On the 'Noreia' Question

Preface:

The deeper one digs for information on the pre-Roman religion and cult practices of the Eastern Alpine regions, the more it becomes painfully clear that scholarly published works on this aspect of Norican culture, as opposed to material culture, are somewhat lacking, at least in the English language. That isn’t to say that there is absolutely no mainstream material on the topic, as evidenced by widespread and occasionally sensationalized information on Norican deities like Belenos and particularly Noreia, who has more recently been understood as perhaps no goddess of the Noricans at all and must, then, be evaluated with skepticism in any discussion of Celtic religion in Noricum. To this end and partially due to a lack of specific academic attention to the subject, the works of Šašel Kos and de Bernardo Stempel are an irreplacable resource.

Etymology:

Although the question of Her name’s etymology is not yet settled, it likely originated from one of two sources: that of a Celtic or that of a pre-Celtic origin. Although Šašel Kos, citing Hedwig Kenner, classifies the name as ‘most likely pre-Celtic’ (the implication being either Illyrian or Venetic)[1], the more recent proposition of de Bernardo Stempel seems better founded, especially in light of new research and the collaborative efforts of F.E.R.C.AN. De Bernardo Stempel suggests Noreia as a detoponym, i.e. a divine name from a place name (in this case, the historical town of ‘Noreia’). She suggests the toponym being itself derived from the ethnonym ‘Norici’ via suffix-replacement of -eia for -ici. He then has ‘Norici’ breaking down as the plural of the Celtic *nor-iko-s (‘the manly’), from IE *noro-, ‘manly, strong’[2]. In short, Noreia likely takes her name, ultimately, from the name of the tribe she patronized, via the name of their historical capital.

It is worth mentioning that She seems to appear in one dedication as ‘Veica Noriceia’, although this is now understood to refer, simply, to a “Norican” goddess of the name Veica.[4]

Function:

It has been proposed (mainly, according to Šašel Kos, by Kenner and Takács) that She is a polyvalent mother-goddess, with aspects of a protectress, fertility, nature, welfare, healing, and the chthonic.[5] This interpretation, however, is contradicted by the epigraphic evidence, and therein lies the problematic nature of the goddess most often associated with Noricum. All of the dedications to Her are a) in Latin and b) known to have been made by wealthy Romans, serving either in administration or in the military. Although Latin dedications to known Celtic gods are not uncommon, it is this fact combined with the identity of Her dedicators that must lead one to believe that Noreia is more likely a Roman invention, serving as the anthropomorphized personification of the Roman province of Noricum itself, than an indigenous Norican mother goddess.[6]

In Practice:

Although Noreia, as she existed in history, was likely more important to Roman administrators in Noricum than to the indigenous Celts, it has been proposed[7], and is probably very likely, that some form of epichoric mother-goddess or female patron goddess was worshipped by the indigenous Noricans before their incorporation into the Roman state (although Zajaç provides no alternatives to Noreia). With this in mind, it is here proposed that Noreia be taken up as an epithet for this as of yet unknown patroness for the practices of Bessus Noricon, as a possibly misused name for Her is better than no name at all.

Interpretatio Romana:

Traditionally, Noreia is conflated with Isis, although this is probably due, mainly, to Isis being worshipped to a certain degree of the extreme by certain aristocratic Roman fmailies in Noricum.[8] However, in terms of function, it is possible that she was also associated with Victoria in some cases, occasionally appearing as a pair with Mars in dedications.[9]

Iconography:

This category is hard to ascribe to Noreia, as no pre-Roman depiction of Her has yet been found, and the Roman depictions that do exist have already been drastically influenced by interpretatio and her association with Isis, through which she is often portrayed carrying a cornucopia and adorned in toga and jewelry. Only one known statue is often attributed to Her, as well as two relief carvings, but Šašel Kos, probably correct in her skepticism, makes the point that the evidence for the association of Noreia with these depictions is tentative at best.[10]

Sources

  1. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 33

  2. Celtic and Other Indigenous Divine Names Found in the Italian Peninsula by Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel, 2013, in Théonymie celtique, cultes, interpretatio - Keltische Theonymie, Kulte, Interpretatio, p. 73

  3. Die in Noricum belegten Gottheiten und die römisch-keltische Widmung aus Schloβ Seggau by Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel, 2005, in Keltische Götter im Römischen Reich, 2005, p. 22

  4. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 35

  5. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 33

  6. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 39

  7. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 34 & DIE KELTISCHEN ELEMENTE IN DER RELIGION NORICUM IN DER ZEIT DES FRÜHEN RÖMISCHEN KAISERREICHES by Józej Zając, 1979, pp. 85-90

  8. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 37

  9. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 38

  10. Pre-Roman Divinities of the Eastern Alps and Adriatic by Marjeta Šašel Kos, 1999, p. 39