Sucellus

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This statue of Sucellus is the earliest known likeness of the god (ca. 1st century AD). It is from a Roman home in France and was found in a household shrine (lararium). Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

In Gallo-Roman religion, Sucellus or Sucellos was a deity depicted as carrying a large mallet (also described as a hammer) and also an olla and/or barrel. Originally a Celtic deity, his cult flourished not only among Gallo-Romans, but also to some extent among the neighbouring peoples of Raetia and Britain. He has been associated with agriculture and wine, particularly in the territory of the Aedui.[1]

The Celtic god Sucellus with his characteristic hammer and olla.

Sculptures[edit]

Relief of Nantosuelta and Sucellus from Sarrebourg. Now in the Museums of Metz.

He is usually portrayed as a middle-aged bearded man, with a long-handled hammer, or perhaps a beer barrel suspended from a pole. His companion Nantosuelta is sometimes depicted alongside him. When together, they are accompanied by symbols associated with prosperity and domesticity.

In a well-known relief from Sarrebourg, near Metz, Nantosuelta, wearing a long gown, is standing to the left. In her left hand she holds a small house-shaped object with two circular holes and a peaked roof – perhaps a dovecote – on a long pole. Her right hand holds a patera which she is tipping onto a cylindrical altar. To the right Sucellus stands, bearded, in a tunic with a cloak over his right shoulder. He holds his mallet in his right hand and an olla in his left. Above the figures is a dedicatory inscription and below them in very low relief is a raven. This sculpture was dated by Reinach, from the form of the letters, to the end of the first century or start of the second century.[2]

Inscriptions[edit]

At least eleven inscriptions to Sucellus are known,[3] mostly from Gaul. One (RIB II, 3/2422.21) is from Eboracum (modern York) in Britain.

In an inscription from Augusta Rauricorum (modern Augst), Sucellus is identified with Silvanus:[4]

In honor(em) /
d(omus) d(ivinae) deo Su/
cello Silv(ano) /
Spart(us) l(ocus) d(atus) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum)

The syncretism of Sucellus with Silvanus can also be seen in artwork from Narbonensis.[5]

Etymology[edit]

Bronze statue of Sucellus from Vienne.

In Gaulish, the root cellos can be interpreted as 'striker', derived from Proto-Indo-European *-kel-do-s whence also come Latin per-cellere ('striker'), Greek klao ('to break') and Lithuanian kálti ('to hammer, to forge').[6] The prefix su- means 'good' or 'well' and is found in many Gaulish personal names.[7] Sucellus is therefore commonly translated as 'the good striker.'

An alternate etymology is offered by Celticist Blanca María Prósper, who posits a derivative of the Proto-Indo-European root *kel- ‘to protect’, i.e. *su-kel-mó(n) "having a good protection" or *su-kel-mṇ-, an agentive formation meaning "protecting well, providing good protection", with a thematic derivative built on the oblique stem, *su-kel-mn-o- (and subsequent simplification and assimilation of the sonorant cluster and a secondary full grade of the root). Prósper suggests the name would then be comparable to the Indic personal name Suśarman-, found in Hindu mythology.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Miranda Green (2003). Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. Routledge. p. 83. 
  2. ^ Reinach (1922), pp. 217–232.
  3. ^ Jufer & Luginbühl (2001), p. 63.
  4. ^ AE 1926, 00040
  5. ^ Duval (1993), p. 78.
  6. ^ Delamarre (2003), p. 113.
  7. ^ Delamarre (2003), pp. 283-284.
  8. ^ Prósper, Blanca María (2015). "Celtic and Non-Celtic Divinities from Ancient Hispania: Power, Daylight, Fertility, Water Spirits and What They Can Tell Us about Indo-European Morphology". The Journal of Indo-European Studies 43 (1 & 2): 35–36. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Delamarre, Xavier (2003). Dictionnaire de la Langue Gauloise (2nd ed.). Paris: Éditions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-237-6. 
  • Deyts, Simone, ed. (1998). À la rencontre des Dieux gaulois, un défi à César. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux. ISBN 2-7118-3851-X. 
  • Duval, Paul-Marie (1993) [1957]. Les dieux de la Gaule. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France / Éditions Payot. 
  • Jufer, Nicole; Luginbühl, Thierry (2001). Répertoire des dieux gaulois. Paris: Éditions Errance. ISBN 2-87772-200-7. 
  • Reinach, Salomon (1922). Cultes, mythes et religions.