Endovelico was a God worshiped by the peoples of the Roman province of Lusitania. Usually associated with healing, he also had chthonic functions, which we will discuss in this post.
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Around 88 inscriptions were found, along with statues and other epigraph fragments. All of them were found in Terena, Portugal, in Endovelico’s temple. The fact they weren’t found anywhere else shows a well defined local of cult and a site of pilgrimage.
With this, Endovelico is one of the deities with the most archaeological evidence in the entire Roman world.
There are also around 17 inscriptions to a God named Vaelico or Velico. They were all found in Candeleda, Spain, in Vettonian territory. It’s likely this God was the same as Endovelico. This will be further discussed later in this post.
Keep in mind that this section can be updated as new archaeological findings are made.
The theonym appears under several forms: Endovelico, Enobolico, Indovellico, Endovollico, Enovolico. This can be due to differences in dialect and/or different aspects of the God, which we will discuss later. Despite the inscriptions being all in the same place, people from all over Lusitania would come to the temple in pilgrimage and leave their inscriptions to the deity, thus explaining the dialect differences.
As usual, J.L. Vasconcelos was the first to analyse the etymology of the theonym. He argues that Endovelico would come from a (Proto) Celtic word reconstructed as *Andevellicos. The root *ande would indicate a prefix of intensity, and *vellicos would come from *vello, which in modern Welsh and Breton evolved to gwell, meaning “good” or “better”. Thus, *ande+*vellicos = very good. Cardim Ribeiro later expanded this meaning into “the one who is benevolent. This can start to shed some light on the nature of this deity.
According to Tovar, however, Endovelico could be a deformation of Endobelicus, adjective over Endo-Beles (Indibilis), which would mean “the dark one”, making him an underworld deity.
The name Vaelico would come from Celtic *uailo-, from Proto-Indo-European *wĺ̥kʷos, both meaning “wolf”. If we are to accept that Vaelico and Endovelico are the same deity, this etymology could be applied to Endovelico as well.
Conclusions from his etymology
Depending on which etymological proposal we go by, Endovelico can either be a benevolent deity associated with helping and looking over his people or a dark, chthonic deity who watches over the realm of the dead, like Greek Hades or Roman Pluto. If his name comes from the Celtic word for “wolf”, then this would also prove his chthonic functions.
He is, in fact, both. I will prove this to you based on the epigraphs, his epithets, the interpretatio romana applied to him and the geographical context of his cults.
The geographical context of the cults of Endovelico
The Roman temple of Terena
The Roman temple of Endovelico was located at the top of a hill, near Terena, in Portugal. Later, a church to Saint Michael was built here. This church now lies in ruins, just like the ancient temple of Endovelico.
The temple was, most likely, a great building with columns and statues, like all other Roman sanctuaries. The marble and some epigraphs of the temple were used to build other infrastructures after the cult of Endovelico came to an end around the fifth century AD, namely to build the aforementioned church.
There are remains of a fortification around the temple, and it is possible this place was already used as a religious site before Roman intervention.
According to Maria Dias and Luís Coelho, the columns which sustain the 40 arches of the University of Évora were taken from the temple of Endovelico. The University was first founded in 1559 as Colégio do Espírito Santo. The old Roman temple was surely a sight to behold, and definitely one of the most important temples in all of Iberia.
The important aspect to retain here is the top of the hill where the temple was located, as it is a clue to the functions of Endovelico.
Rocha da Mina, a possible Pre-Roman temple of Endovelico
Not far away from the hill of Terena where once stood the Roman temple of Endovelico, there is an ancient Pre-Roman site of worship. It is known as Rocha da Mina, where many oaks could be found in days of yore (which are disappearing there due to the spread of Eucalyptus) and surrounded by a river called Lucefecit.
The ancient temple is also at the top of a hill, which has stairs leading to it. At the top, we can find an altar and a well, both used for rituals. Wells were common in Iron Age sanctuaries, which were usually associated with the worship of chthonic deities.
Some inscriptions to Endovelico say that incubatio was part of the worship of this God. This was an ancient divination practice which involves sleeping in or near the temple of a God or Goddess, with the goal of having the deity visit you in your dreams. This could be in order to seek guidance, inspiration, etc. Vasconcelos hypothesized that there was a cavity or den near the Roman temple to Endovelico where the incubatio was practiced. His claim comes mainly from the fact that some form of cavity would be a way to establish contact with the underworld, which this God possibly rules.
The Pre-Roman site of worship was only discovered in the 1990s, many years after the death of Vasconcelos. Therefore, the well of Rocha da Mina could be what was used to practice incubatio, as predicted by Vasconcelos.
Near Rocha da Mina and around the area of the Lucefecit river, there is also a megalithic necropolis, which further indicates the chthonic nature of this site.
You may have noticed the odd name of the river which encircles these ancient temples. It most likely has a root in the name Lucifer, often associated with the Devil, but also a name for Venus. However, due to the chthonic nature of the sites around this river, it is likely that it received the name in Christian times.
Afonso X, King of Leon and Castile, wrote the Cantigas de Santa Maria, one of the most important documents in the Old Portuguese language (also called Galician-Portuguese). They were not written in Castilian because Galician-Portuguese was the official language of poetry and music in Iberia during the Medieval ages.
In any case, these songs were dedicated to Mary of Terena. In song 213, there is a conversation with the Devil and one of the verses says “Dun rio que per y corre, de que seu nome non digo”, which can roughly translate as “Of a river which runs there, its name I won’t say”. This is referring to the river Lucefecit of Terena, as the uttering of the name Lucifer was commonly avoided, which can confirm the origin of the name Lucefecit.
The temple of Vaelico
The deity Vaelico had a site of worship in Candeleda, Spain. This area belonged to the Vettonians, a native tribe neighbouring the Lusitanians.
While not much remains of it, it is known that there were many wolves in this area (recall the etymology of the theonym Vaelico) and that some of the epigraphs were used as building material for a church to Saint Bernard . Similarly to Rocha da Mina, there’s a necropolis near what once was the temple of Vaelico.
This may have been a simpler site of worship, perhaps more primitive like the one of Rocha da Mina, with the main temple being the one in Terena.
Endovelico/Vaelico: A God with many functions
Lord of the Underworld
There are many reasons to believe Endovelico was a chthonic deity presiding over the underworld. We have already analysed the chthonic nature of his Pre-Roman site of worship. Let us analyse other findings which point towards similar conclusions.
One of the inscriptions found to him says the following:
Endovellico · sacrum L(ucius) · T(- – -) M(- – -) / et · T(- – -) · M(- – -) · ex imperato averno · a(nimo) l(ibentes) f(ecerunt)
The formula ex imperato averno is the important thing to analyse here. It can translate as “by order from the underworld” or “by infernal order”. This is an obvious hint to the role of Endovelico. The fact that his temples were at the top of hills can also mean that mountains were rooted deep in the earth, establishing a connection to the underworld, therefore Endovelico would act on the world of the living through them.
Another interesting find was the boar/pig engravings and statues in the temple of Terena. Pigs and boars are traditionally associated with the underworld and death in pagan religions.
Cicero wrote that “a tomb was not formally completed as such until the rites had been performed and a pig killed”. Greek funerary moments also frequently depicted boars, as well as Roman’s, which sometimes had a boar devouring the victim. The Celts buried the death with pig bones or an entire pig skeleton, with a chariot burial in Champagne having a boar skeleton. These pigs/boars were meant as psychopomps and also because they represent the life force of the ancestor, to allow the dead to reincarnate.
On my previous article I talked about Ataegina, Lady of the Underworld and akin to Persephone/Proserpina. It would make sense Endovelico is her consort, as Lord of the Underworld. Ataegina is also associated with the change of seasons, just like her Greco-Roman counterparts, spending half of the year in the underworld (Autumn/Winter) and the other half in the world of the living (Spring/Summer).
Endovelico could be too associated with the natural season cycle. At Thesmophoria, a Greek festival held at late autumn, dead pigs were thrown into underground caves to rot and be eaten by snakes to mourn Persephone’s descent into the underworld and celebrate her return in Spring. The remains were later brought to altars and mixed with seeds to obtain better crops.
Lastly, engravings of palm leaves/branches and crowns were also found in inscriptions to Endovelico, which are symbols of immortality. The crown could also be symbolic of his status as ruler of the underworld.
We have seen from Vaelico that the name of this deity could come from the Celtic word for “wolf”. While the wolf wasn’t seemingly associated with him in Terena, it was probably associated with him in Candeleda. The name of the place where the temple to Vaelico is located is Postoloboso. “Lobo” is wolf in Spanish and Portuguese, -so is a suffix used commonly to make words into adjectives, therefore loboso indicates that this area has many wolves.
It could be that boars were common in Terena, therefore this animal was associated with Endovelico. With wolves being common in Postoloboso, Candeleda, this was the animal to be associated with Vaelico, the version of Endovelico in Vettonian land.
A deity of Healing and Saint Michael
Even though Endovelico has a chthonic nature, he was also associated with good health. This may seem a bit contradictory at first, but it’s not unusual for healing deities to be associated with the underworld. Some inscriptions describe his healing attributes, like these two:
L(ucius) Iulius Novatus Endovellico pro salute Vivenniae Venustae Maniliae sua[e] votum · solvit
M(arcus) L(icinius) Nigellio Deo Endovellico sacrum pr[o] salutem L(iciniae) Marcian[e?] filiae sue [sic] v(otum) · a(nimo) · l(ibens) · s(olvit)
Which can be translated as:
Lucius Iulius Novatus fulfilled his vow to Endovellico for the health of his Vivennia Venusta.
Marcus Licinius Nigellius, to the God Endovellico, fulfilled his vow for the health of his daughter Licinia Marciana.
We also know that in Ancient Greece, the cult of Asclepius, god of medicine and healing, involved rituals, sacrifices and the practice of incubatio to heal someone. We have already seen that incubatio was practiced in the cult of Endovelico. Asclepius would give dreams or visions to the sick, so they could report them to a priest. The priest would then treat them with basis on the interpretation of said dream or vision. A similar practice was likely to happen in the Roman temple of Endovelico.
There is also an epigraph to Endovelico which seems to depict a dog. This animal was a sacred symbol of Asclepius (besides the snake). With this, we have another possible parallel between Endovelico and Asclepius. The Greek God also meddled with the underworld, trying to resurrect the dead, which led to Zeus killing him with a thunderbolt since this was forbidden.
His oracular aspect also reminds us of Apollo, father of Asclepius, who is also associated with healing. Two inscriptions to Endovelico show very well his oracular functions:
Deo Sancto Endovellico Ann(ia) Q(uinti) F(ilia) Mariana pro Pompeia Prisca ex rensponsu a(nimo) l(ibens) p(osuit)
Sitnia · Q(uinti) · f(ilia) Victorina iix · visu Q(uinti) Sitoni Iiquiistris patris · sui Endovellico · p(onendum) · c(uravit)
To the Holy God Endovelico. Ania Mariana, daughter of Quintus, erected (this monument) from good will, for Pompeia Prisca, after an oracular response.
Sitonia Vitorina, daughter of Quintus, by the vision of Quintus Sitonius Equestris, her father, erected to Endovelico (this altar/monument).
To conclude these comparisons, we also have 2 statues found in the Roman temple of Endovelico depicting people carrying offers or sacred items. You can see them below. The statue on the left seems to be carrying either a canine figure (perhaps in relation to the aforementioned sacred dogs) or a bird, while the statue on the right is carrying both a bird and grapes. Apollo was too associated with birds, namely the raven and the swan. Due to deterioration, it’s difficult to tell which bird is represented.
A bust of Endovelico also shows a bearded man depicted very similarly to the Asclepius statue at Epidaurus.
As previously mentioned, a church to Saint Michael was built in the place where the Roman temple of Endovelico once stood, with many of the materials used to build it being reused from the pagan temple.
In fact, the hill where the church and the temple stood is still called São Miguel da Mota (Saint Michael of Mota). The cult of Endovelico persisted well into the fifth century AD, being finally replaced with the cult of Saint Michael afterwards.
This would make sense since Saint Michael is a patron of the sick, a healing Saint and is usually depicted trampling Satan, a dragon or some sort of demon, which could be symbolic of Endovelico, not only because of his chthonic nature but also because pagan Gods are, in general, considered devilish idols by Christians.
Faunus and Silvanus interpretatio
Cardim Ribeiro did a study where he analysed the similarities between Endovelico and the Roman Deities Faunus and Silvanus, namely through comparing their depictions and symbols.
These Roman Gods are both associated with forests, agriculture, the wild, cattle, fertility and also have tutelary functions.
Silvanus was usually depicted as a bearded man with a pine crown. We’ve seen before that Endovelico was also depicted as a bearded man. One of his epigraphs also has a pine carving. The offerings done to these deities were also the same: pigs, grapes and birds.
The epithets and inscription formulas were also the same for Endovelico and Silvanus. Deus, sanctus and praestantissimus et praesentissimus (always acting and always present) were epithets shared by these deities. The formulas pro salute, ex visu, ex iussu and ex imperato/imperio were also on inscriptions to both of them.
Besides the similar functions between Faunus and Silvanus, there are other aspects which connect Faunus with the Iberian deity Endovelico.
The first one is the oracular aspect of Faunus. The cult of this deity also revolved around dreams to acquire his guidance. The sites of worship of Faunus could be in nature, just like the Pre-Roman temple of Endovelico. The Roman deity’s voice also emanated from caves, rocks and the underground, similar to Endovelico’s.
The etymology of Faunus is, ultimately, very similar to the etymology of Endovelico. One proposal says that it comes from Latin faveo, meaning “the favourable one” or “the benevolent one”, similar to Ribeiro’s etymology of Endovelico as we’ve seen earlier.
Another theory says that the Roman theonym comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *dhau-, meaning “kill”. From this root comes Illyrian daunus, which means “wolf”. Therefore, the name Faunus could have originally meant the same. We have seen before that the theonym Vaelico may have come from the Celtic word for “wolf”, establishing a possible etymological connection with Faunus.
Endovelico seems to have been a very important deity, not only to the ancient Western Iberians, but also to the Roman population that came here after the conquest of Iberia. Acting over many aspects of our world, he is a powerful God and was widely worshiped.
Presiding over the underworld, he probably did so alongside his consort Ataegina in the mythology. Perhaps there was a myth similar to the one about the rape of Proserpina, now lost to time. Endovelico also represents your accumulated knowledge of past lives, the memories of your ancestors, which you must reclaim in order to be reborn and to become yourself.
But besides his chthonic side, he was also a God related to good health. Endovelico could also watch over forests, harvests and the change of seasons. It is likely that the Roman temple had a priest class who watched over the sanctuary and the rituals, with the possible existence of an Oracle.
Pigs, boars and birds seem to be the animals associated with him. Grapes, pine, the palm leaf and the crown are also some of his other symbols.
1. J.L. Vasconcelos, Religiões da Lusitania na parte que principalmente se refere a Portugal, p. 125.
2. José Cardim Ribeiro, Terão certos teónimos paleohispânicos sido alvo de interpretações (pseudo-)etimológicas durante a romanidade passíveis de se reflectirem nos respectivos cultos?, in Palaeohispanica 9, p. 263.
3. Sílvia Monteiro Teixeira, Cultos e cultuantes no Sul do território actualmente português em época romana (sécs. I a. C. – III d. C.), p. 91.
4. Olivares Pedreño, Los Dioses de la Hispania Céltica, p. 230.
5. J.L. Vasconcelos, op. cit., p. 127.
6. Sílvia Monteiro Teixeira, op. cit., p. 93.
7. Maria Dias and Luís Coelho, Endovélico: caracterização social da romanidade dos cultuantes e do seu santuário (São Miguel da Mota, Terena, Alandroal), p. 250.
8. Manuel Calado, Endovélico e Rocha da Mina – O Contexto Arqueológico, in Ophiussa, pp. 100-101.
9. J.L. Vasconcelos, op. cit., p. 130.
10. Manuel Calado, op. cit., p. 101.
12. Olivares Pedreño, op. cit., p. 42.
13. J.L. Vasconcelos, op. cit., p. 131.
14. Cicero, De Legibus, 2.22.57.
15. J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, p. 426.
16. Ibidem, p. 427.
17. Sílvia Monteiro Teixeira, op. cit., p. 92.
18. Olivares Pedreño, op. cit., p. 231.
19. Sílvia Monteiro Teixeira, op. cit., p. 288.
20. Ibidem, op. cit., p. 297.
21. J.L. Vasconcelos, op. cit., p. 129.
22. L.R. Farnell, Greek Hero Cults and ideas of immortality, pp. 240-241.
23. Sílvia Monteiro Teixeira, op. cit., p. 263.
24. Ibidem, p. 309.
25. Teresa Gamito, The Celts in Portugal, in Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies, volume 6, section 6.
26. José Cardim Ribeiro, O Deus Sanctus Endovellicus durante a Romanidade: Uma interpretatio local de Faunus/Silvanus?, in Acta Paleohispania IX, p. 732.
27. Ibidem, p. 733.
28. Ibidem, pp. 736-737.
29. Ibidem, pp. 748-749.