EPONA.net - a scholarly resource

Possible origins of Epona

This page is still under construction.

It can be instructive to look at older iconography from the Classical world, to spot potential influences on the iconography of Epona.

Sidesaddle type


The image of Europa being carried away on the back of a bull was widespread in antiquity. Often the image does not convey Europa as a startled abductee, but rather as a willing and indeed guiding rider. The gesture of one hand on the animal's head or neck is also found in the later Epona iconography.

This image, from the Greek archaic period, predates Epona depictions by many centuries.


Europa sidesaddle on the bull.


This terracotta figurine, said to be of Aphrodite, shows a semi-draped woman riding on a goose (or possibly a swan). Dated to the 3rd century BCE, it is from a tomb at Salamis, and was probably made in Cyprus. Once again there is the sidesaddle pose, and the billowing cloak behind the head - in this case, held out by her hand, which is not guiding the goose. Several other representations of aphrodite with a goose (or occasionally a swan, which links Aphrodite with Apollo) are known [Lewis p.161]. A third to first century BCE teracotta mould for this type of figure was found at Paestum (Campania, Italy) [Ammerman pp. 150-151].


Aphrodite sidesaddle on goose or swan


In Greek mythology, the Nereides (Νηρεΐδες) were the fifty daughters of Nereus and Doris; their names varied in the different sources [ Hesiod, Theogony 240-264; Homer, Illiad 18.38-18.63; Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.301-1.303, 2.8-2.14]. They were seen as sea-nymphs of the Mediterranean, as opposed to the Naiades (nymphs of fresh water) and the Oceanides (nymphs of the greater, world-encircling Ocean) [Smith 2 p. 1160]. Nereides were usually depicted riding hippokampoi (sea horses), ketoi (sea monsters), or dolphins.


A nereid riding sidesaddle on a hippocamp.

[Barringer] argues that these sea nymphs were escorts for those travelling on the sea and making the transition from death to the afterlife. The Epona from Agassac (Haute-Garonne, Midi-Pyrénées, France) depicts Epona riding a mare (who is, unusually, galloping), to the right. The background contains imagery associated with Nereides: a dolphin, sea-bull (a bull head and body with a curved fishlike tail), and fish. This imagery may represent an intermingling of the psychopomp Epona imagery with that of the Nereides [Magnen & Thévenot #223].


Reinach notes that, had this figure been found in Gaul, it would have been accepted without question as an Epona representation [Reinach 1912]. However, the figure predates the Epona representations by four centuries, and is from a 4th to 3rd century BCE sanctuary of Artemis Hêmerêsia at Lousoi (Arcadia, Greece) [Reichel]. This location is also variously transliterated as Lusoi or Lusi.

Sidesaddle figure from Lousoi

Sidesaddle figure from Lousoi

Imperial type

Potnia Theron

Potnia Theron (πότνια θηρω̂ν) means Mistress (or Queen) of the Animals(i particular, wild beasts). Potnia is probably a Mycenaean word, which later entered Greek [Raffan & Burkert pp.149-150]; Artemis is described as 'queen of the wild beasts, Artemis of the wild wood' (πότνια θηρω̂ν ̓́Αρτεμις ἀγροτέρη) in the [Homer, Iliad 21.470]. A key feature of her iconography is that she is flanked by a pair of animals, typically holding them up one in each hand [Sturgeon p.23]. This may have been an influence on the later Imperial Epona type.

potnia theron

Potnia Theron


The horse-trainer or 'Domador' figure is an Iberian motif which seems to be derived from the Potnia Theron. The differences are that firstly she is seated on a stool rather than standing; and secondly that the animals are specifically horses (although often depicted in a non-naturalistic, crouched stance). Reinach [Reinach 1895] listed several examples of this type, but expressed doubt that they were in fact Epona representations. They pre-date generally accepted Epona depictions by a couple of centuries.


Domador from Villaricos.


Ammerman, Rebecca Miller (1993). The sanctuary of Santa Venera at Paestum II: The Votive Terracottas. University of Michigan Press. ISBN: 0472108999

Barringer, J. (1995) Divine Escorts, Nereids in Archaic and Classical Greek Art. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-10418-7.

Hesiod, Theogony (available online)

Homer, Iliad 18.35

Homer, Iliad 21.470

Lewis, Sian (2002) The Athenian Woman: an Iconographic Handbook. Routledge. ISBN: 0415232341

Magnen, R. and E. Thévenot (1953). Épona: déesse Gauloise des chevaux protectrice des cavaliers. Bordeaux, Delmas.

Ovid (P. Ovidius Naso), Metamorphoses 1.301-1.303, 2.8-2.14

Raffan, John; Burkert, Walter (2002) Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN: 0631156240

Reichel, W.; Wilhelm, A. (1901) "Das Heiligthum der Artemis zu Lusoi". Österreichischen Jahreshefte IV, 38

Reinach, Salomon (1895) Épona. Revue archéologique 1895, part 1, 113, 309.

Reinach, Salomon (1912). "Clelia et Epona." Cultes, mythes et religions 4: 54-68. Paris, Leroux.

Smith, William (1849) Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology

Sturgeon, Mary C. (1987) Sculpture I, 1952-1967. American School of Classical Studies at Athens. ISBN: 0876619340