Endovélico

Often dubbed today as god of the Lusitanians, sometimes even described as the most important in ancient Lusitania, it’s undeniable that Endovélico was popular and that today he enjoys a notoriety that places him above most Iberian deities. Yet these and other notions must be subjected to analysis, compared with what is historically known, so as to have an actual grasp of the religious importance. It’s not enough to simply echo what others say or think when faced with the number archaeological finds and, out of wonder, jump to a conclusion on Endovélico’s relevance.

1. Information
There are almost seventy known epigraphic pieces dedicated to Endovélico (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 229), adding to various fragments and even partially preserved statues. This means that he’s the most attested non-Latin native deity in the Roman world (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 91), though that doesn’t mean he was worshipped in a wide area, since virtually all the findings come from the small parish of Terena or its surroundings, in the Portuguese municipality of Alandroal. There are no known traces of his cult in the adjacent areas and what little dispersion there is can be easily explained by the actions of post-classical collectors or the use of archaeological pieces as building material. That is, for instance, the case of the two altars Leite de Vasconcelos found in the possession of a Silva Marques and of a few pieces taken to Vila Viçosa in the 16th century, presumably the same that were later used for the construction of an Augustinian church (1905: 112 and 123).

Some of the altars include depictions, namely of a pig or boar, palm leaf, a winged boy, a laurel wreath, a jar and a patera. To those iconographic clues on the nature and cult of Endovélico, one must add the content of the inscriptions, which feature formulas like ex imperator Averno (according to an infernal order), ex issu numinis (by order of the numen or deity), ex responsum (in response to), pro salute (for the health of) and ex visu (according to a vision), some with references to family members, like ex visu patris sui (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 229). It should also be noted that he’s often given the title of sanctus and there’s record of the expression praestantissimi et praesentissimi numinis (the most excellent and always present numen), which appears on an altar offered by a Roman eques or knight (Cardim Ribeiro 2009: 264). However, there are no references to epithets based on a placename. And just as with Bandua and Cosus, Endovélico’s name is written in various forms, of which Endovol(l)icus and Indovellicus are among the most common (Cardim Ribeiro 2009: 262).

The known inscriptions also offer clues on his worshippers. In particular, that those with indigenous names were a minority and that there’s a prevalence of Latin or Latinized individuals, including some with imperial names, suggesting they were of high social status, perhaps even members of the urban elites from Baetica and southern Lusitania. Something that’s also indicated by the quantity and quality of the archeological pieces, which show a strong Roman influence, perhaps indicating that those who commissioned or offered them were well integrated in classical society and possessed considerable wealth. Also, many of the worshippers were women and there’s even record of a few slaves (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 126-8).

As for the place of worship, it was probably located on a hill top where a chapel to Saint Michael was later constructed, though there’s no knowledge of how old the cult site is. It’s presumed to go back to pre-Roman times, if nothing else because the theonym appears to be Celtic, but the oldest surviving physical traces only go as far back as the 1st century (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 93-4). If there was an earlier structure, it did not leave identifiable traces. Yet it’s possible the site had only a sacred grove or rocky outcrop, without any relevant human intervention, and, as proposed by Cardim Ribeiro, it was only later that the area was organized and built on according to Greco-Roman models, making use of a natural area with a pre-existing religious significance (2009: 261). Also, judging from archaeological traces, the cult endured up until the 3rd century, perhaps the 4th, though there are hints that it may have survived all the way to the 5th (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 94).

Sites where traces of Endovélico’s cult (yellow) and Vélico’s (red) have been found. Map my own.

Finally, when I said there were virtually no traces of Endovélico’s cult outside the municipality of Alandroal, I was excluding two elements that, for some scholars, suggest he was worshipped elsewhere, namely in the Spanish province of Ávila and down south near Huelva. In the latter, there’s a hill called Andévalo, where a shine to Our Lady of the Rock stands, while in the former several altars to a god named Vélico were found, in an area known as Postoloboso (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 94). It is however far from certain that they can be classified as traces of a cult to Endovélico.

2. Interpretations
Throughout over one hundred years, various etymological hypotheses have been put forward by different scholars. The most popular and easily found online was suggested by Leite de Vasconcelos, who proposed that the theonym’s original form was Andevellicos, from *vello (best) and ande-, which the Portuguese author describes as “an intensive particle”, resulting in a name meaning “the most good” (1905: 125). Another possibility sees Endovélico as a corruption of Endobelicus, which could be divided as endo-beles, from Basque beltz (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 91), meaning “the most black” (Encarnação 2015: 182). Prospér’s hypothesis is more complex and decomposes the theonym as endo-well-ik-o, where the second element could mean “see” or “dominate”, by reference to a high point in the landscape (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 91). And Cardim Ribeiro, when considering the Romanization of the cult and how it may have influenced the god’s character and identity, refined Leite de Vasconcelo’s proposal and attributed to Endovélico the perhaps late meaning of “he who is benevolent, favourable or propitious” (2009: 263).

As for the variations of the theonym, they too have been explained in various ways. Encarnação supported the notion that the different spellings are a sign of the god’s great popularity, attracting people from multiple locations and with various dialects or accents that would impose themselves on how the theonym was written (2015: 185). But Cardim Ribeiro took a more complex approach and wondered about the impact Romanization may have had on not just religious practices, but also beliefs about Endovélico. And that process could have caused a reinterpretation of the divine name and hence its modulation by Romanized worshippers, particularly if one considers the high social status of many of them and how they may have adhered to Greco-Latin philosophical concepts. On that, Cardim Ribeiro notes the ideological programmes that are detectable in the construction and decoration of some of the region’s wealthy residences. So, for instance, the form Indovellicus may have been born out of the notion of endo- as meaning “inside”, paving the way for a junction with the Latin in and hence indu-. And he suggests the same for Endovol(l)icus, with the Celtic element vello or “good” being redefined by an association with the Latin voluntas or “will” (Cardim Ribeiro 2009: 261-3).

The main question, however, is that of the spheres of influence of Endovélico, with Leite de Vasconcelos suggesting he was a chthonic god, in particular a specialization of a terrestrial cult in the form of a mountain deity. He gives as evidence the pig that’s depicted in one of the altars and the link with health, which is shown not just by the formula pro salute, but also through references to visions or dreams, hinting at an incubation as part of the healing process (Leite de Vasconcelos 1905: 126-8). To those traces he adds a carving that, so he claims, depicts a hemiplegic man and a sculpture where someone holds a bird, which Vasconcelos wonders if it’s a rooster or a chicken (though it actually has no particular resemblance to those animals). There’s also the formula ex imperator Averno, suggesting a voice or sign from bellow (Leite de Vasconcelos 1905: 128-31). There are, however, dissenting opinions, such as Scarlat Lambrino, who rejected the interpretation of the male carving as that of a hemiplegic, instead seeing it as a depiction of the god himself. And the Romanian scholar went further, refusing Endovélico’s healing nature altogether, based on the presence of Asclepius’ cult in the region, which would make the former’s redundant, plus the absence of a sacred spring in the site of worship. Yet Lambrino saw merit in the idea of Endovélico as an infernal god, perhaps tied on one hand to the land and vegetation and, on the other, to the journey to the afterlife. In that sense, he noted the symbolic meaning of the boar, the palm leaf, the laurel wreath and the winged boy (Encarnação 2015: 183-4). Tovar also defended a link to life after death (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 92) and José d’ Encarnação agreed with the infernal hypothesis (2015: 185). But Toutain disagreed and suggested a nature akin to that of Baal or Jupiter by way of the connection to a hill top (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 228.2).

Since votive inscriptions reveal family ties of some of the worshippers, as in the text ex visu patris sui, but also pro Iuliam Marcellam filiam suam or mater, filiae sue, Olivares Pedreño wondered if Endovélico was a somewhat domestic god, unlike what appears to be the case with Bandua and Reve (2002: 229 and 230-1). If true, it’s not impossible that his cult was passed down from one generation to another and that Endovélico played the role of a personal or family patron (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 93).

This diversity of interpretations has lead to a variety of comparisons with other deities. Thus, Leite de Vasconcelos made an analogy with Asclepius and other gods he saw as simultaneously chthonic and healing (1905: 128), an idea he believed to be reinforced by the fact that the pre-Christian shrine was eventually replaced by a chapel to Saint Michael, himself a healer, even though both places of worship are a few centuries apart (Monteiro Teixeira 2014: 92). Lambrino suggested instead Sucellus (Encarnação 2015: 184) and Cardim Ribeiro opted for Faunus or Silvanus (2009: 261). Note that none of these hypotheses is based on an historically recorded equation, but solely on modern theories regarding Endovélico’s functions.

There seems to be greater certainty on his local nature. Leite de Vasconcelos calls him a numen loci, a protector of the region whose cult was circumscribed to it (1905: 125). Monteiro Teixeira echoes that (2014: 94) and the same goes for Prósper’s aforementioned etymological proposal, which derives the theonym from the mountain where the god was worshipped. The fact that there are no known cult traces outside the Alandroal does suggest that Endovélico was likely a deity who, however popular, remained attached to a specific location.

3. Work hypothesis
There are essentially two counter-arguments to the local-god interpretation. The first and weakest stresses the large quantity and quality of archaeological pieces, arguing that Endovélico must have been the most important deity in ancient Lusitania. But that is no more than a provincial astonishment at the size of things, which can be debunked quite easily and in various ways.

Firstly, popularity was not the same as importance or status within the pantheon. An excellent example of that is Silvanus, to whom there are more votive inscriptions than to Mithras, Isis, Serapis, Apollo, Diana, Asclepius, Venus and Mars (Dorcey 1992: 1). And yet, there’s no known temple, public festival, a single celebration that was paid or organized by the State or city and dedicated to Silvanus. There’s just a very abundant epigraphic record that indicates popularity, but not importance within the structure of the pantheon or the religion of an urban community. One could argue that, as a god of forests, Silvanus was naturally absent from city practices, which would indeed be a valid argument if not for Faunus, Ceres or Consus, all of them agricultural or rural deities, yet still with a place and day(s) of worship in the large urban space that was Rome.

Secondly, there is no known cult site to Endovélico beyond the parish of Terena and, as said, what little dispersion of material remains there is, it can be attributed to either their use as construction material or collectors. As far as we know, worshippers travelled to what today is the municipality of Alandroal and it was there that they fulfilled their vows and raised their ex-vota. They didn’t do it anywhere, in which case one would find altars and inscriptions to Endovélico elsewhere, but went through the trouble of going to a particular temple. And even if one wants to make a comparison with Apollo or Zeus, great Greek gods who were strongly connected to specific sites – Delfi and Olympia, respectively – their cults were not limited to those places. Quite the opposite, there were temples and shrines to Zeus and Apollo all over ancient Greece, which is exactly what one doesn’t have for Endovélico. That the archaeological traces are numerous and exquisite suggests only that the cult had the support of wealthy elites, though the exact reason for that is unclear. Perhaps it started with a vow or vision by a Roman or Romanized individual whose elevated social status led other members of the elites to follow suit. And this is all the more significant if one considers how native personal names are a minority in the epigraphic record, suggesting the cult was not particularly popular among the pre-Roman inhabitants of the region. And no matter how wealthy, important or influent Endovélico’s Latinized worshippers seem to have been, apparently that wasn’t enough to “move” the god from the hill where he was honoured.

Finally, there’s a third piece of evidence: the lack of epithets. Unlike Bandua, for which there known titles that link him to fortifications or communities – the god’s local aspect – the same cannot be said of Endovélico, who at best is called sanctus. Mind you, this is not an infallible sign of a local nature, since Ilurbeda too is without known epithets and despite the supra-regional distribution of her cult. But it’s certainly significant in the case of a god whose simultaneously without territorial titles and whose traces of worship are concentrated in a single place. Perhaps because he already was a local god and therefore had no need of an epithet that would thus be redundant. And here the case of Ataécina is highly significant, for she’s often referred to as Turibrigensi or of Turibriga, indicating she was tied to a community or place. But whereas her cult seems to have been moveable or at least the goddess was seen as having the ability to act outside a given location, taking with her an epithet that identified her roots, that doesn’t seem to have been Endovélico’s case, since he appears to have been worshipped in a single spot, as if theonym, origin and cult site were one and the same thing.

As for the strongest counter-argument to the local-god interpretation, it’s based on the altars to the god Vélico or Vaelicus found in the Spanish province of Ávila. However, that’s a long way from Terena, which is the first problem, because it’s hard to imagine that cult traces that are so highly concentrated in a single place can be connected to those found further inland and north of the river Tagus. And besides, there’s also an etymological mismatch, for despite the phonetic similarities between Vélico and Endovélico, the former is commonly derived from the Celtic *uailo- or “wolf” (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 231), a notion strengthened by the placename Postoloboso (wolf post), which is where Vélico’s altars were found. But for Endovélico, as seen, the proposals are rooted in other words. As for the hill Andévalo, in Huelva, so far there’s only a modern similarity of sounds, without any other piece of evidence that can substantiate a connection to Endovélico.

As such, my conclusion is that He was a local god, tied to a specific hill and strongly Romanized, perhaps even of limited importance before the Roman conquest of the region. In that regard, notice the inscription from Arronches, in the Portuguese district of Portalegre, which was written at least partly in a native language and mentions sacrifices to indigenous gods – Broineia, Bandua, Reve, Munis – one of them with a territorial epithet (Encarnação et al. 2008). And that particular piece of epigraphic evidence raises the possibility that, despite Endovélico’s popularity among Roman and Romanized individuals south of the Tagus, that doesn’t seem to have had a detrimental effect on the cult of other native gods among the, one assumes, more rustic and indigenous inhabitants of the region (Encarnação 2010: 30). And this goes against the status of greatest or most important Lusitanian god that is often attributed to Endovélico in books, articles and websites. There’s just too much astonishment at the amount and type of archaeological findings, too many hasty conclusions without looking at things like the location of the cult traces, the epithets or lack of, the identity of his worshippers, etc.

My work hypothesis is therefore that Endovélico is the god of the hill known today as São Miguel da Mota. Not in the sense of a celestial deity from a site that rises to the heavens, but of a Power that resides inside the small mountain and whose sphere of influence is of a chthonic nature: vegetation, the afterlife and health. As suggested by the ancient votive inscriptions, his nature is benevolent, but His cult is inevitably tied to the hill in which the god dwells. For those who live in the Alandroal municipality, that’s not a problem; but for those who reside elsewhere, worshipping Endovélico may require a journey, much like it seems to have been the case in the past.

4. Ideas for a modern cult
Based on the work hypothesis above, the choice of festive dates for Endovélico can have two criteria: the place, specifically the anniversary of important days in the history of the Alandroal municipality or the parish of Terena; and the personal reason, i.e. things like the fulfillment of a vow or the day you arrived on the sacred hill at the end of a pilgrimage.

As for the exact form of the cult – if infernal or just chthonic, with more or less taboos – that’s something that depends on the worshipper’s choice of tradition. And regarding symbols, there’s those inherited from the past, which may be used individually or combined in different ways.

Works cited
CARDIM RIBEIRO, José. 2009. “Terão certos teónimos paleohispânicos sido alco de interpretações (pseudo-)etimológicas durante a romanidade passíveis de se reflectirem nos respectivos cultos?”, in Palaeohispanica, volume 9. Zaragoça: Institución «Fernando el Católico», pages 247-270.

DORCEY, Peter. 1992. The cult of Silvanus: a study in Roman folk religion. Leiden: Brill.

ENCARNAÇÃO, José d’. 2015. Divindades indígenas sob o domínio romano em Portugal. Second edition. Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra.

________. 2010. “Divindade indígenas – os númenes das nossas raízes”, in Conversas à volta de Santana do Campo, org. Bruno Lopes. Lisboa: Apenas Livros, pages 29-38.

________; OLIVEIRA, Jorge de; CARNEIRO, André; TEIXEIRA, Claúdia. 2008. “Inscrição votiva em língua lusitana (Arronches, Portalegre)”, in Conimbriga, volume 47. Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra, pages 85-102.

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

MONTEIRO TEIXEIRA, Sílvia. 2014. Cultos e cultuantes no Sul do território actualmente português em época romana (sécs. I a. C. – III d. C.). Masters’ dissertation on Archaeology.. Lisboa: Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa.

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

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