Trebaruna

A goddess whose nature is unclear given the scarcity of data and despite some information on the occupation and religious practices of one of her ancient worshipers. Actually, far from enlightening, that particular piece of evidence creates confusion, forcing one to pick a work hypothesis that is perhaps more subjective than those presented here for other Iberian deities.

1. Information
The number of known votive inscriptions to Trebaruna is no larger than eight and almost all of them were found in the modern-day Portuguese inner Beira and Spanish province of Caceres. The sole exception is an altar discovered at great distance from all the others, in the coastal municipality of Cascais, where the goddess is named as Triborunni. Which is just one of several spelling variations, like Trebaronna, Trebarone and Trebaronne. There are however no known epithets apart from Aug[…] and A(…) in the area of Caceres, which may be Augusta (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 246). In the inscription from Cabeço de Fráguas, she’s mentioned alongside Reve and other lesser-known deities and is given a sheep (Prósper 1999: 153 and 165).

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

There’s not much more on Trebaruna and her cult. The only additional piece of information, even if not necessarily enlightening, is an altar to the goddess Victoria found by Leite de Vasconcelos in 1892 together with another dedicated to the Iberian goddess. And the connection between the two is more than a mere accident, since both altars were commissioned or raised by a Roman military called Tongius Tongetani. In the inscription to the native deity he calls himself miles – soldier – and Igaeditani, i.e. from a settlement now in the area of Idanha, Portugal, meaning he was indigenous to the region. But on the altar to Victoria that same man claims to be a v(eteranus) miles, indicating it was commissioned several years after the one to Trebaruna (Vasconcelos 1905: 295-9; Olivares Pedreño 2002: 245.2, n. 852).

2. Interpretations
The oldest etymological proposal is that of Arbois de Jubainville, which was reproduced by Leite de Vasconcelos and breaks drown the theonym into two parts: treba (house) and runa (secret) (1905: 300). This is by far the most common interpretation today, especially online, where it circulates thanks to the immediate and thus acritical reproduction of contents. It makes Trebaruna a domestic goddess, she of the secret of the home. But the world hasn’t stopped since Vasconcelos published his work in the early 20th century and other possibilities have been put forward in more recent times. For instance, Búa de Carvallo sought to connect the theonym to the Irish *trebar- or “wise”, attributing it the meaning of “people’s wisdom”, whereas Patrício Curado saw in the element -aruna or its variations a possible link with the Vedic Varuna and the Indo-Iranian Ahura and Aruna (Freitas Ferreira 2012: 73).

Curado’s suggestion is based on the decomposition of the theonym into treb- and -aruna, which differs from Jubainville and Vasconcelos’ hypothesis, thus setting aside the fascination with the notion of rune and secret, adding to the fact that treb- can mean more than just “house” and stand as well for “city”, “settlement” or “village” (Freitas Ferreira 2012: 58-9). Prósper agreed and proposed for -aruna an origin in *arunis, which can be found in river names and has Indo-Europeans parallels with the notion of movement, allowing for the possibility that Trebaruna actually means something like “village fountain” (Blanca Prósper 1999: 165-8). Alternatively, it can also stand for “goddess who lives in the stream or fountain”, which was supported by Francisco Villar (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 246.1). She would thus be a watery deity, a possibility José d’Encarnação agreed with, stressing the fact that the altar from Cascais was discovered near a local stream and that the theonym may be connected to the Indo-European *Her-/*Horun- or “current” (Fontes Ferreira 2012: 73). And Olivares Pedreño, following Villar and Prósper, also mentions that, in the Germanic languages, the root *runis is present in words with a watery meaning, as in the case of the Gothic runs (flux, current) and the Old English ryne (current) (2002: 246.1).

The etymological analysis naturally made way for ideas on Trebaruna’s nature and functions. So, if Leite de Vasconcelos saw her as being originally a penate of sorts (1905: 301), Lambrino noted the present of trebo- in communal names, putting forward the idea that she was a tutelary goddess of one or more tribes (Encarnação 2015: 290). The same goes for Marques Leitão, who rejected the aquatic interpretation – at least in the case of the altars from the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco – and saw Trebaruna as a deity of a settlement (2015: 122). Alarcão was equally sceptical of a watery nature, even noting with some irony that, for Prósper, everything seems to be a river deity. Instead, he opted for the domestic hypothesis, thus adding greater diversity to the regional Lusitanian pantheon by making Trebaruna an equivalent of Hestia (Alarcão 2009: 106).

Still, the possibility of an aquatic character is reinforced by the votive inscription from Oliva de Plasencia, in the Spanish province of Caceres, assuming that the reading by Marta González Herrero is correct. She claims that the pieces may have been part of a building that was part of the local water supply, similar to others where, apart from a practical function, there was also a degree of sacralisation, perhaps even with a small temple or shrine (González Herrero 2002: 426). She gives examples, though none of them refers to Trebaruna (González Herrero 2002: 428-9), and while she doesn’t mention it, she could have added a piece from the Roman city of Conimbriga (Portugal), where an inscription to a Remetibus Aug(…) was found in the local baths next to another dedicated to the Lares Aquites (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 50.1). And note the presence of the epithet Aug(…), similar to what happens with Trebaruna in Oliva de Plasencia and which, so González Herrero claims, amounts to public importance. Which wouldn’t be surprising since, if the hypothesis is correct, she would be an aquatic goddess whose local cult was linked to water supply (González Herrero 2002: 427).

However, the question of Trebaruna’s functions is made more complex by the two altars dedicated by the soldier Tongius Tongetani, since they suggest an equation with Victoria, in which case both the domestic and aquatic interpretations would have to be reviewed. In that sense, Leite de Vasconcelos spoke of Trebaruna as have been “originally” a penate, but with a later evolution in her protective role, which came to include a military function (1905: 301). Again, this is what can be commonly found online. Olteanu too suggested a warrior nature, comparing it to the Celtic Morrigan (2008: 207). But despite the fact that both altars were raised by the same person, there are scholars who argue that that alone is not enough to conclude that the two goddesses were syncretized. Lambrino was one such voice, noting the likely chronological hiatus of several years between the two pieces, arguing that the oldest expressed the religious beliefs of a native still attached to his indigenous traditions, whereas the later altar was born of his Romanization in the army, where Tongius Tongetani simply acquired new habits and practices (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 245.2). However, Olteanu stressed the full coincidence between sites of votive inscriptions to Trebaruna and Victoria in the Iberian inland, suggesting that there was indeed an assimilation or an expansion of the cult of the Roman goddess through a syncretic connection to the Iberian one (2008: 220-1).

Finally, did Trebaruna have a divine partner? The inscription from Cabeço de Fráguas suggests she did, assuming António Tovar was correct when he claimed that the text organizes the deities into pairs, in which case Trebaruna would be coupled with Reve (Blázquez Martínez 2009: 56). And certainly, the god’s incomplete epithet in that same inscription, where Reve is called Tre[…], does make it plausible that he was connected to Trebaruna. Olivares Pedreño agreed and suggested they were paired, arguing not just based on the text from Cabeço de Fráguas, but also the aquatic reading of the theonym (2002: 246). However, it should be noted that, judging from the archaeological traces, the two deities weren’t generally worshipped in the same areas, so if they were a couple, that would have been the case solely in the Portuguese inner Beira. North of the river Douro, Reve would have had other partners, if any.

3. Work hypothesis
It’s hard to choose from different theories when there’s no obvious contact point between them. In other words, there’s no harmonizing concept, animal or plant that can gather a simultaneously aquatic, domestic and military symbolism and thus sum up Trebaruna’s nature in a coherent fashion. In Reve’s case, that role is performed by the mountain, which is both the meeting point of the sky and earth and the place where large rivers are born; for Bandua, the harmonizing element is his apotropaic character; for Endovélico the chthonic interior of a large hill; and for Quangeio, the dog with all its layers of meaning. But for Trebaruna? It’s complicated…

The etymological hypothesis that makes her a goddess of the village fountain seems solid enough to gather significant support among scholars, but if that translates into an aquatic nature, one cannot ignore the virtual lack of epithets. Because unlike Endovélico’s, traces of Trebaruna’s cult are not fully concentrated in a single site, so one cannot argue that the lack of titles is the result of she being worshipped in just one location. Or that her cult had less to do with settlements and communities and more with work places, as in the case of Ilurbeda. If Prósper’s etymological proposal is correct, Trebaruna was indeed linked to human settlements. But why then the virtual absence of epithets that would express a diverse local connection? The answer may well be that she was above all a domestic goddess, though it’s true she also lacks titles related to individual or family names and even though there are examples of that for other deities. Take Araco, known from a single votive inscription from Lisbon’s district where he’s called Arantoniceo, which may come from a person’s given or surname (Olivares Pedreño 2002: 62.2).

However, note that ancient houses generally had no piped water. Supply was made through fountains where people collected water using jars, meaning that the goddess who presided over the proper functioning and cleanliness of a house and its inhabitants could naturally be that of the local fountain. Which, by association, would make her a domestic deity as well. Or to use Jorge de Alarcão’s line of reasoning (2009: 106), if Greeks and Roman homes were symbolized by the hearth, pre-Roman Lusitanians may have awarded that role to the local fountain – or well or river – where villagers collected their water.

This is a purely speculative possibility and it’s not without problems. Because if one assumes as correct that Trebaruna was identified with Victoria, one has to wonder how and why. Perhaps, as suggested by Leite de Vasconcelos, it was an extension of the protective role of a domestic goddess, maybe even an apotropaic function like Bandua’s, who appears to have been associated with Mars in some instances. Or maybe there was something in Trebaruna’s iconography that led to a formal equation with Victoria, though this is purely speculative, since there are no surviving depictions of the goddess. As for a connection with Reve, that’s easier to explain: if he’s a weather god responsible for rains and floods, it would make sense to pair him with a goddess whose fountains depend on the natural availability of water.

Does this means that there’s an overlap with Nabia? Certainly, although one could argue that Trebaruna’s sphere of influence was limited to human settlements. But even if that’s not the case, judging by the archaeological remains, the two goddesses’ cult areas hardly overlapped, which highlights what was said in point 2 of the general notions.

4. Ideas for a modern cult
based on the work hypothesis of Trebaruna as a domestic goddess, linked not the hearth like Hestia or Vesta, but to the local fountain or water supply, what are her modern feast days and symbols?

The best dates are perhaps anniversaries, of both the house and its inhabitants, or the transition from one season to another, marking out stages in domestic cycles like Spring cleaning. And as an aquatic goddess, Trebaruna’s offerings can be collected in a bowl of water – and tap water will do fine, since it’s modern version of a fountain – to later be poured into potted plants or house garden and just as offerings to Hestia or Vesta were burned in the hearth. Which obviously means that offerings should be fully biodegradable.

For plants, I’d say lavender is a good option, and regarding animals there’s the farm or domestic goose, which is linked to both house and water and is used in some parts much like a watch dog, which gives it an apotropaic meaning as well.

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

BLÁZQUEZ MARTÍNEZ, José María. 2009. “Teónimos hispanicos. Addenda y corrigenda. V”, in Palaeohispanica, volume 9. Zaragoça: Institución «Fernando el Católico», pages 39-61.

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

FREITAS FERREIRA, Daniela F. de. 2012. Memória colectiva e formas representativas do (espaço) religioso. Master’s Dissertation in Arcaheology, Porto: Faculdade de Letras, Universidade do Porto.

GONZÁLEZ HERRERO, Maria. 2002. “M. Fidius Fidi f. Quir(ina) Macer, benefactor en Capera”, in Gerión, volume 20, number 1. Madrid: Universidad Complutense, pages 417-433.

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

MARQUES LEITÃO, Manuel de Jesus. 2015. Religião e sociedade no concelho de Castelo Branco ao tempo dos romanos. Master’s Dissertation in Heritage Studies. Universidade Aberta, Departamento de Ciências Sociais e Gestão.

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

OLTEANU, Teodora. 2008. “El culto a Victoria y la interpretatio indígena en el occidente de Hispania, Galia y el norte de Britania”, in BSAA arqueología, volume 74. Valladolid, Universidad de Valladolid, pages 197-224.

PRÓSPER, Blanca María. 1999. “The inscription of Cabeço de Fráguas resited. Lusitanian and alteuropäisch populations in the west of the Iberian Peninsula”, in Transactions of the Philological Society, volume 97:2. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, pages 151-183.