The Alaisiagae: Frisian Goddesses

[The following is a post made by Þórbeorht to the old ASHmail Yahoo Group on September 11th, 2011 and was reposted on December 23rd of that year to his blog, Fifeldor.]

Mars ThingusRecently I’ve been looking into evidence of Germanic Heathen worship in Britannia prior to the Anglo-Saxon invasion/migration. Thus far, my focus has been upon the Ceneus Frisiorum, a Frisian regiment of the Roman army stationed at the Housesteads fort (Hadrian’s Wall) during the 3rd century. This regiment, and possibly another in the 4th century (the Numerus Hnaudifridi), dedicated altars to a pair of goddesses known as the Alaisiagae.

The Alaisiagae, may or may not be Germanic goddesses. Indeed it seems as if plausible etymologies for their names can be drawn from both Celtic and Germanic roots. For example, the collective name of Alaisiagae has been interpreted as meaning “Dispatiching Terrors” by those who favor a Celtic etymology and as the “All Victorious” or even “Venerated Ones” by those favoring a Germanic etymology. Regarding their particular names, they are given in one inscription as Beda and Fimmilena in one inscription and Boudihillia and Friagabis, in another.

In the inscription bearing the names Beda and Fimmilena, all accounts that I have thus read agree that Fimmilena is a Germanic name, sharing its root with the Old Frisian Fimelþing, ‘court of judgment’, possibly a moving court. The name Beda, however, has been disputed. Some see it as deriving from a Proto-Celtic word for “burial.” Others see it as having its root in the same Old Frisian soil as Bodþing ‘convened Thing’.

The inscription is to DEO MARTI THINCSOET DVABVS ALAISAGIS BEDE ET FIMMILENE, “the god Mars Thingus (interpreted to refer to Tiw as god of the Þing, “the law assembly”) and the Alaisagae Beda and Fimmilena.” Given the connection to Tiw and the Þing and the Germanic etymology of Fimmilena, I am inclined to accept the proposed Germanic etymology for Beda as well.

Another inscription, this being the one from the 4th century, is dedicated to DEABVS ALAISIAGIS BAVDIHILLIE ET FRIAGABI… “To the Alaisagae goddesses Boudihillia and Friagabi.” Of these two names, Friagabi seems to be agreed upon as being Germanic, possibly meaning “Freedom Giver” (which may still connect well with having a role in the law assembly) or “Free Giver”.  Boudihillia, however is thought by some to derive from a Proto-Celtic root, having the meaning “victory’s fullness.”

It was Boudihillia  that prompted my post. As she was worshipped by Frisians, I was searching for a possible Germanic etymology . It was on this search that I came across the Frisian goddess Baduhenna, possibly derived from the Proto-Germanic *badwa- “battle.” Baduhenna is mentioned by Tacitus in book IV of his Annals. Apparently in 28 CE, some 900 Roman soldiers were “cut to pieces in a wood called Baduhenna’s” by the Frisians. This transpired in Frisia rather than Britannia. Obviously the temptation is to see in the 1st century Frisian Baduhenna the goddess Boudihillia that Frisians were worshiping in 4th century (in Britannia). Indeed, the Proto-Celtic *boud, “victory” and the Proto-Germanic *badu/badwu, “battle” both spring from the same Proto-Indo-European root: *bhau(t), “to knock or strike.”

About Þórbeorht Línléah

Ealdorblótere (chief priest) at Whitthenge Heall of the Ealdríce, an Anglo-Saxon Théodish fellowship. Author of Of Ghosts and Godpoles: Theodish Essays Pertaining to the Reconstruction of Saxon Heathen Belief, Both Old and Anglo (2014). Author of Þæt Ealdríce’s Hálgungbóc: The Théodish Liturgy of Þæt Ealdríce (2015, 2016). Þórbeorht resides in Richmond, Virginia with his wife Eþelwynn and two daughters.
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