introduction | location and character | history and buildings | deity and cult

Lydney : deity and Cult
A probable votive offering found in 19th century excavations at Lydney, a highly accomplished bronze figurine (10 cm long), perhaps of an Irish wolfhound whelp. (Wheeler Plate XXV )

The presiding deity at Lydney is named as Nodens on the single curse tablet from the site and on two other metal plaques from the site as M(ars) Nodons and Nudens Mars. The god is also referred to in an abbreviated form (MN) on a mosaic. The name 'Nodens' is Celtic and its etymology may suggest a possible association with catching or trapping. The god is perhaps also associated with the river Severn and its tidal Bore. Nodens is only otherwise attested on two statuettes found near Lancaster, but Nuada, a cognate name, is also given to various figures in Irish mythology.

Amongst the votive objects found at the site are dog figurines, some highly schematic, one amongst the most accomplished pieces of bronze sculpture from Roman Britain. The canine iconography may refer to hunting, perhaps a facet of the god's identity. However, in the Roman world dogs can also be associated with healing sanctuaries (see Pagan's Hill : deity and cult). A curative role for the temple might also explain the presence of two possible ex-votos, the bone representation of a woman and a hollow bronze arm. The discovery of an oculist's stamp (to be stamped into cakes of eye medicine) also suggests the presence of a healer. A fragmentary bronze relief depicting a sun god driving a chariot and another showing a marine deity may manifest other dimensions of the god's identity.

Many of the everyday items found on the site are also likely to have been votive offerings, including many pins and bracelets and many thousands of coins. Individual bronze letters were also found. These were presumably to be attached to wooden boards to make an inscription, perhaps a prayer to the gods or recording the fulfilment of a vow.

One of the mosaics laid at Lydney names two priests in its inscription, Titus Flavius Senilis, perhaps a praefectus religionis ('superintendent of the cult') and Victorinus, interpres, perhaps 'interpreter of dreams'. The presence of an interpres prompted the designation of an ancillary building as an 'incubation' chamber (see Lydney : history and buildings). It was perhaps specialists of this type who were consulted for the writing of curse tablets (see Cursing for beginners: curses and cursive: scribes).

previous: history and buildings     return to the beginning