[NB The brief explanation given below has been drafted on the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the basic building-blocks used in Celtic topographical place-names (Chapter 1 of the Home menu), with the structure of compound place-names (Chapter 2) and with the structure of Celtic river-names (Chapter 19)]
The Geography of Ptolemy appears to be the only ancient source for this name, though different manuscripts give the name in a variety of forms, none of which includes initial V. Nonetheless it seems to be generally accepted that this tribal name does indeed have an initial V.
The tribal name Votadini seems quite clearly to be based on a topographical place-name, but the hill-letters are missing. The Vot part of the name means ‘slope of (hill) high’ and the ad part means ‘(hill) summit’, ini just being a name ending as in Ravenna’s Landini. Now Ravenna gives us a river-name Lenda, apparently referring to a tributary of the Tweed, though Lenda is actually a land-name in the hill-letters l and n. And just as Lindum Colonia was close to the river Till (a tributary joining the Witham at Lincoln), so it seems reasonable to conclude that Lenda was close to the river Till (a tributary of the Tweed) in Northumberland. Yeavering, long considered to have been the tribal centre of the Votadini, is only some five kilometres from the river Till, so it is quite possible that the name of the tribal centre included the same hill-letter combination as Lenda. This would yield a place-name of the form Voltandinion. The people of the tribe would be called the Voltandini and this form, with omission of the hill-letters l and n, yields the tribal name Votadini. Note that the name Voltandinion would be unusual in having one element referring to the slope of a hill and another to the summit, but in this it is similar to Alvinundo (apparently the Celtic form of Ravenna’s Albinumno) at Welshbury Camp, near Cinderford in Gloucestershire. That hillfort has two enclosures, one on the slope of a hill, the other on the summit. At Yeavering we see a hillfort on the summit of Yeavering Bell and a settlement on the northern slope of the hill. And just a little to the southwest we see a hillfort on the summit of Great Hetha and settlements on the western slope of the hill. The name Voltandinion would thus be appropriate for either location.
[This page was last modified on 24 March 2021]