Esus is a Celtic god worshipped in Gaul. Little is known of his specific character, although his appearance on the Pillar of the Boatmen may indicate a nautical connection, and his portrayal as a woodcutter is surely significant but the specifics are uncertain; in both known images of Esus, he appears with a bull, crane or other marsh-dwelling bird, and willow tree. At one site the bull appears near the inscription Tarvos Triganaros, which translates to “bull with three cranes” and seems likely to be a deity with some association with Esus.
With regard to the Roman tendency to equate Gaulish gods with their own, the Bern Scholia (Commenta Berensia) provides evidence that the interpretatio romana wasn’t always easily determined: it describes two possibilites, either that Teutates=Mercury, Esus=Mars, and Taranis=Dis Pater; or that Teutates=Mars, Esus=Mercury, and Taranis=Jupiter. Another scholia, the Adnotationes Super Lucanum suggests that Teutates=Mercury, Esus=Mars, and Taranis=Jupiter.
Unknown. Esus’ portrayal (as a woodcutter, accompanied by a bull, crane and tree) may illustrate one of his tales in some way.
Esus appears to have received votive and dedicatory offerings from his worshippers.
According to the Roman poet Lucan, his worship included human sacrifice during which the victims were hung from trees and wounded.
The origin of Esus’ name is uncertain; one possible derivation is from the Indo-European *eis- or “power.”
Tribal and other associations
Esus may have been the eponymous god of the Esuvii, a Celtic tribe centered in what is now Normandy, France.
Esus is known from only two images and, of course, Lucan’s Pharsalia. The images were found in what is now Paris, France (the famous Pillar of the Boatmen which is inscribed to multiple gods) and Trier, Germany, which places him in central Gaul.
- In his Pharsalia the Roman poet Lucan referred to three great Gaulish gods: Taranis, Teutates and Esus and spoke of how each received human sacrifice.
- In the Bern Scholia or Commenta Berensia (written in the 10th c. AD), the scholiast provides a more detailed description of the sacrifices received by the Gaulish gods, stating that the victim was burned in a wooden cask for Taranis, drowned in a kettle for Teutates, and hung on a tree for Esus.
Paris, France; Trier, Germany