Arentio & Arentia

They’re not the best-known Iberian gods and were not even the most popular, at least judging from the number of altars and the size of the area where Arentio and Arentia appear to have been worshipped. Also, there’s no certainty on their spheres of influence or what people expected of them. It’s true that there are clues and based on them theories as well, but certainties are rare. And among the possibilities, there is a hypothesis according to which they’re a divine couple akin to several others from western Europe.

1. Information
In total, there are nine known altars dedicated to Arentio and/or Arentia, all from the Portuguese inner Beira and Spanish Extremadura: the theonyms feature together in two pieces from Coria, Spain, and two found in Portugal, one in the area of Ferro and the other in Ninho de Açor, district of Castelo Branco. There are also two altars from Idanha-a-Nova where only Arentio is mentioned, a third from Moraleja, in the region of Caceres, and one dedicated solely to Arentia found in the municipality of Sabugal (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 188). Adding to this, there’s a recently discovered piece from Cilleros, Caceres, dedicated to the divine pair under the epithet Tedaicis, raising the possibility of a tenth altar further south, in Villamiel, which is unfortunately lost, but whose inscription mentioned a god Tetaeco (Olivares Pedreño & Ramajo Correa, 2013). Judging from the archaeological traces, Arentio and Arentia were therefore Lusitanian deities whose cult extended into the Vettonian border area.

Places where traces of a cult to Arentio (blue), Arentia (green) or both (yellow) have been found. Map my own.

Places where traces of a cult to Arentio (blue), Arentia (green) or both (yellow) have been found. Map my own.

Regarding other epithets, there’s record of Amrunaeco on the altars from Coria and Ocelaeca/o on the one from Ferro, while Tanginiciaeco and maybe Cronisensi are attributed to Arentio on two of the pieces found in Portugal. As for Arentia, she’s called Equotullaicensi on the altar from Sabugal. And this is pretty much the full surviving information on these gods. There’s no known iconography, description of or even allusion to their cult, much less a myth that clarifies their roles. The only courses of study are thus the etymology of their names and epithets, coupled with a comparative analysis with both the wider Iberian context and the known religions from the rest of pre-Christian western Europe.

2. Interpretations
Starting with the origin and meaning of the theonyms, the hypotheses put forward have been multiple and there’s no academic consensus on the subject. Initially, Leite de Vasconcelos suggested a Latin root in arens or “arid”, but eventually rejected it, based on one hand on the Celtic nature of the ending -entius and, on the other, the apparent native origin of some of the worshippers (1905: 322). Which, by the way, also excludes the possibility of a connection with the Latin ara or “altar”, which is sometimes thrown around on the internet. Blanca Prósper proposed that the theonyms are actually river names, originating from Indo-European vocabulary for “movement, running” (2002: 99), which would also be reflected on the epithet Arantoniceo, attributed to the local god Araco on an altar found in the area of Cascais, Lisbon (Encarnação & Guerra 2010: 103). And Blázquez suggested an origin in a placename (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 187.2).

As with the etymology, the nature of Arentio and Arentia has also been the subject of different theories. Adding to Prósper‘s hypothesis, which makes them aquatic deities, Jorge de Alarcão proposed a warrior function, claiming that Arentio was the Iberian Ares Strabo speaks of, though his sole argument is the phonetic resemblance, and then he adds that Arentia would be similar to the goddess Victory (Alarcão 2001: 304). Even more curious is José d’ Encarnação’s idea that the divine pair is actually one deity who could assume either the male or female gender depending on “ideology” or “momentary perception” (2002: 521). The same author also suggested a tutelary function, based on one hand in the reduced geographical range of the cult and, on the other, a territorial interpretation of the epithets (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 187.2).

The reading of Arentio’s and Arentia’s titles as either based on ethnicities or placenames is not without basis and has been put forward by various scholars, even if not all of them drew the same conclusions as José d’Encarnação. So, for instance, Marques Leitão links the epithet Ocelaeca/o, which can be read on the altar from Ferro, with an ancient settlement called Ocealum, mentioned in classical sources (2015: 113). For Amrunaecus suggestions have been made that connect it to a tribal group called Ambrones (Blázquez Martínez 2006: 230), whereas Tanginiciaeco, from Idanha-a-Nova, may perhaps be related to an “ethnic or family unit” (Blázquez Martínez 2010: 516), especially given that the personal name Tangini is documented in the region (Marques Leitão 2015: 113, n. 67). Also worth mentioning is the epithet awarded to Arentia on the altar from Sabugal, where she’s called Equotullaicensi: the Latin suffix -ensi indicates a territorial origin, yet the first part of the title also suggests a connection to horses given the element equo- (Blázquez Martínez 2006: 211).

Finally, there’s the interpretative model formulated by Olivares Pedreño, who uses the full epigraphic record, as opposed to just the pieces dedicated to Arentio and Arentia, and attempts to reconstruct a regional pantheon based on a comparative analysis and the assumption that supra-local deities with identical roles would not be worshipped in the same area, as that would amount to an unnecessary functional overlap. Which is a reasonable assumption, even if not an infallible one, as there’s only a very fragmented knowledge of ancient religious life in what today is the inner Beira and Spanish Extremadura. Furthermore, it’s not entirely certain that Bandua was an equivalent of Mars, at least not in every instance. But having said that, Pedreño’s model has the merit of a wider perspective, even including data from beyond the Pyrenees, in an attempt to tap into a general system rather than looking at each god as an isolated island with no dynamic connection to other deities.

Hypothetical correspondence of Iberian gods; number of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to divine pairs according to an identification with a Roman deity (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 190 and 219).

Hypothetical correspondence of Iberian gods; number of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to divine pairs according to an identification with a Roman deity (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 190 and 219).

So assuming Bandua fulfilled the role of a communal protector, which would make him a plausible equivalent of Mars, whereas Reve was perhaps a celestial god identifiable with Jupiter, one is left with the spheres of the underworld, health and prosperity. In order to fill in that blank, Pedreño resorts to a comparative analysis with the rest of western Europe, leading him to conclude that, among the divine pairs worshipped beyond the Pyrenees, the male member was frequently identified with Apollo, followed by Mercury and finally Mars. Therefore, if one is to believe that there were common religious patterns in Celtic or Celticized Europe, it’s possible that in the western part of the Iberian Peninsula the best-known divine pair – Arentio and Arentia – may have fulfilled a role akin to that of most godly couples in the Gallo-Roman world and thus had some equivalence to Apolo and Mercury (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 187-193). It’s just a theory, though based on concrete data, and it has the advantage of looking at a wider scope of religious practices and thus offering a systematic approach.

3. Work hypothesis
What to draw from this information? One can start by rejecting José d’Encarnação’s theory that Arentia and Arentio are really the same entity. The idea appears to be based on something he said elsewhere, that “the gods have no sex” (2008: 358), which perhaps owes something to pre-conceived notions that would come across as odd to most of the ancient world, where it was common to award gender to deities. Religious art and literature have such an abundance of examples that it’s ridiculous to simply deny it. And the Latin expression sive deus, sive dea – whether a god or a goddess – was used as a matter of caution when addressing an unknown deity and thus without assuming it was male or female. It doesn’t express a hypothetical belief in an absence of gender.

It’s also unclear how epithets of an ethnic or territorial nature are enough to prove that Arentio and Arentia had a tutelary nature of a geographically limited scope, since the multiple known titles and altars from various sites should indicate that they were not just local deities. It’s actually ironic that such a thing can even be suggested for Arentio and Arentia while at the same time people present Endovélico as the greatest or most important of all Lusitanian gods, despite the fact that the traces of his cult are concentrated in a single place. And if there are any doubts that local epithets do not necessarily amount to a merely local status, consider some of the titles that were awarded to Zeus in ancient Greece: Parnêthios (of Mount Parnes), Larisaios (of Larissa), Nemeios (of Nemeia), Dôdônaios (of Dodona), etc. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would claim that Zeus was a local god, bound solely to one territory, community or family. Instead, those and other epithets express a link to different contexts, but without limiting the deity to that role.

If by this one sets aside certain theories that were put forward by some scholars and determines what Arentio and Arentia were not, there are still no certainties one what they were and hence what role they can have today. And so faced with the lack of concrete data, it is the rule of probability that offers the greatest degree of safety. Which in this case amounts to Olivares Pedreño’s model, based on a comparison with extra-Iberian divine pairs and the predominance of Apollo and Mercury among them, leading to the possibility that theirs was the sphere of influence of Arentio and Arentia: health and prosperity, protectors in both the private and public realm. Like Bormo and Bormana, Grannus and Sirona, Mercury and Rosmerta. And notice that even when the male element was equated with Mars, there are cases where his function was less military and more health or wealth-related. Take, for instance, Mars Smertrius and the goddess Ancamna or Mars Visucius and Visucia, for which there is also record of a Mercury Visucius (Adkins 2000: 145 and 241). This does not invalidate the etymology proposed by Prósper, since there is a connection between water and health, which could easily be extended to a much more general notion of well-being.

4. Ideas for a modern cult
Based on that hypothesis, one can more easily draw the outline of a modern cult. For festive dates, August 1st is a good option by way of Mercury’s equation with Lugh, though September 1st is equally valid given the etymology of the month’s name and Apollo’s connection to number seven. The same reasoning offers July as an additional possibility and then there’s also January, since it’s the start of the year and hence a good time to ask for health and success.

As for symbols, a fountain with twin piles of coins, two horns of plenty or a basket of fruit in the middle of two waterfalls are some of the possibilities. Regarding animals, a natural option are aquatic birds, since they are simultaneously fast and connected to water. The duck, the grebe and the kingfisher are obvious examples, especially the last one, as kingfishers are swift and already carry a symbolic connection to peace and prosperity, though the first two species are more often seen in pairs, which is also relevant in the case of Arentio and Arentia. The otter is another possibility and perhaps also the rabbit or hare, which while lacking a link to water, is still a symbol of swiftness, agility, fertility and luck. And then the seasonal behaviour of the chosen animal(s) can add new criteria when considering the festive dates.

Works cited
ADKINS, Lesley & Roy. 2000. Dictionary of Roman Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ALARCÃO, Jorge de. 2009. “A religião de lusitanos e calaicos”, in Conimbriga, volume 48. Coimbra: University of Coimbra, pages 81-121.

________. 2001. “Novas perspectivas sobre os Lusitanos (e outros mundos)”, in Revista Portuguesa de Arqueologia, volume 4, number 2. Lisbon: Instituto Português de Arqueologia, pages 293-349.

BLÁZQUEZ MARTÍNEZ, José María. 2006. “Últimas aportaciones a las religiones de Hispania. Teónimos II”, in Ilu: Revista de Ciencias de las Religiones, number 11. Madrid: Universidad Complutense, pages 205-235.

________. 2010. “Teónimos hispanos. Addenda y corrigenda VII”, in Palaeohispanica, volume 10. Zaragoça: Institución «Fernando el Católico», pages 503-523.

ENCARNAÇÃO, José d’. 2002. “O sexo dos deuses romanos”, in Scripta Antiqva, eds. Santos Crespo Ortiz de Zárate & Ángeles Alonso Ávila. Valladolid, pages 517-525.

________. 2008. “Octávio Veiga Ferreira – Percursos em Cascais e pela arqueologia clássica” in Estudos Arqueológicos de Oeiras, number 16. Oeiras: Câmara Municipal de Oeiras, pages 351-362.

________ & GUERRA, Amílcar. 2010. “The current state of research on local deities in Portugal”, in Celtic Religion across Space and Time, ed. J. Alberto Arenas-Esteban. Castilla-La Mancha: Consejería de Educación, Ciencia y Cultura de Castilla-La Mancha, pages 94-113.

LEITE DE VASCONCELOS, José. 1905. Religiões da Lusitânia, volume 2. Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional.

MARQUES LEITÃO, Manuel de Jesus. 2015. Religião e sociedade no concelho de Castelo Branco ao tempo dos romanos. Masters’ Dissertation on Studies of Heritage and Patrimony. Universidade Aberta, Departamento de Ciências Sociais e Gestão.

OLIVARES PEDREÑO, Juan Carlos. 2002. Los Dioses de la Hispania Céltica. Madrid: Real Academia de Historia; University of Alicante.

________ & RAMAJO CORREA, Luís Maria. 2013. “Un altar votivo procedente de Cilleros dedicado a los dioses lusitanos Arentia y Arentivs e preciosiones sobre otra inscripción votiva de Villamiel (Cáceres)”, in Veleia 30. Leioa: University of the Basque Country, pages193-203.

PRÓSPER, Blanca Maria. 2002. Lenguas y religiones prerromanas del occidente de la Península Ibérica. Salamanca: University of Salamanca.

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