Did Romans worship British gods?



‘Sacred to the god Antenociticus: the first Cohort of Vangiones, under the command of … Casianus, prefect, willingly and deservedly fulfilled its vow’

(Roman Inscriptions of Britain, no.1328, on an altar found at Benwell on Hadrian’s Wall).


Three altars dedicated to the god Antenociticus were found in 1862 during the excavation of a Romano-Celtic temple located outside a fort on Hadrian’s Wall at Condercum, now Benwell, a suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne. The remains of a head, one arm and a leg from a slightly larger than life-size sandstone statue of the god were also found.

The altars have been dated to the end of the second century AD, a time when the fort was manned by auxiliary troops. This is the only locality where evidence of the worship of Antenociticus has been found and there is no evidence that this god was imported from any other part of the empire. It seems probable that Atenociticus was of British Celtic (Brythonic) origin, more than likely from the local area.

The inscription is a dedication by “the first cohort of Vangiones”, recruited from a Belgic tribe from the upper Rhine”; these auxiliaries are attested both at Chesters in Northumberland and at Benwell.

The inscription implies that the 1st cohort had pledged itself to dedicate an altar to the god in return for some successful unknown intercession on their behalf. The final part of the inscription, “V(otum) S(olvit) L(ibens) M(erito)”  is a standard acknowledgement of this obligation on inscriptions and is in Roman rather than Celtic form. Significantly, although we have no means of knowing the reason, the usual mention of the emperor in this dedication is missing.

Two other inscriptions to the god, which probably postdate this one, have been found nearby. The first was by a centurion of the XXth Legion:

“To the god Antenociticus and the Divine Spirit of the Emperor, Aelius Vibius, centurion of the Twentieth Legion Valeria Victrix, willingly and deservedly fulfils a vow”

The inscription on the third altar is:

“To the god Antenociticus Tineius Longus (set this up) having, while prefect of cavalry, been adorned with the (senatorial) broad stripe and designated quaestor by the decrees of our best and greatest Emperors, under Ulpius Marcellus, consular governor”

Taken together the sequence of these three inscriptions leads to the conclusion that Atenociticus was not only worshiped by Roman auxiliary troops, themselves Belgic Celts stationed at Benwell, but also at some later time by senior officers from the legions.

While most local deities found associated with legionary garrisons were worshiped by common soldiers, Atenociticus here received dedications from senior officers. Despite the lack of a trinomen on one inscription, by the second century AD we can infer from the rank of these officers alone that they were freeborn Roman citizens, and quite probably of Roman ethnic origin.[1] In this frontier environment we are seeing the possible transfer of cultural values from the local population to the occupying force.


David Coplowe



[1] This argument is made more forceful by the fact that Roman citizenship was not given to all freeborn until AD213: Richmond I.A. (1963) Roman Britain 2nd Ed. p.190




Richmond, I. A. (1963). Roman Britain (2nd ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd. ASIN: B000YL8ZE8

Simpson, F.G., and Richmond, I.A., ‘The Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall at Benwell‘ in Archaeologia Aeliana 4th Series, XIX, (1941) 1-43