ARTIO – The Celtic Bear Goddess

Ud: July 2019

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As all animals, the bear held a special significance in Iron Age European society, encapsulating the qualities of strength and potency, and portrayed in numerous works of Celtic art and attested to in inscriptions from across the continent.

Arm

Group of 3 sandstone bear statues found at Armagh, Ireland (the smallest now missing)

(pre-christian period, i.e. pre-5th c.)

 

The Celtic word for bear – *artos (OIr. Art, MW arth , OBret. Ard-, Arth-, MoBret. Arzh; Masasovic ELPC) is reflected in numerous Celtic personal names – in simple names such as Artos, Artus  (Delamarre 2007:27; CIL XIII 10008,7: Artus Dercomogni (from Maar, near Trier), derivatives such as patronyms, e.g. Galatian Artiknos, and hypocoristica of the type Artillus, Artilla. A fine example of the latter has been found in Trier (CIL XIII/1.1, no. 3909):

HIC QUIESCIT IN PACE URSULA . . . ARTULA MATER TIT(ULUM) POSUIT

In this case mother and daughter have the same name, the mother still in Celtic, the daughter already in the Roman tongue. This is typical for the language switch implied in Romanization throughout the empire.

‘Bear’ is also found in Celtic nominal compounds, cf. Comartio-rix ‘king of [men] comparable to bears’, or Artebudz (Ptuj, Slovenia), which appears to be a late form of *Arto-buððos ‘having a bear’s penis’ (according to Eichner et al. 1994; see also Zimmer 2009)In the insular sphere a number of names continue the Old Celtic formations. Cf.:

Old Irish Artbe = Old Welsh Artbeu = Old Breton Arthbiu, all < Old Celtic *Arto-biu̯o- = ‘quick as a bear’;

Old Irish Artgal = Old Welsh Arthgal, Middle Welsh Arthal, < *Arto-galno- = vigorous like a bear’ (see Zimmer op cit).

artebudz

The Brogdos Inscription from Poetovio
(after Istenič 2000; see https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/between-birth-and-death-celtic-graffiti/)

 

The most extraordinary Celtic inscription to be discovered at Poetovio, Slovenia was found on a beaker at the site. Dated to the 2nd/3rd c. AD, and written in a Celto-Etruscan script, the inscription reads ARTEBUDZ BROGDUI which has been translated as ‘Artebudz for Brogdos’. Both names are Celtic, and the vessel was a votive offering to Brogdos – a deity guarding the border between the world of the living and the after-world (Eichner et al 1994:137; Egri 2007).

 

Other artifacts from south-eastern Europe, such as a ceramic bowl decorated with a zoomorphic/bear handle from the pre-Roman layers at Viminacium or brown bear teeth used as pendants/talismans from the Celtic hillfort at Zidovar (both Serbia), indicate that the bear was particularly revered by the Balkan Celtic tribes.

 

Celtic cup from Viminacium - museum of viminacium

Celtic (Scordisci) zoomorphic bowl from Viminacium, Serbia (1 c. BC)

 

zid brwn br th

Brown bear teeth talismans from Zidovar, Serbia (2/1 c. BC)

 

ARTIO

In Celtic culture the bear was associated with the Bear Goddess Artio – attested to in inscriptions such as those from Daun (CIL 4203), Stockstadt (CIL XIII 11789), Heddernheim (CIL 13, 7375) (all Germany), as well as Weilerbach (Luxembourg) (CIL XIII 4113) and Muri (near Bern) in Switzerland (CIL 13, 05160). The latter inscription comes from a bronze sculpture which depicts a large bear facing a woman seated in a chair, with a small tree behind the bear. The woman seems to hold fruit in her lap, apparently feeding the bear.

he goddess Artio from the Muri statuette group, a noted collection of bronze figures of Gallo-Roman found in Muri bei Bern, Switzerland, 1832.

The goddess Artio from the Muri statuette group, a noted collection of Gallo-Roman bronze figures found in Muri bei Bern, Switzerland in 1832

The Muri sculpture bears the inscription Deae Artioni / Licinia Sabinilla = To the Goddess Artio (or Artionis), from Licinia Sabinilla, and is valuable evidence that the cult of the Celtic Bear Goddess survived into the Roman period.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources Cited

Delamarre, X. (2003) Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. 2ème éd. Paris: Errance.

Delamarre, X. (2007) Noms de personnes celtiques dans l’épigraphie classique. Paris: Errance.

Egri M. (2007) Graffiti on Ceramic Vessels from the Western Cemetery at Poetovio. In: Funerary Offerings and Votive Depositions in Europe’s 1st Millennium AD. Cluj-Napoca 2007. P. 37 – 48.

Eichner, H., Janka, I., Milan, L. (1994) Ein römerzeitliches Keramikgefäß aus Ptuj (Pettau, Poetovio) in Slovenien mit Inschrift in unbekanntem Alphabet und epichorischer (vermutlich keltischer) Sprache. Arheoloski Zbornik 45, 131–42.

Istenič J. (2000) Poetovio, the western cemeteries II. Ljubljana.

Matasovic R. (2009) An Etymological Lexicon of Proto-Celtic. University of Leiden = ELPC

Šašel Kos (1999) Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic – Situla 38, Ljubljana.
Zimmer S. (2009) The Name of Arthur – A New Etymology. JCeltL, 13 (2009), 131–6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On animals in Celtic culture see also:

 

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/the-dog-in-celtic-culture-and-religion/

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/cult-of-the-wild-boar/

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/catubodua-queen-of-death/ (birds of prey)

 

On Celtic personal names see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/bituriges-kings-of-the-world/
https://www.academia.edu/3292310/The_Thracian_Myth_-_Celtic_Personal_Names_in_Thrace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “ARTIO – The Celtic Bear Goddess

  1. A few relevant observations on bear mythology: The pictures of the Irish sculptures reminded me of the mythological High King of Ireland Cormac, son of Art Mac Cuinn, who is linked to the Fenian cycle. Likewise, the legendary Brythonic King, Arthur. Popular myths from Britain and Ireland as well as many other European nations often refer to a ‘sleeping king’ who slumbers in a cave and will awake to help the people in future time of dire need. Variations on this include sleeping dragons. The bear, like the boar, digs and roots in the earth uncovering food – a very ‘cthonic’ beast who – like nature – hides away underground in a death-like state during the winter. Bears, like boars and serpents/dragons, seem to represent the wealth and renewal of the otherworld. I was always intrigued by the similarities in the celtic and indo-european languages between the names for pigs and bears: e.g. – uirceann (pig), ursa (bear). The english word ‘urchin’ is an old term for the (hibernating) hedgehog, derived from the celtic word ‘uircean’. The hedgehog was considered lucky in the Isle of Man, where it is called the ‘arkan sonney’ (uircean sona). I am sure this is for the same otherworldly reasons that bears and boars etc were considered lucky or sacred elsewhere in the celtic ‘world’… I think plovers formerly shared the same status – being migratory and hyperborean in their holiday-inclinations. I even think they might have had the ‘erc-art-ort-uirc’ indo-european word applied to them in celtic languages in pre-modern times? I’ll check my notes and post back here…

    1. The article , research and the first comment here are all fascinating it’s a great site on Celtic interest, ‘Keltologie’ as the Germans might say, Iron Age archeology

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