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Taranis (Jupiter with wheel and thunderbolt), Le Chatelet, Gourzon, Haute-Marne, France

In Celtic mythology, Taranis or Taranus is the god of thunder, who was worshipped primarily in Gaul, Gallaecia, Britain, and Ireland but also in the Rhineland and Danube regions, amongst others. Taranis, along with Esus and Toutatis as part of a sacred triad, was mentioned by the Roman poet Lucan in his epic poem Pharsalia as a Celtic deity to whom human sacrificial offerings were made.[1] Taranis was associated, as was the Cyclops Brontes ("thunder") in Greek mythology, with the wheel.

Gundestrup cauldron, created between 200 BC and 300 AD, is thought to have a depiction of Taranis on the inner wall of cauldron on tile C

Many representations of a bearded god with a thunderbolt in one hand and a wheel in the other have been recovered from Gaul, where this deity apparently came to be syncretised with Jupiter.[2]

Name and etymology[edit]

The name as recorded by Lucan is unattested epigraphically, but variants of the name include the forms Tanarus, Taranucno-, Taranuo-, and Taraino-.[3][4]

The reconstructed Proto-Celtic form of the name is *Toranos ('Thunder'), derived by metathesis from an earlier *Tonaros, ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root for 'thunder', *(s)tenh₂-. The unmetathesized form of the name, *Tonaros, is attested in the Old Brittonic theonym Tanaro, and in the Gaulish river name Tanarus ('thundering' or 'thunderous') in northern Italy.[5][6] Similar European hydronyms have been proposed to belong to the same root.[7]

Cognates may also be found in other Celtic languages, such as Old Irish torann ('thunder, noise'), Old Breton taran, Old Cornish taran, or Middle Welsh taran ('[peal of] thunder, thunderclap'). The Gaulish word for 'thunder' has also been preserved in Gascon taram.[5][8]

In the Indo-European context, the name is further related to the Proto-Germanic Thunder-god *Þun(a)raz (cf. ON Þórr, OE Þunor, OS Thunar, OFris. Thuner, OHG Donar), and to the Sanskrit stánati and Latin tono, both meaning 'to thunder'.[5][8] According to scholar Peter Jackson, the Celtic–Germanic isogloss *Þun(a)raz ~ *Tonaros may have emerged as the result of the fossilization of an original epithet or epiclesis of the Proto-Indo-European thunder-god *Perkwunos.[9]

Association with the wheel[edit]

Votive wheels called Rouelles, thought to correspond to the cult of Taranis. Thousands of such wheels have been found in sanctuaries in Belgic Gaul, dating from 50 BC to 50 AD. Musée d'Archéologie Nationale.

The wheel, more specifically the chariot wheel with six or eight spokes, was an important symbol in historical Celtic polytheism, apparently associated with a specific god, known as the wheel-god, identified as the sky- sun- or thunder-god, whose name is attested as Taranis by Lucan.[10] Numerous Celtic coins also depict such a wheel. The half-wheel shown in the Gundestrup cauldron "broken wheel" panel also has eight visible spokes.[citation needed]

Symbolic votive wheels were offered at shrines (such as in Alesia), cast in rivers (such as the Seine), buried in tombs or worn as amulets since the Middle Bronze Age.[11] Such "wheel pendants" from the Bronze Age usually had four spokes, and are commonly identified as solar symbols or "sun cross". Artefacts parallel to the Celtic votive wheels or wheel-pendants are the so-called Zierscheiben in a Germanic context. The identification of the Sun with a wheel, or a chariot, has parallels in Germanic, Greek and Vedic mythology (see sun chariot).[citation needed]

Later cultural references[edit]

In 2013 a British combat drone system developed by defence contractor BAE Systems was named Taranis in reference to the Celtic god.[13]

Taranis and Toutatis are often mentioned by characters of the Asterix series.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ M. Annaeus Lucanus. Pharsalia, Book I Archived 2006-05-02 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Paul-Marie Duval. 2002. Les Dieux de la Gaule. Paris, Éditions Payot.
  3. ^ Nicole Jufer & Thierry Luginbühl. 2001. Répertoire des dieux gaulois. Paris, Éditions Errance.
  4. ^ Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, ch. 8: "Now with this Donar of the Germani fits in significantly the Gallic Taranis whose name is handed down to us in Lucan 1, 440; all the Celtic languages retain the word taran for thunder, Irish toran, with which one may directly connect the ON. form Thôrr, if one thinks an assimilation from rn the more likely. But an old inscription gives us also Tanarus (Forcellini sub v.) = Taranis. The Irish name for Thursday, dia Tordain (dia ordain, diardaoin) was perhaps borrowed from a Teutonic one."
  5. ^ a b c Matasović, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Brill. p. 384. ISBN 9789004173361.
  6. ^ Sutrop, Urmas. "Taarapita-the Great God of the Oeselians". In: Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore 26 (2004). p. 40
  7. ^ Pedreño, Juan Carlos Olivares. "Los dioses soberanos y los ríos en la religión indígena de la Hispania indoeuropea". In: Gerión n. 18 (2000). p. 204. ISSN 0213-0181
  8. ^ a b Delamarre, Xavier (2008). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise: Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental (in French). Errance. p. 290. ISBN 9782877723695.
  9. ^ Jackson, Peter (2002). "Light from Distant Asterisks. Towards a Description of the Indo-European Religious Heritage". Numen. 49 (1): 61–102. doi:10.1163/15685270252772777. ISSN 0029-5973. JSTOR 3270472.
  10. ^ Green, Miranda (1992). Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. ISBN 9780415080767.
  11. ^ Green, Miranda Jane (1993). Celtic Myths. ISBN 9780292727540.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-04-22. Retrieved 2012-04-22.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Allison, George (5 February 2014). "Taranis stealth drone test flights successful". UK Defence Journal. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  14. ^ Simon, André (1981). "Les Gaulois dans la B.D." Le Débat. 16 (9): 96–108.


  • Ellis, Peter Berresford, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Oxford Paperback Reference), Oxford University Press, (1994): ISBN 0-19-508961-8
  • MacKillop, James. Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-280120-1.
  • Wood, Juliette, The Celts: Life, Myth, and Art, Thorsons Publishers (2002): ISBN 0-00-764059-5

Further reading[edit]

  • Gricourt, Daniel; Hollard, Dominique. "Taranis, caelestiorum deorum maximus". In: Dialogues d'histoire ancienne, vol. 17, n°1, 1991. pp. 343–400. [DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/dha.1991.1919]; [www.persee.fr/doc/dha_0755-7256_1991_num_17_1_1919]
  • Gricourt, Daniel; Hollard, Dominique. "Taranis, le dieu celtique à la roue. Remarques préliminaires". In: Dialogues d'histoire ancienne, vol. 16, n°2, 1990. pp. 275–320. [DOI: https://doi.org/10.3406/dha.1990.1491]; www.persee.fr/doc/dha_0755-7256_1990_num_16_2_1491

External links[edit]