Abnoba

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Abnoba is a Gaulish goddess who was worshipped in the Black Forest and surrounding areas. She has been interpreted to be a forest and river goddess, and is known from about nine epigraphic inscriptions. One altar at the Roman baths at Badenweiler, Germany, and another at Mühlenbach identify her with Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt.[1]

According to Tacitus's Germania, Abnoba also was the name of a mountain, from a grassy slope of which flows the source of the River Danube. Ptolemy's Geography (2.10) also mentions the mountain as the source of the Danube. The surrounding range, in Ptolemy, is the Abnobaia ora (the nominative case, given here, is not in Ptolemy), Latinized to Abnobaei montes.

Pliny the Elder also gives us some statements about Abnoba (Natural History, 4.79). He says that it arises opposite the town of Rauricum in Gaul and flows from there beyond the Alps, implying that the river begins in the Alps, which it does not. If Rauricum is to be identified with the Roman settlement, Augusta Raurica, modern Augst in Basel-Landschaft canton of Switzerland, Pliny must be confusing the Rhine and its tributaries with the Danube.

The Danube begins with two small rivers draining the Black Forest: the Breg and the Brigach, both Celtic names. The longest is the most favorable candidate: the Breg. The Abnobaei montes would therefore be the Baar foothills of the Swabian Alb near Furtwangen im Schwarzwald.

While the semantics of the theonym remain uncertain, it is interesting to compare a number of Proto-Indo-European roots within the framework of Celtic phonological change. That certain Ancient Celtic dialects retained a hydronym *abo-s is attested by the ancient name of the River Humber in Britain. Clearly, *abo- was the stem for certain hydronymic words cognate with abonā 'river,' the ancient form of Welsh afon 'river,' derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *ab- 'flow.' According to the regular neogrammarian phonological changes from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Celtic, Proto-Indo-European *nogʷo- 'naked, nude' would have yielded Proto-Celtic *nobo-, Proto-Indo-European *nogʷo- 'tree' would have yielded Proto-Celtic *nobo-, and the o-grade ablaut of Proto-Indo-European *nebh- 'burst out, be damp' would have yielded Proto-Celtic *nob-.

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