Native Gods, romanized or not

I wondered whether I should write this post or simply blend it with the one on gods around old and modern Lisbon, since, at least to my knowledge, there are no trace of native cults in Olisipo proper. This may just be a coincidence produced by the loss of information and archaeological traces in over one thousand years of constant and intense urban occupation. But it may also be an actual pattern, in that, during the Roman period, Lisbon’s religious life may have revolved around the official religion and cults that were popular in Rome, pushing whatever Iberian deities were once worshipped in Olisipo to the suburban countryside. Based on that possibility, I decided to dedicate a separate post to native deities, regardless of whether They were syncretised or not.

Aponianicus Poliscinius is assumed to be a deity, given the inscription found in the area of Poço de Cortes in 1944 during the construction works for an avenue to the city’s airport. It reads G.S. APONIANICO POLISCINIO SACRVM A.L. (Vieira da Silva 1944, 271). It may have been a personal genius, but the possibility of a water god has also been put forward, even if the evidence is at best scarce (Encarnação 1975, 92).

Aturrus is a reconstructed name from the remains of an inscription found in 1903 during the construction works of modern-day Republic’s Avenue. The writing is damaged, with the (assumed) name of the deity showing only a clear ATV followed by parts of letters and then RVM, which has been interpreted differently: Vieira da Silva read them as (s)ATVRN(i)(sac)RVM and claimed it to be an inscription to Saturn, though he interpreted the rest of the text as a memorial to deceased family members of one Tusca, which appears in the next lines (1944, 230-1). Encarnação, however, following others, reads ATVRR(us) (sac)RVM and sees the god as a chthonic deity capable of watching over the dead (1075, 117-8), which would make sense of the rest of the inscription.

Jupiter Assaecus is attested on another votive altar found in Poço de Cortes in 1944, which reads I. ASSAECO VOTVM ANIMO LVBEN M. CAECILIVS CAENO SOLVIT. The nature of this god is unknown: it may be a local deity, given that the place name Asseco occurs in several parts of Portugal, namely rivers (Encarnação 1975, 207). But I’m unsure about the association of an aquatic god with Jupiter, unless we’re talking about a mountain spring, in which case He would be identified with the deity at the rocky top. Still, a local placename is a possibility worth considering.

Mandiceus is mentioned on a votive altar found in 1956 in the area of Madre de Deus, in Sintra’s municipality. The inscription reads CASSIA MATER MANDICEO V.S.L. and the nature of this deity is unknown (Encarnação 1975, 233).

There’s also a god referred to as “niceo”, which may imply an eastern origin in Nicaea. The altar is first mentioned in a 16th century text as being in “Saint Paul”, leading to the assumption that it meant the saint’s church in Lisbon, even if the document doesn’t explicitly say so (Vieira da Silva 1944, 239). Since that particular temple was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, there is no way of confirming the written information, but in 1966, in a place called Manique, in Cascais’ municipality, the altar was found next to a chapel dedicated to Saint Paul (Encarnação 1975, 96). The question therefore arises on whether that was its location in the 16th century or if it was moved during Lisbon’s reconstruction. In any case, the inscription reads ARACOARANIO NICEO I. MAXIMA AVVI V.A.S.L.S., which has been interpreted differently: Vieira da Silva read the name of the deity as being Coaranio Niceo, believing “ara” to be the altar itself, but Encarnação preferred Aracus Aranius Niceus and proposed an aquatic nature given the element ar-, which he claims to be related to water in Iberian languages. Interestingly, according to Vieira da Silva, there was also a funerary inscription to a Coranicus in Lisbon’s Saint Paul (1944, 239).

Finally, a modern author mentions the possibility of a snake cult on a hill known as Penha de França (Moita 1994, 52), located inside modern Lisbon, but outside what would have been Olisipo, and claims it might have existed without Roman syncretism. So far, I’ve seen little evidences that support that theory.


4 thoughts on “Native Gods, romanized or not

    • Very little. Names taken from inscriptions and sometimes an idea of their functions by means of etymology, symbols, and Roman deities They were associated with. Generally speaking, there are no surviving tales.

      • Yep! It makes it a bit harder for me to contact Them, because there’s little I can relate to. There are a few exceptions, but I never really “invested” on a relationship with Them: Trebaruna, for instance, seems to be a goddess of the home and there’s a dianic something about Nabia, even if more aquatic (or so it seems).

        The latter is actually the only Iberian deity I know of about whom there’s an inscription that mentions the date of a sacrifice to Her, which took place on April 9th. No word on why, if it had any connection with the natural world, simply the birthday of a temple or even both. Perhaps this year I’ll make a small tour to a nearby stream or even the Tagus and pour some offerings to Nabia on that particular day.

        Interestingly, near the place where I was born there are little if any traces of Iberian pre-Christian religions, but one inscription to Minerva has been found.

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