Reaching back, bringing forward: reconstruction of an Aquitanian theonym for Mars Sutugius

Writing an entire essay reconstructing a potential historical context and modern interpretation for the Gallo-Pyrenean Deuos Mars Sutugius recently was an incredibly rewarding experience in my Gallo-Pyrenean praxis, and left me with a serious question. In comparison to Erditze and Baco, whose names already belay Aquitanian and Basque phonology; and an extremely early cognate of Latin into Aquitanian and now Basque language respectively, what did Mars Sutugius’s Aquitanian theonym look like?

Barring a time machine, we will never have an absolute answer to such a question, as this would require a full comprehension by us of the historical context and the nuance of when one would engage, petition, or give thanks to Mars Sutugius circa the turn of the millennia. While I would be elated to have such a comprehensive contextual understanding, it is wholly impractical to gain, and to claim with certainty to know the Aquitanian theonym for Mars Sutugius is beyond the scope of any researcher today.

However, I do believe it could be a reasonable endeavor to reconstruct a potential Aquitanian theonym that sits comfortably in what historical context we can glean for usage, further understanding, and further relationship building with Mars Sutugius in Gallo-Pyrenean praxis today.

Disclaimer: I am not a linguist, only someone armed, as so many are armed, with the power of Google and many tabs in a browser to help me interpret and string together a plausible and historically contextual series of events as to how Sutugius’s name developed. This is a personal exploration of something that Sutugius has indicated he would like me to explore, and if it does not suit your relationship with him, that is absolutely valid and I respect it wholly. So, without further ado…

What’s in a name? Breaking down the Latin and building up the Basque in Sutugius

Deconstructing Sutugius’s name involved isolating and removing what could be Latinized first.

SUTUGIO is the dative case of this Deuos’s name as found in his inscriptions, commonly used for deities on votive altars. Sutugius, however, is a second declension noun in Latin (often used for male names) using an -us ending (such as Henricus –> Henry). The vocative case for a second declension noun ending in -i, used for addressing someone or something, is -ius.

These noun endings give us an ideas of what someone familiar with Latin looking at an indigenous theonym may have done. For example, if the way a Deuos was addressed in Aquitanian ended in -i, then perhaps a Latin speaker could have morphed it into the -ius. This then would’ve become SUTUGIO on votive altars.

This second declension noun for male names also leads me to fall on the side of this being a theonym, and not an epithet merely describing a local aspect of Mars. More of Sutugius’s inscriptions do not have Mars included than do. The case personally shows me that whomever modified this indigenous theonym into Latin had a clue that this Deuos was indeed a pre-existing Deuos – not just a complementary title to the Roman god Mars.

Having taken care of the Latin noun-endings, we are left with Sutug-. In disyllabic Pre-Basque words, the letter G is usually found in the first or the third consonant position; it does not appear at the fourth consonant position to end a word (see page 18). Pre-Basque lexical items are predominantly disyllabic, and vowels commonly begin and end a word in Basque; while I’m no linguist, this appears to me to indicate that working with a base of Sutu- is plausible.

There has been a suggestion that Sutu (fire) or Sutsu (fiery) is the base of Sutugius’s theonym. However, these appear to use the verb-forming suffix borrowed from Latin, -tu, something which was borrowed and widely adopted likely after the Pre-Basque period (page 23-24).

The most definitive portion of Sutugius’s name is Su, a monosyllabic Basque word meaning fire, of unknown origin, which R. L. Trask suggests as plausibly from the native lexicon for Pre-Basque (page 386).

I decided to search for a second word that made contextual sense with Su, since the borrowed Latin suffix of -tu seemed unsatisfactory for our historical context.

The word I decided to pursue is a Basque word for pitch, ui. While of unknown origin, Michelena acknowledged the word is probably older than the word borrowed from Latin for pitch, bike (page 355). This gets us to Suui, as we move closer to a Sutu- base.

Also mentioned by R. L. Trask is plosive-insertion in Basque word formation. When two vowels come together at a morpheme boundary, a plosive t or k is inserted. The origin of this plosive-insertion isn’t known, but is illustrated in the Basque word for fireside or hearth, with su “fire” + ondo “side” becoming sutando (page 42, W18).

If we insert the plosive t, we come to Sutui as a potential Aquitanian theonym to explore for Sutugius, meaning something akin to “fiery pitch” or “pitch-fire.” This being disyllabic fits well with other Pre-Basque words. This also fits well with the postulation mentioned at the start of this section of how a Latin speaker might approach Latinizing an Aquitanian theonym ending in –i.

Context check: Historical pitch usage in the Pyrenees and ancient commerce

Pitch is essentially distilled from wood in a pitch kiln, and leaves behind charcoal as a by-product.  While tar and pitch are sometimes used interchangeably, tar is in a more liquid state than pitch.  Pine pitch was traditionally used to waterproof buckets, barrels and boats.  Pine trees are abundant in the southern Pyrenees, and we have evidence of Roman era pitch distilleries in the mountains of Andorra. Its by-product, charcoal, could also be used in the iron-working industries in the area, showing a multi-faceted role of pitch production in the local economy.

The economics of pitch production bring us back around to the role Sutui would have played in a river-valley with villa activity. Since pitch can waterproof buckets, barrels, and boats, this theonym suggests that the protection of agricultural products Sutui endows extends beyond the villa boundaries and to the shipping and export of these products as well. 

In a river-valley, one way to export your product would be to send it down the river in a boat to the Garonne in Toulouse.  Just downstream from Saint-Plancard is the most extensive Gallo-Roman villa site in France, Montmaurin, which is located less than 100 meters from the river Save.  While not definitive to our specific example, this does illustrate the plausibility of river transport in the local area along the river Save, a tributary of the Garonne (which flows through Toulouse, a cultural center in Roman times; and Bordeaux, a port city and Roman commercial center).

Extending protection beyond the villa to the transport of goods

With this theonym of Sutui, we can consider another plausible facet of this Deuos, protection of the agricultural concerns beyond the villas boundaries. Sending off boats laden with goods, one would want to invoke the protection of the Gods to ensure those goods made it safely to their destination. The prosperity of the villa concern lies with its ability to get its saleable goods out to a market.

Pitch played a part in making sure the boats one would use to move goods in and out of the valley stayed water-tight. While pitch production is not indicated in or around Saint-Plancard, pitch production is confined to the area where pine trees are prevalent, which from our study out of Andorra, is an elevation of 1050-2905m. Lack of evidence for the movement of pitch down into these river valleys is not indicative of a lack of the existence of this process. It’s difficult to say exactly what part of an archaeological record we would examine to definitely show this relationship in our instance; more likely, we would need an anthropological record, such as an inventory of a villa, something which does not survive. We do have writings from Pliny the Elder in the Natural History regarding tree usage, including pitch production, on a general level.

Interpretation for modern praxis: the cycle of protection leads to prosperity

Looking at our reconstruction and modern relationship with Sutui, this facet reminds us that the protection of Sutui follows us from the inception of a process to its full resolution. Our prosperity is important to foster through an entire process. Distilled upon the mountain, we are tempered and braced for each scenario with Sutui by our side. Coming down from the mountain to the villa, Sutui walks with us through the process. As the pitch waterproofs the boat for its journey to market, so Sutui is thorough making sure the protection he extends holds strong for whatever we carry in our lives.

While not mentioned above, pitch was also used in unguents, a type of salve for topical injuries. As Sutui’s interpretatio with the Roman agricultural Mars includes seeing him as a defender against evil and diseases, and his fires can help burn away or cauterize wounds, we could also see the distillation of pitch as the process of separating or distilling ourselves from an illness. Gaining this separation with Sutui’s assistance may help to heal, but use your best judgment, as fire is not subtle. Fire changes the circumstances or symptoms with its process of creation and destruction, and is likely not suitable for all instances.

Contrasting the Roman humanity of Gods and Gaulish animism to enrich our understanding

This exploration to try and determine an indigenous theonym such as Sutui also lets us take a step back from the Roman lens on divinity to comprehend more clearly the Gaulish or indigenous animism that underlies this modern interpretation of Sutui.

As mentioned by Miranda Green in Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, Romans (and Greeks) viewed their deities as humans writ large, and for her subject matter of animals in myth, she speaks specifically to animals being seen as iconographic but subordinate in Roman mythology. These animals represented aspects of a deity, as compared to being the deity itself. We could see here how Sutugius may have been seen as an aspect or component of Mars then on inscriptions where he is syncretized. In the Celtic world, however, the iconography is more complex, and Green notes animals play a more prominent role. These animals lend their characteristics, such as horns, antlers, and hooves, to deities (page 197).

This lending of animal characteristics to deities gives us a glimpse into the animism of the Gauls. This might explain more of how one could have seen Sutugius as syncretized to Mars, if this animistic being was seen as an aspect to and explaining more of Mars’s role in society to those writing the inscriptions. We do have to remember that since we are looking only at the inscriptions and depictions that survived, we are of course biased by the lack of seeing other Gallo-Roman peoples interacting with Sutui without leaving behind a votive altar in the process. But by breaking out Sutui, we can reach back to the animism behind the fire driving the pitch making process, and the pitch itself – it is a product of the land that contributes to the prosperity of cultivated products of the land, which then support an entire villa and its economic output. Now, we can see the Deuos Sutui as the fire coming forth to shine light, bring warmth forward, and to distill his protection into our modern praxis.


As always, all discernment done within this space is done using the Viduveletia divination system, which you can find more about here.

First prinni pull: Matîr, Bitu, Dubnos, Nemetos, Epos

Dubnos, a Dubnos prinnos, reaches up from below, the roots of the ancestors pulling themselves up to the surface to lend their council.

Bitu, a Bitus prinnos, takes their words, this upwelling inspiration, and casts it upon the living Earth to nourish it.

Nemetos, an Albios prinnos, consecrates this space, encouraging vulnerability to open one up to the mysteries and the initiatory process into them.

Matîr and Epos, Liminal prinni, bookended the reading nicely. Matîr was pulled first, heavily emphasizing the weaving of connections and fates, as well as mediation. Epos ended the reading, speaking to sovereignty, land protection, and right relationship or connection to the Otherworld.

Overall message: From the council of the ancestors and the living Earth, you weave the sacred into breath, as fire is warm and one knows not why, only knows and accepts it. Willingness to seek the unknown guides you, and leaves torches behind for others to follow.

Second prinni pull: Pritios, Orbion, Ratis, Bitu, Albios

Orbion, a Dubnos prinnos, calls forth eloquence, the inheritance of memory and transmission of the past; its oracular head sits prominently and speaks, if we listen.

Pritios and Bitu, both Bitus prinni, stir us, the transmitters of this interpretation. Pritios sits by the hearth fire, the fire in the head weaving and creating mythos. Bitu is the cauldron on the fire, the nourishment of the living Earth, and gives true speech and inspiration to those who drink from it.

Albios, an Albios prinnos, stands tall. It guards its people and resources; the offering was accepted and aid has been given from the Dêuoi.

Ratis, a Liminal prinnos, surrounds us with its protection. It holds the sacred boundaries, it fortifies the right speech of those who would seek it, and it fortifies, in this case in Sutui’s name.

Overall message: Within the sacred boundaries, the oracular head speaks forth its memories and provides the nourishment of the living Earth. With the blessing of the Dêuoi, we listen, gain inspiration, and retell its stories with creativity and true speech.

Closing thoughts

This has been a reconstruction of a potential Aquitanian theonym for a Pyrenean Deuos, Sutugius, whose name belays underlying Aquitanian influence at the least. While this was undertaken with personal guidance and discernment from Sutui, each individual will have their own experiences to guide them as to whether they use Sutugius, the attested Latin name we find left on inscriptions from Gallo-Roman peoples 2000 years ago; or Sutui, which while not historically attested, has been phonologically deduced to the best of my amateur linguistical ability with reference to historical context that does make sense in the time and place his inscriptions were found 2000 years ago.

As mentioned in the introduction, barring a time machine, the name Sutui remains unverifiable – however, connecting with a more animistic and indigenous theonym underneath the Latin does provide another paradigm to view those Gallo-Romans living in Saint-Plancard, with how they potentially got from their Aquitanian theonym to a Latin one, declaring loudly to any person with a grasp of Latin the local pride for and thankfulness to their Deuos of protection and prosperity. Surely as goods reached markets, Sutui brought back around dutifully their profits, allowing them to continue on and prosper in their river valley, and it is this cycle of protection and oversight that Sutui can bring to our praxis today.

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