UD- May 2015
In a world where the average woman was not expected to live beyond her 20’s, and death in childbirth was common, it is little wonder that one of the most widespread cults in the Celtic (and Gallo-Roman) world was that of the Nutrices – the protectors of maternity and motherhood.
In Britannia and Gaul the Nutrices/Matres are often represented in a triad on votive reliefs such as those from Circencester (Gloucestershire) where the central Goddess is holding the baby in her arms, or Vertault (Côte d’Or) where 3 nursing Goddesses are depicted.
The Aufanian Matronae (detail) from the Gallo-Roman temple site at Görresburg, Nettersheim
(Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn)
Left: Terracotta relief of the Matres from the Gallo-Roman settlement of Vertillum (Vertault, Côte d’Or).
(Museum of Châtillon-sur-Seine)
Right: Nursing Mother Goddesses from Cirencester. (Corinium Museum, Cirencester)
Other depictions of the Nutrices are found on white terracotta figurines discovered across Europe, depicting seated Matres wearing a diadem and long garments, feeding 1 or 2 infants at their breast. The Celtic Nutrices should also be related to the Roman Dea Nutrix, who was venerated especially in North Africa, either alone, or together with Saturnus, and is also represented breast-feeding babies, or as protector of children.
Five statuettes in white terracotta of nursing Matres discovered in a well in Auxerre (Yonne).
Statuettes of the Matres from Morlanwelz (Hainaut), Belgium
On the Balkans, the largest center dedicated to the Nutrices was that at Poetovio in Pannonia (Ptuj, eastern Slovenia), where 2 sanctuaries and numerous inscriptions have been discovered. In Poetovio the Nutrices are always venerated in the plural form and, as in the case of sites such as Cirencester (Britannia) and Vertault (Gaul), are often portrayed as a triad.
Representation of the Nutrices from Poetovio
(LIMC, vol. 6.2, p. 620, n°4)
Noteworthy is the fact that, although dating to the Roman period, a significant number of dedicators to the Nutrices/Matres at Poetovio still bear Celtic names (Šašel Kos 1999). This fact, and the use of a separate Celtic alphabet/script in this region as late as the 3rd c. AD, indicates a remarkable continuity of native religious and cultural tradition throughout the Roman period.
(On the Celtic inscriptions from Poetovio see also:
On life expectancy among Celtic women see: