< Ophiussa


Ophiussa is the ancient name given by the ancient Greeks to what is now Portuguese territory. It means Land of Serpents.

The expulsion of the Oestrimni

The 4th century Roman poet Rufus Avienus Festus, writing on geographical subjects in Ora Maritima ("Seacoasts"), a document inspired by a Greek mariners' Periplus, related that the Oestriminis (Extreme West in Latin) was peopled by the Oestrimni, a people that had been living there for a long time; they had to flee their homeland after an invasion of serpents. These people could be linked to the Saephe or Ophis ("People of the Serpents") and the Dragani ("People of the Dragons"), who came to those lands and built the territorial entity the Greeks termed Ophiussa. Most authors relate these peoples to the first wave of Indo-European migrations into Iberia, of the Urnfield culture (Proto-Celts or Celts). Some extravagant theories tried to relate them to Ancient Egypt (where a local tradition said that "serpents" from Carnac or Luxor had migrated to Europe).

The expulsion of the Oestrimni, from Ora Maritima:

Ophiussam ad usque. rursum ab huius litore
internum ad aequor, qua mare insinuare se
dixi ante terris, quodque Sardum nuncupant,
septem dierum tenditur pediti via.
Ophiussa porro tanta panditur latus
quantam iacere Pelopis audis insulam
Graiorum in agro. haec dicta primo Oestrymnis est
locos et arva Oestrymnicis habitantibus,
post multa serpens effugavit incolas
vacuamque glaebam nominis fecit sui.

Land of the Ophi

The Ophi people lived mainly in the inland mountains of Northern Portugal (and Galicia). Others say they lived mainly by the estuaries of the rivers Douro and Tagus. The Ophi worshiped serpents, hence Land of Serpents. There have surfaced a few archeological findings that could be related to this people or culture. Some believe that the dragon, symbol of the city of Porto is related to this people, or to the Celts who later invaded the area and could also have been influenced by the Ophi cult.

Ophi legend

A legend relates that on the Summer Solstice a maiden-serpent, a Chthonic goddess, reveals hidden treasures to people journeying through forests. This maiden would live in the city of Porto. Festivities related to this goddess occurred during the Solstice. During the rest of the year, she would change into a snake living under or among rocks, and shepherds would set aside some milk from their flocks as an offering to her.


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