Dacian Celtic religion?

“…the Getae are the bravest of the Thracians and the most just. They believe they are immortal in the following sense: they think they do not die and that the one who dies joins Zalmoxis, a divine being; some call this same divine being Gebeleizis. Every four years, they send a messenger to Zalmoxis, who is chosen by chance. They ask him to tell Zalmoxis what they want on that occasion. The mission is performed in the following way: men standing there for that purpose hold three spears; other people take the one who is sent to Zalmoxis by his hands and feet and fling him in the air on the spears. If he dies pierced, they think that the divinity is going to help them; if he does not die, it is he who is accused and they declare that he is a bad person…” Herodotus (Greek, 5thC BCE) – Histories (Book 4) – trans. George Rawlinson (1910)

This curious comment on the Getae (one of a number of proposed ancestors of the Goths, who were from the Danube region, and were also known as 'Dacians') has a fascinating parallel with the later accounts of the Gauls of western Europe, who Julius Caesar claimed also believed in reincarnation and the immortality of souls, and also 'sent' people (it is presumed willingly) on special missions to the otherworld, based upon classical accounts and suggested by current archaeological theories of north European 'bog bodies'.

The name 'Zalmoxis' (sometimes written 'Salmosis') seems in this context to evoke the Indic word 'Moksha', which means 'emancipation', 'liberation' or 'release', in the context of ancient Hindu/Jain concepts of reincarnation. This in fact fits with the similarities shared between these doctrines and what we know of the ancient European Celtic doctrines!

The synonym 'Gebeleizis' is yet more interesting: scholars of Celtic and Indo-European languages might recognise that it possibly contains the word for 'horse'… 'Gebel' or 'Gabal'. Other theories suggest a possible link of the name to 'Cybele', the Anatolian 'Phrygian' goddess, known to her indigenous worshippers as 'Matar Kubileya'. This name itself might mean either 'Mother Cybele' or just possibly even ' Mother of Gebele(izis)'? The regions are so well-linked geographically and culturally that this must be considered, especially as there were Gauls settled in Galatia, further west. Another possible link is to Gaulish Belenos: Ge-Belei-Zi(o)s. The Welsh 'Harleian Genealogies' seem to refer to Belenos as 'Beli Mawr' , which fits with 'Belei'. Zios means 'god' in Proto-Indo-European. 'Ge' might be a reference to the primal Greek earth-goddess, although a compound god-goddess name like this would be unusual…

“… We have conquered even these Getai, the most warlike of all people that have ever existed, not only because of the strength in their bodies, but, also due to the teachings of Zalmoxis who is among their most hailed. He has told them that in their hearts they do not die, but change their location and, due to this, they go to their deaths happier than on any other journey… ” (Lactantius – a Christian author of the 3rdC CE – quoting a supposed speech of Trajan.)

These 'Getae' (from what is now modern Romania) were surely quite similar in their religious outlook and valour to the Gauls Caesar spoke of conquering some three centuries later. If Lactantius was reporting Trajan's words accurately, they held their reputation longer than the Gauls, as they were conquered by his armies during the early 2nd C CE, after which they largely followed similar models of Romanisation as their western cousins – their homelands eventually becoming known as 'Romania'…

 

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