Behold Ritona

Here is the image I prepared as a modern interpretation of the ancient goddess Ritona, who is known from Augusta Treverorum (Trier) and other places in Gaul. This image brings together many of the elements historically attested from Ritona’s iconography, as well as certain innovations of my own.


A new depiction of Ritona.
(Viducus Brigantici filius, 2016, CC-BY-SA 3.0. This work is derivative of this photo by Wikimedia user Tsui (CC-BY-SA 3.0), this photo © 2011 by Giovanni Dall’Orto, this photo by Wikimedia user MPF (CC-BY-SA 3.0), this photo by Wolfgang Sauber (CC-BY-SA 3.0), this drawing by Wikimedia user Poznaniak (CC-BY-SA 3.0), and this painting by Cornelis and Paul de Vos.)

Only one sculpture of Ritona exists (see this post as well). It is highly fragmentary; it shows little more than her feet and the bottom of her dress, but it is enough to show that she was depicted seated—not unlike the many Mother Goddesses of the Rhineland—and clothed. I therefore chose a depiction of a clothed, seated allegorical figure to stand, in this image, for Ritona. The allegory is that of Strength (Stärke) from Pompeo Marchesi’s memorial to Emperor Francis I of Austria (II of the Holy Roman Empire) at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace. Admittedly, this reactionary sovereign was hardly the most exemplary figure; still, there is much to admire in the four large bronze sculptures representing Friede (Peace), Glaube (Faith), Stärke (Strength), and Gerechtigkeit (Justice). (A fifth bronze figure placed high in the centre depicts Francis himself.)

To my mind, Stärke is quite appropriate for representing Ritona, since the latter’s association with fording naturally suggests fortitude and strength in the face of obstacles. Marchesi’s Stärke wears a corona ciuica or crown of oak leaves, which has certain Augustan connotations that fit nicely with the votive statue from Crain, inscribed AVG · SACR · DEA · MINER[V] / ET · RIT · APRIL · ITALI… ‘To Augustus, (this item) sacred to the goddess Minerva and Ritona (was offered by) Aprilis (son of?) Italus…’ (CIL XIII: 2892). Other inscriptions to Ritona also invoke the numina of the Augusti (AE 1989: 547) or the honour of the divine house (Finke 30; AE 1959: 76). For a local deity whom some might take for a simple water-nymph, these are unusually intense associations with the imperial cult. The original sculpture of Stärke has her grasping a Herculean-style club in her right hand, but since that club is invisible in the photo I was working from, I took the liberty of equipping her instead with a spear. This references Ritona’s association with Minerva, as does the Medusa head that I added to her shield (in lieu of Marchesi’s lion). The epigraphic evidence, as well as the geography of Ritona’s temple in the Altbachtal in Trier, hints at close connections between Ritona and a number of deities: Minerva, Venus, Mercury, the Mother-Goddesses, Diana, Fortuna, and the unfortunately little-known Vorio. Of these, the connections with Minerva are the most numerous. Both, as we have seen, are invoked in the same inscription in Crain; we have more than one statuette of Minerva in Ritona’s sector of the Altbachtal sanctuary.

Among the votive offerings found at Ritona’s Altbachtal temple was the carved outline of a pair of feet. There are many possible interpretations of such a gift. I’ll mention a few, ordered from the most mundane to the most airy-fairy. This might be a token of thanks to Ritona (1) for healing an injury to the feet; (2) for granting safe passage over a ford or other difficult path; (3) for more figuratively helping a person ‘find their way’; (4) for ‘standing by’ a person during a time of need; (5) for ‘withstanding’ some literal or figurative current; or (6) for crossing between realms, boundaries, modes of being, or ways of doing things. No doubt there are other possible interpretations besides—and, on the other hand, these need not be mutually exclusive (although the particular dedicant presumably had one foremost in mind when leaving the gift). As a nod to some of these possibilities, I’ve placed two footprint-shaped clouds in the sky to Ritona’s right.

Since we understand Ritona’s name to mean the ‘great ford’ (or the ‘ford goddess’), it seems proper to place her image before a river. The background therefore shows the Moselle at Trier; in the distance can be seen the ridge on which the Lenus Mars temple is located. This is a photo I took in 2007 from the Roman bridge at Trier—the bridge located on the site of an ancient ford. Ritona would be sitting somewhere on the right bank of the Moselle, which is the same bank that the Altbachtal sanctuary is on (although the latter is farther inland than this photo would imply). None of my photos of the Altbach itself would quite fit. Ritona wears a dress of wampum-coloured purple, as in my earlier vision of her.

At Ritona’s feet I have placed two emblems: a cornucopia (attested among the votive gifts from the Altbachtal temple) and, somewhat larger than life-sized, a bittern walking through the reeds near a wetland. The bittern is not historically attested as an emblem of Ritona; however, as a bird known for wading through the shallows—and with some intriguing associations in legend and folklore—I think its inclusion is defensible. As for the cornucopia, it reinforces Ritona’s connections with the Matronæ and of course betokens the goddess’s providential abundance.


About DeoMercurio

I’m a Gaulish polytheist, now back living in lands ceded by the Council of Three Fires after several years’ sojourn in Anatolia and in the land of the Senecas, with frequent travels to Gaul along the way. My grandfather’s family came from the area around Trier, and I identify closely with the Treveri in my religious practice.
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5 Responses to Behold Ritona

  1. Pingback: In search of Ritona | Deo Mercurio

  2. Very nice!

    It’s intriguing that Disciplina–who never had an image (of which we are, anyway!) until the one Galina commissioned a few years ago and which I described to her–also wears a similar shade of light purple/lavender…is that just both of their imperial associations bleeding through, I wonder? Hmm…

    • DeoMercurio says:

      Thanks! 🙂 Oh right! I hadn’t thought of Disciplina’s attire (this the second July in two years, if I’m not mistaken, there’s been a “coincidental” resemblance with Disciplina…!). It’s really a funny colour – simultaneously more blue and more grey than what I associate with an imperial purple. I saw it and thought of (the darker shade of) wampum shells, but maybe there are other associations with that shade…? Trying to find a proper name for it on the interwebs, I came across not only violet and Chinese iris but “pomp and power”…!

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