Belisama Changing Queen
Of the Ribble’s shining waters
Shaper of the dales and plains
Towns and cities and their dreams
In Roman times the River Ribble was known by the name “Belisama”. Belisama was a Gallo-Brythonic goddess, her name meaning ”Most Mighty One” or “Most Shining One”. She was a goddess related to fire, connecting the power of the light of the sun and moon. Apart from the feminine aspects of her as a goddess, she was also worshiped on the battlefields and was a deity associated with war, bravery, force and valor. Her worship is attested in Vaison-la-Romaine and Saint-Lizier.
When the Roman conquerors encountered the world of Gaulish deities and traditions, they tried to understand it in their own religious terms. Seeing a cult of gods and goddesses, they sought to find similarities between Roman and Gaulish deities. They saw in the beauty of the Gaulish goddess Belisama another face – that of their own wise deity, Minerva. However, the significance of Belisama ran far deeper for Gauls than the Roman interpretation.
Written in 2AD, a reference in Ptolemy’s Geography to the Ribble estuary as Belisama aest suggests she was the goddess of the river Ribble in Lancashire. It is thought that originally “Berisama”, the name was changed to a more familiar form by troops from Gaul who were stationed at the Roman fort at nearby Ribchester, Bremetenacvm Veteranorvm and were familiar with the goddess Belisama.
Pronounced “Breme-tenac-vum Veteran-nor-vum”, this settlement was a Roman hill fort near the town of Ribchester, Lancashire, just a few miles from Belisama’s Retreat. Ribchester has a close connection with the Ribble. It’s native name Bremetonacon means “Place by the roaring river”.
The word bremetenacvm may stem from the Welsh/Gaelic word brez (hill) coupled with a form of the Latin teneo meaning ‘to occupy, retain, settle’.
The Latin name for Ribchester has the suffix Veteranorvm, which indicates that veterans settled here. When the men of the Roman Legion cavalry units stationed at Ribchester retired from service, it appears that they were granted the use of the marshland lying close to the fort in the nearby Fylde country. Using drainage channels they recovered large areas of arable land which was used for crops, cattle and horses. This veteran status indicates that a high level of importance was attached to the fort.
The full name would therefore be something along the lines of ‘the Hilltop Settlement of the Veterans’.