Epona served as the goddess of horses, ponies, donkeys, and mules in the Gallo-Roman pantheon.
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She was especially revered as a goddess of fertility, as seen by the appearance of foals in several of her sculptures as well as her characteristics of a patera, cornucopia, and ears of grain. She and her horses may have served as the riders’ commanders throughout the voyage to the afterlife, similar to Rhiannon from the Mabinogion. Epona, the patroness of cavalry, was widely revered in the Roman Empire during the first and third century AD; this is rare for a Celtic deity, as the most of them were linked to particular locations. Epona is described as “the solitary Celtic divine finally adored in Rome itself.”
A primitive calendar from Guidizzolo, Italy, listed December 18 as Epona’s feast day in the Roman calendar, however it’s possible that this was only a local holiday. By being called on behalf of the Emperor as Epona Augusta or Epona Regina, she was accepted into the imperial religion. Under Roman control, perceptions of local Celtic deities had altered; only the names remained the same. Epona’s function as ruler changed when Gaul was Romanized during the early Empire to become a defender of cavalry.
Featured image: Bregenz, Vorarlberg Museum, Epona relief, 70-100 AD
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