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Veleda

Veleda: Bructerian prophetess, played a role in the Batavian revolt (69-70).

Veleda, shown in the Walhalla (Regensburg)
Veleda, shown in the Walhalla (Regensburg)
The word Veleda seems to be a title: it has been assumed that it is a Latin rendering of the Celtic word Veleta, "prophetess", but there is a problem - she was not living in a region where Celtic languages were spoken. Perhaps West-Germanic waldon, "to have power", is a better parallel. The Veleda we know about predicted the successes of the Batavians when they revolted against the Roman empire (69). It is not known whether she merely prophesied, or actively incited the rebellion.

In March 70, the predicted successes became realities: the Batavian leader Julius Civilis captured the legionary base at Xanten. The commander of the Roman garrison, Munius Lupercus, was sent to Veleda. When describing this incident, the Roman historian Tacitus explained who she was:

Veleda was an unmarried woman who enjoyed wide influence over the tribe of the Bructeri. The Germans traditionally regard many of the female sex as prophetic, and indeed, by an excess of superstition, as divine. This was a case in point. Veleda's prestige stood high, for she had foretold the German successes and the extermination of the legions.note

Munius Lupercus never became her slave: he was killed on his way to Veleda. We do not know why. A few months later, the Batavians captured the flagship of the Roman navy, which they proceeded to tow up the riverĀ Lippe to present it to the prophetess, who lived in a large tower near the river.

It is certain that Veleda had great autority. For example, it is known that the inhabitants of the Roman city Cologne accepted her arbitration in a conflict with the Tencteri, a tribe in 'free' Germania.

After the suppression of the Batavian revolt, the Romans captured Veleda (or offered asylum to her). This happened in 77. She is said to have served the Roman interests by negotiating with hostile Germans. It is not known to what incident(s) this refers, but it may be noted that in 83 or 84, the Romans forced the Bructeri to accept a new, pro-Roman king. Maybe the building of the Roman fort at Kneblinghausen, in Bructerian country, has something to do with it.

A Greek epigram found at Ardea (a few kilometers south of Rome) ridiculizes Veleda's prophetic talents. It has been said that this suggests that Ardea was her place of detention. However, this is far from certain.

Vedela was not the only Germanic prophetess known to the Romans. Tacitus informs us about a colleague.

They even believe that the female sex has a certain sanctity and prescience, and they do not despise their counsels, or make light of their answers. In [the emperor] Vespasian's days we saw Veleda, long regarded by many as a divinity. In former times, too, they venerated Aurinia, and many other women, but not with servile flatteries, or with sham deification.note

This page was created in 2002; last modified on 24 March 2014.