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All communities are imagined communities, for the process of communalization always contains an imaginative element (Anderson 2006; Brow 1990). This paper explores one facet of how communities in the Roman provinces of Spain and Gaul imagined themselves, namely the centripetal role of heroes and eponymous divinities. The function of heroes and their tombs in the memorial landscape of the Greek East under Roman rule has been illuminated in recent work (e.g. Alcock 1993, 2002), but has not received similar attention in the West. Indeed, this is part of a larger trend in scholarship that has, on the one hand, focused on the ‘forgetfulness’ of the peoples of Spain and Gaul (Woolf 1996), and, on the other, has elided the fundamental importance of local identities (e.g. Woolf 1998). Through a combination of wide range of literary, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence, the paper offers one lens through which to examine local identity and social memory more broadly and to reappraise religion as a meaningful vehicle thereof.

The study begins with brief survey of local heroes in the provincial landscapes of Spain and Gaul: Gallo-Roman heroa (Grenier 1944; CIL 13.1571); the ‘Lusitanian warrior’ statues from the northwest Iberian peninsula, which have been interpreted as representations of heroicized local principes that served as guardians of the community (Ferreira da Silva 1986); and the reuse of prehistoric monumental tombs as ‘places of memory’ in the Roman period (Bradley 2002). The analysis then turns to the complementary role in community-building played by the cult of eponymous divinities like Igaedus, Arvernus, Mocetis, and Bibracte (worshipped by the people of the Igaeditani, the Arverni, the Mocetes, and the oppidum of Bibracte respectively). But the community of Nemausus (modern Nîmes, France) serves as the chief case study for understanding the complex nexus of meanings potentially associated with these types of divinities: its founder – Nemausos – was said to have been a companion of Hercules (Parthenius F 47), whose wanderings in the West are a well-known ethnographic topos. This tradition, which seems to have taken shape in the first century BCE alongside other invented pasts throughout Gaul, reimagined a pre-Roman divinity as a Greek-style culture hero. It is a tale negotiated on a ‘middle ground’ (cf. Woolf 2011), situated somewhere between local memory and Greek myth. Even after the promotion of Nemausus to colonial status by Augustus, the cult of its ‘founder’ retained a central place of the ritual life of the community (see e.g. CIL 12.3077). Such generative intersections of local and imperial discourses were surely more widespread that the surviving fragments of the literary and epigraphic records suggest. Finally, the discussion moves into an interrogation of the relationship in provincial communities between history, memory, and religion with the enigmatic figure of Moritasgus, who was the king of the civitas of the Senones when Caesar arrived in Gaul (Bellum Gallicum 5.54) and around whom a cult seems to have developed in the first century CE at the old oppidum of Alesia (CIL 13.2873, 11240-2).

In the end, this paper hopes ultimately to show how we might adapt the claim of Durkheim that religion is society worshiping itself (Durkheim 1912) to a Roman provincial context, arguing that the cult of local heroes and eponymous divinities is a community imagining – and remembering – itself.


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—— (1998) Becoming Roman. Cambridge.

—— (2011) Tales of the Barbarians: Ethnography and Empire in the Roman West. Oxford.

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