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7-10-2015, 21:24



Every tribe had its war god whose responsibility it was to protect the tribe, lead it into battle, and ensure its victory. The Romans applied the label “Mars” to every Celtic god with warlike attributes, but it is not clear whether the Celts had a concept of a general war god beyond the tribal guardian gods. The images are often presented unnamed; where there is a name it is prefixed “Mars.”

Surviving shrines to war gods are very scarce. There was one at Bewcastle, to judge from the finds of dedications to the war godCocidius. Later Roman geographies, such as the Ravenna Cosmography, mention a fanum Cocidi, a shrine of Cocidius, and it is thought that Bewcastle was probably where this stood.

There was a temple at Woodeaton too, to judge from the finds of cult objects there. These included several miniature spears. Miniature weapons were often left as votive offerings by worshipers: a practice common to many ancient cultures. At Woodeaton there were also two images of a war god.

Images of the war god vary across the spectrum, from completely Celtic in style to completely Roman. One of the simplest images is the one from Maryport in Cumbria. Carved in low relief on a square plaque, it shows a crudely drawn male with a large, round face, horns, a spear, and a shield. Ofren these images show naked warriors—Celtic warriors ofren fought naked—and ofren they are shown with erections {see Symbols: Nudity). Images such as these are described as ithyphallic. The reasons for showing warriors in this state of arousal have been the subject of a lot of speculation {see Symbols: Phallus).

Sometimes the war god is shown with a goose. The goose is a good equivalent in the animal world for the tribal guardian god. Geese are very alert, react immediately and fearlessly to the approach of strangers, and are very aggressive; they “see off’ strangers. These are exactly the characteristics required of an effective tribal protector god. Mars-Lenus at Caerwent is an example of a war god with a goose for a companion. It may be significant that Julius Caesar mentions the goose as a taboo animal: a sacred creature that may not be eaten.

In southern Britain, the war god was often a horseman, which may indicate the prevailing way of ftghting. The horseman god was particularly venerated in the land of the Catuvellauni in eastern England. There was a sacred enclosure at Brigstock in Northamptonshire where several bronze horsemen were found, and this precinct may have been dedicated to the horseman god. At Kelvedon in Essex, a ftrst-century BC pot was stamped with horsemen with stylized spiky hair, hexagonal Celtic shields, and objects that look like shepherds’ crooks. Images of horsemen in sacred contexts have been found at many sites across southern England, showing that there was a preference for rendering the war god on horseback. A stone plaque from Nottinghamshire shows a crudely stylized warrior on horseback and carrying or rather displaying a round shield and a spear. At the Romanized end of the scale is the finely made bronze horseman from Westwood Bridge, Peterborough.

In some places the titles given are very grand. Mars Rigisamus (Mars Greatest King or King of Kings) suggests that the war god was preeminent among the deities. Perhaps locally this was the case. At Corbridge, the warrior-god image bears the wheel symbolizing the Celtic sky and sun god. The horseman-god images reach a climax in the depictions on the Jupiter columns, where the sky god is a horseman overriding evil and death. On a smaller scale, the Martlesham statuette of Mars Corotiacus shows a horseman god riding down an enemy, who may merely represent human enemies or, on a grander scale, evil, night, death, and other negative forces (see Cocidius, Hells; Places: Cerne Abbas, Maiyport; Symbols: Sky Horseman).



A bronze figurine found at Le Chatelet (Haute Marne) in France shows how the wheel god was imagined: naked, with a mane of hair on his head and a bushy beard, reminiscent of Greco-Roman depictions of Zeus and Jupiter. In fact this might be the Celtic Jupiter. In his left hand, he is holding a six-spoked wheel, which is a sun symbol, and in his right hand he brandishes a thunderbolt; below the thunderbolt is the spiral symbol of lightning. The wheel god is evidently a powerfijl sky god, and the equivalence with Jupiter and Zeus is clear.


Images of the wheel god were mass-produced in pipe-clay in central France (the Allier District). These cheap images were probably made for poor people to leave as oflFerings or to carry as talismans. Two main Jupiter types were produced: one with eagle and thunderbolt, and one with wheel and thunderbolt. It looks as if the eagle and wheel are interchangeable, with the eagle for Romanized customers, and the wheel for Celtic customers.

A figure from Landouzy-la-ViUe (Aisne) shows a bearded, naked god. He has a grim expression as he holds a wheel over an altar. The dedication on the supporting plinth reads “To Jupiter Best and Greatest and the Spirit of the Emperor.” This is a Celtic god in terms of attributes and attitude, yet Romanized to the extent of having the inscription in Latin and the Roman emperor mentioned; the long hair and curly beard are typical of Roman images.

Another wheel god image associates the god with fertility. This is not a normal association for Jupiter, but the Celtic world was essentially rural and the Celts were preoccupied with fertility and venerating fertility. So a seated wheel god might be flanked by boms of plenty, cornucopiae (see Symbols: Cornucopia).

Celtic sun-wheel signs were left as votive offerings at some of the hot spring sanctuaries in Gad. Sun wheels were also thrown into Gaulish rivers, such as the Seine, Marne, Oise, and Loire. In southwestern France there was a custom of rolling a flaming wheel down into a river; the pieces were then retrieved and reassembled in the sun god’s temple. The ritual was a reflection of the solar cycle.