A Re-examination of the Goddess Arduinna

Thanks to Viducus Brigantici Filius from Deo Mercurio for help with resources and for being a very patient sounding board while I kept asking questions and hammering on details.


Arduinna is perhaps one of those divinities who have endured a longstanding local popularity, but with a disconnect between actual attestations and theories; most of which arose much later. It would therefore be best to describe this document as a personal project that re-examines sources and endeavours to form an understanding about the goddess Arduinna with a specific temporal focus on antiquity, namely the Roman Empire (1st-century BC to 5th-century AD), while also attempting to qualify the later development as a separate phenomenon.


A search for Arduinna on Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss Slaby, EDCS (Clauss, Kolb, Slaby, Woitas), results in two inscriptions being found, namely:

  1. Gey, DE (EDCS-11100072): Deae Ard<v=B>i/nnae~ T(itus) Iuli/us Aequalis / s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito)
  2. Rome, IT (EDCS-17200105): [[Arduinn(a)e]] / [[Camulo]] / «Saturno Marti» Iovi Mercurio Herculi // M(arcus) Quartinius M(arci) f(ilius) civ<i=E>s Sabinus Remus / miles coh(ortis) VII pr(aetoriae) Antoninian(a)e P(iae) V(indicis) v(otum) l(ibens) s(olvit)

The former nowadays resides in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, whereas the latter is located in the Vatican. Furthermore, concerning the Rome inscription, Jacques Terrisse (1991), who conducted an investigation into the inclusion of Arduinna and Camulos, concludes that these names were added later in what, in the kindest words possible, could be described as creative restoration1. He also describes two inscriptions that have been removed from the archaeological account, ascribed to be the work of the 16th-Century Italian forger Ligorio, who may also be the person behind the still considered valid Rome inscription, since these were also discovered in or near Rome. These two false inscriptions mentioned Dianae Arduinnae and Deanae Arduinnae respectively. However, it does beg the question: what did Ligorio base his falsified inscriptions on? The likeliest candidate for this is the other source regularly cited for the syncretism, namely Gregory of Tours’ history, which provides an account of Diana being worship in the Ardennes region in 585; and how he converted the people by tearing down statues. In and of itself, this in-depth account of religion at the time does not support the inferred syncretism between Diana, the location, and the hypothetical goddess thereof. Beck (2009), in chapter 2 III C1, also highlights the Gregory of Tours account, alongside an unmarked bronze statue of a Diana-like figure riding a boar, as having been a persistent misrepresentation of Arduinna. Furthermore, this statue was found in the Jura, France, which alongside it being unmarked qualifies it as an invalid attestation. Terrisse (1991) also discusses an 18th-Century ink drawing of Arduinna (montfaucon, 1719) that he describes as “exécuté dans un style mièvre et peu réaliste” (executed in a cutesy and unrealistic style). It seems to be inspired by the Diana syncretism, not to mention that its later date would make it a source we cannot work with. This leaves us with no single depiction of Arduinna upon which to base interpretations.

What is particularly interesting is the presence of the name Arduinna in 16th-century Italy, given that the Arduinna inscription from Gey was only discovered in 1859 (Ardbinna). In light of this, it seems reasonable that the Diana Arduinna and Deana Arduinna inscriptions, though forged, referred not to a syncretism, but an innovation combining the account by Gregory of tours with the attested toponym (see the next section) to form a new epithet for Diana, namely Diana of the Ardennes2; thereby initiating an alternate “broken” lineage with and enduring legacy. Unfortunately, the innovation of Diana of the Ardennes has been picked up by academics and often taken to be conflated with Arduinna and her presence in antiquity, for which we have just a single inscription. For example, The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons (Lurker, 2004, 17), provides the following brief definition for Arduinna, attributing to her all the unattested associations discussed above: “Arduinna A local goddess in Gaul, named after the Ardennes. She was a goddess of hunting, and interpreted by the Romans as equivalent to → Diana. Her sacred animal was the boar”. John Aberth (2012, 79) makes the following statement: “Grove goddesses were also worshipped at the spring sanctuaries of Buxton and Bath in England, at Grenoble (dedicated to the “ Nemetiales ” ) and in the forest of the Ardennes in France (site of the cult to Arduinna), and near Speyer in Germany (which served as the capital for the Nemetes tribe devoted to the goddess Nemetona).” Later he also states: “In some figurines Celtic deities are depicted with boars, such as the bronze image of the goddess Arduinna shown astride a boar with a hunting knife in her hand that was found in the Ardennes Forest in eastern France. Stags were naturally associated with Cernunnos, the horned god who was “ lord of the forest, ” as well as with various hunter gods who adopted a complex and ambivalent protective posture towards their prey: (Aberth, 2012, 179). Aside from both quotes being poorly informed about topography, he also does not support his claim about a cult to Arduinna, which we can now support as referring to the cult of Diana of the Ardennes attested by Gregory of tours, plus uses the unmarked statue from Jura as evidence. Funnily enough, he then makes similar unsupported claims about Cernunnos; another divinity with many medieval and later interpretations leading to innovation and an ongoing legacy3. Regardless, without turning this article into a lengthy literature review, it is hoped the depth of this phenomenon has been sufficiently supported and clarified.

Arduenna Silva

Having discussed and discounted all depictions, and all but one inscription, the remaining source for the name remains amply attested and discussed in relation to the toponym Ardennes, which together with the Eifel and Ösling form the northwestern part of the Rhenish massif. Dowden (1999, 111-113) talks about divine ownership, stating that if a religion is anthropomorphic, groves are owned by gods, or more likely given growth and fertility associations, goddesses. He then goes on to state: “Groves, however formidable, are at least demarcated. Forests are altogether more impressive and may call into existence a divinity to empower them – the dea Arduinna of the wooded ‘high’ (ard) Ardennes or the dea Abnoba, the mountain-goddess of the Black Forest” (Dowden, 1999, 113). It is worth pointing out that the mentioned Abnoba has been syncretised with Diana in two out of ten inscriptions (Clauss, Kolb, Slaby, Woitas), which, as a counterargument supporting a Diana syncretism for Arduinna, at the very least shows that it is not a complete impossibility. There is also overlap, in that Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia), Tacitus (Germania), and Ptolemy (Geography) attest the name Abnoba as a toponym, similar to Julius Cæsar mentioning Arduenna Silva in book VI chapter 29 of Commentarii de Bello Gallico. Cæsar states:

“He himself, when the corn begins to ripen, having set out for war with Ambiorix through the forest of the Ardennes, which is the largest in the whole of Gaul and stretches from the banks of the Rhine and the territories of the Treviri to (those of) the Nervii and extends in length for more than five hundred miles, sends forward Lucius Minucius Basilus with all the cavalry, (to see) whether he can profit in any (way) through speed of march and the advantage of time” (Sabidius, 2013).

Since this and most other translations use the modern name, Ardennes, the original Latin for the above quote is:

“Ipse, cum maturescere frumenta inciperent, ad bellum Ambiorigis profectus per Arduennam silvam, quae est totius Galliae maxima atque ab ripis Rheni finibusque Treverorum ad Nervios pertinet milibusque amplius quingentis in longitudinem patet, Lucium Minucium Basilum cum omni equitatu praemittit, si quid celeritate itineris atque opportunitate temporis proficere possit” (Rice-Holmes, 1914).

A dictionary of Latin by Lewis & Short defines Arduenna as : “The forest-covered mountains in Gaul”, which seems a somewhat augmented definition given that the added “silva” from the above text is defined as “a wood, forest, woodland”. Thus leaving us with a basic definition of “mountains in Gaul”. Moreover, due to the found inscription of “Curia Arduenn” in Amberloup, Luxembourg province, Belgium, we know a municipal council served the region, though exactly when, in what sort of capacity, or under which civitas is impossible to determine. Cæsar does not tell us who informed him the region was called ‘Arduenna silva”. Before his lengthy segue into discussing the Gauls, the Germans, and the Hercynian forest, Cæsar describes his dealings with the Menapii, Treveri, and Ubii; the latter two having territories bordering on the region makes them likely candidates for the name’s origin.

On a side note, Cæsar’s proposed length of the Arduenna Silva being more than 500 miles (ca. 805 km) seems a serious overestimation or exaggeration. Admittedly, the Roman mile was not standardised until Agripa defined the Roman foot in 29BC, thus several decades after Cæsar’s Gallic wars. Before that, legions literally measured distances on the march, placing a stick in the ground every thousand paces (milia Passuum), with a pace referring to each time the left foot strikes the ground. This would result in longer miles for well-rested or harshly driven legions, or on easy terrain. Since the Arduenna Silva, with its higher elevations and deep river valleys, was considered even less penetrable than the Silva Carbonaria to its northwest, it does not seem particularly conducive to easy marching, and thus measuring.

There is also a forest of Arden in Warwickshire, UK. “Virtually no Roman roads cross the region. It has been suggested that this was due to the difficulty of building roads through woodland. The Arden area is effectively bounded by Roman roads (shown in red on this map): in the West by the Ryknield Street, in the South by the Salt Road (the modern Alcester to Stratford Road), in the East by the Fosse Way, and in the North by the Watling Street.” (Webb, 2008). The forest was also mentioned in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, yet merely serves as a setting for this pastoral comedy (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust). There is no direct link between Arduinna or the Ardennes and forest of Arden, except that the names may share the same initial root.

Considering a further, but very tenuous link, Arduinna could potentially be interpreted along the same lines as wild women in later German mythology, on which Keightley (1870) says: “THE Wilde Frauen or Wild-women of Germany bear a very strong resemblance to the Elle-maids of Scandinavia. Like them they are beautiful, have fine flowing hair, live within hills, and only appear singly or in the society of each other.” The part about living in hills may be most relevant within this article’s context. In medieval Britain, the Netherlands, and France, these spirits became known as white ladies, witte wieven, and dames blanches respectively.

Name and etymology

Thus far, the examined information supports Arduinna as being a mountain goddess linked to the particular region of the modern Ardennes, Eifel, ösling, and potentially their foothills, verified by the Gey4 inscription being found within this geographic zone. De Bernardo-Stempel translates her name as “the high”, while dismissing the possibility that it could be interpreted as “the exalted”, thus sticking primarily to the literal meaning (Ardbinna). Admittedly, this emphasises only the initial element of the name, which nonetheless may provide us the opportunity to see if there are potential tentative overlaps with other goddesses, e.g., Brigantia, whose name also refers to “high”. On the Proto-Germanic front, there is *ardugaz “steep”, implying a noun *arduz “elevated ground”, which obviously overlaps with the proposed Celtic interpretation by De Bernardo-Stempel of “the high”. However, the “inna” part is harder to explain, since the PGmc *-inī “female person suffix” would result in *Ardinī and skip the v from the Gey inscription in which it is represented by a B; a common Vulgar Latin substitution indicating that the v would have been a consonant rather than a vowel. A similar issue would present itself in Gaulish where “she, the high” would likely be more like the -ardua element (Gaul. arduwā) in the theonym Ahuardua, which is interpreted as “the high” or “the supreme goddess” (TFA). This also presents somewhat of a clash, since de Bernardo-Stempel argues for Ahuardua indicating “high/supreme”, whereas for Arduinna it does not5. A further counterargument to this interpretation is that logically one would expect proportionally more attestations in cases where a god or goddess has been given a high or supreme status6. However, the epigraphic evidence should not be considered conclusive as it may present a somewhat skewed point of view. As a side-note, Omsted (2019), who translates the name “Ardbenna” as high hill, should be considered unproductive in light of the commonality of the V>B substitution, plus spellings of Arduenna in Cæsar and Amberloup.

Since I am more familiar with Proto-Germanic7, I have worked out the following suggested interpretations of *Arduwinnā”, collapsed to *Ardwinnā8, with the meaning of “she who works the elevated territory”. Furthermore, the verb used, *winnaną, has a wide array of meanings, such as to toil, labour, struggle, suffer, fight, and strive, which does not provide clarity as to the actual contextual meaning. The derived noun *winnǭ “battle/struggle” qualifies it further, but requires a more creative, rather than literal translation. Another etymology, which helps to support, as well as clarify matters, is formed from *ardiz “disposition, nature, species, kind” + *winnaną “to struggle, strive, labour” or *winnǫ “struggle, conflict” to form *ardiwinnā9 > *ardwinnā meaning “she of a struggling or striving disposition”. This would shift the interpretation towards describing Arduinna as being a goddess of overcoming challenges, survival, and an innate lust for living. Combined with the first interpretation, we could specify this as being related to hilly or mountainous landscapes. This aligns somewhat with Brigantia, who has been syncretised with the martial aspects of Juno and Minerva, though predominantly a protective one due to associations with hill forts (Beck, 2009). However, In comparison to Brigantia, and in light of the second interpretation, Arduinna could best be considered as an anthropomorphic embodiment of a primal and unbiased force more than a protectress, which seems fitting due to the region described above being a particularly contested area throughout history, in part due to its innate impenetrability; also illustrated in Cæsar’s quote above. In such a landscape, the person with the most local knowledge will have a strategic advantage, but the territory itself is unconcerned about who gets lost, slips and falls on a muddy incline, or gets impeded by its innumerable streams, seeps or marshes; these are all part of the natural struggles of life after all.

Vulcanism and flooding

As an aside, it is worth mentioning two particular hazardous features of the Eifel, namely vulcanism and flooding. The region, known as the Vulkaneifel, covering 770 square miles (ca. 2,000 km2), displays obvious signs of previous vulcanism and is considered to still be active. Scientists believe the crust under the Eifel is relatively thin and showing an unexpected higher-than-average ground movement that possibly indicates the presence of a magma plume; the ground rises roughly 1 millimetre per year. It would seem plausible that the Romans, particularly after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, recognised the region’s vulcanism for what it was, though this is not attested anywhere. A more immediate hazard to the region is flooding. With approximately 900-1300 millimetres annual precipitation in the North “Hohes Venn” Eifel, the seven local rivers, of which the Rur10 is most known and romanticised, would often flood in winter. This resulted in the construction of dams and 15 larger lakes and water reservoirs at the start of the 20th century (Tcherner). That the Romans experienced these annual floods, which were bound to force limitations or sudden alterations in travel, warfare, construction, agriculture, and other activities, seems indisputable. This continues the theme, presented above, of Arduinna being an indifferent natural force with both positive and negative effects on human society11.


Based upon this, the interpretation of Arduinna is that she is a goddess associated with elevated, or at the very least more difficult terrain. She is a primal force who embodies the favourable and unfavourable qualities of nature without bias, and the challenges and conflicts that arise in a complex ecosystem; the interactions between plants, animals and humans, including predator vs prey. Seen from another angle, and relating this back to the concept of labour discussed in the etymology, perhaps it is also fitting to say: Arduinna toils to keep the numerous scales balanced within an ecosystem to ensure its ongoing survival and biodiversity. This also lines up with Eifel national park, located approximately 10 miles (ca. 16 km) from the Gey inscription, being a wildlife sanctuary that is home to over 10,000 species of flora and fauna; of which 2,300 are on the endangered species list (nationalpark)12. This interpretation stands separate from an alternate timeline and ongoing legacy, likely started in the 16th century by the Italian forger Ligorio, regarding an innovation and re-emergence of the Diana, described by Gregory of Tours in his 6th-century accounts, as Diana of the Ardennes. Both narratives are often conflated in academia and contemporary culture.


Aberth, John. 2012. An Environmental History of the Middle Ages : The Crucible of Nature. London: Taylor & Francis Group.

”Ardbinna.” In: Spickermann, Wolfgang. ”Die keltischen Götternamen in den Inschriften der römischen Provinz Germania Inferior.” Online. https://gams.uni-graz.at/context:fercan

Beck, Noémie. 2009. ”Goddesses in Celtic Religion: Cult and Mythology: A Comparative Study of Ancient Ireland, Britain and Gaul.” Online. https://theses.univ-lyon2.fr/documents/lyon2/2009/beck_n#p=0&a=top

Clauss, Manfred, Anne Kolb, Wolfgang A. Slaby, and Barbara Woitas. ”Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss / Slaby.” Online. http://db.edcs.eu.

Dowden, Ken. 1999. European Paganism : Realities of Cult from Antiquity to Middle Ages. London: Taylor & Francis Group.

Lurker, Manfred. 2004. The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons. London: Taylor & Francis Group.

Montfaucon. 1719. “L’antiquité expliquée”. Tome I, p. 50.

Nationalpark Eifel. Online. https://www.eifel.info/en/a-nationalpark-eifel

Olmsted, Gareth. 2019. “The gods of the Celts and Indo-Europeans (revised)”

Sabidius. 2013. ”CAESAR: “DE BELLO GALLICO”: BOOK VI.” Online. http://sabidius.blogspot.com/2013/08/caesar-de-bello-gallico-book-vi.html

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. As You Like It Summary. Online. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/shakespeares-plays/as-you-like-it/

Tcherner, Wolfgang. Simmerath. Online. https://www.staedteregion-aachen.de/en/navigation/cities/simmerath

Terrisse, Jacques. 1991. ”La dédicace de Quartinius à Rome.” Bulletin de la Société archéologique champenoise 84. p. 87-96.

TFA (Thia Frankisk Aldsido). Ahuardua. Online. https://frankisk-allodium.com/cultus/divinities/ahuardua/

Webb, John. 2008. Forest of Arden. Online (archived). https://web.archive.org/web/20110707054554/http://hearteng.110mb.com/arden.htm

  1. Viducus’s synopsis of Terrisse’s explanation: “the leftmost corner of the stone was broken off, and the pieces were discovered separately. There was enough of Mars left to restore him, but the fifth figure was a total mystery, so somebody tossed in a Diana depiction because, why the heck not” (personal communication, May 2021).
  2. The Rome inscription mentioning Arduinna instead of Diana Arduinna could be viewed as a counterargument to this theory, yet location, chronology, and practicality of working within the purview of restoration are clearly in favour still.
  3. The name Cernunnos and the associated depiction of a horned deity is only attested on the Pilier des Nautes from Paris (EDCS-10502026), though similar horned divinities are found elsewhere; including on the Gunderstrup Cauldron. The title “lord of the forest” seems primarily based on interpretations of the horned god found in modern paganism and Wicca.
  4. Gey is located in Kreis Düren, North Rhine Westphalia, Germany, which encompasses part of the lowlands of the lower Rhine bay and parts of the North Eifel.
  5. Without clearly indicating the reasoning behind this, since both only have one inscription, and nothing concrete in the way of supporting evidence.
  6. Following this line of reasoning, among Tungrian auxiliaries, Virodecdis, attested on six inscriptions, would therefore seem to be more popular than Ahuardua.
  7. Using “Kroonen, Guus. 2013. Etymological Dictionary of Photo-Germanic. Leiden, Boston: BRILL” as the main source.
  8. Substituting the ōn-stem for -ā to create a clearer overlap with Latin, as well as likely West Germanic developments, e.g., PGmc sunnǭ “sun” becoming sunna in Old High German, Old Saxon, and Old Dutch.
  9. Since the first i is not in a stressed position here, and has no function for showing inflection, it was probably not pronounced, which closely matches the pronunciation and syllabic division of “Ard·bin·na” as indicated by the Gey inscription.
  10. We have one inscription to Rura, the goddess of the river Rur, from Roermond, NL (EDCS-67800024): Sex(tus) Opsilius / Geminus / Rurae / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) m(erito).
  11. This point seems of particular relevance when considering the 2021 European floods, caused by heavier-than-average rain fall due to climate change, during which 196 people died in Germany and 42 in Belgium, with the most severely affected areas being in and around the Eifel and Ardennes. Although it would be false to blame Arduinna for climate change, nevertheless the features of the landscape were clearly proven to have been a compounding factor leading to higher numbers of casualties in the region.
  12. With those staggering numbers, one has to wonder at the sheer biodiversity the region may have had 2,000 years ago.

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