Celtic polytheism practised in Britain,
Sulis was a deity
worshipped at the thermal spring of Bath (now in Somerset). She was
worshipped by the Romano-British as
Sulis Minerva, whose votive
objects and inscribed lead tablets suggest that she was conceived of
both as a nourishing, life-giving mother goddess, and as an effective
agent of curses wished by her votaries.
Cult at Bath
2.1 Inscribed tablets
Syncretism with Minerva
4 Solar goddess
5 Modern worship
6 See also
8 External links
The exact meaning of the name
Sulis is still a matter of debate among
linguists, but one possibility is "Eye/Vision", cognate with Old Irish
súil "eye, gap", perhaps derived from a
Proto-Celtic word *sūli-
which may be related to various Indo-European words for "sun" (cf.
Homeric Greek ηέλιος, Sanskrit sūryah "sun", from
Cult at Bath
See also: Roman Baths (Bath)
The Roman baths at Bath
Sulis was the local goddess of the thermal springs that still feed the
spa baths at Bath, which the Romans called
Aquae Sulis ("the waters of
Sulis"). Her name primarily appears on inscriptions discovered at
Bath, with only a single instance outside of Britain at Alzey,
Germany. This is not surprising, as
Celtic deities often preserved
their archaic localisation. They remained to the end associated with a
specific place, often a cleft in the earth, a spring, pool or well.
The Greeks referred to the similarly local pre-Hellenic deities in the
local epithets that they assigned, associated with the cult of their
Olympian pantheon at certain places (Zeus Molossos only at Dodona, for
example). The Romans tended to lose sight of these specific locations,
except in a few Etruscan cult inheritances and ideas like the genius
loci, the guardian spirit of a place.
The gilt bronze cult statue of
Minerva "appears to have been
deliberately damaged" sometime in later Antiquity, perhaps by
barbarian raiders, Christian zealots, or some other forces.
Main article: Bath curse tablets
About 130 curse tablets, mostly addressed to Sulis, have been found in
the sacred spring at the Roman baths in Bath. Typically, the text
on the tablets offered to
Sulis relates to theft; for example, of
small amounts of money or clothing from the bath-house. It is evident,
from the localized style of Latin ("British Latin") used, that a high
proportion of the tablets came from the native population. In
formulaic, often legalistic, language the tablets appeal to the deity,
Sulis, to punish the known or unknown perpetrators of the crime until
reparation be made.
Sulis is typically requested to impair the
physical and mental well-being of the perpetrator, by the denial of
sleep, by causing normal bodily functions to cease or even by death.
These afflictions are to cease only when the property is returned to
the owner or disposed of as the owner wishes, often by its being
dedicated to the deity. One message found on a tablet in the Temple
at Bath (once decoded) reads: "Docimedis has lost two gloves and asks
that the thief responsible should lose their minds [sic] and eyes in
the goddess' temple."
Latin epitaph of Gaius Calpurnius, a priest of
Sulis at Bath, who died
at the age of 75 and was commemorated by his wife, a freedwoman
The tablets were often written in code, by means of letters or words
being written backwards; word order may be reversed and lines may be
written in alternating directions, from left to right and then right
to left (boustrophedon). While most texts from
Roman Britain are in
Latin, two scripts found here, written on pewter sheets, are in an
unknown language which may be Brythonic. They are the only examples of
writing in this language ever found.
Syncretism with Minerva
At Bath, the
Roman temple is dedicated to
Sulis Minerva, as the
primary deity of the temple spa. Through the Roman
later mythographers have inferred that
Sulis was also a goddess of
wisdom and decisions.
Sulis was not the only goddess exhibiting syncretism with Minerva.
Senua's name appears on votive plaques bearing Minerva's image, while
Brigantia also shares many traits associated with Minerva. The
identification of multiple Celtic gods with the same Roman god is not
unusual (both Mars and Mercury were paired with a multiplicity of
Celtic names). On the other hand, Celtic goddesses tended to resist
Minerva is one of the few attested pairings of a
Celtic goddess with her Roman counterpart.
Dedications to “Minerva” are common in both
Great Britain and
continental Europe, normally without any Celtic epithet or
Belisama for one exception.)
Based on her name's etymology, as well as several other
characteristics, such as the association with sight, civic law, and
epithets relating to light,
Sulis has been interpreted as a solar
deity, at least in pre-Roman times. Some researchers have further
suggested a role as the de facto Celtic solar deity, the associated
Sulevia and similar names being the goddess's attestations
Sulis has a number of modern-day worshipers among the Wiccan and Pagan
communities. As of 1998, some people still deposited offerings in
the waters of the Roman baths.
Water and religion
^ Joyce Reynolds and Terence Volk, "Review: Gifts, Curses,
Society at Bath", reviewing The Temple of
Minerva at Bath: vol.
2 The Finds from the Sacred Spring, in
Britannia 21 (1990:379-391).
^ Delamarre, Xavier (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (2nd
ed.). Errance. p. 287.
^ Zair, Nicholas (2012). Reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European
Laryngeals in Celtic. Brill. p. 120.
^ The standard introduction to the archaeology and architectural
reconstruction of the sanctuary, with its classic temple raised on a
podium at the center, and the monumental baths, with the sacred spring
between them, is Barry Cunliffe, ed. Roman Bath (Oxford University
^ CIL XIII, 6266,
Alzey (Altiaia, Roman Province of Germania
Superior): Dea(e) Sul(i) / Attonius / Lucanu[s]
^ The Official Roman Baths Museum Web Site in the City of Bath
^ Wilson, Roger (1988). A guide to the Roman remains in Britain.
p. 109. ISBN 0094686807.
^ Adams, J. N. (1992). "British Latin: The Text, Interpretation and
Language of the Bath
Curse Tablets". Britannia. Cambridge University
Press. 93: 1–26. doi:10.2307/526102.
^ Cf. Fagan, Garrett G. (2002). Bathing in Public in the Roman World.
p. 37. ISBN 0472088653. , Gager, John G. (1999). Curse
tablets and binding spells from the ancient world. pp. 194–195.
^ Tomlin, Roger (1988). Tabellae Sulis: Roman inscribed tablets of tin
and lead from the sacred spring at Bath. pp. 114–115.
^ CIL VII, 53 = RIB 155.
^ Tomlin, Roger (1987). "Was Ancient British Celtic Ever a Written
Language?". Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies. University of
Wales (34): 18–35. ISSN 0142-3363.
^ Patricia Monaghan, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and
Folklore, page 433.
^ Kotch, John T., Celtic Culture: Aberdeen breviary-celticism, page
^ Dexter, Miriam Robbins (Fall–Winter 1984). "Proto-Indo-European
Sun Maidens and Gods of the Moon". Mankind Quarterly. 25 (1 & 2):
^ a b Marion Bowman (1998). "Belief, Legend and Perceptions of the
Sacred in Contemporary Bath". Folklore. 109: 28.
Media related to
Sulis at Wikimedia Commons
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Ancient deities of Gaul, Britain and
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