Written by Cassanâ and Selgu̯iros
Meaning of names: Both of the Gaulish (Taranus/Taranos) and Proto-Germanic (*Þunraz) theonyms certainly mean ‘thunder’ / ‘storm’, stemming from an un-metathesized proto-form *Tonaros. According to both Delamare and Matasović, this un-metathesized proto-form is somewhat preserved in the Brittonic theonym Tanarus and in the name of a tributary of the river Po, Tanarus.
*Þunraz is the hypothesised thunder god of the Common Germanic speaking people based on later names such as Þunor (Old English), Thuner (Old Frisian), Thunar (Old Saxon), Thonar and Donar (Old High German and Old Dutch), and Þórr (Old Norse). Most of these exhibit a standard development of dropping the ending, which aligns with the PGmc vocative case “Þunr”, while adding a weak vowel between the N and r, likely for reasons of making the pronunciation easier, especially in compound words. Koch (2020) gives us the Celto-Germanic form *Ton(a)ros.
Additional Notes: Þunraz, and the cognate Proto-Celtic *Tonaros (or its metathesized form “toranos”), are interesting since they diverge linguistically speaking from the hypothesised Proto-Indo-European weather god *Perkwunos. *Perkwunos does have attested cognates, such as Perun (Slavic) and Perkūnas (Baltic). In Greek and Roman religion elements of *Perkwunos are present in Zeus and Jupiter, even though their names directly descend from the Proto-Indo-European *Dyēus Phter “sky-father”, but epithets of Jupiter, such as Tonans, Fulgens, and Lucetius, indicate a clear thunder and lightning aspect. Since the PIE form only is evident in Slavic and Baltic, and not in Greek, Latin, Germanic or Celtic, grounds for the name *Perkwunos seems somewhat uncertain for covering the entire Indo-European spectrum. Koch (2020) does list *Perkwunos as a Celto-Germanic form for thunder and thunder god; however this is not well supported in attested sources and later developments.
Furthermore, the Vedic god Indra, displaying clear overlap with the above mentioned deities, also does not have a name based on the PIE word; however the Sanskrit name Parjanya, meaning “rain” or “rain cloud” may be a Perkwunos cognate. Also interesting is that it seems that between Eastern Europe and India there are no related weather or thunder gods. Given that Greek, Latin, Celtic and Germanic influenced one another, leading to syncretisation, it seems reasonable to place Gaulish Taranos, Celto-Germanic Ton(a)ros, and Germanic Þunraz in line with Zeus and Jupiter. Tiwaz, developing into Tīw (Old English), Tii (Old Frisian), Ziu (Old High German), and Tyr (old Norse), does not seem present in the Low Countries, thus designating Þunraz as both sky-father and weather/thunder god does not cause any conflicts. Furthermore, it seems relevant given the prevalent depictions of an equestrian or throned Jupiter atop Jupiter Giant columns in the region.
However, in Germanic, we do see evidence of the mountain and oak associations of *Perkwunos in the words *fergunjō “(forested) mountain”, likely related to the toponym Hercynia Silva: “Collective term for the central European low mountain ranges, first mentioned in Aristot. Mete. 1,13. It took nine days to cross it from north to south (Caes. B Gall. 6,25-28), and 60 from west to east; the forest, abundant with unknown wild beasts, extended from the borders of the Helvetii, Nemetes, and Rauraci along the Danube to the border region (fines) of the Dacians and Anartes” (Dietz,Hünemörder) and the Hercuniates situated in Pannonia, *ferhwan/ferhwaz/ferhuz “oak, body, life, vital essence”, *furhwōn “fir”, *Ferhwjaz “people”, and *fergaz “god”. Koch (2020) also mentions the Norse names Fjǫrgyn, mother of Þórr, and Fjǫrgynn, father of Frigg. Thee former may also be linked to the name jǫrð, derived from Proto-Germanic *erþō “earth”, which may then give us a direct link between Þunraz and Nerthus, a Germanic terra mater described in Tacitus’s Germania, however this link is pure interpretatio without concrete attestation or explanation accounting for the initial n in Nerthus.
Pronunciation: Gaulish – Tuh-RUH-nus / Tuh-RUH-naws. Proto-Germanic – Thoon-rruz Celto-Germanic – *Taw-NUH-raws
Function: It may be obvious to say that both Taranus and *Þunraz are both storm Gods par excellence, due to theonymic conventions alone. Rain and fertility of landscapes are generally the domain of thunder Gods in Indo-European religions, as well as apotropaic thunder and lighting. This is often demonstrated by myths/folklore containing a thunder God who battles with a monster/serpent which threatens the populace. Among all the mentioned Indo-European thunder gods there are overlaps in that they are depicted as a bearded warrior wielding weapons which create lightning, such as a hammer, axe, club, bow shooting lightning-stones or arrows, or a lightning bolt. In most cases this weapon itself is based on the PIE word for lightning, giving us the Proto-Germanic form *meldunjaz, later becoming Mjǫllnir (Old Norse). Koch (2020) lists Proto-Celtic *meldos and Celto-Germanic *meld, from which, by using the augmentative -on- suffix, we can construct Gaulish *meldonios, thus arriving at a close match to the Germanic form. With these weapons they fight against chthonic forces, often depicted as serpents, giants, or other terrible beings, in order to bring fructifying rain or (re)establish law and order to the universe.
Taranus, specifically, is also associated with the wheel by way of iconographic speculation. The statue from Le Chatelet, Gourzon, Haute-Marne, France depicts a bearded male figure with a thunderbolt and wheel, and the Gundestrup Cauldron depicts a male figure holding a wheel on one of the panels. Even more so, there are statues that show IOM (Iupiter Optimus Maximus, who is known as a thunder God as well) with a wheel, as well an altar dedicated to IOM that depicts the wheel. Paired with the syncretism of IOM-TANARUS found in Chester, England, it is safe to say that the Gaulish thunder-god is classically associated with the wheel.
Interestingly enough, although dealing with a god linked to thunderstorms, evidence of his symbolism within a meteorological context, beyond the hammer producing lightning or the rolling thunder sounding like the wheels of a chariot, is not commonly highlighted. Thunderstorms are specifically linked to cumulonimbus (cb) clouds. Among these, two types are relevant, namely the cb incus and cb tuba. The cumulonimbus incus occurs during the mature phase of a thunderstorm and has a flat anvil-shaped top, from which the name derives. During the mature phase there’s on average more lightning activity, thus presenting a clear, albeit oblique symbolic link between cloud (anvil) and lightning (hammer). This link is also supported linguistically through PGmc *hamaraz “hammer” and *heminaz “heaven (distorted form from PIE: meteorite, chip from the heavenly vault, anvil)”.
Perhaps a more direct link, the cb tuba is a funnel cloud that alongside vertical growth has a rotational element caused by wind shear. Such funnel clouds, though not exclusive to thunderstorms, can occur during the initial and mature phase. During multicellular (standard) and supercellular thunderstorms, these funnel clouds can develop into landspouts, waterspouts or tornadoes. Even if they don’t produce such hazardous conditions, the rotational element of any funnel cloud clearly indicates overlap with the wheel. Due to it always turning in one specific direction, depending on the northern or southern hemisphere, this can be interpreted as an extension of cosmic cycles being consistent, therefore ordered according to an immutable universal law.
Attested Sources: RIB 452, CIL xiii 6478, CIL iii 2804 (both 6478 and 2804 have patronymic endings to ‘Taranu-’ making the inscriptions ‘son of Taranus’) , Lucan’s Pharsallia (Though Lucan’s spelling was most certainly an error).
Interpretatio Romana: I(ovi) O(optimo) Maximo – Jupiter the Best and Greatest. As mentioned above, *Þunraz is a reconstructed form based on later theonyms in the region and beyond, however in his Germania ch.9, Tacitus, although not mentioning Jupiter, is often thought to refer to *Þunraz through Interpretatio Romana with either Mars or Hercules. However, this is speculation based on a flawed Pan-Germanic approach.
Interpretatio Bolgon: Taranus / Taranos / Þunraz / Ton(a)ros is a deity who stands for ultimate justice, which he will pursue with unfaltering courage and diligence. He is associated with thunderstorms, providing much needed fructifying rains that increase or restore the land’s fertility; a particularly benevolent act after a period of drought or famine. In a metaphysical sense this mirrors the notion of him fighting against forces of imbalance and chaos to restore the natural cyclical motion of the universe according to cosmic law, which can be seen in the rotation of funnel clouds, the turning of the seasons, the movements of sun, moon, stars, and the planets. Consequently, the wheel is the primary symbol of representing this cosmic order and his commitment to it. His hammer (Meldonios / Meldunjaz), named for the lightning it produces when it strikes the tops of the clouds, is his weapon of choice, though he may choose to wield other weapons as needed, including stones and arrows. It also indicates his associations with oaks, which are regularly struck by lightning, thus offering no shelter to his enemies, while simultaneously being marked as divinely assigned sacred spaces (“fulgur conditum”). Many of these symbolic representations are incorporated directly within the design of Jupiter giant columns, with him depicted as an equestrian riding down a snake-limbed giant or sitting enthroned atop the column. This indicates him being situated centrally within the religious landscape of Gallia Belgica as both sky father and great protector.
- Dictionnaire de la langue Gauloise (2nd ed.) by Xavier Delamarre (2003) Paris: Editions Errance p.290
- An etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic by Ranko Matasovic p.384
- Kroonen, Guus. (2013). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill
- Lurker, Manfred. 2004. The Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons. London: Taylor & Francis Group
- RIB 452. Altar dedicated to Iupiter Tanarus Optimus Maximus — https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/452
- Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2018, February 13). Pērkons. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Perkons
- Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2008, January 17). Perun. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Perun
- Doniger, W. (2018, February 14). Indra. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Indra
- Dietz, Karlheinz (Würzburg), and Hünemörder, Christian (Hamburg). ‘Hercynia Silva’. In Brill’s New Pauly, edited by Hubert Cancik and, Helmuth Schneider, English Edition by: Christine F. Salazar, Classical Tradition volumes edited by: Manfred Landfester, and English Edition by: Francis G. Gentry. Accessed August 17, 2021. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1574-9347_bnp_e509410.
- Goodson, G. (2018, October 30). Learn about cumulonimbus clouds: Thunderstorms. whatsthiscloud. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://whatsthiscloud.com/cloud-types/cumulonimbus/.
- Koch, J.T. (2020). “CELTO-GERMANIC: Later Prehistory and Post-Proto-Indo-European vocabulary in the North and West.” University of Wales: Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth.
- Brigantici, V. (n.d.). IOVI optimo MAXIMO: To Jupiter, best and greatest. To Jupiter Best and Greatest – Deo Mercurio. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from http://www.deomercurio.be/en/iom.html.
- Pantheon? What Pantheon? : Concepts of a Family of Gods in Pre-Christian Scandinavian Religions by Terry Gunnell