Junak / Iuvenat

God of Youth

Traces of the temple of god Iovenat have been found on the mountain Junska gora (Jaunberg), where the church of St. Hemma was built later. A life-size bronze statue of a youth has been discovered at the foot of the mountain Štalenska gora, dating from the 1st century, deemed by some to be the statue of Roman god Mercurius or a Celtic Mars, or a priest of Noreia. It is also possible that it represents a local god, in this case the Norican Iuvenat. On the hip of the statue an inscription was chiseled, a dedication by two freed slaves - the word IOVENAT. 

 As Mercurius he represented friendly and commercial links between Noricum and Aquileia, so he could have been a representation of Mercury and at the same time possibly a local Norican god. He would therefore embody two figures, the Aquileian Roman and the Norican. 

The root iun or iuno, or Iovenat signified youth and young already in Sanskrit. On Slovenian territories this meaning has been preserved in toponyms like Juenna / Junska gora (Jaunberg) and Juna (Podjuna). The word has also been retained in Slovenian for cattle, e.g. junica (young cow) and junc (young bull) and of course in the word junak. 

Junak still means hero in Slovenian today. From all meanings and shades of meanings, expressed in forms of words in several languages the original meaning is evident: grown-up, young, beautiful, strong. Presumably the word junak (hero) also stems from Juno, youth. Who is Junak? He is a young man of great physical strength, fearless, particularly in battle for his people, the model of all that is expected of a young male. Possibly the fights of village youths of the past must be interpreted in this sense. With these the young men gave expression to their will to win, to show their strength and their fighting spirit. 

The hero appears in many Slovenian tales. As the strong intrepid young man he became the stuff of the legends. We find him in folk tales that reach far into the pre-Christian era. Sometimes he also appears as a handsome, irresistible and dangerous seducer of maidens, but he is portrayed mainly as the invincible young warrior, challenging the enemy. He is the legendary Slovenian folk hero, Kralj Matjaž, who represents hope for his people. He is also Peter Klepec, the hero of Slovenian folk tradition, possessed with magic powers. Another popular folk hero of incredible strength is the wily Martin Krpan. 

The figure of the ancient god hero as a youth of beauty and strength can’t be identified with any Christian saint. His figure found its way into the tales and legends, where his original character of a youthful and mighty hero paled somewhat. However, his image is still preserved among the people. The church, who laid emphasis on spirituality and renunciation could not remove him from the popular consciousness. 

Among mythical figures, that preserved the hero in Slovenian consciousness King Matjaž stands out particularly. He saves his nation in decisive moments, until the final victory of justice and peace. His image is certainly pre-Christian. After christianization many tales about him were imbued with Christian symbolism. Motifs in his tales are a unique example of deep Christian mysticism and symbolism: linden as the tree of life, shadow as God’s protection, wind as God’s power, warm wind as power of spirit and love, shield as defense of faith. 

The tale about Peter Klepec stems from the southern edge of Slovenian territory, often under threat by the enemy. Its constituent parts are essentially pagan. The chief hero is a participant in the grace of God and receives magic power, he reminds us of the past god hero, who rises and saves the land when the need is greatest. The tale of Martin Krpan is not a legend at first glance, since no divine elements are apparent in his figure. However his strength is such, that he saves from the Turks not only his land, but the whole empire. His weapon is the club. He hews and trims it from the wood of the linden tree, the tree of life. 

One might truly ask if he the heroic youth hadn't been present throughout history, in the battles against Avars, Ogri, Turks? His place was taken by the Christian God, but the god hero was carried over into the legends and tales. The figure of the invincible hero of great strength remained.


Jožko Šavli, Zlati cvet. Bajeslovje Slovencev. Duhovna dediščina Karantanije, Bilje, Studio RO, Humar, 2008. 
Translated from Slovenian by Aleksandra L. Ceferin. 
To be published in English with the title The Golden Flower in 2013.