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Empel: village in the Netherlands where an ancient temple, dedicated to Magusanus, was discovered.

The temple of Empel
The temple of Empel
The sanctuary of Magusanus, the supreme god of the Batavians, at Empel (between the modern town of Den Bosch and the river Meuse) is one of the very few religious monuments from Germania Inferior that can be interpreted with a air degree of certainty.

Still, the nature of the god is difficult to understand. However, the fact that he was likened to Hercules, the role model of the ideal Roman man, suggests that Magusanus was something of a macho. On the other hand, there are indications that this god was responsible for fertility. In the sanctuary of Elst, which was perhaps dedicated to Magusanus as well, a suovetaurilia has been found, a type of sacrifice that the Roman only offered to fertility gods. Moreover, the name Magusanus means "old young man" - in other words, a god with the wisdom of old age and the vitality of youth. The god of Empel had a complex personality.

A dedication to Hercules Magusanus from Bonn
A dedication to Hercules Magusanus from Bonn
Many votive gifts have been found near the temple, especially used weapons. Because in the world of the ancient Romans, weapons were very uncommon gifts to the gods, it is reasonable to assume that the cult at Empel was non-Roman, and it is likely that Magusanus was venerated by the Batavian auxiliaries. Or, to be more precise, by retiring soldiers, who were grateful to the god for the protection they had received during their career in the army, and ritually laid down their weapons in this sanctuary.

It is tempting to link this with the weapon sacrifices of the ancient Germanic tribes. However, it must be pointed out that they are mostly a bit younger and are mostly found in Denmark.

Unfortunately, this is all we know about the cult at Empel. How the demobilized felt during the ceremony, what kind of processions took place, which myths circulated, whether the soldiers were the only people sacrificing, how the god appealed to those present, what kind of sacrifices were expected (and when), how the prayers and hymns sounded - we simply can not know.

The emperor Postumus of the Gallic Empire, who had come to power after a victory near Empel, venerated Hercules Magusanus, which was shown on his coins. After his death and the fall of the Gallic empire (274), the temple fell into ruins.


N. Roymans and T. Derks (eds.), De tempel van Empel (1994).

This page was created in 2003; last modified on 3 October 2014.