BATAVIAN GODS & CULTS
Donar was the chief of the Batavian Gods. The centre of the Batavian cultus was near present-day Nijmegen, where two temples dedicated to Donar were found. Another temple was found near Elst, in the centre of the Betuwe. The Batavians used to sing their war songs in his name, and he was worshipped in open temples. These temples were more like open places with just a small fence; the Batavians did not believe it was appropriate to limit their gods by using walls and ceilings.
The Romans named the Batavian chief god Hercules Magusanus. He resembled their mythological hero Hercules, who was, just as Donar, a protector of the people. The name Magusanus means 'the wealthy' and some even think that the capitals name Noviomagus was taken from this adjective. This, however, is not true. The name Hercules Magusanus is found on bracelets, coins and altars such as in Houten, Tiellandt and Ubbergen have been found. Inscriptions of this name were found by Ruimel, where St. Willibrord destroyed a temple, which was dedicated to Hercules Magusanus to put a church on the very same spot. They are also found in Westkappelle as well as in Rome, Vetera, Bonn and as far north as Hadrians Wall. The reason why his name travelled this far is because a lot of Batavians had entered the Roman service and spread it all over the Empire. And because Donar was a god of battle, he was particularly popular with the Batavian warriors. In Empel an inscription was found (AE 1990, 00740) of a former Batavian soldier, which says: "For Hercules Magusanus. By Julius Genialis, the Just and the Faithful, has pleasantly and with reason paid a debt”. Many votive gifts have been found near the temple, especially old weapons. Because weapons are very uncommon gifts to the gods in the Roman world, it is reasonable to assume that Magusanus was venerated by the Batavian auxiliaries. Or, to be more precise, by retiring soldiers, who were grateful to the god for the protection they had received during their career in the army, and ritually laid down their weapons in this sanctuary. Unfortunately, this is all we know about the cult at Empel. What kind of processions took place, which myths circulated, whether the soldiers were the only people sacrificing, how the god appealed to those present, what kind of sacrifices were expected (and when), how the prayers and hymns sounded - we simply can not know.
The temple of Magusanus at Empel is one of the very few religious monuments from Germania Inferior that can be interpreted with a fair degree of certainty. A reconstruction of the Temple can be seen below.
The nature of the god is difficult to understand, but the fact that he was likened to Hercules, the role model of the ideal Roman man, suggests that Magusanus was a real macho. On the other hand, there are indications that he was responsible for fertility. In the sanctuary of Elst, which was probably dedicated to Magusanus, a suovetaurilia has been found, a type of sacrifice that the Roman only offered to fertility gods. Moreover, the name Magusanus means "old young man" - in other words, a god with the wisdom of old age and the vitality of youth. In other words, the god of Empel had a complex personality.
Hercules Magusanus. A dedicatory offering from the Empel temple site.
The Batavians also worshipped Wodan, his Latin name would be Mercurius Friausius (of Eriasus). Friausius can be explained as 'free, loveable' and seems more applicable to Wodan's wife Frigga. In Ubbergen an altar dedicated to Wodan was found. In Nijmegen the name Mercurius Rex (king) has been found.
The Triple Goddess
The Batavians had a lot of goddesses. In the Rhine area between Nijmegen and Cologne the so-called 'Matrones' were worshipped. This was a group of three goddesses, whose functions were variable such as healing, justice and war. They can be compared to the Nornen (Germanic fate goddesses) as well as The Morrigan (the Celtic triple goddess). The cultus of the Matrones was extremely popular and was introduced into the Roman Empire by Germanic soldiers. The three goddesses were later replaced by three gods, among which were Donar and Wodan. The third is not known for sure.
By the time the former German tribes had become Christians, the belief in the triple gods/goddesses was so deep that they could not simply be discharged. That's why today we know several 'Christian' beliefs such as 'the father, the son and the holy ghost' as well as 'Faith, Hope & Love'. The most well known Batavian goddess would have been Hel, the goddess of the Underworld. Her name even refers to the name of present Elst, where several temples were found, as we saw above.
At Carrawburgh there was the small vicus occupied the low-lying marshy ground outside the southwest corner of the fort. They have found remains of no less than three temples; a Mithraeum dedicated to the god Mithras, a Nymphaeum dedicated to the local water deities, and a sacred well dedicated to the Celtic water goddess/ goddesses Coventina.
There was also a relief found at one of the Carrawburgh temples on which there are three of a kind. (Cloaked and hooded figures). In Celtic three could symbolise three aspect of a process but normally they have different attributes then. In this case they are alike so maybe they should to be worshipped during three moon terms. The figures could be a representation of the Morrigan or Cucullati.
All three of these temples are associated with a small tributary stream of Maggie's Dene Burn. The stream issues a spring consecrated to Coventina and runs beside the fort past the Mithraeum and the Nymphaeum to the southwest, to empty into the River South Tyne near the Stanegate fort at Newburgh, three miles to the south.
Other parts of the cultus.
Apart from the godesses, female seers had high places. The one most known to us is Valeda, the Bructerian seeress. Valeda played a significant role in the Batavian revolt. The word Veleda seems to be a title: it may be a Latin rendering of the Celtic word Veleta, 'seeress '. The Veleda we know about predicted the successes of the Batavians when they revolted against the Roman empire (69AD). It is not known whether she merely prophesied, or actively incited the rebellion. In March 70, the predicted successes became realities: the Batavian leader Julius Civilis captured the legionary base at Vetera. The commander of the Roman garrison, Munius Lupercus, was sent to Veleda. When describing this incident, the Roman historian Tacitus explained who she was:
“Veleda was an unmarried woman who enjoyed wide influence over the tribe of the Bructeri. The Germans traditionally regard many of the female sex as prophetic, and indeed, by an excess of superstition, as divine. This was a case in point. Veleda's prestige stood high, for she had foretold the German successes and the extermination of the legions”.
Tacitus, Histories 4.60-61
Munius Lupercus never became her slave: he was killed on his way to Veleda. We do not know why. A few months later, the Batavians captured the flagship of the Roman navy, which they proceeded to tow up the river Lippe to present it to the prophetess, who lived in a large tower near the river. It is certain that Veleda had great authority. For example, it is known that the inhabitants of the Roman city, Cologne accepted her arbitration in a conflict with the Tencteri, a tribe in 'free' Germany. (Tacitus, Histories 4.65)
Following the suppression of the Batavian revolt, the Romans captured Vedela (or offered asylum to her). This happened in 77. She is said to have served the Roman interests by negotiating with the hostile Germans. It is not known to what incident(s) this refers, but it may be noted that in 83 or 84, the Romans forced the Bructeri to accept a new, pro-Roman king. A Greek epigram found at Ardea (a few kilometers south of Rome) ridicules Vedela's prophetic talents. It has been said that this epigram suggests that Ardea was her place of detention. However, this is far from certain. Vedela was not the only German seeress known to the Romans. Tacitus informs us about a colleague..
“They even believe that the female sex has a certain sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsels, or make light of their answers. In [the emperor] Vespasian's days we saw Veleda, long regarded by many as a divinity. In former times, too, they venerated Aurinia, and many other women, but not with servile flatteries, or with sham deification.”
The Batavians had great respect for nature, both flora and fauna. They had sacred groves, sacred stones, sacred hills and so forth, but also animals had their own spirituality.
Although not a native god of the Batavian people, it would be remiss not to include the cult of Mithras as part of the worship of the Batavian cohorts. At Carrawburgh (Brocolitia) on Hadrians wall there are the remains of a Mithraeum with altar dedications made by the First cohort of Batavians stationed there in the third century AD.
The god Mithras came from India via Persia. In the west, Mithras was said to have sprung from a tree or a rock fully grown. The worship of Mithras and the associated cult became very important to soldiers because he represented the victory of the soul over death. The Romans elevated him to the position of a supreme deity, making him the centre of a complex mythology. This included a monstrous being, Kronos (or Aeon), portrayed as a lion-headed winged figure, encircled by a serpent and holding a sceptre and a thunderbolt.
In Sanskrit, Mithras means ‘friend’. In the Vedas he is a divinity of light, subordinate to Ahura or Varuna, in the Avesta, a spirit of light or fertilising warmth, also associated with truth and the oath. He is not the sky god, nor is he the Sun, which is described as the eye of Mithra and Varuna; the assimilation of the Sun (Persian Mihr) comes later. He is more probably the firmament, god of the upper air mediating between heaven and earth. The Assyrian Metru means ‘rain’.
The relation between Mithras emerging from a rock is analogous to the Sun rising from behind the mountains. A god of the air, like the Sun and the sky would see all things and therefore naturally become the enforcer of oaths and compacts. Although Mithras and the Sun are separate in the myth, their figures tend to merge and blend. The Sun was Ahura-Mazda’s chief representative in the battle of light against darkness. Mithras both shares the struggle with him and ousts him from his supremacy. Ahura-Mazda’s first creation had been a wild bull, representing untamed creation; Mithras seized it by the horns and held out until the bull was worn by weariness, then slung it over his shoulder and dragged it into a cave. This explains why most Mithraea were in part underground and dark. The bull escaped, and the Sun sent forth its messenger, the Raven to follow it. In accordance with the will of Ahura-Mazda, Mithras, with his faithful hound set off in pursuit, found the bull pulled back its head, grasped its nostrils with his left hand, and with his right plunged a dagger in its throat. From the blood of the dead bull sprang the vine of life, and from the spinal cord and tail came wheat. Ahriman sent his servants, the snake the scorpion and the ant to lap up the life-giving stream, but in vain; it spread over the earth. Through this act the Sun yielded supremacy to his ally, knelt before Mithras, was invested by him with a crown; arose, and made a covenant with him. Finally he took leave of his ally the Sun in a ceremonial banquet which was commemorated within the cult by a sacramental meal. Initiates believed that the ritual meal strengthened them and was also indicative of a better life beyond this world.
The Mithraic cult spread greatly under the rule of the Flavians, especially as has been mentioned in the military frontier provinces. Women were excluded from the cult, although there was fraternisation with the cult of Cybele.
A Mithraeum was an oblong building, often built underground with benches along each side of the interior. As little light as possible was provided to enhance the mystery effect. Dominating one end of the building would be a portrayal, either in stone or paint of Mithras’ greatest task, the slaying of the wild bull. Other figures associated with the worship of Mithras include Cautes who holds an upturned torch symbolising light and life, and Cautopates, whose downturned torch indicated darkness and death. Remains of these statues were found at the Carrawburgh Mithraeum.
Mithraism reached its height in Britain in the third century AD, and the Batavian cohorts altar dedications to Mithras at Carrawburgh (Brocolitia) are from this period. This Mithraeum and the one at the fortat Housesteads, also on Hadrians Wall are thought to have been desecrated by Christians.
Mithras’ slaying of the wild bull.
The slab pictured below shows a representation of the Sun (Mithras conflated with Helios in the radiate crown), Moon (Luna) and Iuppiter Dolichenus (Jove). It was dedicated to Sol Invictus (Mithras) and the Genius of the emperors’Batavian horseguards (The Equites Singulares Augusti) for the emperors’ health by a priest of the cult.
A dedication slab to Mithras ‘Sol Invictus’
Although Nehalennia (or Nehelennia) became known for her worship by the tribes in the Netherlands she was mainly worshipped by the Suebians in Germany, for this reason it can also be said with certainty that she was Germanic in origin and not Roman or Celtic like some scholars believe.
During the 17th and 19th century AD many altar stones dedicated to her were found by fishermen on the bottom of the Northsea near the peninsula of Walcheren in the Dutch province of Zeeland, on some of the stones she is asked to protect the ship of the creator of the stone, there are also depictions of her on some of the stones but mostly in a Romanized form that was probably copied from depictions of Isis, a fertility goddess who was worshipped by the Romans.
A remarkable detail is that on some of the stones the name of the creator is Roman or Celtic in origin, which implicates that the local Roman and Celtic occupiers took over some of the native deities and equalled them to their
There also seems to have been a temple dedicated to Nehalennia near Walcheren, which was destroyed by Christian missionaries in 694AD, near the coast to the west of the city of Domburg was a temple of Nehalennia too. During the early Middle Ages there was a local custom in some parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany in which the people rode a ship on wheels through the country while dancing around it and celebrating, this custom was later forbidden under pressure of the church.
This procession sounds very similar to the Nerthus ritual that was described by Tacitus, also; in Germany the people worshipped a goddess who protected ships and sea trade, her symbol was a ship; the symbol of Nerthus was also a ship and she also protected the ships of her worshippers so it may be very well possible that Nehalennia and Nerthus are one and the same goddess.
Before the merchants at Walcheren sailed out they visited Nehallenia's temple where they asked her to grant them a safe trip and a profitable trade, they also promised to erect an altar stone for her when they would return safely, some of this stones have been found and are displayed in museums, most of them have the Latin inscription; "Votum solvit libens merito", which means something like; the promise fulfilled, with pleasure and reason".
The name "Nehalennia" is believed to mean "Goddess of the new light" and she was almost certainly the protector of ships and sea trade.
This goddess was worshipped at the city of Cologne (Köln) in Germany, she is believed to have been a goddess of trees and wood and was also worshipped by the tribe of the Batavians in the Netherlands.