In Germanic paganism, Tamfana is a goddess. The destruction of a temple dedicated to the goddess is recorded by Roman senator Tacitus to have occurred during a massacre of the Germanic Marsi by forces led by Roman general Germanicus. Scholars have analyzed the name of the goddess (without reaching consensus) and have advanced theories regarding her role in Germanic paganism.


In book 1, chapters 50 and 51 of his Annals, Tacitus says that forces led by Germanicus massacred the men, women, and children of the Marsi during the night of a festival near the location of a temple dedicated to Tanfana:

Original Latin (first century CE):

iuvit nox sideribus inlustris, ventumque ad vicos Marsorum et circumdatae stationes stratis etiam tum per cubilia properterque mensas, nullo metu, non antepositis vigiliis: adea cuncta incuria disiecta erant, neque belli timor, ac ne pax quidem nisi linguida et soluta inter temultentos.
51. Caesar avidas legiones, quo latior populatio foret, quattuor in cuneos dispertit; quinquaginta milium spatium ferro flammisque pervastat. non sexus, non aetas miserationem attulit: profana simul et sacra et celeberrimum illis gentibus templum quod Tamfanae vocabant solo aequantur. sine vulnere milites, qui semisomnos, inermos aut palantis ceciderant. excivit ea caedes Bructeros, Tubantes, Usipetes; saltusque per quos exercitui regressus insedere.[1]

Church and Brodribb translation (1876):

They were helped by a night of bright starlight, reached the villages of the Marsi, and threw their pickets round the enemy, who even then were stretched on beds or at their tables, without the least fear, or any sentries before their camp, so complete was their careless and disorder; and of war indeed there was no apprehension. Peace it certainly was not—merely the languid and heedless ease of half-intoxicated people.

51. Cæsar, to spread devastation more widely, divided his eager legions into four columns, and ravaged a space of fifty miles with fire and sword. Neither sex nor age moved his compassion. Everything, sacred or profane, the temple too of Tamfana, as they called it, the special resort of all those tribes, was levelled to the ground. There was not a wound among our soldiers, who cut down a half asleep, an unarmed, or a straggling foe. The Bructeri, Tubantes, and Usipetes, were roused by this slaughter, and beset the forest passes through which the army had to return.[2]

There is no undisputed testimony of this goddess besides the passage in Tacitus. An inscription Tamfanae sacrum was found in Terni, but is considered a falsification by Pyrrhus Ligorius.[3] She is also mentioned, as Zamfana, in the supposed Old High German lullaby, which was accepted by Jacob Grimm[4] but is now also considered a forgery.

Theories and interpretationEdit

Since fana is Latin for "temples," it has been suggested that it was a temple to a god Tan, shortened from the German word for a pine-tree, Tanne, or that the first element meant "collective."[5][6] The division of the word was rejected by Grimm among others;[7] he called the name "certainly German," the -ana ending being also found in Hludana, Bertana, Rapana, and Madana.[3][8]

The passage is one of few to contradict Tacitus' own statement in Germania that the Germanic tribes did not have temples.[9][10] Wilhelm Engelbert Giefers proposed that Tanfana derived from tanfo, cognate with Latin truncus, and referred to a grove on the site of the Eresburg, related to the Irminsul.[11]

Many suggestions have been made about the goddess' name and nature. Grimm was unable to interpret it, but suggested variously that it was connected to Stempe, a name of Berchte,[8][12] that she was named for an association with a sieve,[13] and, based on the now discredited lullaby, that her name meant "bountiful, merciful."[14] Based on folklore and toponymy, Friedrich Woeste proposed that the name was cognate with German zimmern and meant "builder" or "nourisher";[15] based on the season at which the festival and the Roman attack took place, Karl Müllenhoff proposed she was a goddess of harvest plenty, properly *Tabana, cognate with Greek words for "expenditure" and (hypothetically) "unthrifty"; others added Icelandic and Norwegian words for "fullness, swelling," "to stuff," and "large meal."[16] A. G. de Bruyn, a scholar of Oldenzaal folklore, returned to splitting the name into Tan and fana on toponymic grounds and because of a stamp dated 1336 found near Ommen that shows a woman holding a fir tree flanked by a sun symbol and a catlike creature and a bird; he proposed that she was a moon or a mother goddess, perhaps related to the Carthaginian goddess Tanit.[17] He and more recently Rudi Klijnstra relate Tanfana, or Tan, to legends surrounding de Groote Steen te Oldenzaal (the Big Stone at Oldenzaal) in the area of Overijssel; the stone was originally located on a hill called Tankenberg, the highest point in the area, but was later moved into the city.[17][18]

Rudolf Simek notes that an autumnal festival aligns with Old Norse attestations of the dísablót, a celebration of the dísir, female beings with parallels to the West Germanic cult of the Matres and Matronae. Simek says that Tamfana is perhaps best considered in the context of the widespread veneration of the Germanic Matres and Matronae.[19]

See alsoEdit

  • Baduhenna, another Germanic goddess mentioned by Tacitus in his Annals
  • Nerthus, a Germanic goddess mentioned by Tacitus in his Germania
  • "Isis" of the Suebi, an apparently Germanic goddess mentioned by Tacitus in his Germania


  1. ^ Frost (1872:44-45).
  2. ^ Church & Brodribb (1876:25).
  3. ^ a b Jacob Grimm, Teutonic Mythology, tr. James Steven Stallybrass, volume 1, London: Bell, 1882, p. 80, note 1.
  4. ^ Jacob Grimm, "Über die Göttin Tanfana," Monatsberichte der Berliner Akademie March 10, 1859, pp. 254–58, repr. in Kleinere Schriften, ed. Karl Müllenhoff, volume 5 Berlin: Dümmler, 1871, pp. 418–21, p. 418 (in German)
  5. ^ Thomas Smith, ed. Francis Smith, Arminius: A History of the German People and of their Legal and Constitutional Customs, from the Days of Julius Caesar to the Time of Charlemagne, London: Blackwood, 1861, OCLC 34219379, p. 126. Smith believes it was a Wotanfana, a temple of Wodan.
  6. ^ Johannes Bühler, Deutsche Geschichte volume 1 Urzeit, Bauerntum und Aristokratie bis um 1100, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1934, repr. 1960, p. 371 note (in German)
  7. ^ "Über das Wort Liude," Archiv für Geschichte und Alterthumskunde Westphalens 1.4 (1826) 114, repr. in Kleinere Schriften volume 6 Berlin: Dümmler, 1882, p. 374 (in German)
  8. ^ a b Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 1, p. 257.
  9. ^ Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 1, pp. 79–80, 84.
  10. ^ E. O. G. Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964, OCLC 3264532, p. 236.
  11. ^ Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 4 (Supplement), London: Bell, 1883, pp. 1311–12.
  12. ^ Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 1, p. 278.
  13. ^ Grimm, Teutonic Mythology volume 3, London: Bell, 1883, p. 1109, note 1.
  14. ^ Grimm, "Über die Göttin Tanfana," p. 419.
  15. ^ Friedrich Woeste, "Spuren weiblicher Gottheiten in den Überlieferungen der Grafschaft Mark," Zeitschrift für deutsche Mythologie 1 (1853) 384–96, 2 (1855), 81–99, pp. 385–88 (in German)
  16. ^ Karl Müllenhoff, "Verderbte Namen bei Tacitus," Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 9 (1853) 223–61, pp. 258–59 and "Tanfana," Zeitschrift für deutsches Altertum 23 (1879) 23–25 (in German); Rudolf Koegel, Geschichte der deutschen Literatur bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters, reported in Hans Krahe, "Tamfana," PBB 58 (1934) 282–87, p. 287 (in German)
  17. ^ a b A. G. de Bruyn, Geesten en goden in oud Oldenzaal, n.p., 1929, OCLC 64372573 (in Dutch)
  18. ^ Rudi Klijnstra, Tanfana, de Twentse Godin: haar mythen, legenden & heilige plaatsen, Hengelo: Annwn, 2007, ISBN 978-90-902155-6-3, excerpts online at (in Dutch)
  19. ^ Simek (2007:310).


  • Church, Alfred John. Brodribb, William Jackson (Trans.) (1876). Annals of Tacitus. MacMillan and Co.
  • Frost, Percival (1872). The Annals of Tacitus. Whittaker & Co.
  • Simek, Rudolf (2001 [1993]). Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D. S. Brewer.