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Veleda

Dates: about 70 C.E.
German prophet, mentioned in Tacitus

Either a prophet of the Bructeri tribe among the Germans encountered by the Romans, or, possibly, a class of holy women. May be related to the Völva or valkyrie of Norse legend.

Mentions of Veleda in Tacitus:

In history we find, that some armies already yielding and ready to fly, have been by the women restored, through their inflexible importunity and entreaty, presenting their breasts, and showing their impending captivity; an evil to the Germans then by far most dreadful when it befalls their women. So that the spirit of such cities as amongst their hostages are enjoined to send their damsels of quality, is always engaged more effectually than that of others. They even believe them endowed with something celestial and the spirit of prophecy. Neither do they disdain to consult them, nor neglect the responses which they return. In the reign of the deified Vespasian, we have seen Veleda for a long time, and by many nations, esteemed and adored as a divinity. In times past they likewise worshipped Aurinia and several more, from no complaisance or effort of flattery, nor as Deities of their own creating.

(emphasis added -- above is from "Germany" by Tacitus, from The Harvard Classics, 1909-1914)

Then Civilis fulfilled a vow often made by barbarians; his hair, which he had let grow long and coloured with a red dye from the day of taking up arms against Rome, he now cut short, when the destruction of the legions had been accomplished. It was also said that he set up some of the prisoners as marks for his little son to shoot at with a child's arrows and javelins. He neither took the oath of allegiance to Gaul himself, nor obliged any Batavian to do so, for he relied on the resources of Germany, and felt that, should it be necessary to fight for empire with the Gauls, he should have on his side a great name and superior strength. Munius Lupercus, legate of one of the legions, was sent along with other gifts to Veleda, a maiden of the tribe of the Bructeri, who possessed extensive dominion; for by ancient usage the Germans attributed to many of their women prophetic powers and, as the superstition grew in strength, even actual divinity. The authority of Veleda was then at its height, because she had foretold the success of the Germans and the destruction of the legions. Lupercus, however, was murdered on the road. A few of the centurions and tribunes, who were natives of Gaul, were reserved as hostages for the maintenance of the alliance. The winter encampments of the auxiliary infantry and cavalry and of the legions, with the sole exception of those at Mogontiacum and Vindonissa, were pulled down and burnt.

(emphasis added -- above is from Book 4 of The Histories by Publius Cornelius Tacitus, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, found online at http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Tacitus/)

They carried off the praetorian vessel, which was distinguished by a flag, believing that the general was on board. Cerialis indeed had passed the night elsewhere, in the company, as many believed, of an Ubian woman, Claudia Sacrata. The sentinels sought to excuse their own scandalous neglect by the disgraceful conduct of the general, alleging that they had been ordered to be silent, that they might not disturb his rest, and that, from omitting the watchwords and the usual challenges, they had themselves fallen asleep. The enemy rowed back in broad daylight with the captured vessels. The praetorian trireme they towed up the river Lupia as a present to Veleda.

(emphasis added -- above is from Book 5 of The Histories by Publius Cornelius Tacitus, translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb, found online at http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Tacitus/)

Also on this site

Elsewhere on About

  • Tacitus - About's Ancient History Guide, N.S. Gill, on the Roman historian

Veleda on the web

About Veleda

  • Categories: prophet, holy woman
  • Places: Germany
  • Period: 1st century, Roman empire

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