Bandua is one of the most hotly-debated Iberian deities, for while the theonym is abundantly recorded in western Iberia, it has multiple variations that make its etymology and identity unclear, including whether it’s one or multiple gods. Not even its gender is certain, thanks to contradictory evidence.

1. Information
There are thirty-five known altars with the theonym ban-, not all of them unanimously accepted by scholars. There are six others solely with a name that’s an epithet of Bandua in pieces found close by, suggesting they were dedicated to the same god and thus raising the number of votive inscriptions to forty-one. An additional three also contain known epithets, but were discovered further apart from other findings (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 165; but see Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 78 for different numbers). Finally, a more recent piece was found in Arronches, in the Portuguese district of Portalegre, where a text records a sacrifice to Bandua and other deities, which brings to total number of votive inscriptions to forty-two (Encarnação et al. 2008: 99-100).

As said, the theonym was written in various fashions, from Bandia, Band and Bandu to Bane, Bandue and Bandua. The area where the pieces were discovered is also vast, ranging from Galicia in the north all the way to the Alentejo down south, with two findings further east in the areas of Toledo and Zaragoza, which hints at an important supra-regional god, common to Lusitanians, Callaeci, Vettones, Celts and Celtiberians. And with a high number of inscriptions comes a long list of epithets, also with spelling variations: Apuluseaeco, Roudeaco, Roudaeco, Bolecco, Lansbricae, Picio, Oilienaico, Isibraiegui, to name just some.

Sites where traces of Bandua's cult have been found. Map my own.

Sites where traces of Bandua’s cult have been found. Map my own.

Apart from the just over forty pieces, there’s also an altar that was found in Galicia, in Rairiz de Vega (Orense), where Bandua is mentioned together with a Roman deity, assuming the text is correctly read as deo vexillor(um) Martis socio Banduae – to the god of the flags of Mars, companion of Bandua (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 88; Blázquez Martínez 1998: 258). If genuine, it’s the sole finding where both gods are linked. However, another piece, a patera or dish found further south, in the Spanish province of Caceres, shows something very different: a seemingly feminine figure with a walled crown, holding a horn of plenty, and in a religious act, surrounded by four altars and what appears to be a tree, with the inscription Band(uae) Araugel(ensi). And it’s that figure, which resembles depictions of the Roman goddesses Fortuna and Tutela (Hoz Bravo & Fernández Palacios 2002: 46.2), that raises doubts not just on Bandua’s supposed military nature, but also the gender of the deity, if male or female, despite most of the inscriptions indicating the former (Blázquez Martínez 1998: 256-8).

The patera from the Spanish region of Caceres.

The patera from the Spanish province of Caceres.

2. Interpretations
There’s no consensus on the etymology of Bandua, in part because there’s also no certainty on which variation of the theonym corresponds to the basic form. A popular hypothesis that goes back to the 19th century derives it from *bhendh or “to tie, bind” (Hoz Bravo & Fernández Palacios 2002: 47.2), but more recent proposals diverge from that idea. Thus, Prósper suggested *gwem-tu – to go, come – which was rejected by Bascuas, who preferred *band- or “fountain”, based on hydronyms like the rivers Bandugia, Bandova/Bandoiva and Bandoxa, together with the placename Ponte do Banduge (Bridge of Banduge), among other examples (Bascuas 2007: 50-2). Further hypothesis include *bend – top, summit – ,*gwn-deiw or “woman-god” (Hoz Bravo & Fernández Palacios 2002: 47.2), a link with the Sanskrit bandhuh or “family relation” (Redentor 2008: 111), the notions of “prohibit” or “command” (Encarnação 2015: 120) and also bhandate, “to glow or shine” (Alarcão 2009: 99). There is so much uncertainty, that even the supposed Indo-European origin of the theonym has been questioned (Freitas Ferreira 2012: 79-80).

The disparity of etymological proposals has been matched by a variety of theories on the nature of Bandua. Prósper’s suggestion, which traces the name to the idea of movement, would make Him a deity closely related to the Lares Viales (Blázquez Martínez 2006: 223). Alarcão, however, believes He had a celestial character like Zeus or Jupiter (2009: 99), while some have also seen Bandua as a god of war or fortified communities (Freitas Ferreira 2012: 79). Olivares Pedreño agreed with the latter and suggested Bandua was identical to Mars based on the abundance of epithets with the suffix -briga, the apparent popularity of the god outside large Romanized urban centers and the frequency with which Mars was equated with protectors of Gallo-Roman communities (2002: 152-7). He added to those clues the piece from Rairiz de Vega, where Bandua features as a companion of Mars, though the authenticity of the inscription has been questioned (Hutardo 2004: 30-1). Olivares Pedreño rejected any doubts, quoting Rodriguez Colmenero, who among other arguments mentions another altar from the same area and dedicated to Bandua by a soldier (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 87-8).

The issue of the nature and hence functions of this deity is made even more complex by the discussion on the scope of the theonym, since there are those who argue that Bandua was actually a common word for god or genius and that it was the epithet that expressed individuality (Hoz Bravo & Fernández Palacio 2002: 46.1). Which, if true, would mean that most of the archaeological findings refer to multiple deities, not just one. There’s also the issue of Bandua’s gender, since the depiction on the Spanish patera suggests not only that he was actually a she, but also that Bandua was equated with Fortuna or Tutela, making it a local deity of the community or groups of its inhabitants, just like so many Lares and local genii (Blázquez Martínez 2006: 211; Hoz Bravo & Fernández Palacio 2002: 46.2). This hypothesis was opposed to by Jorge de Alarcão (2009: 99) and José d’ Encarnação (2010: 528-9), as well as F. Marco, who defended that the theonym was that of a single god whose male gender is indicated by that of the epithets and whose function would have been that of protector, thus explaining His identification with Tutela (Blázquez Martínez 1998: 258).

The meaning of the epithets is actually yet another area of contention. For instance, Prósper saw Apolosego as being “He of victory” and Veigebreaego as “of the horses or chariot” (Alarcão 2009: 89-90), while Olivares Pedreño notes the element -breaego or –briga in the latter, thus deriving it from a placename (2002: 152.2). Which is curious, since Prósper’s interpretation would have confirmed the martial nature of Bandua defended by Pedreño, even more so because the altar where Veigebreaego features was dedicated by a soldier. For Brialeacus, Malunaicus and Verubricus, a hypothesis reads them as meaning “high or superior”, which Alarcão uses the support his interpretation of Bandua as an Iberian Jupiter, adding Vordeaicus, which he translates as “high or of the high ground” from *werdh- (2009: 99). But this latter epithet has also been read as coming from the name of a place or community (Freitas Ferreira 2012: 77), something that’s also suggested to many more of Bandua’s titles (Blázquez Martínez 2006: 221-2). And note the epithet Isibraiegui, whose origin may lie in a settlement or community, but which is also awarded to Mercury on an altar where He’s called Esibraeco, suggesting a further equating, in this case of Bandua with the god of travallers and traders (Freitas Ferreira 2010: 77).

Finally, there are also theories that try to explain the variations of the theonym regionally, namely by proposing that they were the product of different accents. Specifically, it’s been noted that the form bandue is prevalent north of the river Douro, in ancient Callaecia, whereas bande/ei/i is common in Roman Lusitania (Redentor 2008: 115). At the heart of those regional accents, apart from the distance and cultural differences, there may have been difficulties in the use of the Latin script to express native languages or the persistence of archaisms in the Latinization of the Iberian west (Freitas Ferreira 2012: 76). That idea was picked up by Marques Leitão, who defended that the regional variations of the theonym do not preclude the fundamental unity of the deity, which he believes to be male (2015: 114). On that note, here’s another possibility on the gender of Bandua: it has been suggested that the pre-Roman language of north-western Iberian had identical endings for male and female (Hoz Bravo & Fernández Palacios 2002: 46.1), which would open the door for a contradictory equation with Roman deities, sometimes as a god, sometimes as a goddess. And also based on spelling variations of the theonym, some speculate that the cult of Bandua originated in northern Iberia and later expanded south into Lusitania (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 78).

3. Work hypothesis
It’s not easy to reach a conclusion when faced with such a diversity of opinions and possibilities on almost everything regarding Bandua. That’s why, perhaps in a more obvious fashion than with other Iberian gods, I’ll have to opt for one thesis over others before putting forward ideas for a modern cult.

Beginning with the topic of syncretism, it should be noted that equating was not a simple or straightforward process, rather a complex and sometimes contradictory one. A classical example is the identification of the Egyptian Bast with the Greek Artemis (Herodotus, Histories 2:137), despite the fact that the former is a goddess of lust and love whereas the latter is a virgin. And this was so because syncretism is based on resemblances while ignoring the differences. In this case, Bast’s protective role, which is connected to Her feline identity and cats’ habit of hunting rats, was what allowed Her to be identified with the huntress Artemis, even if they’re different from each other in virtually everything else. And as such, there’s nothing new or even odd about a god being equated with different deities depending on which resemblance people focus on.

That’s exactly what one finds in the Roman-Celtic world. For instance, in England, in what today is Lydney, there a was shrine to the god Nodens, who appears to have been linked to water, hunt and health, at least judging by the archaeological traces, which include inscriptions where he was equated with Mars, Silvanus and Neptune (Green 2011: 147-8). The same happened with Visucius, who was worshipped in Gaul and Germania and was identified with either Mars or Mercury (Adkins 2000: 241). And even when only one deity is syncretized, it’s not always in a way one may find obvious: Lenus, a Celtic god of health, was equated with Mars, as was Condatis, and then there’s Mars Risigamus, a name that may mean “king of kings” or “high king”, which would be more appropriate for Jupiter (Adkins 2000: 143 and 145). Consider also Mars Olloudius, who’s represented with two horns of plenty and was seemingly linked to the local genii (Green 2011: 107). And at the heart of these apparently odd equations were perhaps iconographic or symbolic similarities, but also Mars’ role as a protector, which would be seen in a very wide manner. That is to say that he was deemed a defender not just in the strict sense of a god of war, but also, for instance, against disease, making him a granter of prosperity (Green 2011: 146). A role which, by the way, he already possessed in Rome, although we tend to ignore it given our excessive focus on his military side. Just read Cato’s De Agricultura 141, where you’ll find the description of a sacrifice to Mars where He’s asked for protection against disease, infertility and bad weather and blessings of prosperity, safe-keeping of the flocks and health to those who inhabit the farm. All things that we would normally neglect due to our limited view of Mars as a war god.

This goes to show that Bandua’s equation with Tutela or Fortuna in the Spanish patera doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a she, but that, for an individual of a Romanized community, the god’s function resembled that of those two goddesses and thus he was equatable with them. Even if that meant a gender contradiction, much like Bast’s identification with Artemis contradicted the virginity of the latter or the lustfulness of the former. Because syncretism is a matter of focus on the resemblances while ignoring the differences. Hence, one can easily reject the zero-sum logic by which either Bandua was identified with Tutela/Fortuna or with Mars, as if one thing prevented the other. That’s not what happened with Nodens or Visucius, meaning an Iberian god could have been equated differently depending on the individual or communities.

One can also reject the idea that a martial god could not preside over fortune, prosperity and protection, because Mars Olloudius and Cato’s words show that it was possible, that the same deity could have those roles. The problem with some modern scholars is that they to make an excessive use of Dumézil’s three functions theory and as a result see things in an unnecessarily rigid fashion, if not a flagrantly incorrect one. And it’s hard to see how band- could be a common word for god based on things like the Spanish patera, a univocal and simplistic view of syncretism or an abundance of epithets related to placenames. Just look at the number of local or regional titles that were awarded to Greek gods, not because Zeus or Apollo were common names for dozens of different deities, but because those epithets expressed specific roles tied to either places or functions.

As such, rather than following a reductive theory, I opted for a more comprehensive hypothesis. Specifically, that of Bandua as a protector of the community, not just in the military sense, but also with regard to the preservation of social and family ties, health and the overall prosperity of the population. This combines the different aspects that are identifiable with Tutela, Mars and possibly Mercury, while keeping a connection to hills and other high places, not because I see Bandua as a celestial god, but as a deity of fortified sites. Places like castles or towers, which were traditionally built on high ground and were – and in many cases still are – a symbol of both the community and its survival, often because they were the place where people sought refuge or the site from where settlements grew into cities. This makes Bandua a warrior god, but not simply of war, which is to say that he’s an apotropaic deity whose role is not limited to the battlefield, but who fights against anything that threatens the community. And that includes the literal sense of invading troops, but also misfortune, disasters, disease, internal strife and the dissolution of communal life. In short, the god who unites, who keeps things whole, though not just soldiers or war bands.

4. Ideas for a modern cult
With that in mind, the choice of festive days for Bandua may be dictated by the history of the community he’s asked to protect. For example, the founding of the city or country or the anniversary of a fundamental event that ensured its survival or laid the foundations of its prosperity. And he should be given a corresponding epithet or, for greater precision, one can add a second title for the specific purposes of a sacrifice. For instance, Bandua Portuense as a local aspect of Bandua that protects the city of Porto in a general way, worshipped on July 14 (day of the municipal charter of 1123), and Bandua Portuense Soter or Saviour in the event of a natural disaster or another emergency that calls for the quick assistance to the inhabitants of the city.

The god’s tutelage can also apply to whole regions, districts or countries. As with the case of Porto, it naturally results in a modern development of the cult, because generally speaking the political identities of today did not exist in the Roman or pre-Roman periods. But if the goal is to breathe new life into old cults that allows them to prosper in the modern world, then it’s perfectly legitimate to worship Bandua with an epithet like Portugalensis or Portuguese – protective god of Portugal. It won’t be an exclusive title, since it can be awarded to other deities, and the same god can be attached to other nationalities. But it’s certainly a way to give modern life to a cult that was last practiced openly more than one thousand years ago, when things were very different from today.

As for symbols and animals, the ox is a possibility, given that it’s closely related to the bull and represents both prosperity and strength. From Mars one can get the woodpecker and perhaps add the ram, which is simultaneously an inhabitant of high ground and a symbol of defensive combat. One can also use a shield, perhaps with a depiction of one of those animals or at least a walled crown – like in the coat of arms of every Portuguese municipality – and superimposed on a tree as a symbol of communal life.

Works cited
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