On the Lusitanian Pantheon

MuseuNacArqu-GuerreirosLusitanos“Lusitanian Warriors” at the National Museum of Lisbon. Photographer credited as “Shadowgate”.

This was pretty much a long time coming.

In my youth I became very enamoured with the Lusitanian gods, making a variety of texts with varying degrees of accuracy and nonsense. In retrospect, it was rather simplistic and amateurish, buying into an unwittingly-nationalist narrative that I have since come to despise. Still, it is an interesting topic, worth revisiting now that I have grown substantially and have come to learn more about the world.

The Lusitanians were not the de facto ancestors of Portugal. They were simply a culture whose range didn’t even overlap fully with the country’s territory, a culture who did put on a show fighting the Romans but ultimately left nothing except genetic shadows. Nothing directly links portuguese culture to that of the Lusitanians: no songs, no poems, no prayers.

Still, they are easily among the most visible of the Iberia’s indigenous cultures – whose own pantheons are fascinating in their own right and I might one day explore – and they did leave one trace of their existence behind: their gods, eagerly appropriated by the Romans. As such, by revisiting the Lusitanians, I aim to paint a picture of the religious landscape of this corner of Europe, and hopefully bring about a discussion in regards to the evolution of Eurasian religions.


Historical Context


Iberian Peninsula 300 BC. Notice the dominance of Indo-European groups in the northwest and center while other groups occur across the south, east and northeast. Greek and Phoenician/Carthaginian colonies established themselves in the south and east. (Artist CanBea87, based on map by Luís Fraga).

The Lusitanians were an Indo-European culture that occured in the center and possibly the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, where they overlap with the Gallaeci Celts (Pedreño 2005). Their exact appearance is unclear; a direct connection between them and the various material cultures that occured in the Iberian Peninsula’s Bronze Age has not been conclusively made. They are first recorded in classical sources at around 300 BC, and lasted until their conquest by the Roman Empire. Closely associated with the Lusitanians and sharing in the same language and most of their culture were the Vettones; for the sake of simplicity I’m using “Lusitanian” here as an umbrella term for both Lusitanian-proper, Vettone and northwestern populations thought to have been at least strongly influenced by them (Pedreño 2005).

We know Lusitanians had an Indo-European language(s) based on the few inscriptions we have; this is a stark contrast to several other pre-Roman cultures in the Iberian Peninsula, such as the Aquitanians (ancestors of the Basque), the Iberians and Turdetani. However, there was another set of Indo-European cultures in the region: the Celts. This in particular has sparked a lot of debate on whereas Lusitanians were Celtic or not; classical sources distinguish both groups to varying degrees, and archaeological finds similarly vacillate between acceptable differences and major divergences between Lusitanians and (other) Celts.

Recent studies on their language suggest a closer connection to Italic languages than Celtic ones (Villar 2000, Prósper 2009); if this is the case, it seems that they represent a different Indo-European migration into the Iberian Peninsula from that of the Celts, and may even have had a few cultural traits in common with Italic peoples. This is pretty much a goldmine in regards to studying their religion; if we’re lucky, maybe we can see the reconstruction of a Proto-Italic religion, much as we have reconstructed the Proto-Indo-Iranian one, the Proto-Germanic one and of course the Proto-Indo-European one, among others.

The most recent consensus in this regard is that Lusitanian represents a sister-language to the Italo-Celtic complex, having diverged before them but more similar to them than to other Indo-European languages (Haak 2015, Lújan 2019). If this is correct, we might want to apply potential reconstructionist to this entire branch of the western Indo-European languages and religion.

An elephant in the room must be addressed when discussing the spread of the Lusitanians from their steppe ancestors into their residence: prior to Roman colonialism, the Iberian Peninsula seems to have been strictly divided among Indo-European speakers to the north, northwest, west, southwest and center while Old European speakers (whereas they composed the speculated Vasconic-Iberian languages or if both groups were linguistically unrelated) got the south, the southeast, the east and the northeast. This is odd considering the Indo-European speakers were horse riders coming from Central Europe, yet the Lusitanians and Celts lived as far away from the Pyrenees land bridge as possible while Old Europeans formed as “barrier” between the Indo-European cultures of the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe.

An interesting study may offer some light on this conundrum. Steppe-nomad invasions – which usually correlate with the spread of Indo-European languages – occured around 2500 BC and later at 1500 BC (the former corresponding to the Lusitanians and the latter with the Celts perhaps?) and spread across the Iberian Peninsula. Most of the indigenous genetic diversity was retained, but all Y chromossomes came from these invaders, even in populations otherwise established to be very distinct, like the Basque (which soon after these events saw an increase in isolation, I wonder why). In most of Europe the arrival of steppe-nomads lead to the extinction of local non-Indo-European languages, but combined with a recent study on the Etruscans it appears that both in the Iberian Peninsula and Italy cultural succession was a lot more complex and likely attests to a high degree of social interactions between both invaders and natives. That all Y chromossomes after first contact come from the invaders paints a very grim picture of gendercide and mass rape, but both among the Basques, Iberians and Turdetani women endured and preserved their language and culture and even influenced their bastard humans with it. In some areas of the Iberian Peninsula their cultures were able to put itself back together, and even in areas where Lusitanian and Celtic languages were spoken Old Iberia was not done yet.

Indeed, a significant substrate of Basque epithets has been found among the known Lusitanian deities (Anuntxi 1996, Lopes 2014, Encarnação 2015), suggesting that much as Dravidian language and religion influenced Hinduism so did indigenous beliefs influenced those of the Lusitanians, neighbouring Celts and perhaps even Celts beyond the Iberian Peninsula. Lusitanian religion is often thought off as similar to that of the Celts, and certainly there were shared gods (including perhaps a few worshipped by all Celts), but this new line of evidence might instead hint at a completely parallel development, and certainly an antiquity in regards to the Lusitanian pantheon, either as their notions of the Proto-Indo-European gods or imports from indigenous peoples.

Things are not looking good for the “Lusitanians are Celts” crowd, it seems.



De-nosed Endovelicus bust found in his former shrine at Alandroal (Alentejo). (photographer uncredited)

The big E. The foremost god that always comes first when discussing the Lusitanian gods. The deity I spammed the internet with for a while. The god I actually made a makeshift shrine for (it’s no good now). The Lusitanian god on TV Tropes. The Lusitanian god the Romans actually gave a shit about and spammed the empire with him as well.

And still all he gets is that weird bust with a busted nose. Damn search engines.

Endovelicus (also spelled Endovellicus, Indovelicus, Endobelicus among others; modern portuguese is Endovélico) was most likely not the head of the Lusitanian pantheon, but he was by far the most popular of the pantheon, his theonym spreading beyond the Iberian Peninsula across the Roman Empire (as we’ll find out, this wasn’t the only Lusitanian god to get big abroad).

We know he was a civic health god and an oracular god, and for these reasons was often equated with Asclepius, Apollo, Serapis and deities appropriated from the Celts like Belenus. In fact, a few researchers do consider Endovelicus to be the Lusitanian iteration of Belenus; however, Belenus as a theonym also occurs in the Iberian Peninsula (Pedreño 2005, Koch 2006), rendering it less likely that the Endovelicus is the “Lusitanian Belenus”.

The etymology of Endovelicus is rather unclear, not helped by over two hundred years of portuguese, spanish and general Celtic-specialist archaeologists offering their own interpretations. For instance, Cabal 2009 makes the claim that the prefix endo means “god” and velicus is essentially “Belenus”, making it “God Belenus”. This etymology has not been cited by anyone else and I suspect it isn’t taken seriously based on the following factors:

  • “Endo” (or possibly *ande- as suspected by José Leite de Vasconcelos; see also Teixeira 2014) as a Lusitanian or Celtic word for “god” isn’t really attested anywhere else aside from possibly Andévalo, which was probably named after this god (Teixeira 2014). No other Lusitanian or Celtic theonym has this, and it doesn’t seem to be a Celtic word for “deity”, though we can’t rule out being one in Lusitanian.
  • The etymology of Belenus is highly disputed itself (Maier 1994, Koch 2006), and is unlikely to have undergone through a “velicus” stage (Villar 2000, Prósper 2009).
  • Even if both words were correct, it wouldn’t make any sense given how Lusitanian theonyms typically are. Unlike some other cultures, which did specify god names with a word for “god” attached (i.e. Tocharian Kaum-näkte, “sun deity”; Slavic Chernabog, “black god”), Lusitanian theonyms as a whole do not have this.

A similar etymology has been proposed by José Leite de Vasconcelos, making the claim that the original name was *Andevellicos, from the Celtic root *ande (“good”) and *vello (“very”). It suffers from the same problems as the Cabal etymology, though at least one could make these case for this being closer to an original Lusitanian theonym. A more recent reworking of this etymology has been proposed by Cardim Ribeiro, emphasising the Romanization of the name and its Lusitanian origin, rendering it as meaning “most good” or “most benevolent” (Ribeiro 2009).

Another proposed etymology by António da Visitação Freire suggests that the name is a hybrid between Celtic and Phoenician words, the Celtic root *end- positioned on the Phoenician Bel, with –icus being simply a later Latin termination. While the idea that Endovelicus is essentially a Lusitanian Ba’al is extremely amusing, the application of this etymology is questionable at best. As we will see, Endovelicus has a much different character from the fertility storm gods that the Phoenicians and Carthaginians called Bel.

The most recent proposed etymology sees instead a connection with Aquitanian. In this case, the original name was *Endo-belles, “most black”, from the Proto-Basque root *bels (Encarnação 2015). I like this etymology the most, it takes into consideration the aforementioned interaction between Lusitanians and Old European cultures in the Iberian Peninsula, though the fact that Endovelicus’ worship is older and more dominant in the south of Lusitania while the Aquitanians and their descendents remained mostly in the northeast might take some ‘xplain’ to do.

Endovelicus is typically characterised as a civic and oracular god, being associated with healing and miraculous visions. Archaeological finds suggest however that this characterisation was offered primarily by Roman worshippers, which vastly outnumbered local ones (Teixeira 2014), offering this god the epithets of sanctus (“holy”) and praestantissimus (“most outstanding”), a title otherwise offered to Roman knights. Inscriptions do show that the god was a darling to the Roman high classes (though a majority of worshipers were also women and slaves), and might have even developed a domestic role (Teixeira 2014).

Eerily enough, however, few votive inscriptions to this god belong to indigenous Lusitanians. There are also no autochthonous epithets (Teixeira 2014), unlike several other Lusitanian gods. It was the Romans who appropriated Endovelicus and made him a noble god; before, he was something else…

Endovelicus was pretty much always understood to be a chthonic (or, as Vasconcelos put it, “infernal”) god: his voice is described as “from below” at votive sites, whispering into the dreams of those who sleep in his temples to grant them visions; he is the recipient of pig sacrifices, the association of pigs with chthonic gods being omnipresent in Europe, from the boar-steeds of the Vanir in Norse mythology to the earth goddess of the Aesti being represented as a boar; his shrines are associated with springs; and he is associated with vegetation and wildlife, depictions showing him associated with winged boys that may be indicative of the afterlife or reincarnation (Vasconcelos 1905, Teixeira 2014, Encarnação 2015). That his name may mean “the most black” only vindicates this assertion (Encarnação 2015).

Endovelicus is also associated with mountains, with the aforementioned Andévalo being possibly a toponym related to this god (Teixeira 2014). All of this paints a god associated with the earth and the underworld. Probably relatively unpopular but also not particularly grim due to the association with vegetation and pleasant afterlife/reincarnation given the winged boy iconography. It was with the arrival of the Romans that this god became more popular, perhaps emphasising his connection with health and prophetic dreams and eventually making him a civic god.

If he was ever associated with agriculture or wealth like other chthonic gods, however, the Roman iteration of his character doesn’t show it, as if the god had been fully divorced from nature.

As typical for gods syncretised with Apollo, several writers have proposed a solar character for this god. Indeed, claiming that Endovelicus is a “supreme solar healing god” that goes into the Underworld to retrieve medicine has become something of a meme in publications about this god. This has also been claimed for Celtic gods like Lug and Belenus, and its become increasingly obvious in recent years that these were in fact NOT solar gods, and that the solar deity in the Celtic (and indeed, broader European landscape) landscape was in fact feminine (Monaghan 2008, Snow 2002). This might also be the case for Lusitanians (see Trebaruna below), not in the least thanks to additional influence from the Vasconic peoples, which also see the sun as feminine (Trask 1997, Lurker 2015).

That said, in spite of the abundant and clearly chthonic nature of Endovelicus, a solar character probably can’t be fully dismissed. As an oracular god, Endovelicus was associated with light, and indeed the rivulet at his shrine in Alandroal has been renamed Lucefécit due to the belief that it offers “glimpses of light”. And certainly the aesthetics of angel-like flying boys and the epithet of “holy” do lend themselves well to a solar god.

For now, there is no unambiguous Lusitanian solar deity; other gods down the line and their potential to be solar gods will be discussed (see Trebaruna and to a lesser extent Nabia for the most serious contenders). Assuming the Italic nature of Lusitanian language, it might be that the transition from the Proto-Indo-European sun goddess to a male sun god happened in the Proto-Italic people, and thus both Romans and Lusitanians shared male solar gods while the Celts (as well as contemporary Old Europeans like the Basque and Etruscans) retained female ones. That said, it seems most likely that the solar characteristics of Endovelicus were not present in the original Lusitanian religion, and only came about when the god became popular among the Romans.

Overall, Endovelicus appears to be an unique Lusitanian invention, or perhaps a loan from Old European cultures in Iberia. Some similarities with with the Proto-Indo-European god *Péh2usōn could be argued, but I think it is more likely that this god has closer counterparts in Basque mythology.




Depiction from Serra do Larouco. (photographer uncredited)

Also spelled Reve or Reue,  this god is unlike Endovelicus a more likely contender to be the ruler of the pantheon, and a more unambiguously popular god in pre-Roman times. Inscriptions of this name occur all over the Lusitanian territory from as far north as Galiza to as south as Portalegre; with them are attached a variety of Lusitanian epithets such as AnabaraegoReumiraegoVeisutoLanganitaecoMarandicui and, most notably, Larauco, through which depictions in Serra do Larouco are known solely by (Encarnação 2015). He is known as Reo Bormanicus in Caldas de Vizela, implying a syncretism with this Celtic god (though see below).

Reo is like Endovelicus strongly associated with mountains, though the implication might be quite different. For one thing his sacrificial animal was the bull, a creature more commonly gifted to the Indo-European sky deities, though he also received the more atypical offerings of sheep in some regions (Encarnação 2015). Several inscriptions read of “Reo and the other gods”, and he was equated with the Roman Jupiter, even receiving a similar epithet as deo Maximo (Teixeira 2014). All of this seems to strongly imply that Reo is the Lusitanian reflex of *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr, the Proto-Indo-European sky father, and indeed one hypothesis of his name’s etymology is that it derived from the *dyḗus/*dyeus/*dyew/*deiwos root (Witczak 1999).

Unfortunately, this particular etymology is more likely to be wrong, as the process of changing a d– to a r– has no precedent in Indo-European languages and seems particularly artificial (Prósper 2009), though as our knowledge of Lusitanian continues to improve this may change. It should be noted that the idea that the sky father was the de facto head of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon is somewhat controversial to begin with, given how nearly all Indo-European descending traditions have other gods assume the position of head of the pantheon (including Mycenaean Greece, where Poseidon is the king of the gods, not Zeus) and how the head of the Scythian pantheon was a sun goddess, Tabiti, though the sky father was certainly seen as the divine patriarch and ancestor/father to all given how the root of his name gave rise to most words for “god” in this language family.

Maybe Reo is the case of an unrelated god that assumed the rule possibly originally held by the sky father reflex, much as Taranis did for continental Celts, Wodan for the Germanic peoples or Perun for the Slavs. That he is not the same god as the head of the Celts is clear, however, and seems to further indicate the distinction between Lusitanian and Celtic religions.

With this in mind, several other etymological origins come to mind. By far the most popular is the root *h₁reyp-, “river”, implying that Reo is a water deity (Teixeira 2014). This hypothesis is reinforced by some of the epithets: Langanitaeco can mean “large river” and Anabaraecus may be derived from the river names Ana and Baraecus (Alarcão 2009). Bormanicus is a Celtic god associated with bubbling springs, explaining that syncretism, and reo might actually be a Lusitanian word for “river”, as shown in the epithet Reumiraego, “river of Mira” (Martínez 2006).

The god’s association with mountains in the remaining epithets and with bull sacrifices renders the aquatic god role somewhat dubious, however, as they imply a heavenly function (Teixeira 2014). Likewise, it has recently been suggested that the inscription with Reo Bormanicus might have actually been Deo Bormanicus, having been tampered with (Encarnação 2015), hence making the syncretism not very credible. Finally, several altars to Reo are found away from rivers, further denying his role as a river god (Ferreira 2012).

Pedreño 2002 tries to reconcile this by drawing attention to the “Jupiter columns” found in Gaul, depicting “Jupiter” (actually Taranis) in the classical Chaoskampf myth, fighting aquatic dragons. According to him, this was Reo’s role in Lusitanian mythology: as a storm god battling monsters of chaos in order to ensure the presence of water and life. The problem here, however, is that it seems rather roundabout and possibly inapplicable: Taranis is a clear derivative of *Perkwunos, the Proto-Indo-European storm god whose reflexes are almost always the protagonists of the Indo-European Chaoskampf stories, while it is at the very least debatable whereas Reo also is. It is possible that Reo is a *Perkwunos reflex, especially since he had a variety of names that lead to a massive variety of reflexes in descending mythologies, but as of yet there is as much evidence as Reo being a *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr reflex.

Reo, in conclusion, is a sky god which may have a role as an aquatic god. This is not entirely unprecedented: the sky father Dyaus Pita is strongly associated with rain in the Vedas, the Hindu god Varuna rules both over the sky and the sea, the “waters of the firmament” are a motif in Zoroastrian literature associated with many yazatas and the Greek Ouranos rains blood and semen into the world upon his castration. Maybe in Lusitanian mythology the sky and waters were one, or maybe they adopted the Celtic idea of consecrating water bodies to deities regardless of their usual connection with water. The real question is whereas Reo is the descendent of a Proto-Indo-European god, a loan from another culture in the Iberian Peninsula or an entirely unique creation altogether.

Nabia is frequently paired off with Jupiter in inscriptions, implying that she was married to Reo, which the Romans syncretised with Jupiter (Pedreño 2002). That said, he is also associated with the goddess Trebaruna, implying at least a regional pair between these gods (Prósper 1999). These two deities are curiously connected with water (though see discussion on Trebaruna), implying its cosmological importance in Lusitanian mythology as a sort of representation of the sky and the cosmos.




Depiction at Fonte do Ídolo. Photo by José Gonçalo.

Speaking of Nabia (or Navia), she was a quite popular deity herself, bearing a variety of indigenous epithets such as ArconuniecaElaesurraegaSesmaca and Corona and a massive array of toponyms, the biggest among any deity in the Iberian Peninsula. Among them:

  • Navia, a municipality in Asturias.
  • River Navia, which runs through Lugo and Asturias.
  • River Navea, in Orense, Galicia.
  • Fountain Navia, in Luarcas, Asturias.
  • River Neiva, in Vila Verde, Portugal.
  • Castelo do Neiva, a parish in Portugal.
  • Vale do Neiva, a parish in Portugal.
  • River Nabão, which runs through Tomar, Portugal.
  • Tomar was called Nabância by the Romans, and this name derives from Nabia as well.
  • Navió, a parish in Northern Portugal.

She occurs as broadly as Reo and has more votive inscriptions than him; some of these pair her with “Jupiter”, suggesting that she was Reo’s consort (Pedreño 2002). However, she is also depicted in association with at least two other gods: Tongoenabiagus/Tongusnabiacus (described below) and Coronus (Pedreño 2002), implying that she was paired off with local ruling gods or that she served a variety of religious roles that implied courtship with various gods embodying social or natural principles.

Like a reverse Zeus.

The similarities with Juno do not end there: a depiction at San Mamede de Lousada has a lunar crescent (Pedreño 2002), making her one of the very few Indo-European lunar goddesses outside of the greco-roman world (though see below). She was however also associated with fertility, with her depiction at Fonte do Ídolo carrying a horn of plenty (Martínez 1998), bringing to mind Ceres. While the exact Proto-Indo-European analogues (if they existed) for these are contested, they do seem to embody a matronly archetype omnipresent in Indo-European traditions, tentatively reconstructed her as *Gʷouwindā (from the root *gʷṓws, “cow”) because of the association of these figures with cows (i.e. “cow-eyed” Hera, Brighid’s cows, et cetera). Indeed, cows were sacrificed to Nabia, but so were sheep; a particular date for these sacrifices is offered at April 9th, one of the rare examples of the Lusitanian religious calendar (Salinas de Frias 2010).

More than a matron goddess, Nabia might specifically be associated with water. Leite de Vasconcelos proposed a common origin with Sanskrit navya (“water stream”), which was supported in a letter sent to him by the French academic D’Arbois de Jubainville (Vasconcelos 1905). More recent etymologies include with Gaul naf (“god”) and the Proto-Indo-European root *náwyos (“fleet”), both of which deemed unsatisfactory (Prósper 2002). More recently, there is a proposition for the root *nawa (“lake”, “valley”) (Prósper 2009), essentially making Nabia “lady of the valley/lake”. A Celtic deity, Nantosuelta, has had a similar etymology proposed for her (Roux 1952, Olmstead 1994, Polomé 1997), the nanto- component possibly derived from *nawa while –-suelta derives from the Proto-Indo-European root *sóh₂wl̥ (“sun”); should these deities share a common origin, Nabia’s association with the moon and Nantosuelta’s association with the sun would be very interesting indeed. Perhaps they could imply an original solar function for the goddess, which became lunar after Roman colonialism, much as it happened to the Celtic goddess Epona or the Egyptian goddess Bast.

Other potential evidence for her aquatic nature is her shrine at Fonte do Ídolo, not only depicting her at the stream but also honouring her alongside another god, Tongoenabiagus (also Tongusnabiacus).  This deity appears to be a regional god so far known to be restricted to this shrine, and his name may possibly be connected to the goddess. Several etymologies have been proposed for the tongo component; Vasconcelos classically cites it as from the root *tongo (“I swear”), while more recently the root *teng (“wet”) has been proposed as a valid alternative (Prósper 2002). The nabiacus may not necessarily refer to the goddess Nabia, but rather perhaps to the stream, rendering nabia another word for water or waterbody (Vasconcelos 1905, Prósper 2002, Martínez 2006).

Should Nabia be a river goddess, its perhaps no wonder she might be the Lusitanian reflex of the Proto-Indo-European river goddess (*Dānu/*Dʰen), originally associated with the Danube river but projected into other river systems or even rivers in general in several descendent traditions. A sky father and a river mother could represent the progenitor couple in this religion; should Reo be associated with water, you might think he is the ocean in the sky and the rain while Nabia is the waterways on earth. A it is the heavenly rather than chthonic deities in Lusitanian religion that are associated with water, however, she might very well have been a celestial deity, as implied by her connection with the moon (or sun) and syncretism with the Roman Juno and Diana, both heavenly deities.

As mentioned before, a depiction with a lunar crescent has been found at San Mamede de Lousada (Pedreño 2002) and one of her Roman epithets is Cornigera (“horned”), implying that Nabia was a lunar goddess. This is in stark contrast to Celtic religions, where the moon is masculine (Monaghan 2008, Snow 2002), and could be an indicator that the switch from the Proto-Indo-European condition occurred in ancient Italic peoples, assuming Lusitanians are closer to them culturally than to the Celts. Another already mentioned possibility is simply that Nabia acquired lunar characteristics after Roman colonisation and was originally a sun goddess, though the lack of other candidates for lunar deity in the Lusitanian pantheon is rather conspicuous. As mentioned previously, the Celtic Nantosuelta appears to be associated with the sun, so if both deities have a common origin it is possible that there was a switch from solar to lunar role at some point.

Overall, both Nabia’s popularity and pairings with multiple gods suggests that she was a rather important goddess to the ancient Lusitanians and likely filled a large variety of roles. Some Roman epithets include Regina (“queen”), Sororia (presiding over female puberty) and Curitis (“warrior”), further suggesting her vast variety of functions even in Roman times (Adkins 2000). She was equated with both Juno and Diana, possibly specifically due to her role as a celestial goddess and probably her association with the moon and the landscape, painting the picture of a deity ruling both social affairs as well as natural cycles (Adkins 2000).

Rivers, moon, fertility, war and queenship at least. Not a bad résumé; so good in fact that Nabia’s cult overtly survived in Iberian christian saints. She in turn could have had quite the influences from Old European deities such as the Basque Mari, but a fully Indo-European explanation for her character is possible for now.



ataecina._mármol_del_artista_pedro_roque_dsc_0572r1Marble depiction by Pedro Roque Hidalgo.

Alongside Endovelicus, Ataegina (or Ataecina, Ategina, Attaegina, Adegina, Adecina, etc.; modern portuguese Atégina or At[a]écina) is one of the most commonly heard names in regards to Lusitanian deities, and surely enough she bears one of the highest numbers of votive inscriptions and epigraphic pieces. Many of her shrines and temples are also rather promenient, making her relatively visible, and she is one of the few indigenous deities to occur in the southern regions of the Iberian Peninsula, far into the range of non-Indo European speakers such as the Conii.

That said, while she was popular, most of her worship in Lusitanian territory occurs only around the southern edges, being absent from the usual pantheon distributed across those lands. In this regard she resembles Endovelicus, whose original range was far more limited and overlapping with hers, forming a smaller, possibly distinct regional pantheon on their own; that they came to become the faces of Lusitanian mythology is thus quite ironic, given that the average Lusitanian wasn’t worshipping either of them. Rather, her southern range meant she was much more popular with the Celts and Turdetani.

Ataegina’s name is traditionally explained as a Celtic loanword, derived from the same root as the Irish adaig (an antiquated word for “night”) (Pedreño 2002). This is not entirely impossible; she was worshipped in Celt territory after all, and this word may share a root with Latin āter and Sanskrit andha, both connected to darkness and night (Dictionary of the Irish Language, Royal Irish Academy, 1913–76.); night goddesses are almost universal in Indo-European religions. However, her predominance in Old European territory, as well as the lack of analogues elsewhere in the Celtic world casts this into doubt. For instance, some researchers have instead proposed that her name was actually derived from a physical location, perhaps in the epicenter of her cult (Martínez 2006, Teixeira 2014).

As sites like Tartessos show evidence of Phoenician cults of Astarte, part of me wonders if Ataegina is derived from this goddess. However, not only both deities co-exist in the same region (Lisbeth 2013), but their characteristics appear to be vastly different. Astarte is a heavenly goddess of love and war, while Ataegina seems to have been a chthonic fertility deity.

Ataegina was rather popular with the Romans, which equated her with Proserpina. This has lead to the usual consensus that was a similar underworld goddess associated with fertility as well as vengeance, with various inscriptions being from curse tablets. While caution has been made in regards to this syncretism, especially as comparatively little of her pre-Roman cult remains (Abascal 2002), we do know that Ataegina was strongly associated with goats both as sacrifices as well as visual representations of the goddess (Abascal 2002), implying a continuous role as an agrarian deity. Assuming her name is in fact correlated to other Indo-European words for darkness and night, or that it is related to a specific location (a “hellgate” if you will), there is in fact a strong argument to be made that Ataegina was a chthonic deity.

As Endovelicus was also a chthonic god, there is some credence to the idea that she was also an underworld deity. A boar god and a goat goddess of the underworld, originally worshipped in more or less the same region. Old European religions have been stereotyped as chthonic in nature, but this is true at least in regards to Basque religion, where the underworld is the realm of the gods and monsters while the sky is an “empty corridor” (Trask 1997). This contrasts to the sky-dwelling gods of the Indo-European religions, and could perhaps indicate that, like Endovelicus, Ataegina might have more direct counterparts in Basque mythology.

Like Endovelicus, there is little in the way of indigenous epithets for Ataegina. The Roman epiphet Turobrigensi/Turibrigensi likely relates to Turibriga, a site currently unknown but likely located in the wilds (Abascal 2002). Dea Sancta and Domina are also common in inscriptions, indicating her favour within the Roman world. A piece with Dea Sancta Burrulobrigensis has been found in Elvas, but may belong to a different goddess.




When no shoe fits… (stock pic)

Trebaruna (also rendered Treparuna, Trebaronna, Trebaronne, Trebarone, Trebaroni and Triborunni) occurs only at a select few inscriptions in the Lusitanian epicenter. A similar theonym, Trebopala (also rendered Trepopala) is known from an inscription at Cabeço de Fráguas; although often cited as independent deities, I think a case should be made for them representing the same goddess.

While the inscriptions of Trebaruna are rather scarce, they are notable for being among the very few written in Lusitanian rather than Latin. As such, we have a clear picture of a deity relevant to Lusitanian religion prior to extensive Roman influence, and whose fading into obscurity might reflect Lusitanian cultural values that fell out of favour under Roman occupation. Trebaruna is the consort of Reo in at least one inscription (Prósper 1999), suggesting her original role as a queen of the gods, perhaps usurped by the more Roman-friendly Nabia.

The Tre- prefix is generally accepted to mean “house”, “city” or “settlement” (Encarnação 2015), suggesting a civic role as a tutelary goddess. The second component of either of her names is more ambiguous, but in both cases aquatic explanations have been offered, the -runa possibly derived from *her-/*horun- (“current”) (Ferreira 2012), *araunis (“river”) (Prósper 1999) or *runis (“current”) (Pedreño 2002) and -pal possibly meaning “puddle” (Ferreira 2012). Alternative explanations include a connection to the Indo-Iranian Asuras and Ahuras (Freitas 2012) and, in Trebopala’s case, to “stone”, “rock” or even “tombstone” (Tovar 1985). A long assumed connection to “runes” has been proposed by Vasconcelos in 1905, but is generally not taken seriously anymore.

In spite of the aquatic components of the second part of the name, this goddesses’ attributes as a water deity have been considered rather suspect, with several researchers preffering an interpretation as a hearth deity (Alarcão 2009, Leitão 2015); Alarcão 2009 in particular is rather savage about this since it points out that “everything seems like a river god”. However, others have rolled with the idea that she is a goddess of civic springs and water supplies, with some shrines located in such places (Herrero 2002).

While it would be extremely unusual, hearth and solar goddess figures in Indo-European religions can in fact be associated with water; Brighid is frequently associated with wells, while Sulis has the famous baths of Bath; even in Late Antiquity mysticism, Helios is the “god of the sea” (Pachoumi 2015) and previously was associated with Poseidon through Rhodes, while in Zoroastrian theology fire is the child of the waters. As mentioned before, Trebaruna’s connection with Reo might suggest that water was of cosmological relevance to the ancient Lusitanians, perhaps invisoning the firmament as a heavenly ocean; you’ll quickly notice that, aside from Endovelicus’ sacred rivulet (which mostly associates him with light anyway), it is the celestial gods that are associated with water, not the chthonic ones. Perhaps this connection extends further into Nabia, assuming she isn’t a lunar goddess instead.

With this, it is therefore plausible that Trebaruna was a solar and hearth deity. If the connection with the Indo-Iranian Ahuras/Asuras is correct, this might be further evidence of her status as a solar deity; in the Rigveda Savitr is an Asura and in Vedic literature Asura is still occasionally used as a synonim for the sun, while Hvar-Khshaeta is an yazata often being the title Ahura (later taken by Mithra).

The theonym Iccona occurs at Cabeço de Fráguas alongside Trebaruna and Reo and might be connected to the pan-Celtic deity Epona (Pedreño 2002), suggesting that female solar deities could have endured in Lusitanian religion rather than having been replaced by male sun gods as in Italic religions; or perhaps they were adopted from Celts. Indeed, it is speculated that some portuguese traditions regarding the Virgin Mary, most notably the Nossa Senhora d’Antime processions, might be descended from solar goddess worship (Pinto 2013); a few sources cite a Lusitanian/Celtic sun goddess, Kontebria, but I haven’t yet found evidence in actual literature.. For now, however, this remains pure speculation, and in any case female hearth deities can co-exist with male sun gods, as Roman religion demonstrates.

Notably, though, the Lusitanian inscriptions to her regard oaths (Villar 2000, Prósper 2009), a characteristic of solar goddesses and much like Sulis’ own inscriptions at Bath (Snow 2002). Other inscriptions indicate that sheep were sacrificed to her, much as to Nabia and Reo (Prósper 2009).

Trebaruna is throughly equated with Victoria by the Romans and her altars commissioned by the army, which might indicate she was a war goddess (Vasconcelos 1905, Pedreño 2002). Perhaps once she was more akin to the Scythian Tabiti, a fiery queen of the gods, before losing favour when the Roman Empire rolled in.




Possible depiction in a patera from Caceres. (unknown photographer)

Another A-lister, Bandua is particularly interesting because of how strangely contradictory this god’s character seems to be.

There are thirty-five known altars with theonyms derived from the ban root, with several others bearing epithets associated with the god and a variety of votive inscriptions with epithets now known to be associated with Bandua (Encarnação 2008), across not only Lusitanian territory but also various Celtic regions in the Iberian Peninsula, implying that this deity was worshipped throught the region and rather popular among at least the Indo-European speaking cultures.

In Gallicia, an altar possibly equates Mars to Bandua, via the Latin inscription deo vexilor[um] martis socio banduae. Indeed, in at least a few areas Bandua was mostly worshipped by men (Pedreño 2005), and Bandua’s both primary sites of worship at fortifications and votive inscriptions do certainly imply a role as a war god. However, a patera found at Caceres – written with the inscription Band(uae) Araugel(ensi) – demonstrates the only known depiction of this god: a feminine deity figure.

Confusing the matter further is that inscriptions often go either way in terms of gender pronouns (Martínez 1998).

This, alongside the sheer prevalance of Bandua across Iberia, can two possible explanations:

  • Bandua is a theonym applied to several different deities, possibly war deities in general.
  • This god does in fact have several genders for several different occasions and contexts. Both Indo-European and non-Indo-European cultures are no stranger to multigendered, hermaphroditic or genderfluid gods.
  • Bandua started as a war goddess gradually displaced by a male god, possibly in conjunction with the Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula.

Some authors suggested that Bandua was the head of the Lusitanian pantheon, particularly in regions where Reo inscriptions are not found (Pedreño 2002, Alarcão 2009). Again, as much as we consider the sky father to be the king of the gods in most Indo-European religions, the truth is that he is usually has been demoted to a mere distant patriarchal function in most descendent traditions or lower, so I’m not surprised.

The exact etymology is Bandua is unclear, with several Indo-European roots having been put forth but found unsatisfactory. This includes *bhendh (“tie”/”bind”), *gwem-tu (“come”, “to go”),  *band (“fountain”), *bend (“top”, “summit”), *gwn-deiw (“woman-god”) and *bhandate (“bright”) (Bravo 2002, Prósper 2009, Bascuas 2007, Redentor 2008, Alarcão 2009). The most recent consensus is that the name is possibly non-Indo-European in nature (Ferreira 2012), suggesting that Bandua is an indigenous Old European god that got rather popular in the Lusitanian and Celtic world. Counterparts to Bandua could possibly exist in Basque mythology, or perhaps in extinct Old European cultures such as the Iberians.

Bandua is known from a variety of native epithets: Apuluseaeco (Apolosego and other variations), Roudeaco, Brialeacus, Malunaicus, VerubricusRoudaecoBoleccoLansbricaePicioOilienaicoIsibraiegui, Veigebreaego, Vordeaicus, Esibraeco. Apuluseaeco could mean “He of victory” and Veigebreaego as “of chorses and chariot” (Alarcão 2009) ideal for a war god, though the breaego/briga component could indicate that they’re placenames (Pedreño 2002). BrialeacusMalunaicus, Vordeaicus and Verubricus have variously been suggested as “high”, “superior” or “of high ground” (similar to Greek Hyperion), suggesting a celestial nature to Bandua’s character (Alarcão 2009), though again at least some may also be associated with places and communities (Freitas 2012).

Notably, besides being equated with Mars, Bandua as Isibraegui and Esibraeco have been equated with Mercury (Frerreia 2012), implying a similar social role as god of travellers and the poor.

Like many Iberian gods, Bandua has have been considered to have an aquatic character due to a prevalence of worshipping sites at waterbodies; in particular, the hydronym Banduje and Banhos de Bande may be derived from this god, and its been suggested that Bandua is associted with fords (Prósper 2000). Assuming that Bandua’s celestial nature is accurate, this is yet another heavenly god with promenient associations with water in Lusitanian cosmology. Judging by the depiction in the patera, Bandua was likely also a fire deity.

A solar nature is typically not discussed in regards to Bandua, but I honestly think it should be as several of Bandua’s purported traits overlap with sun deity characteristics, such as the association with travellers and the poor (similar to the Mesopotamian Shamash) and assuming the root of the name in Hyperion-like terms is correct.

As noted below, Bandua may be the same deity as Cosus. See that section for further details.




Again, when the shoe fits… (Fanfwah)

Divine pairs are not uncommon, but the motiff of a pair that might as well be the same god in different genders is a rare but fairly widespread phenomenon in the Indo-European world. Such include Zeus and Dione from Greek myth and Ziu and Zisa from Germanic attestations. The goddess is typically interpreted as a female counterpart to her male consort, as expected from a patriarchal mindset, though given the egalitarian nature of several Indo-European cultures (Anthony 2007) this might be the subject of some revision by modern mindsets. It should be noted that the concept of divine twins is also well known and even far more widespread among Indo-European cultures, so there’s that as well. Then again, gods are not known to balk at incest…

In the case of Arentius (or Arentio) and Arentia, these theonyms are closely connected and even used interchangeably, leading to the possibility these these were in fact functionally the same god. However, they still bear different epithets; Amrunaeco, ArantoniceoTanginiciaeco and Cronisensi for Arentius and Equotullaicensi for Arentia. Both are given the epithet Tedaicis, indicating this to be the name of this pair or perhaps the deity they’re aspects of, though it could also refer to the god Tetaeco (Olivares Pedreño & Ramajo Correa, 2013).

Both deities are known only from a few inscriptions at the heart of the Lusitanian territory, there being no iconography, description of even the basic nature of their cult availiable to us. As normal, the interpretations are abundant; these range from being aquatic gods (naturally) (Prósper 2009) to deities inversely associated with aridity (Vasconcelos 1905) to gods of the arts and crafts analogous to the Celtic Lugus (Pedreño 2002) (this same source also insists Arentius and Endovelicus are different names for the same deity, but most other sources disagree, seeing Endovelicus as fundamentally chthonic while Arentius and Arentia lack these attributes).

In spite of the limited geographical scope of the findings of their names, both gods have a variety of epithets, suggesting that they were relevant (possibly to Lusitanians as a whole) and not just regional deities. Arentius is equated with both Apollo and Mercury by the Romans, and as such may have performed a similar role as a god with a variety of social functions from herding to crafts (Pedreño 2002). Arentia, likewise, probably had similar roles. This paradigm, of a divine couple with the male component being equated to Apollo or Mercury by the Romans, is actually common throught the Celtic world (Pedreño 2002), suggesting strong Celtic influences in their nature and worship, though perhaps not the names.

Thus, the general picture is that Arentius/Arentia were gods primarily concerned with social rather than natural spheres of influence, assuming that they weren’t aquatic deities as proposed by Prósper. In this capacity they might resemble the Proto-Indo-European gods *Péh2usōn and/or *Xáryomēn, the former the shepherd and psychopomp while the latter dealing with society at large; several of the epithets do indeed seem to lean towards a role as gods of ethnic or family units, making them indeed very close to *Xáryomēn in terms of function. Endovelicus also has some traits akin to those of *Péh2usōn as a god of wild animals and a psychopomp, but he lacks a social or herding function as far as we know, and at any rate his etymology hints more at an Old European origin, while Arentius and Arentia are likely Indo-European names (Prósper 2002).

In particular, with the “arid” etymology having long been rejected by its own proposer (Vasconcelos 1905) and the alternative that their names are related to Latin ara or “altar” also deemed unlikely, it seems that the names Arentius/Arentia relate to motion or speed. Prósper 2002 took it as to mean river water, but if an origin in *Péh2usōn and/or *Xáryomēn is valid then a role as messengers of the gods could also be inferred, adding a layer to their syncretism with Mercury.

Of course, as we will see, neither are mutually exclusive.




WHEN THE SHOE FITS… (stock pic)

Known from eleven altars, Quangeio had a rather widepread cult, inscriptions from as far north as Galicia to as far south as Alentejo. Still, most of these altars were made by indigenous people, but the Galician one had a tri nomina, characteristic of Roman or Romanized citizens (Freitas Ferreira 2012), suggesting that his presence in the north might be due to flux in popularity during Roman times, however minor. In the south he is known by two epithets, TangusTuricaecus and derivations such as Turiaco, Turiacus or Turiacos (Monteiro Teixeira 2014); the latter is occasionally listed as a “god of power” in informal sites, but the only source making this claim is broken and other sources I listed here don’t seem to treat this deity as seperate from Quangeio.

The focal region of his worship appears to have been Serra da Estrela, and he is equated with Jupiter Repulsor (Pedreño 2002), painting a picture of a celestial deity. His name is considered to be derived from the Indo-European root *kuwon, “dog”, suggesting that he was a deity associated with canines and possibly also the star Sirius (Encarnação 2002, Monteiro 2012).

The dog in Indo-European cultures is typically associated with the underworld, so a celestial dog deity equated with at least an aspect of Jupiter no less is somewhat odd. An Hermes-like function as a psychopomp god has been proposed (Alarcão 2009), but the fact that he is equated to Jupiter Repulsor specifically seems to imply that the guardian associations of the dog are being stressed here. Though of course these might not be mutually exclusive; perhaps Quangeio was a *Péh2usōn derivative that became more dominant at least regionally.

Because of the specific geographic focus of his cult, one can’t help but wonder if the Serra da Estrela dogs had any connection to this god. Alas, the exact origins of the breed are still shrouded in mystery, with an indigenous origin being as likely as one from animals brought by the Visigoths.

It is possible that the god’s Turicaecus/Turiaco/Turiacus/Turiacos/whatever epithet might have named Santo Tirso due to the relative similarity in name. This is what the broken source claims, so take it as you will.




Inscription. As a road goddess, inscriptions are a pretty good representation of her, actually. (unknown photographer)

Altars to Ilurbeda are found across the mountainous regions of Portugal and Spain, typically near mining shafts. They are comparatively rare even by the standards set thus far, only nine known, but some are the most impressive found yet, with the one found at Salamanca being 78 centimeters tall and completely composed of marble (Pedreño 2002).

There is no syncretism with other deities nor known epiphets, but her connection to or role as a road god can be found in some of her inscriptions, with prominent LV’s standing for Lares Viales (Sobrino 2005). That said, her close association with mines could specifically spin her as a gold deity, and this depends on the two main hypothesis on her name’s etymology:

  • One is a connection to the Aquitanian theonym Ilurberrixo. The il(t)ur component means “city” or “village”, while the latter component is thought to be connected to the Basque bide, “path” (Sobrino 2005, Encarnação 2015)
  • Another is that the first component of the name is derived from *iluro, a speculative Celtic word for “gold”. The second component of the name remains (Prósper 2011).

So either we are left with a civic deity or a chthonic wealth deity, albeit regardless associated with roads. She is also clearly associated with the mountains, given that’s the only place where her altars occur.

She doesn’t appear to have an immediate counterpart in other Indo-European religions, and assuming the etymological connection to Ilurberrixo is correct she is most likely another deity with a Basque origin. Comparatively little is known about this Aquitanian deity, besides some influence on local names and toponyms (Ilurdo, Ilurdotz). We can guess she was probably a goddess associated with youth, but other than that we’re about as in the dark about her as with Ilurbeda; hopefully further archaeological findings will help better flesh out these deities.



An Iberian horserider figurine. Not Lusitanian, but important to this discussion. (Carlos1966)

Cariocecus is inscribed as an epiphet of Mars throught nearly all inscriptions in the Iberian Peninsula. Additionally, the “Ares Lusitani” mentioned by Strabo in his Geographica (III, Chapter 3) is likely also this god, with his otherwise undecipherable name possessing an -eso- particle exclusive to Lusitanian (Firmat 1983).

Assuming this is the case, Cariocecus would have been a major god of the Lusitanians, to whom horses were sacred and to whom human and animal sacrifices were performed, most notably cutting the right hand of prisoners. The practise of divination by gut reading is mentioned, though it is unclear if it refers to his cult or the broader Lusitanian religious practises. Assuming Neito was in fact worshipped by Lusitanians syncretism between the two gods likely occured.

Some aspects of his worship are very similar to the Iberian horse cult (Christensen 2014) as well as the “Scythian Ares“, and given what we now know of the early Indo-European invasions of the Iberian Peninsula I wonder if this particular god is either evidence for an unambiguous Proto-Indo-European god of war or an unique creation of the syncretism between the steppe nomad invaders and the locals’ indigenous beliefs, with the name perhaps of Iberian etymology.

No magical beverages are mentioned, so my marijuana god hypothesis isn’t being strongly supported here.




W̹͔͟h̪̩̦e̦̕n̥̮̰͟ͅ the ͈s͜h͇ͅo͈̬̱̣͇̖ͅe̝ ̸͕̱̗̱f̜͓̬̗i͏̪̤̫͕̘̗t͈͖̙͙s͇͕.̹̰̬̻͔̪ (uncredited photographer)

Cosus (also rendered Cossue, Coso and Conso) is only tangentially a Lusitanian deity, as his worship was focused more on the Iberian northwestern coast and is absent from Lusitania proper and Vettonia, indicating he wasn’t a conventional member of that region’s pantheon. Nonetheless, as explained before these regions have a significant Lusitanian substract/cultural influence and he does occur contemporary to Reo, Nabia and other deities in Galicia, so including him we shall.

There are nineteen altars to this theonym, again typically on the northwestern Iberian Peninsula coast, mostly located along coastoal settlements as well as in the Douro river region. There are several epithets: UdunnaeoViascannoPaeteaicoSoaegoe, Oenaego and Neneoec[o], as well as the Latin Domino, which apparence in other altars might raise the number to twenty one (Pedreño 2002). One in Citânia de Sanfins contains a reference to a deity known as Consuneae, suggesting a female counterpart though the text isn’t well preserved (Encarnação 2015).

Most curiously is an altar containing Coso deo Marti, indicating some syncretism with Mars by the Romans. Previously thought to have come from Braga, it is now thought to have come from Aquitaine, France, indicating that the Romans exported the worship of this deity beyond the Iberian Peninsula (Pedreño 2002). Several altars in the Iberian Peninsula also equate Cosus with Mars, further strengthening that notion that this was a war deity, but the Domino epiphet suggests some sort of domestic role.

Cosus’ name appears to be of an Indo-European origin, probably related to the Roman god Consus. Both essentially stem from a word for “meeting” or conjunction”, but while Consus became a chthonic grain god, Cosus appears to have become associated with the waters, as his altars occur at the junction of rivers (Prósper 2002). However, his syncretism with Mars also suggests that he was a war deity.

Pedreño in particular notices that Cosus is absent in areas where Bandua occurs, suggesting that these were essentially equivalent deities. If this is the case, he bears a similar if not identical position as a celestial deity associated with order and warfare and perhaps also with the waters. As Bandua may not be an Indo-European name while Cosus is, this could be very interesting in terms of the deity’s origins and actual nature.




Cuca as portrayed in Sítio do Pica-Pau Amarelo. You’ll thank me.

Also rendered Dercetius, Dircetius, Derceto, Dercino, Dercinio or Dercensis, with a female variant Dercena/Dercenna; additionally Terkinos is a personal name attested in Celtiberian territory (Cornago 2018). Thus, the name as a whole can be perhaps traced through the *derk/*terk root (Cornago 2018). Direct inscriptions can be found at Braga, and the name and variations thereof is used as an oronym for several mountainous regions in northern Spain, suggesting that this was a god (or gods) of the mountains. That there is a female variant could again indicate a divine couple, twins, both or a deity encompassing both sexes.

This name seems to be derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *derḱ- (“to see”) (Lappin 2012), implying that the name refers to eyesight and much like Bandua might be some variation of “I have the high ground”. This root is noted to have also provided us with dragon, and draconic mythical figures are indeed known from various regions in northern Spain and Portugal such as the Cuca, hinting perhaps at a serpentine invisioning of this deity.

Assuming Dercetius is a celestial deity, its possible that this might be another name for Reo, especially since both gods are associated to each other in the Braga inscriptions (Pedreño 2002). Notably, while both theonyms do co-exist in Braga, they for the most part do not elsewhere in Dercetius Spanish range (Cornago 2018). Like Reo, Dercetius seems to receive bull and sheep offerings (Cornago 2018). Alternatively, if the draconic hypothesis is correct, this might be Reo’s enemy in the proposed Lusitanian Chaoskampf version. Or maybe its an unique mishmash of both concepts.

Alternatively, and perhaps way more speculatively, Dercetius is the personification of  a sacred mountain, much like the Greek Olympus or the Thracian Kogaionon. That there are multiple places with the Dercetius theonym would likely parallel the many mountains claimed to be Mount Olympus in Classical Greece, as each individual region would likely invison its own mountain as the mountain where the gods dwell. This is consistent with both the celestial and draconic interpretations, the former as a heavenly abode of the gods and the latter as its guardian.



Hyperion by Antonio Caparo. I’m not even trying anymore.

Neto (or Neito) is a curious deity in that information about him doesn’t come from altars, though there is a Celtiberian inscription in two bronze plaques (Tovar 1982). Rather, it is attested solely by Macrobius in his Saturnalia, where he has this to say in Book I, XIX:

Cum igitur Liber pater idem ac sol sit, Mars vero idem ac Liber pater: Martem solem esse quis dubitet? Accitani etiam, Hispana gens, simulachrum Martis radiis ornatum maxima religione celebrant, Neton vocantes.

In other words, he is convinced that the people of the Iberian Peninsula (Lusitanians? Iberians? Celts?) a “solar Mars”. This has lead many, including young me, to assume that Neto was the de facto solar god of Lusitania and some sort of warmongering celestial lord of the hosts raining down solar flares on the infidels.

Its cool as hell, but there might be more to this than meets the eye.

This whole section of the Saturnalia reflects the Late Antiquity beliefs that the sun was the true expression of divinity and that all pagan gods were solar in nature. It also equates Mercury and Apollo as aspects of the sun, even going as far as claiming that Mercury’s staff is derived from an Egyptian solar symbol (arguably true, as it may have been inspired by the winged sun that was common in Bronze Age Middle East). Its a neat esoteric rumination, but it may not actually reflect the beliefs of the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula.

What we do know of Neto as a pre-Roman god comes from said bronze plates. One is a Botorrita plaque, suggesting a Celtiberian origin, so we can defenitely see Neto as a Celtic god, whose status as a god worshipped by the Lusitanians is dubious at best but not entirely unlikely, since again gods went back and forth amidst the various cultures in the region. A later plaque reads Mars Neto, certainly indicating Roman syncretism between the two gods and indicating that Neto was indeed a war deity.

There is little doubt that Neto is related to the Irish god Neit, probably both deriving from a proto-Celtic root *nei-t-, “passion”. Neit in mythology is the grandfather of the monstrous Balor, making him a Fomorian, the Celtic equivalent of the Greco-Roman Titans/Giants, Hindu Asuras, Germanic Jötnar/Trolls and Iranian Daevas. All of these are monstrous enemies of the current generation of gods, but with the exception of the Daevas (which by modern Zoroastrianism are simply demons) they are also primordial beings and deities of their own right.

The sun itself is often a member of this generation of gods: Helios is a Titan, Savitr is an Asura and the word Asura is still used as a substitute for sun in Vedic literature and it is possible that Balor might have been some sort of solar monster embodying the summer drought, given his flaming eye and how its resting place is the “lake of the sun” (Ó hÓgáin 1991, MacNeill 2008). So while this alone doesn’t necessarily imply that Neto or Neit were solar gods, they are within the precedent for a putative Proto-Indo-European solar mythology, and in at least the Celtiberian sphere this primordial god of passion also came to embody the sun.

As a god of war, Neto might have been functionally analogous to the Lusitanian Bandua/Cosus. Currently, there is no evidence of his worship in Vettonia, Lusitania or northern territories influenced by Lusitanian culture, making his inclusion here simply to clear up this misconception. As said before, no single Lusitanian deity can be considered an unambiguous solar god, but Trebaruna and Nabia seem to be the most likely candidates as discussed above, and the survival of solar goddess worship in Nossa Senhora d’Antime processions suggests that the sun might have been feminine to the ancient Lusitanians. Yet, again, we also see the Endovelicus conundrum, and if Bandua/Cosus was a celestial war deity then a solar role cannot be ruled out.

As it seems, the solar deity question was particularly complex in this region, not helped by the obvious Roman bias towards their Sol Invictus.


Other Deities


Third Arroyo de la Luz inscription. (uncredited artist)

Besides the above, most other deities are known from either single inscriptions or records by Roman authors. Its unclear if these were minor players in the pantheon, as some do appear to be important deities or epithets of deities mentioned previously:

  • Aerno: A god known from four inscriptions – two from Castro de Avelãs, one from Macedo de Cavaleiros and another from Pontevedra in Galicia (Martínez 2010). This god is occasionally cited online as a “god of the wind”, but this appears to be hearsay as no professional source discusses this; the closest to this was a suggestion as an embodiment of daylight (Martínez 2006). The name is notoriously hard to decipher the etymology of (Vasconcelos 1905), and indeed the exact nature of this god remains a mystery. The latest interpretation is that of a vegetation deity, as his name is vaguely similar to Greek érnos (“branches”, “sprout”), and indeed what appear to be pine trees are depicted in his altars (Encarnação 2015).
  • Andaeico: A single inscription bearing this name was found in Castelo de Vide. The exact etymology os the name is again unclear, being possibly either from *andh- (to flourish) or *andhos (flower) or a place name, perhaps a river. The text of its inscription suggests an oracular nature regardless (Teixeira 2014).
  • Bormanico: Also rendered Bormo, Bormanus, Bormanicus. Basically the Lusitanian version of the Celtic Borvo, being a similar god associated with bubble baths, as indicated by its etymology (Pedreño 2002). As seen by the Reo section above, it is possible that both gods were equated, but it now seems likely that they were seen as seperate deities (Encarnação 2015).
  • Broeneia: A goddess known from a single inscription in Portalegre (Encarnação 2008). Through the tentative reconstruction *bhroi-no (“rain”) she has been considered yet another water goddess (Teixeira 2014), but others have instead posited a much less conventional etymmological link to bread and other Indo-European words for bread (particularly Portuguese broa, “corn bread”), suggesting a role as a fertility or farming deity (Encarnação 2008). A third alternative is that it was a war goddess, of the same etymology as Irish bruinne (chest) (Ribeiro 2010).
  • Caerno: A god to whom three or more altars were devoted to in Évora, making him another borderline Lusitanian deity. Known by the epithet Calantice(n)si, a role as a pastoral god responsible for flocks of sheep is pretty solidly cemented by etymology, either linking it to Greek karneios (Encarnação 2015) or the PIE roots *kel(H) (to protect, hide) or *kar-no- (rock, bunch of rocks) (Monteiro 2014). In this aspect he is likely a reflex of *Péh2usōn.
  • Crouga: Also spelled Crougiai, Corougia, Crougae and perhaps Crugia with Vesuco, Toudadigoe and Nilaigui as epithets, this deity seems to have been the northern equivalent of Caerno, a sheep-associated deity whose inscriptions are found from Gallicia to Viseu and Braga. The name proper appears to be related to Irish cruach (mountain, hill) and Welsh crug (grave, mound), suggesting a Celtic origin for this name (Pedreño 2002). The epithets meanwhile seem local placenames, with Vesuco being seemingly connected to wooling (Blázquez Martínez 2006). Obviously another reflex of *Péh2usōn, whose Lusitanian reflexes seem to associate his function as a pastoral god with the mountains.
  • Duberdico: Also known as Duberdicus, this is another common name I myself helped spam across the internet, as a “god of the sea”. Facts: Duberdicus, be it a proper theonym or just an epithet, is found in only one inscription in Guimarães. This name was first interpreted as “the dripper” by Vasconcelos (Vanconcelos 1905) and has since been assumed to be a water god, sometimes with proposed etymologies related to Irish derb-. It has essentially become a meme at this point, blown far out of proportion with nothing to back it. Indeed, more recently it has been proposed that Duberdico is simply a placename epiphet (Villar 2010); if an actual god, then it would have been a deity of frotresses (Pedreño 2002). In some ways this is similar to Bandua’s situation, misconceived as a (primarily) water deity when a war god role is more likely, and I wonder if they’re in fact the same deity.
  • Durius: The god of the river Douro. This much we can agree, since his name actually is pretty much Douro in latinised form of the Celtic or Lusitanian word for the river. A shrine dedicated to him existed on Porto, where he was depicted as wielding a fishnet (Jo 2001). Poseidon he ain’t, but still pretty neat. That he is personified while the larger Tagus river is not (as far as we know) is pretty interesting, and might suggest that the Douro river held a special place in Lusitanian mythology.
  • Erbina: Also spelled Aerbina, with the epithets Iaidi and Iaeda Cantibidone. She is known from only three inscriptions in Beira and Caceres, and her epithets seem to stress as role as the goddess of Idanha. Still, the Cantibidone epithet might suggest that she is a goddess of borders in general, and that this is simply an application to this region (Alarcão 2001). Most curious is the most possibility that she represents the concept of crossing the river Erges (Freitas Ferreira 2012). Her limited cult range and names sure seem to hint at a personification of this region, perhaps important in Lusitanian mythology.
  • Frovida: A name found in only one altar in Braga, relating to a vision from a worshipper. Its been speculated that she is a river goddess (Encarnação 2015), because apparently nobody learned a damn thing from “everything seems like a river god”. Seriously people.
  • Iccona: A possible deity mentioned in a single inscription from Cabeço de Fráguas. Clearly feminine, much speculation has been made about this name, from being the Lusitanian rendition of the Celtic goddess Epona (Prósper 1999) to simply a a theonym related with healing a la Greek Paean (Freitas Ferreira 2012), also of Celtic origin. Of note is this name’s association with Reo and Trebaruna, which thus may either implying the healing functions of these gods or that Trebaruna was equated with Epona.
  • Laneana: Known from only two inscriptions, one in Sabugal and another in Caceres. In both cases the name has been inscribed in granite near a fountain (Pedreño 2002); may the water god flashbacks commence.
  • Munis: Also rendered Munidia, this deity is known from four inscriptions in Celorico da Beira. Her name has been considered to be derived from *men- or *mon- (head, hill), which would have made her a goddess of the geography I stands compares you superior (Alarcão 2009). Naturally, she has also been invisioned as a water goddess because why not (Villar 2012). More creative interpretations include being a patron goddess – though what she’s patron of nobody knows (Teixeira 2014) – or as a generic term for lesser deity like nymph (Alarcão 2001). Pedreño 2002 ships her with Bandua because he is the only god in the region to not have a female consort (Reo has Trebaruna and Arentio has Arentia), which is probably the most flimsy excuse I’ve ever read since there’s no evidence both deities were connected at all in popular religion and surely “Bandua’s bride” should occur more frequently elsewhere, not to mention that the relationship between Arentio and Arentia is still somewhat ambiguous as said before. Stop shoving heterosexuality down our throats! Also, if you do think Nabia was a moon goddess you might want to check the PIE root *mḗh₁n̥s (moon, month) from which Munis/Munidia could have easily been derived from
  • Ocrimira: A deity known only in an altar in Marvão. It has been suggested that her name might be derived from the Celtic ocri- (“cold”), which has been interpreted as either a placename or as a goddess of cold water because that somehow warrants a distinction from the billion other water goddesses somehow (Teixeira 2014).
  • Runesocesius: A god known from a single inscription in Évora. In this peculiar inscription is god is noted as “previously unknown”, suggesting perhaps an origin among either the Celts or among the Turdetani. The name is usually interpreted as Celtic, from *runa (mystery) and *gaiso (spear) thus “mysterious one of the spear” (Vasconcelos 1905) but more recently it has been noted that it is clearly Lusitanian in origin due to the -eso- particle (Firmat 1983). In this case this is clearly an older Lusitanian god whose worship might have hinged on perceiving him as a foreigner, much like the Greek Dionysus (already known in Mycenaean times, yet claimed from be from Thrace or Asia in Late Antiquity). Notably he is found alongside Ataegina and Endovelicus, suggesting that he is another chthonic deity.

Suffice to say, I’m not very satisfied with the posited Celtic roots of many of these examples, especially being as unclear as they are. Still, as most are minor deities it makes sense for these to be Celtic imports over the more well established Lusitanian gods.



A common cosmological model for most Eurasian religions. I think what we know of Lusitanian gods supports this model for them. (stock picture)

In the absence of both written sources or even proper mythological narrative all we can gleam from Lusitanian cosmological concepts comes from their gods, who hint at a rather familiar yet perplexing picture.

For one thing, celestial and chthonic deities are clearly present, suggesting a tripartite model of the universe divided between the heavens, the earth and the underworld as seen in most Eurasian religions. That the celestial deities are strongly associated with mountains and perhaps waterbodies could be signs of “chthonification” through syncretism with Basque religion and perhaps other indigenous traditions, putting a stronger emphasis on terrestrial elements while the sky becomes more of an empty corridor. This has precedent with insular Celt tradition, where the two distinct spiritual realms of the continental Celt world merged into a single underworld (Ronald 1999). However, the fact that celestial deities seem to have aquatic associations that chthonic deities don’t seem to have suggests at least a clear conceptual seperation.

Assuming all the water deities are in fact water deities, this could attest to an invisioning of the sky as an ocean, which does have precedent in both Near Eastern and Indo-European religions, the “waters of the firmament” held in place. Going further through Endovelicus’ rivulet, perhaps water was closely associated with light in the Lusitanian train of thought, reminescent of fire as an offspring of water in Zoroastrianism. If Nabia, Munis and Trebaruna are both associated with water and the celestial bodies then water definitely becomes emblematic of the universal order seen in most Indo-European traditions. Perhaps its cycle and many states were understood intimately, as the notion that clouds come from waterbodies is noted in many cultures from the Greeks to the Kamilaroi.

Various deities like Ataegina, Durius, Dercetios and Erbina might hint at important locations in Lusitanian cosmology, which may even have modern descendents in the hellpits of Portuguese and Spanish folklore. Ataegina and/or her original cult center might represent the entrance to the underworld, Durius one of the rivers rimming the world and Erbina perhaps a mixture of both as a Charon-like figure while Dercetios might be the residence of the gods and/or its protector.

Proto-Indo-European pantheon comparisons

As with the Scythian article:

  • Reo: *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr (possibly unrelated etymology)
  • Nabia: Either *Gʷouwindā, *Sóh₂wl̥/*Seh2ul, *Dānu/*Dʰen or *Mḗh₁n̥s (unrelated etymology)
  • Trebaruna: Either *Sóh₂wl̥/*Seh2ul or *H₂éwsōs (unrelated etymology)
  • Arentio/a: *Xáryomēn (unrelated etymology)
  • Quangeio/Caerno/Crouga: *Péh2usōn (unrelated etymologies)
  • Munis: *Mḗh₁n̥s (?)

Cariocecus may be derived from a Proto-Indo-European war god, but the existence of such a thing is debatable thus far; an alternative connection to *Xáryomēn (because horses) or a completely indigenous divinity may also be made. Dercetio may be a reflex of *Dyḗus Ph2tḗr or perhaps of the Chaoskampf serpent whose name has not been consistently reconstructed. Cosus and Aerno might have older Indo-European precedents while Neito, Bormanico and Iccona seem to be Celtic additions.

Other gods might have Indo-European names (i.e. the suggested Celtic etymology for Ataegina), but they are clearly either fully authochthonous or derived from the Old European traditions of the Iberian Peninsula, with Endovelicus and Ilurbeda in particular having unambiguous precedents in Basque language and religion.

Overall, some similarities to broader Indo-European religions remain, but it is clear that the Lusitanian pantheon was strongly influenced by local peoples; exchange and parallelism with surrounding Celtic cultures further modified it within a very unique route.


Revisiting the Lusitanian gods was quite the experience. It allowed me to cringe at my younger self, it allowed me to re-examine and re-contextualise the ancient religions on my corner of the world and it foremost allowed me to shed light on a topic that is woefully underexplored.

Hopefully archaeology and linguistics further clarify the massive gulfs of information we currently have, because this is a world I wish to explore.


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Encarnação, José d’. 2015. Divindades indígenas sob o domínio romano em Portugal. Second edition. Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra.

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Sea Conifers

The sea conifers (Nepotsceae) are a clade of conifers that secondarily returned to the sea. Some species can be found in freshwater biomes, but the most impressive are those founds in marine ecosystems, some of which forming surreal undersea forests mirroring the land taiga.

The ancestors of the sea conifers began growing on coastoal swamps during the Cenomanian. The rise of sea levels and expansion of angiosperms on terrestrial biomes provided an excellent opportunity for these conifers to expand into aquatic biomes. Evidence of sea conifer swamps can be found on the coastlines of most continents across the Turonian, and fully marine species already formed underwater forests during the Campanian. The KT mass extinction event reduced sea conifer diversity by 56%, and the group did not recover susbtantially until the Eocene Thermal Maximum. Once they did, though, they quickly grew to stay, and the oceanic cooling events through the Cenozoic only cemented their place as competing seagrasses and corals diminuished in range.

The arrival of sea conifers to the seas had a tremenous impact on marine ecosystems, as it lead to several marine acidification events. This disrupted hard invertebrate communities and in turn lead to multiple extinction events. Among the most curious byproducts was the spread of thick-shelled brachiopods, which are now the dominant reef-building animals.

The ancestors of sea conifers ancestors were Cheirolepidiaceae-like species – their closest living relative is Sciadopitys, positing some interesting possibilities for cypress evolution. Their original bauplan was similar to that of swamp cypresses, but by the Campanian they had developed the modern aerenchyma that allowed them to fully breath underwater, alongside with larger and broader leaves in some species. Some species have become herb-like like seagrasses, but many retained their bark and strong roots, allowing them protection from predators and parasites as well as osmotic regulation. This allows some species to grow firmly even on land, allowing them to thrive in nearshore habitats and a few to even return to a secondarily terrestrial lifestyle on islands.

Like most conifers, their leaves are highly acidic, and underwater forests have few animal parasites like barnacles, though several seaweed can grow on their trunks and branches for a brief time, before being dislodged by shedding bark. Their pollen and seeds are carried by ocean currents, forming clouds similar to those of coral zygotes. Juveniles plants may be eaten by a variety of aquatic herbivores from fish to dugongs, but the adults are only significantly consumed by turtles, several species having developed robust beaks to process cones, tree bark and branches. Meiolaniids in particular have diversified alongside sea conifers, having produced a vast variety of specialists adapted to consume various parts of these plants. As the world’s climate dropped in the Pliocene meiolaniid diversity became reduced, and in their stead some waterfowl have began to specialised in sea conifer consumption, but they are for now rare and mostly just leaf nibblers.

Of the 1,200 living species, about two thirds are threatened by pollution and deliberate destruction in order to cultivate more rich marine environments for fishery. Do buy corks made from sea conifer bark, though, it helps motivate people to protect these wonderous plants.



Klothys was livid.

Her hairs, the strands that connected all things from the heights of Nyx to the depths of the Underworld, were caught ablaze with a fiery light. For the briefest moment all beings, be them god or mortal, felt her wrath, her displeasure at their purposes being overturned, their duties to the world shaken, their well-deserved rest bothered by false hope. All who felt ambition, irreverence or even the mildest temptation towards ignoring their true selves learned in an instance why their aberrant whims would be punished with eternal torment.

And, just as quickly, she was calm.

She extended her spindle, and began to weave extensive tapestries, her horns as the distaff. When she weaved she fully surrendered her thoughts, her creative whims one and the same with all of Theros and sometimes beyond it. For all their pretense of being cosmic forces given form and intent, none of the other gods matched her in this harmony; Kruphix understood the tapestry of fate and Purphoros gave in to his heart in his artistic trance, but both still clung on to their egos, the walls between themselves and all that was. They could not do otherwise, for mortals invison mysteries and awe as invitation to a curious or reverent mind while creation to them requires a rational will. Destiny, however, was at once unpredictable and intended, a concept whose understanding requires a complete disregard of thought and self in favor of complete, unconditional acceptance.

This mindlessness veered close to the hedonism of Xenagos, and the fool was indeed perceptive. But he was still selfish, and Klothys despised him fulgently but so quickly as to not even imply her existence to him.

Klothys had no eyes because she trusted in what was intended and therefore did not need to see at all. Mortals have eyes because they need light to tell them whereas there is danger or pleasure or the darkness of either one’s absence, but this has the side effect of making them uniquely vulnerable to blindness. And Klothys was not blind, for she did not fear the twists and turns of life. Indeed, her tapestries glowed in strange and exotic colors, which she could apreciate because she knew they were there and had no ego to require sensory validation.

Some of her tapestries involved the lives of mortals and gods. Some were to die – again in some cases – others were to come to enlightening realisations and stay in the Underworld. Most, however, were agents of fate, either made wholecloth from Nyx itself or from mortals who suspected that destiny was a god. These agents to weave in turn, either strands of her hair she could not reach or simply nets to capture the fugitives. Parts of the tapestry concerned the titans, those putrid amalgations of mutant flesh she had ensnared long ago, now breaching out of their containment in the darkest regions of the Underworld. Like any good writer, she wanted to get to the point but make the events leading to that end glorious.

There was, however, a dissonant knot: Elspeth.

Her fate was intimately connected to the rest of Theros, but she was a planeswalker. Klothys was in harmony with fate to the point she could feel its motions in other planes, but usually they laid far beyond her reach. Her agents were even more limited, incapable of following a planeswalker elsewhere even though many knew of their true nature.

This simply meant making a special agent, one who could follow where others could not.

Weaving that tapestry was a tenuous work, pushing at the very boundaries of her trance to the point she had to pause as to harmonise herself more intensely, an odd mixture between ears wide open and every impulse being enacted. The end result was a being who was so connected to his target that it was his fate to follow her wherever she went, so specialised as to have no other option but to cross beyond Theros into the wide Multiverse. Fate, after all, was the ultimate distributor of sparks, though in this case it meant an additional layer of disregard towards causality and chance alike as to provide a Nyxborn with a spark.

Spawning fully formed from Klothys’ taspestry was Calix, the hand of destiny. Clad in green silk and gold ornaments, he was Klothys’ masterpiece, a singular display of understanding reality by not understanding it at all. Unlike her he was entirely devoid of passion and unpredictability, but he was completely subservient to his role in the universe. He didn’t say a word to her at all: as soon as he came into being he followed Elspeth, who had just reached the shores of Nerono.

Satisfied with her work, Klothys tugged at her hair, spindle soon to drip with blood and starlight.

Another World’s Lijialaowu

In a world where the KT event didn’t happen, all bets truly are off. Even in the placid climate of the Paleocene – just before the Eocene Thermal Maximum and its ensuing turnover, long before the drastic changes of the Cenozoic – entire biotas were collapsing. Laramidia’s fauna entered Appalachia and South America, Europe’s fauna found itself flanked by Appalachia and North Africa and Asia. This was a period of extensive interchange, and few examples were as dramatic as the Late Paleocene of China.

The Wanghudun Formation spans the Late Paleocene and Early Eocene represents a flood plain environment, likely seasonal in nature. Vegetation was similar to older Cretaceous sites, dominated by conifers and angiosperms, but with a few new additions: grass, and cycads. Starting as a more wet forest environment, it became increasingly more arid towards the end of the Paleocene, resembling a savanna by the time the Eocene Thermal Maximum came.

Earlier Asia fossil sites closely mirrowed those of the Late Cretaceous, but not here. Of the iconic non-avian dinosaur groups in the Nemegt and others, few were present: only six species of pachycephalosaur, two troodontids, four alvarezsaurids, one halzkaraptorine, five ornithomimids and a titanosaur. A new dinosaur had nonetheless arrived on the area: Luosaurotherium inexpectatum, a stegosaur. Of the known avifauna, raptorial avisaurid and crow-like gobipterygid enantiornithes co-existed with flightless hollandids, pigeon-like apsaraviids, spoonbill-like presbyornithids, mesite-like neognaths and crane-like palaeognaths.

By contrast, synapsids and terrestrial crocodylomorphs were much more diverse. The former were represented by a rich diversity of djadochtatherioidean, taeniolabidoid and neoplagiaulacid multituberculates, accompanied by herbivorous zhelestids and gondwanatheres, insectivorous zalambdalestids and anagalids and carnivorous deltatheroideans and sparassodonts while the latter were represented by armoured, herbivorous simosuchids, omnivorous gobiosuchids, mid-sized carnivorous araripesuchids and an enormous sebecian, Shenlong imperator, which at 6 meters in length was one of the largest terrestrial carnivores of the continent and likely of the entire world in the younger strata of the formation. Several squamate taxa are known, the largest at 3.5 meters in length, both as predatory varanids and as herbivorous, multicusped polyglyphanodontians. The water ways were populated by alligatoroids, neochoristoderes, small lizard like choristoderes, meiolaniiforme, baenid, trionychid, carettochelyid and pleurodire turtles and an abundant lissamphibian and ichthyofauna. Pterosaurs were present both as azhdarchids, chaoyangopterids, ctenochasmatids and lonchodectids, with possible anurognathid remains.

The reason for this highly atypical fauna, which quickly replaced the older ceratopsian/oviraptor/trodoontid/ornithomimosaur/therizinosaur/titanosaur/ankylosaur/hadrosaur/tyrannosaur/dromaeosaur complex, lies on the collision between India and Asia. India and Asia had interchanged fauna since the Late Cretaceous, allowing some degree of adaptation on the part of the older Indian endemics. When the two landmasses finally collided, the introduced grass and the monsoon climate favoured both the local crocodylomorph, zhelestid and gondwanathere herbivorous guilds as well as the Asian multituberculate, zhelestid and polyglyphanodontid guilds, while most herbivorous dinosaurs were incapable of dealing with these changes. Those that did were cycad specialists (stegosaurs), generalists (titanosaurs, pachycephalosaurs) or also substantially foraged on aquatic plants (ornithomimosaurs). The extinction of many herbivores and the arrival of competing sebecians also killed off local tyrannosaurs and dromaeosaurs, while several established carnivorous mammal groups expanded as their prey grew larger.

This unique fauna, the Lijialaowu Biota, was one of the first great turnovers of the Cenozoic and a harbinger for things to come. Those hadrosaurs and ceratopsians would eventually spread around across the Eocene, retaking their lost territories in Asia, herbivorous mammals, polyglyphanodontians, ornithomimids and pachycephalosaurs got the first of many adaptive radiations. Stegosaurs would continue on the Eocene of Asia and North America, the last species being Wyomingostega latens from the Late Eocene of the USA. And the old maniraptorans would start on a long decline, their niches taken by flying and flightless ornithothorace birds.

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Gwawinapterus beardi
O̳̘̰͎͠l̦̖̰͈̜̺̰͞d̫̗̹͘ ̺͍̬͖̥̝b͎̗̠͈̼͙͔͢o̶̙̙n̨e̲̝̖̰ͅs̱̳ ̘͈͙̲̜̲̀c̛̲̹̯̘͔o̩͠m̥̲͎̼̣̼͍ę̫͖ b͓̠̤̪̭̘ͅạ̝̥̘̻c͎͜k̨̜


Learning about Nurhachius’ tooth replacement gave me chills. This tooth replacement pattern is what disqualified Gwawinapterus beardi from being a pterosaur, so….

The Mystery Of The Sky Dragons

coloborhynchus_attack_by_hodarinundu_d4c0qsz-fullviewColoborhynchus Attack” by HodariNundu.

In 2017 an abstract detailing isotope data on ornitocheiroid* pterosaurs was published. To my knowledge the full paper hasn’t been published yet, which is a shame given its base premise: that some ornithocheiroid pterosaurs might have preffered to hunt terrestrial prey.

*”Ornithocheiroid” here is used as it was conceived by Unwin 2003: any pterodactyloid pterosaur closer to Pteranodon longiceps than to Quetzalcoatlus northropi or Pterodactylus antiquus. The term was invented in Kellner 2003 to refer to a clade composed of Anhanguera blittersdorffi, Pteranodon longiceps, Dsungaripterus weii and Quetzalcoatlus northropi and from Andres 2008 onwards it has been redefined as including both Azhdarchoidea and Pteranodontia, the latter encompassing taxa as defined in Unwin 2003 due to the fact that traditional Pteranodontia (Nyctosauridae + Pteranodontidae) has been found paraphyletic in relation to these other taxa. There are a lot of reasons why this is stupid, most notably the fact that a traditional Pteranodontia is consistently being recovered again (Andres 2018, Longrich 2018), so Unwin 2003 definition it is. If you feel uncomfortable try mentally replacing “ornithocheiroid” with “pteranodontian” in your imagination.

Most ornithocheiroid pterosaurs are assumed to have been piscivores. Even with the “pterosaur revolution” of the 2010’s its pretty undeniable most species fit the traditional “seagull pterosaur” image: most are found in marine settings, most were soarers similar to modern pelagic birds like albatrosses and frigatebirds, several either have adaptations for launching out of water or ossified tendons indicating a perpetually aerial lifestyle and, most importantly, several taxa have been found with fish on their innards or pellets or conversely being eaten by marine predators (Witton 2013). However, quite a few taxa have been recovered in terrestrial settings, have lower aspect ratios and show adaptations for other lifestyles: in the case of istiodactylids for scavenging and in the case of boreopterids for trapping small freshwater prey (Witton 2013). If you assume lonchodectids are ornithocheiroids, then their purported azhdarchid-like morphology would make them an unique case of terrestrial foragers akin to modern storks and cranes (Witton 2013).

image descriptionIstiodactylus latidens devouring a dead stegosaur by Mark Witton.

Still, the idea of raptorial ornithocheiroids has not been explored. Taxa usually identified as ornithocheirids and anhanguerids have large, forward facing eyes, large jaw muscles, “intimidating” teeth and distended palates, as opposed to the small eyes, cookie-cutter shark-like teeth (best suited to simply rip meat instead of killing prey) and non-distended palates of the scavenging istiodactylids and the small eyes,  fragile teeth, weak jaw muscles and non-distended palates of the small-prey piscivore boreopterids (Witton 2013); these adaptations are serviceable for hunting aquatic prey, but they can also be translated to a terrestrial prey context, as seen in other groups. Furthermore, at least one taxa, “Anhanguera” robustus, had hindlimbs comparatively more specialised for terrestrial locomotion, indicating that, much like istiodactylids (Witton 2013) some ornithocheirids/anhanguerids could have walked more or less efficiently while still retaining a mostly aerial lifestyle (Naish 2018).

The presence of raptorial ornithocheiroids could explain a few quirks of pterosaur diversity throught time:

  • Giant azhdarchids do not show up in the fossil reccord until the Late Cretaceous, after the extinction of toothed ornithocheiroids (Witton 2013). This could suggest that toothed ornithocheiroids occupied large volant predatory niches both on terrestrial and marine settings and were succeeded by large azhdarchids on the former and pteranodontians in the latter after the Turonian extinction event.
  • The supposed absence of raptorial pterosaurs (which I’ve brought up several times when discussing flight in volaticothere mammals*) is thus addressed: they were there all along!
  • The diversity of ornithocheiroids more or less parallels that of rhamphorhynchids, which similarly produced terrestrial carnivores and aquatic soarers (though rhamphorhynchid ecological diversity is somewhat more limited). As ornithocheiroids do not co-exist temporally with rhamphorhynchids (the only Jurassic putative representative, Archaeoistiodactylus linglongtaensis, has since turned out to be a basal monofenestratan [Wang 2014]), this leads credence to the idea that they evolved in the Early Cretaceous and are thus more closely related to azhdarchoids than ctenochasmatoids and other Jurassic pterodactyloids are.
  • Given that pterosaurs are superprecocial and likely occupied several niches as they grew, this likely also solves the relative rarity of aerial insectivorous pterodactyloids, since the juveniles of these raptorial ornithocheiroids likely occupied such niches.

* Friendly reminder a paper on volaticotheres is coming out soon!

Hopefully more work on this topic is done on the near future.



Kellner, A. W. A., (2003): Pterosaur phylogeny and comments on the evolutionary history of the group. pp. 105-137. — in Buffetaut, E. & Mazin, J.-M., (eds.): Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs. Geological Society of London, Special Publications 217, London, 1-347

Unwin, D. M., (2003): On the phylogeny and evolutionary history of pterosaurs. pp. 139-190. — in Buffetaut, E. & Mazin, J.-M., (eds.): Evolution and Palaeobiology of Pterosaurs. Geological Society of London, Special Publications 217, London, 1-347

Andres, B.; Clark, J.; Xu, X. (2014). “The Earliest Pterodactyloid and the Origin of the Group”. Current Biology24: 1011–6. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2014.03.030. PMID 24768054.

Nicholas R. Longrich; David M. Martill; Brian Andres (2018). “Late Maastrichtian pterosaurs from North Africa and mass extinction of Pterosauria at the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary”. PLOS Biology. 16 (3): e2001663. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2001663. PMC 5849296 Freely accessible. PMID 29534059

Witton, Mark (2013). Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691150611.

Martin-Silverstone, E., Sykes, D., Naish, D. (2018). “Does Postcranial Palaeoneurology Provide Insight into Pterosaur Behavior and Lifestyle? New Data from the Azhdarchoid Vectidraco and the Ornithocheirids Coloborhynchus and Anhanguera“. Palaeontology. doi:10.1111/pala.12390

Sullivan, C.; Wang, Y.; Hone, D.W.E.; Wang, Y.; Xu, X. & Zhang, F. (2014). “The vertebrates of the Jurassic Daohugou Biota of northeastern China”. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 34 (2): 243–280. doi:10.1080/02724634.2013.787316.