis and Bedaio Aug(usto) et Alounis.764 Interestingly, the dedicator Bedaius, who pays homage to those deities in two of the inscriptions, bears a Celtic name.765 Šašel Kos points out that the Alounae can be paralleled to the ethnonym* Alauni, a tribe settled in Noricum*.766 This leads her to think that they may have been the protective goddesses of this sept*. Delamarre and De Bernardo Stempel translate the divine names Alauna and Alounae as ‘Nourisher(s)’, relating them to Old Irish alim and Old Norse ala, derived from an IE root *al- meaning ‘to nourish’.767 If many rivers in Europe bear that name, it is certainly because the river, when it is well-stocked with fish, has the ability of providing its people with food.768 Though interesting, this etymology* remains uncertain, for Alauna and Alounae can also be glossed as ‘the Nomads’, ‘the wandering ones’.769

The role of ‘provider’ is greatly illustrated on the Continent by goddesses bearing names literally referring to the activity of distributing wealth: Rosmerta, the consort of Mercurius, whose cult is attested by a significant number of inscriptions and iconographical devices in the north-east of Gaul; Atesmerta, mentioned in a single inscription from Haute-Marne; and Cantismerta, known from a single dedication discovered in Switzerland. Who were those goddesses of bounty? Apart from nurturing, did they have other functions? Can they be distinguished in the iconography by specific attributes? Were they honoured by dedicators of Celtic or Roman origin?


Olmsted, 1994, pp. 162-209.


Ó hÓgáin, 2006, p. 359.


O’Nolan, 1912, pp. 261-282.


Ó hÓgáin, 2006, p. 159.


Meyer, 1912, p. 3 ; O’Donovan, 1868, pp. 4-5.


Evans, 1967, pp. 156-158 ; Delamarre, 2003, pp. 83-84 ; Delamarre, 2007, p. 214.


F 82, 83 ; AE 1982, 667.


CIL XII, 1517.


CIL XIII, 6425


CIL III, 5572, 11779 ; ILLPRON, 1546.


Delamarre, 2007, p. 38.


Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 144 ; Scherrer, 1984, pp. 134-135.


Delamarre, 2003, p. 37 ; Delamarre, 2007, p. 210 ; De Bernardo Stempel, 2005, pp. 21-22.


Rivet & Smith, 1979, pp. 239-478.


Delamarre, 2003, p. 37.