Tutelary goddess of the Brigantes Federation; inscriptions to her (or varient names) are found in Northern Britain, with possible variations in southern and eastern Gaul, and possibly Austria. The Barrow River, called Birgu in Ptolemy and found in the Brigantes territory of Ireland, also possibly refers to Brigantia. She is believed to be related to the Irish goddess figure Brigit.
The name is derived from *brigantī "high one", "sublime one" or "exhalted one"; Latinized as Brigantia in Roman Britain. *Brigantī in turn is from *brig-, meaning "high", and possibly refering to mountains or hills. There are several possible origins of this name:
There are seven inscriptions to Brigantia in some capacity, one inscription to a Brigindone, and a number of places named Brigantium in the Classical period.
If we accept that the Brigantii of the Alps, the Brigantii of Celtiberia, the Brigantes of northern Britain, and the Brigantes of Ireland are related--even distantly, it's certainly possible, for there are other tribes that lived in more than one region, such as the Parisii, who lived in both Gaul and Britain, and may have been a member of the Brigantes confederation in Britain--then we can be fairly confident that the inscription to Brigindone is to a goddess who was a local variation of Brigantia.
identified by Garett Olmstead, though it's not entirely clear, as voiced and unvoiced consonants are not distinguished in Celtiberian, so that "Brigant_n" could be "Prikant_n". However, it is known that there were Brigantes in Iberia.
The inscription at Birrens (RIB 2091) also includes a small figure, recessed in an arch. Brigantia is depicted with a crown, the wings of Victory, the Medusa's head of Minerva, a scepter and a spear.
A number of towns and rivers are thought to derive their name from Brigantia or the Brigantii/Brigantes:
It has been suggested that the Welsh word for king--brenin--is derived from the hypothetical form *brigantīnos, meaning "spouse of the goddess Briganti". This is in part built upon a reading regarding the Brigantes queen Cartismandua. She was able to divorce her husband, and yet retained the queenship of the tribe; this may reflect the medieval Irish stories of the goddess of sovereignty, whome the king must marry in order to obtain his rule. The queen of the Brigantes may have been treated as an incarnation of Brigantia, and thus kingship would only be obtained by marrying the queen.
If, as it is often assumed, Brigantia and Brigit are related (see below), then the Old Irish poem "Slán seiss, a Brigit co mbúaid", which describes Brigit (presumably the saint) as banfhlaith "sovereign lady", who rules over the kings Leinster; as the Brigantes of Ireland were centered in Leinster, it would stand to reason then that Brigantia's role as goddess of sovereignty continued through the figure of Brigit.
Relation to Brigit the Goddess and Brigit the Saint
The Brigantes lived not only in Britain, but also in Ireland, where it would not be surprising if Brigantia worship was introduced. The Brigantes were settled in what is now Leinster, closely associated with Brigit the saint.
The mythological Brigit, mentioned in Sanas Cormaic, Cath Magh Turedh, Imcallam in da Thurad, and some recensions of Lebor Gabala Erenn is described variously as the mother of the gods of poetry, a triad of sisters overseeing poetry, smithing, and medicine, the owner of the great boar Torc Truith, and the inventor of keening. Conforming smithing to the warrior function is a stretch, but Brigit does exhibit two traits that could fall under Brigantia's (visual) identification with Minerva--who is herself associated with wisdom, war, and crafts--and caelesti (as "celestial"--the heavens--is arguably first function, like Brigit's function as mother of poetry). However, there is no solid warrior identification for Brigit that would compare to Brigantia's identification with Victoria.
As the Brigantes of Ireland lived in Leinster, and Saint Brigit is repeatedly refered to a patron of Leinster (as mentioned, she's refered to as "sovereign lady" of Leinster), and most of her story is confined to Leinster, it isn't hard to imagine at least part of Brigit's story--particularly the supernatural elements--originating with a Brigantia figure. Which is not to argue that there was no St. Brigit, only that the more fantastic elements of her story and the identification of her as the sovereign lady of Leinster may have its origin in Brigantia.
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Mary Jones © 2007