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Belenus (Gaulish: Belenos, Belinos) is an ancient Celtic healing-god. The cult of Belenus stretched from the Italian Peninsula to the British Isles, with a main sanctuary located at Aquileia, on the Adriatic coast. Through interpretatio romana, Belenus was often identified with Apollo, although his cult seems to have preserved a certain degree of autonomy during the Roman period.[1][2]



The theonym Belenus or Belinus, which is a Latinized form of the Gaulish Belenos, appears in some 51 inscriptions. Although most of them are located in Aquileia, the main centre of his cult, dedications have been also found in places where Celtic speakers lived in ancient times, including in Gauls, Noricum, Illyria, and the British Islands. The widespread attestation of Bellenus among ancient Celtic peoples suggests of a Common Celtic origin of the cult.[3]

Known variants include Belinu, Bellinus, and Belus.[4] The god was also known in Ireland and Britain by the names Bel, Belinos, Beli, or Bile,[5] and appears on coins of the Welsh leader Belyn o Leyn, who died in 627 AD.[3] Furthermore, the river name Bienne attests of a Gaulish feminine form *Belenā.[6]


The etymology of the name remains unclear. It has been traditionally translated as the 'bright one' or the 'shining one', by deriving the name from a Proto-Indo-European root *bʰelH-, interpreted as 'white, shining' (cf. Lith. báltas 'white', Grk φαλόσ phalós 'white', Arm. bal 'pallor', Goth. bala 'grey'). This theory was encouraged by the interpretatio romana of Belenos as the 'Gaulish Apollo', a divinity with sun attributes.[7][6]

However, this etymology has come under increasing criticism in recent scholarship. Xavier Delamarre notes the proposed cognates stemming from *bʰelH- do not seem to connote 'shining', but rather 'pale white, grey', and suggests to derive Belenos from the Gaulish root belo- ('strong, powerful') attached to the suffix -nos ('lord, master'), which would lead to Belenos as the 'Master of Power'.[6] Peter Schrijver has also argued that Belenos might be an o-stem of the Indo-European root *bʰel-, designating the henbane (cf. Welsh bela, Germanic *bel(u)nōn, Slav. *bъlnъ), a psychoactive plant which was known as belenuntia in Gaulish and as apollinaris in Latin.[8] The 19th-century attempt to link the variant Bel with the Phoenician Baal is now widely rejected by modern scholars.[4]

Related terms[edit]

A village now part of the municipality of Aquileia is still named Beligna.[3] A tribal leader of pre-Roman Britain was named Cunobelinos, which possibly means 'Hound of Belenos'.[9][4] The British variant of the name is also the source for the Billingsgate ward in London, and possibly of the fountain of Belenton (now Bérenton) in the Brocéliande forest in Brittany.[5][4] The names of the Welsh and Irish ancestor-figures Beli Mawr and Bile may also be related.[4][10]

The Gaulish term belenuntia (Βελενούντιαν), which designated the henbane, a hallucinogenic plant also known in Latin as apollinaris, is a derivative form of Bellenos.[11][12] The variant belenion, cited as a poisonous plant by Pseudo-Aristotle, appears to be the source of the Spanish beleno ('henbane').[12] The Gallo-Roman belisa could have been borrowed into Old High German as bilisa (cf. modern German Bilsenkraut 'henbane').[3] Henbane was commonly used in antiquity for medicinal purposes, providing further evidence of Belanos' healing attributes.[13] A shallow stone dish found in Saint-Chamas (south of France) and dedicated to Beleino could have been used to hold hallucinogenic substances.[3]

The goddess Belisama, whose named appears to be built on the root bel(o)- ('strong, powerful') attached to the intensifying suffix -isama, has been translated as 'Very Powerful', and the personal name Bellovesus as 'Worthy of Power', from bello- attached to uesus ('worthy, good, deserving').[6]


In ancient Gaul and Britain, Apollo may have been equated with fifteen or more different names and epithets (notably Grannos, Borvo, Maponus, Moritasgus and others).[14]

An epithet of Belenus may have been Vindonnus. Apollo Vindonnus had a temple at Essarois near Châtillon-sur-Seine in Burgundy. The sanctuary was based on a curative spring. Part of the temple pediment survives, bearing an inscription to the god and to the spirit of the springs and, above it, the head of a radiate sun-deity. Many votive objects were brought to the shrine, some of oak, and some of stone. Some offerings take the form of images of hands holding fruit or a cake; others represent the parts of the body requiring a cure. In many cases the pilgrims appear to have suffered from eye afflictions.[15]

Historical cult[edit]

There are 51 known inscriptions dedicated to Belenus, mainly concentrated in Cisalpine Gaul (Aquileia/Carni), Noricum and Gallia Narbonensis, but also extend far beyond into Celtic Britain and Iberia.[14][16][17]

Images of Belenus sometimes show him to be accompanied by a female, thought to be the Gaulish deity Belisama.[17] He may also have been accompanied by a female deity named Beléna, Beléstis, Beléstis Augústa, Beléstris or Belínca, a deity of light and health.[18]

Tertullian, writing in c. 200 AD, identifies Belenus as the national god of Noricum. Inscriptions dedicated to Belenus are concentrated in the Eastern Alps and Gallia Cisalpina, but there is evidence that the popularity of the god became more widespread in the Roman period. The third-century emperors Diocletian and Maximian each dedicated an inscription to Belenus in the region of Aquileia. A further 6 votive inscriptions of Belenus were discovered at Altinum, Concordia and Iulium Carnicum [it].[19] The soldiers of Maximinus Thrax, who laid siege to Aquileia in 238, reported seeing an appearance of the god defending the city from the air.[20]

He was associated with the horse (as shown by the clay horse figurine offerings at Belenos's Sainte-Sabine shrine in Burgundy) and also the wheel. Perhaps like Apollo, with whom he became identified in the Augustan History,[14] Belenos was thought to ride the Sun across the sky in a horse-drawn chariot.[21]


Professor Monika Kropej states that Belenus was "incorporated" into Slovenian folklore as two figures: a powerful healer (in Gorizia and Tolmin regions) and possibly as the beliči of Slovenian fairy lore.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schrijver 1999, p. 24: "Apart from the association with the Roman Apollo, little is known about the function and significance of Belenos (Pauly Wissowa s. v. Belenus). He is probably associated with medicine."
  2. ^ Birkhan 2006, p. 195: "Celtic deity whose name is often connected with the Graeco-Roman god Apollo (see interpretatio romana), although the cult of Belenos seems to have preserved a degree of independence ... Belenus was often identified with Apollo and seen as a typical Karnian oracle- and health-giving deity."
  3. ^ a b c d e Birkhan 2006, p. 195.
  4. ^ a b c d e MacKillop 2004, s.v. Belenus.
  5. ^ a b Leeming 2005, p. 48.
  6. ^ a b c d Delamarre 2003, p. 72.
  7. ^ Schrijver 1999, pp. 24–25.
  8. ^ Schrijver 1999, pp. 24–25, 27.
  9. ^ Schrijver 1999, p. 27–28.
  10. ^ Schrijver 1999, pp. 30–34, 39–40.
  11. ^ Schrijver 1999, p. 27.
  12. ^ a b Delamarre 2003, p. 71.
  13. ^ Schrijver 1999, p. 26.
  14. ^ a b c Nicole Jufer & Thierry Luginbühl (2001). Les dieux gaulois : répertoire des noms de divinités celtiques connus par l'épigraphie, les textes antiques et la toponymie. Paris: Editions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-200-7.
  15. ^ Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. Miranda Green. Thames and Hudson Ltd. London. 1997
  16. ^ Roman Inscriptions of Britain Archived July 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine (RIB 611).
  17. ^ a b Koch, John T. (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, Inc. ISBN 1-85109-440-7.
  18. ^ a b Kropej, Monika. Supernatural beings from Slovenian myth and folktales. Ljubljana: Institute of Slovenian Ethnology at ZRC SAZU. 2012. p. 217. ISBN 978-961-254-428-7
  19. ^ Maier, Bernhard (2012). Geschichte und Kultur der Kelten. C.H.Beck.
  20. ^ Helmut Birkhan, Kelten. Versuch einer Gesamtdarstellung ihrer Kultur, p. 583.
  21. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-04-26. Retrieved 2014-07-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)