The Image of indigenous Divinities in Noricum

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In numerous votive inscriptions, indigenous Celtic divinities are encountered in Noricum, as for example the Gallic head divinity Teutates, Smertrios and Esus as well as the healing god Grannus. The goddess Vibes and Latobius, fused with Mars, are for example only attested in this province. A number of fragments are preserved from the marble cult statue of Latobius, from the gallo-roman temple with surrounding porticoes on the Burgstall in the Lavant valley (Carinthia), fragments which can roughly be reconstructed in the image of a warrior with shield and the pedum, the throwing stick of a shepherd, as his offensive weapon (Fig. 1). Unfortunately, in contrast to the numerous inscriptions, further visual evidence for this regional divinity from Noricum is not preserved.


Local Weather and Sky-gods

Local thunder and weather gods, as well as divinities having to do with the sky in general, which were likened to Jupiter Optimus Maximus during Roman rule, are represented for example by Arubianus from the Salzburg region, Uxlemitanus or Uxellimus and Culminalis from Styria and Slovenia, as well as Vocretanus, in whose honour three altars were set up on the Landskron mountain near Villach, the ancient settlement of Santicum (Fig. 2).

One of these altars depicts an image of lightning bolts, on the front face of the altar attachment directly above the god’s name which is chiselled on to the shaft (Fig. 3); therefore Vocretanus is characterised here as sky- and weather-god analogous to Jupiter. A side relief, unfortunately only preserved in its lower half, from another votive stone depicts a divinity with short boots and a knee-length, belted smock (tunica) frontally facing the viewer (Fig. 4). His lowered right hand holds a staff or haft, rising diagonally up and away from the figure; the upper portion of this staff, as well as the head of the divinity, his shoulder area and his raised left arm, are missing. The raised left arm could well have been carrying out a throwing or hurling gesture, calling to mind first and foremost lightning bolts, which are indeed represented on one of the other altars.

The short boots and long staff, as well as the affinity to the lightning bolts, connect Vocretanus from the Landskron hill with the representation of a divinity identified as Jupiter from Ziehberg in Ansfelden near Linz (Fig. 5).

The main field of this votive altar carries the following heavily weathered inscription: Iovi o(ptimo) m(aximo) / Ti(berius) Claudius / Soni fil(ius) / Provincialis / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito), that is, ‘To Jupiter greatest and best! Tiberius Claudius, son of Sonius, (with surname) Provincialis, has happily and with the merit (of the god) fulfilled his vow.’

According to this inscription, a local native, who received the Roman citizenship under Emperor Claudius in ca. 50 A.D. and who was certainly a leading member of local society, if not the regional ‘Prince’, carried out a vow in typically Roman fashion in honour of the leading Imperial deity, and – also thoroughly Roman – recorded this activity on a votive altar and thereby publicly documented it. This is a procedure which we are able to observe frequently, and which indicates the efforts of the local leading classes to behave like dyed in the wool Romans. What is really interesting, however, is the fact that this Provincialis caused reliefs to be chiselled on both sides of the inscription, on the side panels. The right field shows lightning bolts, the Roman symbol of Jupiter, while the left field, at exactly the same size, depicts a traveller, naked but for his short boots, with staff in his left hand and a wheel shouldered on the right and fixed to a haft. This confrontation demonstrably reveals that the inhabitants of the region had rapidly learned that their sky-god, equipped with the symbol of a wheel, was now called Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and from now on would be symbolised and characterised by lightning bolts. Similar representations of a standing or stepping divinity, usually totally naked or wearing short boots and equipped with a wheel and sceptre or bolts of lightning, are known from the Gallic and German provinces. Usually, the name ‘Taranis’, handed down in the civil war epic ‘Pharsalia’ by the poet Lucan, is proposed for the identification of this figure; his wheel ought to symbolise the rumbling of thunder. The fact, however, that none of these figures was named in antiquity rules out certainty on this point. We can, however, pursue another path of evidence with perhaps a greater degree of probability, namely, the fact that the naked god carries the wheel of the sun on the altar from Ansfeld. That relief therefore probably symbolises the course of the sun across the naked (=bright, unclouded) sky. In contrast to this image, the figure of Vocretanus, standing with legs apart and perhaps hurling lightning, with belted tunic and with the wheel (?)- staff placed on the ground, might represent the standstill of the sun in the dark (clothed) night, or the darkening of the sky and the concealment of the sun during a storm, in a similar fashion to a bronze statue – although this time naked – from Châtelet in central France, who also has placed his wheel on the ground while he hurls lightning.

The mountain Ziehberg near Ansfelden and the Landskron mountain near Villach both probably were the sites of high sanctuaries for the Celtic sky- and weather-god, who after the Roman occupation of Noricum was identified with the Imperial divinity Jupiter Optimus Maximus. The accidentally preserved reliefs, in spite of the isolated circumstances of the finds, offer interesting and exciting sidelights into a divinity practically sunken in the darkness of history and who at least in the region of Villach was named Vocretanus, whereas in Gaul perhaps Taranis. In any case, we are concerned here with a god about whom the ancient scholiast on Lucan writes: praesidem bellorum et caelestium deorum maximum, ‘Master of War and the greatest of the celestial Gods.’


The so-called Isis Noreia Statue from the Region of the Baths of Virunum

In a housing block directly near the Forum of Virunum, known as the bathing district due to a built-in private bathing establishment, an ensemble of twelve almost life-size marble statues was excavated, probably set up there in late antiquity in a secondary usage. Most of the images are Greek divinities, namely Ares (Mars), Hermes (Mercury), Dionysos (Liber Pater), Apollo, the Dioscouri, a hermaphrodite, a satyr, Aphrodite (Venus), an Amazon, a nymph from a spring, and the so-called Isis Noreia (Fig. 6). The sculptures were created in the mid-2nd c., probably by an immigrant sculptor from the south, the so-called ‘Master of Virunum’ or by one of his native apprentices.

The type of the goddess represented is based on the Dresden Artemis, who – created in the 4th c. B.C. – ‘in the following periods, with proportionally small modifications and additions, was transformed into representations of Tyche-Fortuna and then also of Isis’ (C. Praschniker).

The statue, whose focal point was clearly intended to be the frontal one, conveys an impression of standing solemnly and calmly. Her costume consists of a long chiton, a fringed peplos with overfold over the right shoulder, a mantle draped over both shoulders, and shoes. The roughly-filed head is uncovered, over her breast lies a heavy metal pendant, which is recognised as jewellery worn by noble Norican ladies, and which furthermore is equipped with an M-form metal filament pendant, frequently signifying a snake. The fringes of the peplos and the wide, overlaid belt are both native elements of her clothing. Her left hand holds a cornucopia which rests on her shoulder, while her missing right hand probably supported itself on a steering rudder.

Immediately after its discovery in 1906, the statue was identified as an image of Isis Noreia, although C. Praschniker above all accepted this identification with reservations; in recent literature, this identification is frequently treated as certain, as for example H. Kenner writes, ‘Her (Noreia’s) only, not undisputed monumental representation, the statue from the bathing district of Virunum, depicts her as a mild, motherly divinity with the fruit-filled cornucopia of Isis-Fortuna-Tyche, and with the snake of Isis on her chest at the front, although based on her costume otherwise a native-Celtic female figure.’

H. v. Petrikovits, however, judged her costume in another manner: ‘How far these interpretations are correct cannot be clearly decided, since certain elements of her costume, such as the fringes, the apoptygma (N.B.: = part of the chiton pulled out over the belt), and the veil (?) are more reminiscent of a simple Isis-Fortuna-representation. Only the belt which hangs directly down is

shown in Norican fashion. This, however, could also be a fold beneath the ‚Isis knot’, misunderstood by the sculptor.’ On the other hand, the goddess from Virunum is lacking the attributes which are the distinguishing characteristics of Isis, such as the palla (shawl over the shoulders) with its Isis knot, the sistrum (rattle), pitcher, and Uraeus snake. The statue can be much more closely identified with the usual representations of Fortuna or Isis-Fortuna with the attributes of cornucopia and steering rudder. The Virunum statue can most convincingly be associated with the type of Tyche-Fortuna, and on account of the probably consciously admixed elements of native clothing, can be seen as an image of the city goddess of Virunum, that is of Fortuna Virunensium, who is also epigraphically attested.

C. Praschniker already spoke out against this identification of the statue from the bathing district as Fortuna, on the grounds that, in his opinion, images of Fortuna normally do not betray local elements, while to be sure the Tyche figures of Antioch and Alexandria were equally portrayed as individually recognisable. Why then would one not have given the city goddess of Virunum elements of the native female costume so beloved and typical in south Noricum? Whatever the case may be, an identification of the statue as Isis, Isis Noreia, or Noreia remains highly questionable, and on these grounds she cannot be brought into a fundamental interpretation of that goddess, whose main sanctuary was located in the region of Hohenstein.

Peter Scherrer



L. Eckhart, Die Skulpturen des Stadtgebietes von Ovilava, Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani, Österreich III 3 (1981)

H. Kenner, Die Götterwelt der Austria Romana, Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II 18.2 (1989) 875–974 und 1652–1655

H. v. Petrikovits, in: W. Pauli – G. Wissowa (Hrsg.), Real-Encyclopaedie der classischen Alterthumswissenschaft XVII 1 (1936) 963–967, s.v. Noreia 1

G. Piccottini, Die Rundskulpturen des Stadtgebietes von Virunum, Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani, Östereich II 1 (1968)

C. Praschniker, Noreia Isis, Carinthia I 131, 1941, 262–283

C. Praschniker, Der Bäderbezirk von Virunum (1947)

M. Šašel-Kos, Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic, Situla 38 (1999)

P. Scherrer, Taranis im Donauraum? – Überlegungen zu lokalen Gottheiten in Noricum und Pannonien, in: Festschrift Gerhard Winkler zum 70. Geburtstag, Jahrbuch des Oberösterreichischen Musealvereins 149, 2004 (Linz 2005) 91–108

P. Scherrer, Noreia – Prähistorisch-gallorömische Muttergottheit oder Provinzpersonifikation, in: M. Hainzmann (Hrsg.), Auf den Spuren keltischer Götterverehrung, Akten des 5. Internat. F.E.R.C.AN.-Workshops in Graz – Oktober 2003, Mitteilungen der Prähistorischen Kommission der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (2007, in press)