Belisama estuary

Identification: the estuary of the river Ribble

It appears that the name of Ptolemy's river Belisama was originally Berisama, the name no doubt being changed to a more familiar form by troops from Gaul who were stationed at Ribchester and were familiar with the goddess Belisama, who was worshipped in Gaul. As explained in the entry for Bresnetenaci in the Alphabetical List the river-name will have been Berisama and the place-name of the Ribchester fort Vresmedenaci. The latter name is not actually appropriate for the site of the Ribchester fort but will have been transferred by the Romans to Ribchester from the Portfield Camp hillfort, which overlooks the river Calder at a point a little to the southeast of Whalley in Lancashire. It follows that it was in fact the river Calder which was the Berisama, this name evidently also being applied to that part of the modern river Ribble downstream of the confluence of the two rivers. Then at some point, as noted above, and assuming Ptolemy didn’t just spell the name incorrectly, Berisama changed to Belisama, hence Ptolemy’s reference to the Belisama estuary. Vresmedenaci had evidently changed to Bresmetenaci by the time the map used by the compiler of Ravenna was drafted, changed to Bremetonaci by the time the Antonine Itinerary was compiled and changed to Bremetenraco by the time the Notitia Dignitatum was compiled. The first n in Ravenna's Bresnetenaci will just be the result of m/n confusion at some stage of medieval copying. However, whatever the development of the name of the Ribchester fort, the important point for present purposes is that the Belisama estuary was indeed the estuary of the river Ribble.


[This page was last modified on 15 May 2020]

[NB. Detailed information as to the different river-letters and as to how they were combined to form compound river-names, together with information as to the four categories of Celtic river-names, is given in Chapter 19: the rivers of Roman Britain. Detailed information as to the different hill-letters is given in Chapter 1 and information as to how the hill-letters were combined to form compound place-names is given in Chapter 2]


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