A) Animal Goddesses?

1) Artio (‘the Bear’), Andarta (‘the Great/Powerful Bear’)

The goddess Artio is attested in the territory of the Treveri by three inscriptions found in Weilerbachthal (Luxembourg): Artioni Biber, ‘To Artio Biber (offered this)’,945 in Daun (Germany): Artio Agritius, ‘To Artio Agritius (offered this)’,946 and in Stockstadt (Germany): [deae A]rtioni Sacr(um) S. Sexti S[…] [d ]e sv[o pos, ‘To the Sacred goddess Artio, S. Sextus S[...]?’.947 The two first dedicators Biber and Agritius are peregrines, since they bear the unique name, but have Latin names. They are thus in the process of becoming Romanized. In the inscription from Stockstadt, the dedicator bears the tria nomina of Roman citizens. The fourth inscription was discovered in 1832 in Muri, near Bern (Switzerland), in the territory of the Helvetii. It is the most interesting one, for it is engraved on the socle of a famous bronze group, dated 2nd c. AD: Deae Artioni Licinia Sabinilla, ‘To the goddess Artio, (from) Licinia Sabinilla’.948 The bronze group shows a seated goddess, facing a huge bear, which is looking at her with its mouth open. The bear is situated beneath a tree probably symbolizing the forest where it lives (fig. 35). The dedicator is a woman, who bears the duo nomina and Latin names. She is thus a Roman citizen.

Fig. 35: Bronze group with dedication from Muri representing the goddess Artio (‘Bear’) facing a bear. Lacroix, 2007, p. 114.
Fig. 35: Bronze group with dedication from Muri representing the goddess Artio (‘Bear’) facing a bear. Lacroix, 2007, p. 114.

The goddess Artio has the common posture and attributes of plenty of the Classical Mother Goddesses. She wears a long tunic and a diadem and was originally seated on a throne. She has a patera* and fruit in her lap and holds a sort of stick surmounted by a basket of fruit in her left hand. Therefore, she does not have any particular attributes indicative of her indigenous character.

As regards the bear, it cannot be taken for a particular Celtic feature characterizing the goddess. It is for instance the characteristic emblem of the Greco-Roman divine huntresses Artemis and Diana.949 Although the bear was a widespread animal in western and northern Europe during the Iron Age, probably hunted by the populations for prestige and for its fur and skin, bear imagery is almost nonexistent in Romano-Celtic iconography, except for a few representations on coins950 and some jet bear-shaped amulets principally discovered in tombs from North Britain, such as in Bootle (Lancashire), Malton (Yorkshire) and York (Yorkshire) (fig. 36).951 The bear does not seem to have held an important part in death-rituals either, for bones of bears are not found where important amounts of skeletons of other animals, such as oxes, pigs, sheep, goats and horses, are.952 The only data to date are claws and teeth of bears discovered in the La Tène sepulchres of Mont-Troté, Acy-Romance and Clémency (Ardennes), which can be understood as talismans or ornaments for the deceased.953

Fig. 36: Jet bear-shaped amulet from Bootle (Lancashire, GB). Green, 1992a, p. 41.
Fig. 36: Jet bear-shaped amulet from Bootle (Lancashire, GB). Green, 1992a, p. 41.

If the iconography of Artio is not of indigenous character, her name is undoubtedly Celtic. In the Celtic language, two words designate the bear. The first one matu-, cognate with Old Irish math, ‘bear’, is for instance comprised in the Gaulish proper name Matugenos (‘Born of the Bear’), in the Welsh hero’s name Math von Mathonwy (‘Bear son of a Bear Cub’) and in the Irish personal name Mathghamhain (‘Bear’) and surname Mac Mathghamhna (Mac Mahon, ‘Son of the Bear’).954 Interestingly, a Diana Mattiaca is honoured in an inscription from Wiesbaden (Germany): Dianae Mat[ti]acae [ex] voto, ‘To Diana Mattiaca (this monument) was offered’.955 Mattiaca can be viewed either as a descriptive epithet, based on matu, mati, matiacos, ‘favourable’, or as a divine name referring to a goddess in bear-shape.956 Diana Mattiaca could therefore mean either ‘Diana the Favourable’ or ‘Diana the Bear-Shaped’. Such is also the case of the god Matunus, mentioned in a single inscription from High Rochester (Northumbria), whose name can be glossed as ‘Bear’ or ‘Favourable’.957 Most of the scholars would opt for a descriptive epithet,958 but the idea of a goddess in the shape of a bear should not be ruled out. Given that one of Diana’s emblematic animals is the bear in Roman mythology, she might have replaced an indigenous bear-goddess originally venerated in the area. Mattiaca may also be an ethnonym* referring to the tribe of the Mattiaci ‘the Good People (?), who lived in the area of today’s Wiesbaden, the southern Taunus mountain range and the tract of Wetterau, on the right side of the Rhine.959 As the inscription was found in Wiesbaden, Diana Mattiaca may have been the goddess presiding over the Mattiaci. The strong likelihood is that this word for a bear reflects an ancient taboo* concerning the animal: mat- meant ‘good’ and thus reference to the bear was in terms of ‘the good beast’.

The other, and original, word for ‘bear’ in Celtic was artos. It is cognate with Old Irish art, Welsh arth and Old Breton ard, arth-, simultaneously signifying ‘bear’ and ‘warrior’.960 The goddess Artio (‘Bear’) is etymologically related to the goddess Andarta, whose cult is very certainly local, for the eight inscriptions honouring her come from Die and the area of Die (Drôme), in the territory of the Vocontii.961 Her name is composed of the intensive prefix ande-, ‘very, great, big’ and of the root arta, ‘bear’. Andarta is thus the ‘Great Bear’.962 In five inscriptions, Andarta is attributed the title August, which is redolent of her sacredness and potency and indicates that her cult was made official in the Roman pantheon, probably towards the end of the 1st c. AD. The use of the votive formula dea indicates that the dedications are not prior to the middle of the 2nd c. AD. As for the dedicators, they all bear the tria nomina of Roman citizens. The three following dedications were discovered in Die: Deae Aug(ustae) Andartae L. Carisius Serenus (…?) vir aug(ustalis) v(otum) s(ovlit) l(ibens) m(erito), ‘To the August Goddess Andarta, L. Carisius Serenus […] augustal sevir (?) paid his vow willingly and deservedly’ ;963 Deae Aug(ustae) Andartae T. Dexius Zosimus, ‘To the August Goddess Andarta T. Dexius Zosimus (offered this)’964 and De(ae) Aug(ustae) Andartae M. Iulius Theodorus, ‘To the August Goddess Andarta M. Iulius Theodorus (offered this)’.965 An inscription was found in Aurel, a town situated 15 kms from Die: Deae Andartae Aug. Sext. Pluta[ti]us Paternus ex voto, ‘To the August Goddess Andarta Sext(ius) Plutatius Paternus offered this’,966 while another was unearthed in Sainte-Croix, located about 9 kms from Die: Deae Aug(ustae) Anda[rtae], ‘To the August Goddess Andarta’.967 The following inscription was discovered in Le Cheylard, situated 40 kms from Die: Deae Andar[tae], ‘To the Goddess Andarta’.968 A dedication comes from Deam, a hamlet nearby Die: Deae Aug(ustae) Andartae M. Pomp. Primitivus ex voto, ‘To the August Goddess Andarta M. Pomp(ius) Primitivus offered this’.969 The final inscription, coming from Luc-en-Diois, was reconstructed by Pierre Wuillemier: [D]eae Aug(ustae) [Andartae] [S]ex(tus) Matici[us, ‘To the August Goddess Andarta Sextus Maticius (offered this)’.970

Some god names might also refer to the bear. Such is the case of Artaius who is equated with Mercurius in an inscription from Beaucroissant (Isère).971 His name is generally regarded as meaning ‘Bear’(Arta-ius), but Delamarre proposes to break it down as Ar-tāius, that is ‘Great Thief’.972 The god Artahe, Artehe, venerated in seven inscriptions from Ourde and St-Pé-d’Ardet (Haute-Garonne) might also signify ‘Bear’, but his name is likely to be more Iberian than Celtic.973

It is difficult to decide on the nature of Artio and Andarta, for the peaceful representation from Muri is probably misleading and not representative of the original functions of those goddesses, who are generally understood as personifications and protectresses of the bear or as patronesses of the forest and hunting.974 The bear, which was a dangerous and difficult animal to hunt, was certainly praised for its strength and majesty. It must have thus been a symbol of war and kingship. Significantly, famous kings in Welsh, British and Irish medieval literatures bear names literally signifying ‘bear’, such as the mythical King of Ireland Art, the son of Conn Céadchathach and the illustrious KingArthur, who appears in the 11th- and 14th-century Welsh legends Culhwch and Olwen and The Mabinogi. 975 On account of their name and the bronze group from Muri, it is clear that Artio and Andarta are bear-shaped goddesses protecting the animal. Nonetheless, as Jacques Lacroix and Ross give us to understand, those goddesses were certainly more than simple ‘woodland-goddesses’.976 They must have been prayed to and honoured for the magnificence and force the bear incarnated and originally had war or royal functions. To support that idea, some scholars attempted to relate Andarta to the war-goddess Andraste, mentioned in Dio Cassius’s History of Rome (LXII, 6, 7) (see Chapter 3).977 This is however highly unlikely, for their names do not seem to be similarly constituted. And-arta (‘Great Bear’) is definitely different from An-drasta (‘the Invincible’), composed of a negative prefix an, ‘non’ and a root drastos, ‘to vanquish, to oppress’.978


CIL XIII, 4113.


CIL XIII, 4203.


CIL XIII, 11789.


CIL XIII, 5160 ; Reinach, 1900, p. 289, pl. 1 ; Boucher, 1976, p. 161, fig. 291 ; Lacroix, 2007, p. 114.


Guirand & Schmidt, 2006, pp. 153-154.


Dottin, 1915, p. 338 ; Jullian, HG, vol. 2, 1908, p. 348.


Green, 1978, pp. 23ff ; Corder, 1948, pp. 173-177 ; Green, 1992, p. 217 ; Green, 1992a, p. 41 ; Ross, 1996, p. 435 and fig. 198, p. 433.


Meniel, 2006, pp. 165-175.


Meniel, 1987a, pp. 357-361 ; Meniel, 1987, pp. 101-143 ; Meniel, 1992, p. 113 ; Meniel, 2001, p. 13 ; Green, 1992, pp. 45, 54, 125.


Maccullogh, 1911, pp. 212-213 ; De Vries, 1963, p. 117 ; Mackillop, 2004, p. 36.


CIL XIII, 7565.


Evans, 1967, pp. 228-232 ; Delamarre, 2003, p. 221 ; Delamarre, 2007, p. 226.


RIB 1265 ; Olmsted, 1994, p. 433 ; Delamarre, 2003, p. 221.


Schmidt, 1957, p. 239 ; Olmsted, 1994, p. 430 ; Delamarre, 2003, p. 221.


Olmsted, 1994, p. 430.


Delamarre, 2003, pp. 55-56.


The Vocontii were a Celtic sept* located in today’s Provence, between the rivers Durance and Isère. Their western neighbours were the Allobroges and their eastern neighbours the Cavares. See Barruol, 1999, pp. 282-283 ; Kruta, 2000, p. 864.


Lacroix, 2007, p. 113 ; Delamarre, 2003, pp. 45-46, 56 ; Olmsted, 2004, p. 430.


CIL XII, 1556.


CIL XII, 1557.


CIL XII, 1558.


CIL XII, 1559.


CIL XII, 1555.


CIL XII, 1554.


CIL XII, 1560.


ILGN 230.


CIL XII, 2199: Mercurio Aug(usto) Artaio sacr(um) Sex(tus) Geminius Cupitus ex voto ; Olmsted, 1994, p. 431 ; Delamarre, 2003, p. 56.


Delamarre, 2007, pp. 27, 233.


CIL XIII, 70, 71 (Ourde) ; CIL XIII, 64, 73 (St-Pé-d’Ardet) ; ILTG 36, 37, 38.


Green, 1992, pp. 217-218 ; Olmsted, 1994, pp. 429-430 ; De Vries, 1963, pp. 122-123 ; Duval, 1957, pp. 48-49.


For details on Art, see Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 25-26 ; Mackillop, 2004, p. 25 and on Conn Céadchathach, see Ó hÓgáin, 2006, pp. 115-118 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 101-102. For Arthur’s name, see Guyonvarc’h, 1967, pp. 215-238 ; Walter, 2002 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 26-27. For Arthur’s appearance in Culhwch and Olwen, see Mackillop, 2004, pp. 118-120 and in The Mabinogion, see Gantz, 1976 ; Mackillop, 2004, pp. 312-317. For details on Arthur’s romance, see Green, 1992a, p. 34 ; Luttrell, 1974 ; Alcock, 1971 ; Ashe, 1968 ; Cavendish, 1978. For studies of the Celtic aspects in the character of Arthur, see the bibliography given by Mackillop, 2004, pp. 26-27.


Lacroix, 2007, pp. 113-118 ; Ross, 1996, p. 435.


Green, 1995, p. 32 ; Webster, 1986, p. 54 mentions that this idea was put forward by Ross, but he does not give his reference.


Holder, ACS, vol. 1, p. 151.