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5.3 cm x 5.5 cm
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Knotwork was first used by the Celtic peoples, as evidenced by metalwork from the British isles made between the sixth century BC and AD 100. Unsurprisingly, this pleasing artistic concept spread to neighbouring cultures and became a strong feature of Nordic art. It has been suggested that the Frankish court adopted the style from Scandinavia into France to symbolise their political independence from the Eastern Roman Empire. Whatever the case, the knotwork motif became a common cultural reference throughout much of Europe during the Dark Ages.
Epona, meaning "Divine Mare", was the goddess of horses, including those who worked with them, as well as fertility during the Iron age. Her worship originated with nomadic Celts in Gaul and extended throughout Continental Europe and the Roman Empire. Epona was the only Celtic deity venerated in Rome itself.
The myth states Epona was the beautiful child of a horse and human male. The importance of horses in Celtic culture may have contributed to her cult spreading from Gaul to Germany and eventually to Rome. For example, Celtic nobles were usually buried with their horses and saddles indicating horses were important in the after-life. The extensive worship of Epona may also be the reason why the Celts did not eat horse meat.
The connection between Epona and horses was also present in the rites of Celtic kings as the goddess was thought to bestow on the king his authority to rule during a ritual. Epona's importance was later signified with a shrine in nearly every stable in the Roman Empire because she protected not only the horses but also those who worked with them.