1) ‘War frenzy’: the divine possession

It is not in itself surprising to find goddesses of intoxication correlated to war, for alcoholic drinks played an important role in the preparation of war and the course of the battle in Celtic times. Indeed, warriors were used to drinking fermented beverages before battles with the aim of acquiring mental and physical strength, as well as reaching a sort of ‘war trance, fury or insanity’, called in Latin furor, a word which denotes a state of ‘divine possession’ - it was used to designate the Roman mythical heroes as well as the Celtic and Germanic combatants. This ‘war frenzy’ apparently explained the strength and motive of the Celts in battle and explained how they could have settled all over Europe in the 3rd c. BC. As a matter of fact, the enemies were generally terror-stricken on seeing the madness possessing the Celts, which could engender the dispersion of the troops even before fighting. Brunaux states in Les religions gauloises:

‘For a Gallic warrior, fighting was not a human undertaking, until the Roman conquest of Gaul. War was a huge ordeal in which the warrior was only the hand of the deity. The strength of weapons and the subtleties of strategy were secondary preoccupations. It was only the means of placing oneself in the service of the divine force which counted.2421

A battle was not engaged without the support of the gods, who also participated in the fighting. As we saw earlier, access to the otherworld was made possible through the consumption of sacred intoxicating beverages within the context of religious rites. One can easily imagine the warriors drinking so as to become heated and invoking the gods in various rites, such as war dances or incantations,2422 before joining in the fighting. Interestingly, Caesar spoke of a concilium armatum, ‘armed council’, which was held before going into war. This was probably more a ritual drinking gathering than a council,2423 which aimed at making contact with the gods so as to be protected, helped and possessed by the supernatural forces. Poux, in L’âge du vin, points out that:

‘The war character of Gallic intoxication has been clearly testified by written sources and archaeological data. […] The role of alcohol in the war sphere is well-known and acknowledged: stimulating moral courage and physical strength, it [alcohol] puts combatants in a state of self-transcendence, of surpassing of oneself and of sacred exaltation, which has always had its source in trance, drug and alcohol, throughout time and space.2424

Concerning the Celts, the account by Orosius describing the Numantines2425 besieged around 134 BC by the Romans explicitly mentions the traditional use of indigenous alcoholic beverages before fighting to reach a state of unconsciousness, leading to a sort of trance, establishing a connection between the warriors and the divine world, through which they would acquire a ‘divine’ force and invulnerability:

‘Igitur conclusi diu Numantini et fame trucidati deditionem sui obtulerunt si tolerabilia iuberentur; saepe etiani orantes iustae pugnae facultatem ut tamquam uiris mori liceret. ultime omnes duabus subito portis eruperunt, larga prius potione usi non uini, cuius ferax is locus non est, sed suco tritici per artem confecto, quem sucum a calefaciendo caeliam uocant. Suscitatur enim igne illa uis germinis madefactae frugis ac deinde siccatur et post in farinam redacta molli suco admiscetur; quo fermento sapor austeritatis et calor ebrietatis adicitur. Hac igitur potione post longam farnem recalescented bello ses obtulerunt.2426

So when the Numantines had been besieged for a long time and were demolished by famine, they offered to surrender if tolerable conditions should be proposed, at the same time begging again and again for an opportunity to do regular battle that it might be permitted them to die like men. Finally, they all suddenly erupted from two gates, having first partaken of much drink, not of wine, for the cultivation of which the place is not fertile, but of a juice artfully concocted from wheat, which juice they called caelia because it caused heat. For the power of the moistened fruit bud is aroused by heat, and then it is dried and, when reduced to a powder, is mixed with a pleasant juice by which through fermentation a sour taste and the glow of drunkenness are added. So growing warm from this drink after a long fast, they offered themselves for battle.2427


Brunaux, 2000, pp. 188-189 & 2005, pp. 130, 188.


Poux, 2004, p. 335 and note 1094, refers to archaeological artefacts and texts, which show that alcohol was very frequently absorbed during ‘war dances’, which were previous to the fighting.


Brunaux, 2000, p. 189.


Poux, 2004, p. 334.


The Numantines were the inhabitants of Numantia, the most important city of the Arevaci tribe, in Celt-Iberia (province of Soria). The Numantine War, which lasted twenty years, was the last conflict of the Celtiberian Wars fought by the Romans to subdue those people along the River Ebro. It began in 154 BC as a revolt of the Celt-Iberians of Numantia on the River Douro. In 134 BC, the Consul Scipio Aemilianus was sent to end the war and subjugated Numantia.


Orosius, V, 7, 12-14 (primary source: Livy).


Deferrari, 1964, pp. 187-188.