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A three-headed image of a Celtic deity found in Paris; interpreted as Mercury and now believed to represent Lugus or Ogmios[1]

Lugus is a god of the Celtic pantheon. His name is rarely directly attested in inscriptions, but his importance can be inferred from place names and ethnonyms and status as king of the gods.[2][3] His nature and attributes are deduced from the distinctive iconography of Gallo-Roman inscriptions to Mercury, who is widely believed to have been identified with Lugus, and from the quasi-mythological narratives involving his later cognates, Welsh Lleu Llaw Gyffes (Lleu of the Skillful Hand) and Irish Lugh Lámhfhada (Lugh of the Long Arm).



The etymology of the name is debated. Besides the Gaulish Lugos (pl. Lugoues, Lugouibus), the deity is attested in Old Irish Lug (Ogham: Lugu-), Middle Welsh Llew, and Celtiberian Luguei, which may point to a Common Celtic origin of the cult.[4][5] A Proto-Celtic compound *Lugu-deks ('serving the god Lugus') can also be reconstructed from Gaulish Lugudeca, Old Irish Lugaid, and Hispano-Celtic Luguadici.[6][5] The Lugunae, goddesses attested to in Atapuerca (Burgos), are also linguistically related.[7]

The Proto-Celtic root *lug- has been tentatively derived from several different Proto-Indo-European roots, including *leug- ('black'),[8] *leuǵ- ('to break'),[9] and *leugʰ- ('to swear an oath').[10] It was once thought to be derived from PIE *leuk- ('to shine'), but most modern scholars rule this out, notably because Proto-Indo-European *-k- never produces Proto-Celtic *-g-.[11]

According to linguist Xavier Delamarre, "it is not certain that there is an appellative behind this theonym; it is likely, given its presumed antiquity, that it is an unmotivated idionym (or that it has become so), possibly subject to various 'folk etymologies', one of the best known being Lugdunum = 'desideratum montem' from the Vienna glossary."[4]

Use in proper names[edit]

Distribution of inscriptions to the Lugoves or to Lugus.

The theonym Lugu- is the source of the place names Lugu-dunon ('Lugus' fortress'), at the origin of Lyon, Loudon, Laudun, Laon, Lea,[12] and perhaps Leiden; *Lugu-ialon ('Lugus' village'), at the origin of Ligueil; as well as Lugu-ualion ('Place of Lugus-Sovereign'), the ancient name of Carlisle.[4] Lucus Augusti (modern Lugo in Galicia, Spain) may be derived from the theonym Lugus,[7][13] though perhaps from Latin lucus ('grove') cannot be ruled out.[14]

It is also in the personal names Lugu-dunolus, Lugu-uec[ca], Lugius, Lugissius, Lugu-rix, and Lugiola. The female name Lugu-selua, meaning 'Lugus's possession', can be compared with the Greek personal name Theodulus ('God's slave').[5] In Insular Celtic are found the Brythonic Louocatus (< *Lugu-catus) and Old Welsh Loumarch (< *Lugu-marcos 'Lugus' stallion').[5]

Ethnonyms which may derive from Lugus include the Luggoni (or Lougonoi) of Asturias, as well as the Lougei, known from inscriptions in Lugo and El Bierzo.[7] The Lougoi of Scotland might also be related.[13]


Votive inscription to the Lucoves Arquieni. Lugo, Galicia.

The god Lugus is mentioned in a Celtiberian inscription from Peñalba de Villastar in Spain, which reads:


The translation is debated, but the phrase "to Luguei" ("to/for Lugus" with the theonym in the dative singular) clearly indicates a dedication to the god.[15][16]

Additionally, the name is attested several times in the plural, for example: nominative plural Lugoues in a single-word (and potentially Gaulish) inscription from Avenches, Switzerland, on the capital of a Corinthian column,[17] and dative plural in a well-known Latin inscription from Uxama (Osma), Spain:

Lugovibus sacrum L. L(icinius) Urcico collegio sutorum d(onum) d(at)[18]
"Lucius Licinius Urcico dedicated this, sacred to the Lugoves, to the guild of shoemakers"[19]

This shows Lugus being worshiped by shoemakers in Spain, parallel to his Welsh counterpart Lleu being represented as a shoemaker in the 4th branch of the Mabinogi.[20][21]

The plural form of the theonym is also found in Latin inscriptions:

Lugo, Galicia, Spain:

Luc(obo) Gudarovis Vale[r(ius)] Cle.[m](ens) v(otum) l(ibens) s(olvit)[22]

Outeiro de Rei, Lugo, Galicia, Spain:

Lucoubu Arquieni(s) Silonius Silo ex voto[23][24]

Sober, Lugo, Galicia, Spain:

Lucubo Arquienob(o) C(aius) Iulius Hispanus v(otum) l(ibens) s(olvit) m(erito)[25][26]

[Both epithets Arquieni and Arquienobo are considered to be related to a Proto-Indo-European root *h₂érkʷo 'bow, arrow' with cognates Latin arcus and English arrow.[13]]

Nemausus (Nîmes), France:

Rufina Lucubus v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)[27]

The majority of the known inscriptions dedicated to Lugus come from the Iberian Peninsula, perhaps indicating this deity's particular importance and popularity among the Iberian Celts.[7]

An inscribed lead plate found in Chamalières in France includes the phrase luge dessummiíis, which has been tentatively interpreted by some scholars as "I prepare them for Lugus", though it may also mean "I swear (luge) with/by my right (hand)".[28]

Gaulish Mercury[edit]

Julius Caesar in his De Bello Gallico identified six gods worshipped in Gaul, giving the names of their nearest Roman equivalents rather than their Gaulish names (interpretatio romana). He said "Mercury" was most revered: patron of trade and commerce, protector of travellers, and inventor of all the arts.[29] The Irish god Lug bore the epithet samildánach ("skilled in all arts"), which has led to the widespread identification of Caesar's Mercury as Lugus. There are frequent (over 400) inscriptions referencing Gaullish Mercury from the subsequent Roman Gaul and Britain.[21] The blanket identification of Lugus with Mercury may go too far; Jan de Vries[30] demonstrates the unreliability of any one-to-one correspondence in the interpretatio romana.[31]


The iconography of Gaulish Mercury includes birds, particularly the raven and the cock (now the emblem of France); horses; the tree of life; dogs or wolves; a caduceus, or herald's staff topped with a pair of snakes; mistletoe; and bags of money. A widespread attribute is shoes: one of the dedications to the Lugoves was made by a shoemakers' guild; Lugus's Welsh counterpart Lleu (or Llew) Llaw Gyffes is described in the Welsh Triads as one of the "three golden shoemakers of the island of Britain". He is often armed with a spear. He is frequently accompanied by his consort Rosmerta ("great provider"), who bears the libation with which kingship was conferred (in Roman mythology). Unlike the Roman Mercury, who is typically a youth, Gaulish Mercury is occasionally also represented as an old man. It has also been speculated that the Irish leprechaun shares the same root (le- from Lu-), and notably leprechauns were often represented as shoemakers.[32]


Altar depicting a tricephalic god identified as Lugus, discovered in Reims.

Gaulish Mercury is associated with triplism: sometimes he has three faces, sometimes three phalluses, which may explain the plural dedications. In some Irish versions of the story, Lug was born as one of triplets, and his father Cian (Distance) is often mentioned, along with his brothers Cú (Hound) and Cethen (meaning unknown), who nonetheless have no stories of their own. Several characters called Lugaid, a popular medieval Irish name thought to derive from Lug, also exhibit triplism: for example, Lugaid Riab nDerg ("of the Red Stripes") and Lugaid mac Trí Con ("Son of Three Hounds") both have three fathers.

Ludwig Rübekeil[33] suggests that Lugus was a triune god, comprising Esus, Toutatis and Taranis, the three chief deities mentioned by Lucan (who however makes no mention of Lugus); and that pre-Proto-Germanic tribes in contact with the Celts (possibly the Chatti) moulded aspects of Lugus into the Germanic god Wōdanaz, i.e. that Gaulish Mercury influenced Germanic Mercury.

Sacred sites[edit]

High places (Mercurii Montes), including Montmartre, the Puy-de-Dôme and the Mont de Sène, were dedicated to the god.

Continuity in later Celtic narratives[edit]

In Ireland, Lugh was the victorious youth who defeated the monstrous Balor "of the venomous eye". He was the paradigm of holy or priestly kingship, and his epithet lámhfhada “of the long arm”, carries on an ancient Proto-Indo-European image of a noble sovereign spreading his power far and wide (cf. "the long arm of the law"). His festival, called Lughnasadh ("Festival of Lugh") in Ireland, was commemorated on 1 August.

His name survives in the village of Louth (anciently Lughmhagh, "Lug's plain") and the County Louth in which it stands. When the Emperor Augustus inaugurated Lugdunum ("fort of Lugus", now Lyon) as the capital of Roman Gaul in 18 BC, he held the ceremony on 1 August (also the date of Augustus' victory over Cleopatra at Alexandria). At least two ancient Lughnasadh locations, Carmun and Tailtiu, were supposed to enclose the graves of agricultural fertility goddesses.

The Celtic Lugh and Lleu Llaw Gyffes my also have influenced the Arthurian characters Lancelot and Lot (a theory championed most famously by Roger Sherman Loomis), though more recent scholarship has downplayed such links.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bas-relief discovered in Paris in 1867 and preserved at the Carnavalet Museum, from J.-L. Courcelle-Seneuil, Les Dieux gaulois d'après les monuments figurés (The Gallic Gods According to the Figurative Monuments), Paris, 1910.
  2. ^ Maccrossan, Tadhg (May 29, 2002). "Celtic Religion". Llewellyn Worldwide. Retrieved May 30, 2023. Lugus, like Odin, was king of the gods in the Celtic pantheon, was accompanied by crows and ravens, carried a spear, and closed one eye to do his magic (Odin offered his eye); like the Great Zeus in Hesiod's Theogony, he led the Tuatha Dé Danann gods in victory over the Fomorian giants. Lugh's birth and childhood also parallels that of Zeus.
  3. ^ Fee, Christopher R. (2004). Gods, Heroes, & Kings. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0190291702. In The Baile in Scail ("The God's Prophecy") Lugh is seen as a sacred solar king and king of the otherworld, associated with Rosmerta, who is herself a kind of personification of Ireland, sometimes known as "the Sovranty of Ireland." Lugh followed Nuada as king of the gods in Ireland, and was with the mortal Dechtire the father of the great hero Cuchulainn.
  4. ^ a b c Delamarre 2003, p. 211.
  5. ^ a b c d Matasović 2009, p. 248.
  6. ^ Koch 2017, pp. 46–47.
  7. ^ a b c d Simón 2005.
  8. ^ Julius Pokorny, Indogermanisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, Francke, 1959, 686.
  9. ^ Bernard Mees, Celtic Curses, Boydell & Brewer, 2009, p. 45.
  10. ^ H. Wagner, Studies in the Origins of early Celtic Civilisation, Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie, 31, 1970, p. 24.
  11. ^ Schrijver 1995, p. 348.
  12. ^ J.E.B. Glover, Allen Mawer, F.M.Stenton (1938). The Place-Names of Hertfordshire. Cambridge University Press. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ a b c Abad, Rubén Abad. (2008). "La divinidad celeste/solar en el panteón céltico peninsular". In: Espacio, Tiempo y Forma. Serie II, Historia Antigua, 21: 101.
  14. ^ García Alonso, Juan Luis (2001). "The Place Names of Ancient Hispania and its Linguistic Layers". Studia Celtica. 35 (1): 213–244.
  15. ^ Lejeune, Michel, Celtibérica, Universidad de Salamanca, 1997, pp. 8ff.
  16. ^ Koch, John, Celtic Culture: a historical encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 2006, p.[page needed]
  17. ^ CIL XIII, 05078
  18. ^ Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Vol. 2, Walter de Gruyter, 1974, p. 387, inscription 2818.
  19. ^ Gruffydd, William John. Math vab Mathonwy, University of Wales Press, 1928, p. 238.
  20. ^ Gruffydd, William John. Math vab Mathonwy, University of Wales Press, 1928, pp. 237ff.
  21. ^ a b Alexei Kondratiev, "Lugus: the Many-Gifted Lord", An Tríbhís Mhór: The IMBAS Journal of Celtic Reconstructionism #1, 1997
  22. ^ AE 2003, 952
  23. ^ IRPL, pp. 80-89.
  24. ^ ILER, p. 868.
  25. ^ IRPL, pp. 87-88.
  26. ^ ILER, p. 869.
  27. ^ CIL XII, 3080
  28. ^ Lugus: The Gaulish Mercury Archived 2005-03-06 at the Wayback Machine at P.-Y. Lambert leaves this phrase partially untranslated, Que tu ... à ma droite ("May you ... to my right"), cited at L'Arbre Celtique.
  29. ^ Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico 6.17
  30. ^ Jan de Vries, Celtisches Religion (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer Verlag) 1961, pp 40-56.
  31. ^ Peter Buchholz, "Perspectives for Historical Research in Germanic Religion" History of Religions 8.2 (November 1968, pp. 111-138) p 120 and note.
  32. ^ 2001. Celtic Heroes, Changelings', and the Mothers. (37), pp.93-116.
  33. ^ Rübekeil, Ludwig. Wodan und andere forschungsgeschichtliche Leichen: exhumiert, Beiträge zur Namenforschung 38 (2003), 25–42.


Further reading[edit]

Epigraphic evidence
  • AE = L'Année épigraphique
  • CIL = Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, Vol XIII: Inscriptiones trium Galliarum et Germaniarum Latinae; Vol II: Inscriptiones Hispaniae Latinae.
  • ILER = Inscripciones Latinas de la España Romana
  • IRPL = Inscriptions Romaines de la Province de Lugo
  • Recueil des Inscriptions Gauloises [RIG], Tome 1: Textes gallo-grecs (CNRS, Paris, 1985)

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Lugus at Wikimedia Commons