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Seeing the Silva Through the Silva: The Religious Economy of Timber Communities in Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis

David Wallace-Hare

University of Toronto

            In this paper I examine a group of deities in Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis. The names of these deities indicate a thriving forestry made visible through votive dedications. Viewing these votives through the lens of local industries reveals that the border between worship and commerce was somewhat ill-defined for timber communities in Gaul, only becoming more delineated as a result coexistence with Roman businessmen (conventus civium Romanorum) and various military personnel.

            The unusual specificity of these timber gods' names, some referring to specific tree types, means that we can explore not only the religious valences of certain tree types but the local importance of certain woods. The ramifications for both avenues are extensive and unexplored. The relationship of the timber gods to local industry becomes clear when we examine their names, for example gods like Fagus Deus ("Beech Tree God," CIL XIII 33, 223, 224, and 225, along with nine other dedications to beech deities with Gaulish names, as Juppiter Baginatis "Beech Jupiter," CIL XII 2382), Abellio Deus ("Apple God," CIL XIII 39, 77, 166, 171, and 337), Deus Robor ("Oak God," CIL XIII 1112), Mars Buxenus ("Boxwood Mars," CIL XII 5832), the sex arbores (CIL XIII 129, CIL XIII 132, and 175), and Mercurius Viducus ("Timber Mercury," CIL XIII 576), inter alios. These deities have largely been bypassed by scholars (with the sole exception of Rémy 2012:213-222).

            Mercury's appellation, mentioned above, Viducus, suggests that his mercantile aspects are to be seen here in particular, and that vidu- ("tree, forest" in Gaulish, Delamarre 2001:318) should be read "timber," but we can go further. What especially sheds light on the economic orientation of these deities are comparable dedications set up by certain negotiantes materiarii to Silvanus, whose function, it seems, also related to the conservation and propagation of wood supplies (CIL XII 363). Furthermore, at Aquileia we find a similar dedication set up by a group of lumberjacks to Silvanus: Silvano / sacrum / sectores / materiarum / Aquileienses / et incolae / posuerunt / et mensam (CIL V 815). Likewise, we may see this process at work in a contiguous area, for example at Forum Segusiavorum, in Gallia Lugudunensis, several inscriptions set up by collegia show a clear economic-religious connection, as, Numin(i) Aug(usti) / deo Silvano / fabri tignuar(ii) / qui foro Segus(iavorum) / consistunt / d(e) s(ua) p(ecunia) p(osuerunt) (CIL XIII 1340).

            Silvanus' help was evidently successful and relevant to these men whose livelihood depended on their trees. Extending this to Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis, we can see that these wood gods served a very important purpose for their respective communities, ranging from building materials, to firewood, to a host of medicinal applications of woods like beech, oak, and apple (Meiggs 1982).

            Viewing these deities in an economic light and these local economies from a religious light allows us to reach places usually inaccessible to traditional treatments of the provinces which privilege unilateral approaches to provincial populations over blended ones. Ton Derks has said that native groups in Gaul led "embedded" lives (1998:10), wherein the now highly differentiated sectors of religion, economy, and state, were interwoven and inextricable. He concluded that the only means of accessing their world rests in an equally "interwoven" (i.e. interdisciplinary) approach. The timber deities of Aquitania and Gallia Narbonensis demonstrate the benefits to be derived from adopting an embedded approach to provincial deities. Derks' work also highlights the reorientation of native habits, as well. We only begin to see the embeddedness he avers through what I call the industrialisation of the Gallic pantheon.

            The timber deities reflect a wider trend in the tres Galliae, one that saw the heightening of pre-existing economic aspects of native deities as well as the reorientation of native deities towards new economic ends. This was likely a result of market changes in the Roman west and the introduction of Roman modes of religious dedication into Gaul.

Session/Panel Title:

Latin Epigraphy and Paleography

Session/Paper Number

8.4

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