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Image of Esus on the Gallo-Roman Pillar of the Boatmen, first century CE

Esus,[1] Esos,[2] Hesus,[3] or Aisus[4][5] was a Celtic god who was worshipped primarily in ancient Gaul and Britain. He is known from two monumental statues and a line in Lucan's Bellum civile.


T. F. O'Rahilly derives the theonym Esus, as well as Aoibheall, Éibhleann, Aoife, and other names, from the Proto-Indo-European root *eis-, which he glosses as 'well-being, energy, passion'.[6]

The personal name Esunertus ('strength of Esus') occurs in a number of Gallo-Roman inscriptions,[7] including one votive inscription dedicated to Mercury,[8][9] while other theophoric given names such as Esugenus ('born from Esus') are also attested.[10] It is possible that the Esuvii of Gaul, in the area of present-day Normandy, took their name from this deity.[11][a] The name also occurs on a Celtic gold coin dated c. 50 BC.[13]


The two sculptures where Esus appears are the Pillar of the Boatmen from among the Parisii, on which Esus is identified by name,[1] and a pillar from Trier among the Treveri with similar iconography.[14][15] In both of these, Esus is portrayed cutting branches from trees with his axe.[15] Esus is accompanied, on different panels of the Pillar of the Boatmen, alongside Tarvos Trigaranus (the ‘bull with three cranes’), Jupiter, Vulcan, and other gods.

Written sources[edit]

A well-known section in Lucan's Bellum civile (61–65 CE) refers to gory sacrifices offered to a triad of Celtic deities: Teutates, Hesus (an aspirated form of Esus), and Taranis.[3] Variant spellings, or readings, of the name Esus in the manuscripts of Lucan include Hesus, Aesus, and Haesus.[10] Among a pair of later commentators on Lucan's work, one identifies Teutates with Mercury and Esus with Mars. According to the Berne Commentary on Lucan, human victims were sacrificed to Esus by being tied to a tree and flogged to death.[16]

The Gallic medical writer Marcellus of Bordeaux may offer another textual reference to Esus in his De medicamentis, a compendium of pharmacological preparations written in Latin in the early 5th century and the sole source for several Celtic words. The work contains a magico-medical charm decipherable as Gaulish which appears to invoke the aid of Esus (spelled Aisus) in curing throat trouble.[4]

Association with rivers[edit]

Esus is known from two monumental statues:

Both sources show consistent symbolic images of riverside scenery that have been interpreted to include willow trees and wetland birds that might be egret's or cranes.[f] [g]

The iconography suggests an association with wetlands, water margin, and rivers.[h]

River names[edit]

River names that may be derived from Esus:


John Arnott MacCulloch summarized the state of scholarly interpretations of Esus in 1911 as follows:

M. Reinach applies one formula to the subjects of these altars—"The Divine Woodman hews the Tree of the Bull with Three Cranes." The whole represents some myth unknown to us, but M. D'Arbois finds in it some allusion to events in the Cúchulainn saga. In the imagery, the bull and tree are perhaps both divine, and if the animal, like the images of the divine bull, is three-horned, then the three cranes (garanus, "crane") may be a rebus for three-horned (trikeras), or more probably three-headed (trikarenos). In this case, woodman, tree, and bull might all be representatives of a god of vegetation. In early ritual, human, animal, or arboreal representatives of the god were periodically destroyed to ensure fertility, but when the god became separated from these representatives, the destruction or slaying was regarded as a sacrifice to the god, and myths arose telling how he had once slain the animal. In this case, tree and bull, really identical, would be mythically regarded as destroyed by the god whom they had once represented. If Esus was a god of vegetation, once represented by a tree, this would explain why, as the scholiast on Lucan relates, human sacrifices to Esus were suspended from a tree. Esus was worshipped at Paris and at Trèves; a coin with the name Æsus was found in England; and personal names like Esugenos, "son of Esus," and Esunertus, "he who has the strength of Esus," occur in England, France, and Switzerland. Thus the cult of this god may have been comparatively widespread. But there is no evidence that he was a Celtic Jehovah or a member, with Teutates and Taranis, of a pan-Celtic triad, or that this triad, introduced by Gauls, was not accepted by the Druids. Had such a great triad existed, some instance of the occurrence of the three names on one inscription would certainly have been found. Lucan does not refer to the gods as a triad, nor as gods of all the Celts, or even of one tribe. He lays stress merely on the fact that they were worshipped with human sacrifice, and they were apparently more or less well-known local gods.[8]

James McKillop cautions that Arbois de Jublainville's identification of Esus with Cú Chulainn "now seems ill-founded".[19]

Jan de Vries finds grounds of comparison between Esus and Odin, both being patrons of sailors sometimes associated with Mercury to whom human victims were said to be sacrificed by hanging.[11]

Miranda Green suggests that the willow-tree that Esus hews may symbolize "the Tree of Life [...] with its associations of destruction and death in winter and rebirth in the spring".[15] She further suggests that the cranes might represent "the flight of the soul (perhaps the soul of the tree)".[15]

In Neo-Druidism[edit]

The 18th century Druidic revivalist Iolo Morganwg identified Esus with Jesus on the strength of the similarity of their names. He also linked them both with Hu Gadarn, writing:

Both Hu and HUON were no doubt originally identical with the HEUS of Lactantius, and the HESUS of Lucan, described as gods of the Gauls. The similarity of the last name to IESU [Welsh: Jesus] is obvious and striking.[20]

This identification is still made in certain Neo-Druidic circles. Modern scholars consider the resemblance between the names Esus and Jesus to be coincidental.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology ( James MacKillop ) < Esus > . . .Although Esus was worshipped in many parts of Gaul, he appears to have been the eponymous god of the Esuvii of northwest Gaul, on the English Channel, coextensive with the modern French Department of Calvados. . . .[12]
  2. ^ See Parisii (Gaul), inhabitants during the Roman period.
  3. ^ Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend ( Miranda J Green ) < Esus >. . .The more significant stone forms part of the pillar dedicated to Jupiter by Parisian sailors in the reign of Tiberius. The block from Paris was found with five others in 1711 on the site of Notre-Dame. . . .[17]
  4. ^ See Treveri, inhabitants during the Roman period.
  5. ^ Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend ( Miranda J Green ) < Esus >. . .Essentially similar iconography recurs on a 1st c. AD stone at Trier, where an unnamed woodcutter attacks a willow in which repose three egrets and the head of a bull. . . .[17]
  6. ^ Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology ( James MacKillop ) < Esus > . . .One temple features three symbolic representations of egrets;he is also associated with the crane.[12]
  7. ^ Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend ( Miranda J Green ) < Esus > . . .The symbolism of the two monuments, whilst not identical, is sufficiently similar and idiosyncratic for it to be possible to identify the presence of Esus on both. . . .In addition to the image of the woodman, the willow, the marsh birds and bull appear on the Paris and Trier images. . . .[17]
  8. ^ Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend ( Miranda J Green ) < Esus > . . .there is a natural association between bulls, birds, and willows: egrets feed on parasites in cattle hide; they, like the willow, are inhabitants of marsh or water margin, and egrets nest in willows. . . .[17]
  9. ^ Brittonic Language ( Alan James ) < *Ẹ:s > . . .Early Celtic *ēs- or *ais- > Br *ẹ:s-; Latinised as Esus, Æsus, Hesus.. . .It may be present in the river-names . . .Æsis (Esino) in Piceno, Italy (→ Adriatic). [18]
  10. ^ See WiKtionary < Aesis > " 1. A river in Picenum that flows into the Adriatic Sea between Ancon and Sena Gallica, now the river Esino "
  11. ^ See List of rivers of Italy
  12. ^ Brittonic Language ( Alan James ) < *Ẹ:s > . . .Early Celtic *ēs- or *ais- > Br *ẹ:s-; Latinised as Esus, Æsus, Hesus. . . .It may be present in the river-names . . .Æsius in Bithynia, Asia Minor (→ Black Sea). [18]
  13. ^ See WiKtionary < Aesius > " 1. A river in Bithynia, mentioned by Pliny "
  14. ^ See List of rivers of Turkey


  1. ^ a b CIL XIII, 03026
  2. ^ Jarus, Owen (2023-10-28). "Rare 2,100-year-old gold coin bears name of obscure ruler from pre-Roman Britain". Live Science. Retrieved 2023-10-29.
  3. ^ a b M. Annaeus Lucanus (61-65 CE). Bellum civile I.445.
  4. ^ a b De medicamentis 15.106, p. 121 in Niedermann's edition; Gustav Must, “A Gaulish Incantation in Marcellus of Bordeaux,” Language 36 (1960) 193–197; Pierre-Yves Lambert, “Les formules de Marcellus de Bordeaux,” in La langue gauloise (Éditions Errance 2003), p.179, citing Léon Fleuriot, “Sur quelques textes gaulois,” Études celtiques 14 (1974) 57–66.
  5. ^ Fleuriot, Léon (1974). "Sur quelques textes gaulois". Études Celtiques (in French). 14 (1): 59–60. doi:10.3406/ecelt.1974.1519. Le nom de ce dieu est connu sous des formes assez diverses ... Relevons ici les variantes Esus, Aesus, Aisus, Haesus ... [The god's name is known in many forms ... We list here the variations Esus, Aesus, Aisus, Haesus ...]
  6. ^ T. F. O'Rahilly (1946). "Ir. Aobh, Aoibheall, etc. W. ufel, uwel. Gaul. Esus". Ériu. 14. Royal Irish Academy: 1–6. JSTOR 30007645.
  7. ^ L. Markey, Thomas; Egetmeyer, Markus; Muller, Jean-Claude (2013). "The boar's tusk of Istres (Bouches-du-Rhône): a Lepontic talismanic inscription". Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie. 60 (1): 129 (entry nr. 13). doi:10.1515/zcph.2013.008.
  8. ^ a b J. A. MacCulloch (1911). ‘Chapter III. The Gods of Gaul and the Continental Celts.’ The Religion of the Ancient Celts. New York: Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-42765-X.
  9. ^ CIL XIII, 11644
  10. ^ a b Jean Gricourt (1958). "L'Esus de Pétrone". Latomus. 17 (1). Société d’Études Latines de Bruxelles: 102–109. JSTOR 41518785.
  11. ^ a b Jan de Vries (1954). Keltische Religion. W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart. p.98. Cited here.
  12. ^ a b MacKillop 2004, pp. 194–195.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Proinsias Mac Cana (1970). Celtic Mythology. London: Hamlyn Publishing. pp. 32–35. Cited here (retrieved 2016-08-17).
  15. ^ a b c d Miranda Green (1992). Symbol & Image in Celtic Religious Art. London: Routledge. pp. 103–104.
  16. ^ Olmsted, Garrett S., The gods of the Celts and the Indo-Europeans, University of Innsbruck, 1994, p. 321.
  17. ^ a b c d Green 1992, pp. 93–94.
  18. ^ a b James 2019, p. 132.
  19. ^ James MacKillop (2000). A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press. Cited here (retrieved 2016-08-17).
  20. ^ Iolo Morganwg (1862, ed. J. Williams Ab Ithel). The Barddas of Iolo Morganwg, Vol. I.


Further reading[edit]

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