Belenos (Belenus, Bel) is a Celtic god worshipped in Gaul and Britain. Today he is known first and foremost as a sun god, but in ancient times he was called on as well as a healer and honored at healing springs. His symbols include the wheel and the horse. Worshipped in many regions throughout ancient Gaul, Belenos is the epitome of a pan-Celtic deity.
Belenos was often identified by the Romans with their god Apollo by way of the interpretatio romana.
He was sometimes accompanied by the goddess Belisama.
Belenos received votive and dedicatory offerings from his worshippers and was honored at his own sanctuaries; apart from this, little is known of the specifics of his cult. It is possible that the festival of Beltane is connected to him (or to his name) in some way although the nature of this connection is uncertain; however, the bonfires lit at this time do seem to mirror the fire and warmth of the sun.
Belenos’ name is derived from the Proto-Celtic *belo or “bright.”
Belenos was a well-known god, worshipped widely throughout ancient Europe, as far south as Italy and as far north as Britain. A particular cluster of sites has been found in northern Italy and southern France.
Several classical writers refer to Belenos and his worship:
- Tertullian in his Apologeticus (197 CE) refers to Belenos’ worship in the Norican Alps.
- Herodian in his History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus (likely written before 240 CE) speaks of Belenos’ worship as a major deity of Aquileia; the god was said to have appeared in the sky to the soldiers of Emperor Maximinius during battle.
- The poet Ausonius, in his Commemoratio Professorum Burdigalensium (written during the 4th century CE) speaks of Belenos’ temples and sanctuaries in what is now Bordeaux.
- In his History of the Kings of Britain (written around 1136 CE) Geoffrey of Monmouth states that the British town of Billingsgate was named for Belenos (in this case “demoted” from god to hero by the Christian Geoffrey). This is well into the Christian era, but speaks to the persistence of the god and his name.
Klagenfurt, Austria; Piercebridge, England; Bourbon-les-Bains, France; Clermont-Ferrand, France; Greasque, France; Marseilles, France; Narbonne, France; Saint-Chamas, France; Saint-Remy-de-Provence, France; Sainte-Sabine, France; Altino, Italy; Aquileia, Italy; Concordia, Italy; Grado, Italy; Rimini, Italy; Rome, Italy; Tivoli, Italy; Venice, Italy; Zuglio, Italy