I have for the past few months been increasingly drawn to the mystery of a Gaulish deity known only by a single inscription on a votive altar from Toulouse, now sadly lost: Erditse. Not knowing much about her, I set out to learn more of her, only to find nothing beyond her Wikipedia page and websites that parroted that she was a Gaulish deity known by a single inscription.
As someone who always strives to know what I can, I found this disheartening. As I kept meditating with her, I felt like some light ought to be shed upon her to try and determine what her role was. If we didn’t have anything immediate to work with, perhaps we could study the society around her, and any writings made about the inscription left behind. Surely, there was structure to be uncovered.
Within this essay, I will be laying out a brief look at the city of Toulouse, where the votive altar was initially discovered; we will take a look at the inscription, including who discovered it, and writings relating to it; we will discuss the physical provenance of the altar and its potential last whereabouts, as well as taking a look at a similar votive altar from the area to see what Erditse’s votive altar may have looked like. From there, we will discuss the etymological origin of her name and discuss how mythology might inform our interpretation of her in modern praxis; and finally, we will discuss an interpretation of her to work with today.
I have felt her with me this whole undertaking. There were times where information I thought must exist serendipitously fell into my Google search results. I am grateful for her guidance this whole process. I hope by bringing her forward to the world, we can place her into our reconstruction of Gaulish praxis. I think you will be delighted to find her a comforting, yet worldly deity.
So, let us begin.
Toulouse: a brief history
Toulouse sits on a bend in the Garonne River, a river with variable flood patterns that can be forded easily. As of this writing, the hydrometer at the Toulouse Pont-Neuf station along the Garonne has a recorded water depth of only 0.57 meters, and the upper part of the Garonne River is currently no longer considered navigable. Garonne derives itself from Garumna, which may come from the Gaulish garunda (shallows, riverbank) or Proto-Celtic garwos (Proto-Indo-European ǵʰer (to bristle)); or it may be an Aquitanian hydronym meaning “stony river.”
People originally settled south of the present city, on hills overlooking the river. Remains of a Gallic settlement were excavated on the hills overseeing the Garonne’s right bank. This settlement has been dated as abandoned around the beginning of the reign of Augustus, as the Roman province of Narbonensis was created. The Romans moved the city to its present day location north of the hills, and surrounded it with a 3km long fortification, a sign of priority and favor. Northwest of the city walls at what is now Ancely, at the confluence of the Touch and the Garonne, remains of an amphitheater and two public thermae have been discovered, which may suggest a sanctuary at that confluence.
According to Strabo, the city had local gold and silver mines, making it very wealthy. Being located on a trade route between what is now Bordeaux and Narbonne, many people and goods passed through as well. It was also intellectually rich, for as early as 57-60 CE, Suetonius notes one L. Satitius Ursulus of Tolosa who is “teaching rhetoric in Gaul with great reputation.” Nora Kershaw Chadwick, in her 1955 book Poetry and letters in early Christian Gaul, also notes the skill of rhetoric among the Gaulish people, pointing out that Caesar notes training among the Druids is entirely oral, and that Druids reported training for a period of sixteen years. She points out that even if that training period length is questionable it places an emphasis on the skills necessary to speak eloquently.
Overall, our picture of Toulouse during the Roman period is one of a favored and prosperous city, rich in material wealth and intellect.
Our sole inscription: the votive altar
In the Inscriptiones Galliae Narbonensis latinae edited by Otto Hirschfeld in 1888, it is stated that this inscription was found in “Toulouse, area of the palace.” It reads:
urseus protome protome
V S L M
This inclusion of the description of the votive altar in the middle of the inscription was the clearest one I found. Urseus is Latin for pitcher; viri is Latin for man; a protome is type of adornment that takes the form of the head and upper torso of either a human or an animal. This entry later notes a pitcher and two protomas, and then acknowledges this is reported to be one protoma by another source.
It is worth exploring a brief provenance of the physical votive altar itself as these notations are all that we have left, the altar itself being lost, and as we progress through time, the evolution of the interpretation of the inscription is an interesting phenomenon.
The votive altar was first discovered by Joseph Justus Scaliger in the Parliament of Toulouse sometime in the 16th century. Scaliger was a French Huguenot and scholar, who had been schooled by his father in Latin before going to Paris to learn Greek at the age of 19. However, after attending lectures for two months and being frustrated by his lack of foundation, he locked himself in his study and translated the entirety of Homer in twenty-one days, before moving onto the rest of the poets and literature which took two years.
Scaliger revolutionized modern chronology, reading ancient writers and building a timeline that included history from Egypt and Babylon, instead of merely relying on the Bible until the Greek writers came along. He also studied astronomy, which allowed him to date astronomical phenomena that are mentioned in ancient records.
The British Museum notes that Scaliger was based in France from 1574-1593, before moving to Leiden in the Netherlands. Barring further details, this is our timeframe for his discovery of and recording of the inscription on the votive altar.
The inscription is implied to be misread by French lawyer and scholar Julien Sacaze, who in his 1885 publication Les anciens Dieux des Pyrenees, states:
ERDIT. SELCONS. ARCAN BORODATES V.S.L.M., of Toulouse in the area of the Senate Palace; Scaliger saw it, said Gruter. And some writers have made a god of Erdit, a word obviously misread, as well as the whole inscription!
The recording of the inscription in the Inscriptionvm Romanarvm Corpvs Absolvtissimvm by Jan Gruter from 1616 reads:
Tolosa, in area Palatis Senatus
Hic est protome viri
V. S. L. M.
Gruter’s 1603 work Inscriptiones antiquae totius orbis Romani is often cited for where to find inscriptions. I was more fruitful in finding the inscription in the Inscriptionvm Romanarvm Corpvs Absolvtissimvm from 1616, which is more so a function of my working relationship with Google Books than to disprove its recording in the 1603 works. Later scholar Eugene Camoreyt also cites Gruter’s work in 1612-1616. For this purpose, the 1616 work is close enough to the 1603 source material mentioned for my consideration of it being the one of the first recordings of the inscription.
Jan Gruter himself was a scholar, who earned a doctorate of law and ended up as librarian at the university in Heidelberg from 1602 until his death in 1627. Encyclopedia Britannica notes that Gruter’s main contribution to the classical arts was in the work of inscriptions. Certainly, over a 1000 pages of inscriptions in his 1603 Inscriptiones shows a dedication towards that sort of work.
Between Scaliger’s passion for Latin and Gruter’s dedication to recording inscriptions, my personal opinion would err towards them having recorded the inscription accurately.
Grammatically, the usage of the interpunct in the inscription between the words ERDIT and SEL would be most common before the 2nd century CE. Other votive altars from this area are dated between the 1st and 4th century CE. The interpunct may indicate this altar was carved in the 1st or 2nd century CE. Camoreyt, in his 1896 work in the Revue de Gascogne, makes sure to point out with his interpretation in particular the ornamental nature of the dots on ancient inscriptions, and gives two other examples of deities of the Pyrenees with names cut in the middle by punctuation. 
Another interesting point of note is the interpretation of the last letter in the first line of the inscription. It is recorded in Gruter as the letter L; however, writers in the 19th century interpret it as L or conversely as the letter D.
The letter D is reputed to indicate the word DEO, and this is the interpretation that is presented on the Wikipedia page for Erditse, the first result that comes up when you Google her name. Camoreyt interprets the inscription in the Revue as follows:
Portrait of God
Camoreyt mentions the Corpus of Berlin has adopted SED at the end of the first line instead of SEL because the L is a confusion of the remainder of the letter D, which may have been made oblique from wear on the stone. He mentions this justification for the letter I at the end of CONSACRAN as well.
Alexandre-Louis Du Mège, in his 1814 work Monumens religieux des Volces-Tectosages, des Garumni et des Convenae, ou, Fragmens de l’archaeologie pyreneene et recherches sur les antiquites de departmente de la Haute-Garonne, interprets these words as ERDIT, SELCONS, ARCAN. He posits that ARCAN means “chanteur,” which designates an epithet of BELENUS or the Gallic Apollo. With this designation towards BELENUS, he implies a musical vocation for this deity, and as far as I can find, this is the only place this is mentioned; although this interpretation by Du Mège is referred back to by Barry in Memoires de l’Academie des Sciences, Inscriptions et Belles Lettres de Toulouse, Volume 3 (1859), along with the comment that the inscription was probably badly read by Scaliger. Camoreyt also calls out Du Mège’s understanding of the text.
But what do we make of BORODATES? A couple of different interpretations of that word exist, all pointing towards the people who put up the votive altar in the first place.
The Wikipedia page for Erditse mentioned the inscription “suggests the existence of an association of people worshipping together this deity,” but gave no satisfactory answer as to why the inscription implies this. Diving into BORODATES however, we can understand this point further.
Pauly’s Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft from 1897 mentions Borodates as the name of a German municipality in southern Gaul, only known from CIL XII 5379. It also mentions the CIL lists it as a cognomen.
Camoreyt mentions again in his 1896 paper in the Revue that consecrated peoples are found on other altars in the Pyrenees dedicated to gods, but this altar is even more interesting in the components of the word BORODATES. He sees Pyrenean or Aquitanian physiognomy, both in the BORO-, citing other words such as Borso, Borsci, Boriennus, and Borroconis; and in the –ATES, which he notes as common among ethnic groups in “primitive Aquitaine.”
Barry (Memoires, 1859) also speaks about local peoples as caretakers for maintenance of temples, and if they were organized into corporations for this purpose. He cites inscriptions from Nitiobriges of a brotherhood under the patronage of Jupiter, and on the eastern borders of the Tolosates’ territory, a sanctuary to the goddess Lahe with a brotherhood under a consecrated name. In the footnote for this, he notes that he believes the name of consecrated peoples is in another inscription of the Tolosates, and points to CIL XII 5379. While this seems to be in reference to CONSACRANI more than BORODATES, BORODATES seems in relation to CONSACRANI and could therefore indicate the name or title of the peoples erecting the votive altar.
Whether a municipality, or a group of worshippers, BORODATES presents itself as a name for the people who erected the votive altar in the first place.
The last known physical location of the votive altar appears to be in the hands of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, who is commonly known as Peiresc. As noted by Edward Barry in Recueil des inscriptions antiques de la province de Languedoc from 1893, “this inscription was in the palace, against a tree; it was transcribed and sent to Peiresc, in 1632, by the Sieur de la Grange.” Peiresc was known as a collector, and his house in Aix-en-Provence was chock full of sculptures, paintings, coins, etc. It is reasonable to consider that Peiresc may have had the physical votive altar in his possession at his death in 1637.
Peiresc’s home was demolished to make way for the Palace of Justice of Aix-en-Provence, which was built in 1787, and somewhere in this intervening 150 year period seems to be where the trail of the physical votive altar goes cold.
Case study: similar votive altar of Abellio
Two of our scholars mention a votive altar of Abellio in relation to what the lost votive altar of Erditse may have looked like. Given Abellio is from the same region as Erditse, I thought we’d take a moment to briefly look at the recording of the Abellio votive altar.
Du Mège mentions it in his 1814 work Monumens religieus des Volces-Tectosages, etc., who says the following:
“The figure carved on this monument must undoubtedly represent the God to whom it was consecrated. This figure had no particular attribute, since Scaliger made no mention of it, and so the image of Abellio, (Pl. 1, N8), is not accompanied by any mark, of no sign that can recognize the SUN-GOD of Garumni and Convenae.”
While the sudden mention of the god Abellio here is initially confusing, Camoreyt elaborates in his 1896 writings referring to another scholar’s interpretation of the Erditse votive altar:
“Lebegue, quite superior for the rest, was influenced by Sacaze to the point of saying that the latter had rightly pointed out that this inscription had been misread, and that the god Erdit had never existed …; that the copy was too bad to be returned with certainty, and, in all this there is only the foreign provenance in Toulouse, foreseen by Lebegue, which is undoubtedly correct.
… But since in Lebegue’s conviction the inscription had been misread and could not be restored, he could only have based this opinion on the particularity of the bust of the god sculpted on the monument, a use that we find, in fact, in the Pyrenees: in particular on a curious altar to the god Abelion, which, by a rather singular fortune, has become unobtainable at the Museum of Toulous, while its molding is kept at the Museum of Saint-Germain.”
1 Drawing of a Gallo-Roman votive altar dedicated to Abellio, found in the village of Garin, Haute-Garonne, France.
Recall from earlier in this piece, the description given by Hirschfeld (1888) that the altar had “urseus protome viri protome viri,” a notation coming between ERDIT. SEL CONS ARCAN and BORODATES V.S.L.M., with some dispute if this was actually one or two protome viri. If this is meant as a literal description of the altar’s physical appearance, it would seem to indicate a pitcher and one or two heads of men coming in the middle of the inscription.
As we can see from the drawing of the votive altar to Abellio, the feature of a bust in the votive was something found within the region. This style of votive altar is also referenced in Tom Derks’s 1995 paper The Ritual of the Vow in Gallo-Roman Religion.
“Most votive altars are simple in shape. They consist of a plinth, a plain shaft with the inscribed dedication, and an entablature. In addition, there is also a group of altars which have an aediculum carved out of the front of the shaft, in which the deity for whom the altar was intended is represented (fig. 1a). This custom was especially popular in Lower Germany and expanded enormously with the matronae cult. Here again, the altar stone with an aediculum is no better suited as bearer of the message of fulfilment than its counterpart without. The differences lie in another field. If the votive altar was generally considered to be a symbol of the fulfilled vow, the altar with the aediculum ingeniously combined the three central concepts of Roman religion, namely altar, cult image and temple, in a single votive monument, thus enabling the dedicator to offer not only an altar, but a complete sanctuary, as it were, to his deity.”
While Derks is discussing a region further northeast than our region of focus in Lower Germany, given the prominence of Toulouse as a trade city, I don’t consider it unreasonable that such influence could’ve traveled across the Empire to the Toulouse area. The Matronae were particularly widespread across areas that had previously been La Tène cultures, indicative of their probable Celtic origin. With usage of this kind of altar for deities of Celtic origin attested, it gives us a glimpse at what Erditse’s altar may have looked like; a plinth, with the words ERDIT. SEL || CONS ARCAN || above an aediculum of one or two busts and a pitcher, with the inscription finishing BORODATES || V. S. L. M. below.
What’s in a name? : word origin for the name Erditse
The name Erditse is what came down to us from this lost votive altar for this particular deity’s name. Having initially found Erditse listed as a Gaulish deity on Wikipedia, understandably I started with looking into what Gaulish etymology I could derive from Erditse. Words have power, and by finding out the meaning of this deity’s name perhaps a contextual tie could be made for something related to worship of her.
My initial search in Gaulish was unfruitful. The Discord server Gaulchat has a great list of various language resources to refer to, and while I acknowledge it is not the repository of all Gaulish language resources, I could not find even a suggestion that Erditse was a word or title of Gaulish origin.
Speaking with other forum members, one of them brought two suggestions to mind: firstly, that if the inscription was in dative case, the name of this deity might rather be Erditsis, as the –e ending is dative of the –i stem; and secondly, that perhaps this deity was of Basque or Iberian origin.
I’d already began taking a look into the Basque language, having a similar hunch that perhaps, as Toulouse geographically is not far from the region that the Basque ethnic group is from, this was a deity whose name could’ve been carried over from the Basque language, or from Basque religion and mythology, or perhaps the name was a loan-word from Basque for a local divinity of the Toulouse area.
Basque is a language isolate, with no demonstrable genetic relationships to other languages. Encyclopedia Britannica notes that at the beginning of the Common Era, Basque was probably spoken both north and south of the Pyrenees, and as far east as the Aran Valley in Spain, which is just south of Toulouse. This puts the language within reach of where the inscription was found.
My primary source for the Basque language was R. L. Trask’s Etymological Dictionary of Basque (sadly unfinished due to the author’s death, but edited and published for the web with what he’d completed so far). I found confirmation for how far east Basque could’ve been spoken, as according to Trask, the Valley of Aran appears to have Basque name origins, with the Basque (h)aran meaning ‘valley.’
The name Erditse does appear to be of Basque origin. Erdi means ‘middle, center, half,’ and there is a word in the High Navarrese dialect, erditsi. There is also the word erditu, possibly meaning to give birth, and ertze, possibly meaning giving birth. Both of these entries are incomplete due to the author’s death before completion of the manuscript. However, there is also the –tza/-tze ending, which forms nouns of abundance or abstract nouns relating to activity. An example is given in this entry of another term relating to birth; Jaio, ‘be born’ becomes jaoitza ‘birth.’
Combining erdi- with the –tze ending, we get Erditze, cognate to the name Erditse from the inscription. Taking Erditze into Google to look for the Basque meaning of the word, we do now get a translation from Google Translate as ‘childbirth’; from the Basque-Spanish dictionary on Glosbe as ‘childbirth’; and from the open source dictionary on WordMeaning.com as ‘delivery.’
Informing interpretation: Basque mythology and the natural landscape
With a name coming from the Basque language, it is worth taking a look into if Basque mythology can help inform our interpretation of this deity.
A theme that comes up in the commonly found Google results for Basque mythology is the use of the word ‘chthonic’ to describe either the beliefs or the main figures of its mythology. This seems to be derived as an interpretation and application of language from now rather than anything recorded specifically and directly from a past source.
One of the most attested figures in the Basque belief system is the goddess Mari. She is connected strongly with the Earth, in that she is reported to live in caves and caverns. She often appears as a beautiful woman, but can shapeshift easily. Often, she is associated with the creation of storms. She has a specific set of rules for interacting with her; one must only use the familiar form of pronoun and verb with her, one must not sit in her presence, one must leave their encounter with her the same way they entered it (never turning one’s back). She comes across as a deity of sovereignty and agency in my opinion; I would say she does not suffer fools.
Basque myths also emphasize the importance of the Earth, in that it is where deities and mythological creatures live. While certain entities like the Sun and the Moon cross the sky, they rise from underground and return underground at the respective end of day and night. Even the storms created by Mari do not originate in the sky; they originate from the caves where she dwells. The lack of entities living in the sky does stand out.
With this emphasis on caves and caverns in the mountains, and its most important entities dwelling within the Earth, one can see why the word ‘chthonic’ arises to identify Basque belief, even if that is a modern lens and application of vocabulary.
Luis Garaglaz, in his paper La Mitologia Vasca en la Actualidad, leans heavily on Gilbert Durand’s work to discuss Basque mythology. Durand was a professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Grenoble, and he cataloged the images that appear in the mental universe of humans into two delineated regimes of thought, the Diurnal and the Nocturnal. Garaglaz discusses both of these, but classifies Basque mythology as firmly Nocturnal in nature.
Some characteristics of this Nocturnal Regime as discussed by Garaglaz include:
- Seeing darkness as the serene night that encourages rest
- Imagination not running away from time, but taking pleasure in configuring it
- Value found not in ascending to a peak, but descending to the depths to penetrate
- The hero as antihero, taking pleasure in his immersion instead of fighting it
- Femininity, motherhood, transformation
- Non-distinction, dissolution that erases limits, where death is no longer terrifying, but seen as a return home; or, the end of one stage and the beginning of a new one
He posits this Nocturnal Regime is where Basque mythology falls for their value placed on the interior, the hidden, and generally, the feminine, as well as the absence of heroic figures. There is again strong emphasis on the female entities in Basque mythology; that the Sun and Moon are female and siblings, daughters of Earth who rise from It and return to it to be born again the next day. He mentions that if Earth is the body of the universe, the energies that cycle through the universe would be its soul, contained within the Earth and attached to specific places. These caves and caverns within the Pyrenees, under this view, could be then where one would go to commune with or renew oneself within the soul of the Universe, where the gods reside.
The strong emphasis on the Earth also gives us framework with which to examine Erditse. Her name, potentially associated with birth, plays well with the renewal that comes from within, and the mythology associated with coming from and returning to Earth to be born again the next day.
The root of Erditse’s name, erdi-, means middle, center, half. Considering this, along with other related vocabulary such as erditu meaning to give birth, and the –tze suffix which can create abstract nouns related to activities, I would like to propose a role in modern day practices of Erditse as a mediator, or specifically, as a guide between states of being.
With the abundance of caves in the Pyrenees, the consideration of divinity and other spirits residing underground, and the birth of the Sun and Moon daily from the Earth, this role seems well-suited to her. As a midwife to experiences, she can bring the mundane being into the rejuvenation of soul, within the Earth; she can also usher those residing within the soul of the Earth back out into new life on the surface. While this certainly could be taken literally with birth and death, for modern praxis I believe it could be most useful in a meditation and visualization setting, to pull one into and out of these sorts of mindsets and experiences.
In my own personal practice with her, I already had, even before the deep dive into Basque etymology and mythology, a lot of cave imagery presented from her. Often times, when we enter space together, I am in a cave, looking up towards a long gap in the ceiling where light is pouring in, and I am overtaken with a feeling of peace.
In Gaulish praxis, I also get a strong sense of her when I am meditating on the Suleuiâs. This could tie into her as a guide and protector for me in my personal practice.
If this association carried over among others in the Gaulish community today, one might eventually be able to posit, in a potential stretch for interpretation for her votive alter, a dedication to a Suleuiâ. A potential epithet of Suleuiâ is found at Collias, east of Toulouse, within an inscription also naming Minevera. If we wanted to obliquely associate that back to Erditse’s votive altar, Domitian granted the city of Toulouse the title of Palladia during his reign, in honor of Pallas Athena, often syncretized with Minevera.
These are for now and probably for as long as we lack any more evidence, entirely conjectural thoughts, but they are certainly interesting to contemplate when looking for associations or a starting point to work with Erditse in today’s praxis.
This is a record of a series of readings I have taken on this journey with Erditse over the last couple of months. Disclaimer: I am presently reconciling two similar divinatory systems, the Uelîturunâs from the Carnutian Nemeton which I’ve been working with since April 2020, and one I was recently introduced to, the Viduveletia system done by Owen Cook and Morpheus Ravenna. Therefore, the first two readings were done entirely on the Carnutian Nemeton’s interpretation of Uelîturunâs, and tonight’s final reading was done with a reconciliatory reading of meanings from the Uelîturunâs and the Viduveletia system.
Locos, Sâwelis, Iagis, Drûið– I am a primeval force. Directed within, you will find the protection you seek.
Iagis, Uros, Epos, Mî– Your inner world is your strength, and I will work with you to guide you.
Tonight’s affirmation: interpretation as a goddess who brings between states of being
Uros – My strength rises from the land like a primal bull.
Windobitus (Vlatos) – I accept my sovereign duty and bring peace to those who seek my domain.
Iagis (Iugon) – I subscribe to the cycles of self and instill calm in the journey you are on.
Epos – Take my hand in-between, I will guide you towards what you seek.
Sound of Thunder (which I am reconciling with Bitu from the Viduveletia) – You grow as you will it, and I am here for your evolution.
 Poetry and letters in early Christian Gaul by Nora Kershaw Chadwick; p.24