Sutugius: God of the Prosperous Flames

Introduction

I have been continuing reconstruction efforts with Gallo-Pyrenean Dêuoi, and I wanted to look specifically at one of the many Celtic Mars deities. They are syncretically prevalent in Gaul, and along the Pyrenees and in Gallia Aquitania, there is a proliferation of them. I decided to study whomever piqued my interest, which actually has spread my studies across a few Celtic Mars Dêuoi. However, Sutugius stepped forward for deeper studies first.

Through my history in polytheism, I’ve not had any prior working experience with a Mars adjacent deity, and my first encounter with Sutugius in meditation was a little intimidating. However, researching the environmental, societal, and etymological context for Sutugius while reaching out and getting to know him has been incredibly rewarding, and I’m excited to present my findings below.

Environment and People of the Area, Then and Now

The inscriptions we have attested for Sutugius come from the modern day commune of Saint-Plancard, in the Haute-Garonne department of France.  Saint-Plancard is on the banks of the river Save, and is less than 10km southwest of one of the best examples of a Gallo-Roman villa in France at Montmaurin, also on the banks of the river Save. The river valley created by the Save is rich in alluvial soils, making it great for cereal crop production and the raising of animals. 

According to Simon Esmonde Cleary in his book Rome in the Pyrenees, p.99:

The valley of Save, north of Saint-Bertrand, houses one of the two great villas of the civitas, Montmaurin, discussed below.  But other sites, such as Ville Rouge and Es Cabiros in the commune of Larroque upstream of Montmaurin and Gouerris in the commune of Lespugue downstream, have yielded building material such as tile and marble suggesting villa sites… All of this suggests that campaigns of systemic survey along the terraces of the rivers in the northern half of the civitas would probably produce whole strings of villas of varying sizes (and probably, other, simpler settlements too) along the valleys.  Because of our sketchy knowledge of most of these sites, derived from surface finds, it is not possible to be sure that they date back to the first and second centuries, but comparison with the better-known sites, such as Montmaurin in the territory of the Convenae and others in the surrounding civitates, suggests that it is a likely scenario.

The nearby Montmaurin villa is one of the most lavish Roman villa examples found in Gaul, with 200 rooms and occupation in multiple renovation phases, from the 1st century through the 5th century CE. Montmaurin is less than 100 meters from the river Save, likely indicating that this river could be used to transport goods.  This area is between Toulouse and Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, both urban centers for the area in Roman times.

Today, the people of Saint-Plancard have dedicated the western apse in their 11th century Romanesque church to specifically display Gallo-Roman inscriptions and engravings found in the area, including some inscriptions to Sutugius that came reportedly from that exact site.  There is a postulation that this 11th century church was built directly on top of a Gallo-Roman temple site dedicated to Sutugius, though this would be difficult to verify without confirming the inscriptions did indeed come from a site that would exist then under the church.  Barring a time machine, this is not possible to entirely contextually verify.

Potential Etymological Origin for Sutugius

In the long list of Gaulish Dêuoi syncretic to the Roman god Mars, there is mention of Sutugius not being a word of Gaulish or Latin origin, though no suggestion then of what etymology this word may come from.  The Basque Wikipedia page for Sutugius gives a clue that it may relate to the modern-day Basque word for flaming or burning, which is sutsu- or sutu-.  

Aquitanian is likely the ancient form of Basque, as illustrated by Luis Michelena’s independent reconstruction of proto-Basque, which ended up looking remarkably similar to the 400 or so words we have left of the Aquitanian language. This suggestion by the Basque Wikipedia page could then make sense as an Aquitanian theonym for this deity.  We do see in the late R.L. Trask’s Etymological Dictionary of Basque that the Basque word for fire, su, has ancient origins (p.394), and tu was borrowed by proto-Basque from Latin to derive verbs from other parts of speech (p.350), thus a reconstructed sutu- could become flaming or burning.

Inscriptions

Only one inscription directly correlates Sutugius to the Roman god Mars; in another inscription however, we have the god illustrated as Mars, with helmet, breastplate and shield.

DEO/MARTI/SUTUGIO/MANSU/ETIUS: Our inscription to Mars Sutugius. A white marble altar, with a mutilated crown and the bottom missing. A curious note: Mansuetius means ‘meek’ in Latin. If we had the bottom of this marble altar, it would probably be some form of ex voto inscription.

SUTUGIO/D(EO)/[]US BURUSI F(ILIUS)/[EX] VOTO PATRIS: A white marble stele. On either side of the head it has SVT VGIO, Sutugius. This is our altar that has Sutugius as Mars, full face, with the helmet, breastplate, and shield.

SUT[H]UGIO/DEO/IULIA SECUNDINA/V(OTUM) S(OLVIT) L(IBENS) M(ERITO): White marble altar. This monument was built into the walls of the Romanesque church in Saint-Plancard, and it may be displayed now in the western apse of said church (it is very hard to read the inscriptions in the photos of the altars in the apse).

SUTUGIO/GEREXO/CALVI F(ILIUS)/V(OTUM) S(OLVIT) [L(IBENS) M(ERITO)]: Similar to the BURUSI stele, in that it’s a son paying his vow.

The iconography of Mars from the BURUSI stele, and the syncretic relationship with Mars outright stated on the MANSUETIUS altar are our two most helpful identifiers from the inscriptions listed here. All of these are clustered in Saint-Plancard, which could indicate a quite localized deity. There is a SUTTUNIUS on an inscription in Poza de la Sal, southwest of Bilbao and outside of our range of study, which may also be the same deity.

You can find the above Saint-Plancard inscriptions and their associated information here.

The history and interpretation of the Agricultural Mars

One interesting characteristic of the prevalence of Gallo-Roman Mars deities is noted by Miranda Green in Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art – that Mars is so prevalent, even in regions that were extremely peaceful after their initial conquest.  From pg. 111:

What is striking about the epigraphic evidence is the frequency of dedications to a Celtic Mars—in central and southern Gaul and Aquitaine—where there was little or no military presence after the initial occupation. We will see that a major part of Mars’ function in Romano-Celtic contexts was as a defender against all forms of evil—barrenness, disease, and all misfortune. No doubt he retained the war imagery which persisted in the iconography, both because of the Roman Mars who appeared in Celtic lands as an unequivocal warrior, and because of the strong combative traditions of the Celts themselves.

Through a modern lens, if someone on the street knows who the Roman god Mars is, they are very likely going to answer that he is a war god. There are, however, other associations with Mars that have slipped under the armor, so to speak, perhaps because of the strong association with the Greek god Ares, which began obscuring these other characteristics and dominions. Again, from Miranda Green, Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art, pg. 111:

There is an ambiguity in the role of war-gods identified with Mars in Romano- Celtic Gaul and Britain. A brief glance at the epigraphic evidence reveals that ‘Mars’ was by no means simply a god of war. The original Italian function of Mars was as a deity of agriculture and protector of land boundaries, and indeed the Celtic version of Mars adheres much more closely to this role.

In the early days of Rome, the season of warring was tied strongly with the season of agriculture – when it was time to plant or harvest crops, men had to be planting and harvesting the crops. They could not begin a campaign season elsewhere until these duties were accomplished. September and October were important for harvesting crops and getting wheat in the ground to germinate over the winter months. Other crops were sown in the spring, and the wheat was harvested. Only after this wheat was taken in was there time for a military campaign elsewhere on the Italian peninsula. This made the early Italian Mars popular for worship in March (the month named after him), and in October, when it was certainly time to put away the tools of the war for agricultural concerns.

As the Roman Republic acquired more territory, from about 300 BCE onward, standing armies became the Roman requisite as they took more overseas and farther afield territory. With this martial activity and as Rome continued to emulate Greek culture, people began equating Mars more closely with Ares, who did not possess an agricultural attribution at all.

Despite this early obfuscation of the agricultural aspect of Mars, people 2000 years ago would have been closer to the agricultural memory of Mars. They could have seen him then in that aspect as the protector of their crops, their livestock, the land holdings they possessed. They could have given offerings to him to ensure the safety of the herds and the harvest. This would have, interestingly, included then a healing aspect as well – a healthy herd is a safe herd. Sickly animals may be a vector for disease amongst the herd. A blight or fungus on the crops could wipe out the rest of your seemingly healthy crops if it occurs or spreads.

These two buried aspects of Mars, the protection of agriculture and the land, and their associated health, help us seat Mars more comfortably in the context of a relatively peaceful and prosperous Gallo-Roman area.

But why a “flaming or burning” God?

Is there a context then for an indigenous deity with the theonym of “flaming, burning” and a syncretic relationship with Mars in this prosperous, peaceful, agricultural river valley beneath the Pyrenees?  What besides war could point to a context for this fiery name?  

I took a look into a few different environmental and sociological factors from both Iron Age and Roman occupational evidence that could lend to an explanation for this.

Ironworking:  There are some Iron Age iron works to the west of our inscriptions found in Saint-Plancard.  However, our site is deficient in sufficient proof of iron working, and this Iron Age activity is far enough away from our site that this explanation is inconclusive at best. 

From Simon Esmonde Cleary’s Rome in the Pyrenees, p. 19:

North of the Garonne, in the lowlands, there were the fortified spur at Piroque in the commune of Saint-Plancard (Sablayrolles and Beyrie 2006: 426) and the ‘Camp de Cesar’ beside the gorge of the river Save in the commune of Lespugue (Sablayrolles and Beyrie 2006: 180). Nearby, in the same commune, the Saint-Martin site yielded traces of some seventy structures associated with iron-working and datable to the late Iron Age. Clearly, the land was being occupied and exploited, but in what density we cannot yet be sure.  The construction of fortified sites indicates a level of command over labour and other resources but, in the absence of excavation, we do not yet know whether this was an imposition by some sort of elite to create places of command or, instead, a communal enterprise to create places of refuge.

Slash-and-burn agriculture: After looking through various online databases, I can find no evidence that gets slash-and-burn agricultural practices back into the late Iron Age or early Roman period in the Pyrenees specifically. 

Hot spring activity: While the Pyrenees themselves have a history of healing hot springs, Saint-Plancard is not located near any hot springs, which are typically in the actual mountainous areas of the Pyrenees.

Basque mythology: From the wonderful Basque source Buber.net, we have the following information about a figure in Basque mythology under the name Su: “Fire. Fundamental element of the mythological beliefs; considered useful, it can be also damaging. Spirit related to the fires and the hailstorm.”

However, further finding corroboration for the existence of this entity elsewhere on the Internet has turned up no further information. Basque knowledge and folklore was largely passed down as an oral tradition before making it into the written word online though, so this does not necessarily disprove any mythology could be associated with this figure. It just obscures us from finding out more for this investigation.

Proposed historical and modern interpretations of Sutugius

Basque mythology gets us the closest to some sort of context for the “flaming, burning” etymology: despite difficulties finding more corroborative information and even though this is conjectural on my part, an entity who could be related to a hailstorm could be someone to make offerings to so as not to have hail come raining down to destroy your crops, or injure your animals.  This is an element of agricultural protection.  

Another potential puzzle piece to this etymological mystery could be that fire is something required for just about everything that keeps an estate, a town, or human civilization going.  Fire helps us cook, it can be seen as a purifying element, it helps us make tools and weapons from metal, it can destroy, it could heat bath house facilities for the Romans, and yes, fire can be used in war as well.

Looking at all of the above contextual information, I see a historical interpretation for Sutugius as a Gallo-Roman Deuos of agricultural protection and the fecundity of the land and its people.  This interpretation ties into the prosperous river valley environment the inscriptions were found in; the syncretic relationship with Mars and the paternal, protective, or powerful depiction of Sutugius in the guise of a Roman warrior, whom would be concerned with the productivity, protection, and potential of the land and its people; and the creating and destroying nature of the fire contained within his theonym and the need to offer and appease external forces to help the prosperity and health of the land and its people.

Sutugius can be approached in Gaulish praxis today as a Gallo-Pyrenean Deuos of boundary protection, prosperity, and potential. While not all Galatîs today have agricultural concerns, Sutugius’s native context can be translated into his concern for one’s prosperity and fostering the best circumstances available for one’s growth, and the protection and upholding of boundaries (either physical land boundaries or sociological and personal boundaries).

As a defender against all forms of evil, including disease, one could also call upon Sutugius for health purposes – his fires will burn away illness or cauterize the wound. This form of healing is not subtle, as it calls on destruction to create a different circumstance for health, so it may not be suitable in all situations. Use your best judgment.

In Bonâ Bannobrogi, I will be exploring Sutugius as the Deuos of our first Îuoi of Amman Messous, Ounogenion (the Lamb Birthing), which takes place on 1 Edrinios. I hope to write more about this association in future posts at the Bonâ Bannobrogi website, which you can check out through the blog post here.

Discernment

(As usual, all posts on this blog are interpreted using the Viduveletia Celtic divination system, unless otherwise noted)

First pull: Epos, Nemetos, Pritios, Lugion, Orbion

This was my first query as to if Sutugius was amenable to my researching and beginning a relationship with him. A very balanced first prinni pull. The two Dubnos prinni point to the remembrance of Sutugius. Orbion shows memory, and inheritance and transmission of the past Lugion reaches up from the Otherworld, beckoning you peer into its depths to see what you can see. Pritios ties nicely into Orbion and Lugion, in that one needs to compile words to transmit the information discovered, and have passion to pursue the knowledge and pass it on in the first place. Nemetos and Epos both lay out sacred space, whether the space and the experience of the space itself with Nemetos, or the protection of said space with Epos.

Overall, between remembrance, recording information, and knowing and protecting sacred space, I took this is a good indication to go forth with my studies.

Initial visualization: impressions of the valley-carver, the flame that cauterizes, a flame on a stone slab on top of a mountain, inspiring leader, Lugion, metallic taste, fire that creates and destroys

Second pull: Ratis, Đira, Bitu, Vlatos, Orbion

Another balanced prinni pull. Orbion makes a second appearance, as the oracular head of myth speaking from the Otherworld. Vlatos stands as the staff of spiritual authority, and Bitu lets the living Earth sing with true speech. Đira shines brightly above, a river of stars lighting the way, and Ratis stands tall to protect the sacred knowledge. Sutugius was speaking to me, from a place of authority.

When I speak, it moves heaven and Earth. If you seek my fire, expect the sacred duty with the warmth.

Third pull: Matir, Sonnos, Touta, Dubnos, Orbion

Again, a balanced pull. Orbion speaks again, the oracular head telling us of the past. Dubnos draws forth the power of the Otherworld. Touta solidifies the identity we are working towards with Sutugius, of a protective local Deuos. Sonnos burns high in the sky, its rays cleansing and purifying. Matir stands over it all, weaving together fate and prosperity. This reading had a strong Ouroboros vibe to me, like seasonal cycles that roll on and on throughout time.

Fourth pull: Ratis, Uros, Vlatos, Touta, Orbion

This was my pull to gauge how Sutugius felt about my proposed interpretations, laid out above. After so many balanced pulls, I would say balance is a key component of Sutugius. Without balance between life and death and the seasons, life does not roll on as smoothly as it should. There is always creation and destruction.

I would also say Orbion is a prinnos that can be used when reaching out to Sutugius, having shown up in each pull so far. Orbion hearkens to cyclical time, just as the seasons pass, and life becomes death becomes life again. The memory of Sutugius is spoken forth, and we Galatis in today’s world inherit it and carry it on. Touta again reinforces our protective identity and the importance of the tribe and its skills. Vlatos stands tall besides the oracular head of Orbion, conveying and affirming its spiritual authority. Uros, the sacred bull, shapes the land and brings us strength – if we venerate Sutugius, he protects the lands and ensures it provides, so we provide for him. “I give that you may give.” Finally, again, Ratis, showing the fortification of the sacred boundaries, upholding the order of the seasonal cycles.

Overall from this final pull, I would say Sutugius seems well-pleased with the interpretative elements we have discovered relating to him. I am looking forward to continuing to build my relationship with Sutugius, and writing about him in future posts.

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