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Thursday, March 11, 2021

Epona

 The worship of Epona, "the sole Celtic divinity ultimately worshipped in Rome itself",  was the patroness of cavalry and widespread in the Roman Empire between the first and third centuries CE.  This is unusual for a Celtic deity, most of whom were associated with specific localities.  Evidence of her worship was first found in the Danubian provinces and scholar Fernand Benoît asserted that she had been introduced in the limes of Gaul by horsemen from the east.  However, although the name is Gaulish, dedicatory inscriptions to Epona are in Latin or, rarely, Greek. They were made not only by Celts, but also by Germans, Romans, and other inhabitants of the Roman Empire. An inscription to Epona from Mainz, Germany, identifies the dedicator as Syrian.

Epona's feast day in the Roman calendar was given as December 18 on a rustic calendar from Guidizzolo, Italy. She was incorporated into the imperial cult by being invoked on behalf of the Emperor, as Epona Augusta or Epona Regina.

Perceptions of native Celtic goddesses changed under Roman hegemony. only the names remained the same. As Gaul was Romanized under the early Empire, Epona’s sovereign role evolved into a protector of cavalry. The cult of Epona was spread over much of the Roman Empire by the auxiliary cavalry, alae, especially the Imperial Horse Guard or equites singulares augustii recruited from Gaul, Lower Germany, and Pannonia. A series of their dedications to Epona and other Celtic, Roman and German deities was found in Rome, at the Lateran. Her cult is said to have been "widespread also in Carinthia and Styria."

Epona relief from the Limes fort Kapersburg, 2nd century CE, in the Wetterau Museum in Friedberg with the inscription: In h(onorem) d(omus) d(ivinae) de(ae) Epon(ae) Bilic[i]/us Gematus col(l)eg(ii)s su[i]/s de iu[s(su)] de(ae) I[mp(eratore) C]a[e]s(are) L(ucio) Sep[t(imio)] / [Severo] A[rabic]o Adia[b(enico)] / [Parth(ico) ma]xi[mo] co(n)s(ule) II[I]. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Haselburg-müller.

Copper alloy figure of the goddess Epona, seated between two ponies, Romano-British, at the British Museum.

Gallo-Roman bas-relief in Saint-Béat marble representing the Celtic goddess Epona courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Ecole d'Agassac (31).

The worship of Epona in Thessaloniki may have been introduced by Galerius, who was descended from a region along the Danube. This relief is the only evidence of Epona's cult in Macedonia. 4th c. CE now in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Greece, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Tilemahos.

Replica of the figure of the horse goddess Epona found in the former Roman vicus in Boppard, Germany courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Christian Kipping.

Silver dish in the shape of a shell, detail of the central medallion representing the goddess Epona surrounded by two foals. From the Rethel treasure, collected around 270 to 280 CE. courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Zunkir

Sculpture of Épona, 2nd, 3rd-century, sandstone, found in Le Hérapel site (Cocheren, Moselle, France now in Metz Museum courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Fab5669.


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