[NB. The reader will probably find it easier to understand this chapter if he or she has already acquainted himself or herself with the contents of Chapter 1, which concerns the basic building-blocks used in Romano-British place-names. The reader should not worry at this stage about any identification made below - all identifications are explained on other pages of this website, more particularly in Chapters 10-16, which concern the Romano-British place-names in different regions of Britain.]
Old-style, transitional and inversion-type place-names
Banna and Venta
Categories of place-names and river-names
1 Old-style place-names
1.1 In an old-style place-name or place-name element the qualifier comes before the generic element, for example a hill-letter. Thus the element br in Bremia and Brinavis is an old-style place-name element meaning ‘high hill’. In the same way the element cel in Celovion/Celunno is an old-style element meaning ‘steep hill’. Furthermore the nd of Lindum, Landini and Londinium is an old-style element since in this case the hill-letter n qualifies the letter d signifying ‘summit’. These and other old-style elements may be qualified by the earlier name of the hill, which may in fact just be a hill-letter applied to the same hill by earlier settlers. This appears to be the case in the names Landini and Londinium mentioned above. In each of these cases the area concerned appears to have been settled at an earlier date by people who used the hill-letter l, and so in each of those names the hill-letter l qualifies the element nd, or perhaps it would be more precise to say that it qualifies the hill-letter n used in the nd element, both of these names meaning, in modern English, 'the summit of a hill (n) called l'. And the qualifying hill-letter l may itself be qualified by a b meaning ‘high’, by a c meaning ‘steep’ as in Clindum (Clint) or by bag meaning ‘high, steep’, as in the bagland of Cambaglanda (Birdoswald). And it doesn’t stop there – the qualifying hill-letter l, or element bagl, may also be qualified by a still earlier name for the same hill. In the case of Cambaglanda the element cam (itself a simple old-style element meaning ‘steep hill’) qualifies the old-style element bagl, and cambagl qualifies the old-style element nd, meaning ‘hill summit’. In Cambaglanda, as in all purely old-style compound place-names, the hill-letters appear in chronological order within the name, with the earliest element at the beginning.
1.2 There are many old-style compound names. Another example which comes to mind is Bindogladia (Weatherby Castle). Here the older element is bind, meaning ‘high hill summit’, and it qualifies the later element glad, which means ‘steep hill summit’. Another is Bograndium (Ardoch). Here the earlier element is bogr, meaning ‘high steep hill’, and it qualifies the later element nd, meaning ‘hill summit’. In Condecor (Benwell) the earlier element cond, meaning ‘steep hill summit’, qualifies the later element cor, which means ‘steep hill’. Note that in all of these names, as in all purely old-style compound names, each element of the name is an old-style place-name element, that is to say, the qualifier (where there is one) comes before the generic term.
1.3 Another fairly common old-style element uses the letter v, meaning ‘slope’, as a noun, this being qualified by one of the hill-letters, which may itself be qualified by an adjective meaning ‘high’ or ‘steep’. Simple names of this kind might now be hard to detect, since a v at the end of an element might be confused with a name-ending. But the reve of Locatreve (Trawden) might be an element of this kind. There are several examples where the qualifying hill-letter is itself qualified by c meaning ‘steep’, for example in the celov of Celovion (Chesters on the North Tyne), the caluv of Caluvio (Ingleton) and the clav of Clavinio (Charterhouse). There are of course examples where the adjectival b is used rather than c, for example in the bamv of Bamvocalia, the original spelling of Pampocalia (Ilkley) and the brav of Bravnogenium, the original spelling of Brannogenium (Leintwardine). Then there is a group of names of this kind which use the hill-letter n – these are the names of the banna-type. The double n should in any event be suspect as doubled consonants are rare in the earliest forms of Romano-British place-names. The names of this group are Banna, Bannovalum and Bannio (Abergavenny), the last-named place being the Gobannio of the Antonine Itinerary, the initial go merely indicating that the hill was considered steep as well as high. In all of these names the bann element was originally banv, meaning ‘high hill slope’. This is clearly seen in the case of Bannio/Gobannio, where the fort was certainly built on a hillside. The name Bannovalum cannot be right as it stands, since bann is an old-style element and val is an inversion-type element, so the elements would be in the wrong order (this point is explained later). The original spelling must have been Banvobalum, this being a straightforward old-style compound in the hill-letters n and l. The name could perhaps be applied to Horncastle, but is much more appropriate for Caistor-on-the-Wolds. Which brings us to Banna, long the subject of intense debate, which was thought to have been ended when Hassal suggested that the Notitia Dignitatum should be amended in order to locate Banna at Birdoswald, this because of an inscription found at Birdoswald and referring to venatores Banniess (Hassall 1976). But it is quite clear that the name Banna is wholly inappropriate for the Birdoswald fort. This fort does not stand on a hillside, but on flat ground at the top of a high, steep escarpment. The only fort in that area which is available to have been Ravenna’s Banna is the fortlet at Throp, and this did indeed stand on a hillside. There can thus be no doubt as to the original form and the meaning of Banna.
1.3.1 Another possible member of the banna family is the Antonine Itinerary Pennocrucio. This name may have been Benvocruvio in Celtic, where benv means ‘high hill slope’ and cruv means ‘steep hill slope’. The original Roman installation there may have been built on the slope going down to the river Penk. That the spelling is benv and not banv is of no importance. As noted earlier, the vowels in topographical names appear to be of little or no significance – the topographical information is in the consonants.
2 Inversion-type place-names
2.1 In inversion-type names the qualifier comes after the generic term. There is a strange detail to note – in inversion-type names and name-elements the letter t is used to signify ‘high’, rather than b. There are simple inversion-type names where a hill-letter is qualified by t meaning ‘high’ or c meaning ‘steep’, examples being Alicuna (Castleshaw) and Isca (Exeter), or by both t and c, as in the nicet of Anicetis, the lucot of Lucotion and the macat of Macatonion.
2.2 But a simple inversion-type name-element may be qualified by an earlier inversion-type element applied to the same location by earlier settlers. Thus in Lagentium the later inversion-type element lag, meaning ‘hill steep’, is qualified by the earlier inversion-type element ent, meaning ‘hill high’. And in Leucomago the later inversion-type element leuc, meaning ‘hill steep’, is qualified by the earlier inversion-type element mag, also meaning ‘hill steep’. Of course the qualifier of an inversion-type element may be an old-style element, this being the earlier name of the same hill. Thus in Lincovigla, originally Lincobigla, the inversion-type element inc is qualified by the old-style element bigl, meaning ‘high, steep hill’, and the still later inversion-type element l is qualified by the entire previous name, i.e. by incobigla.
2.3 In inversion-type names, too, the letter v, meaning ‘hillside’ or ‘slope’, is treated as a noun and is qualified by a hill-letter, a simple example being the vir of Virolanium. The hill-letter may of course itself be qualified by a c meaning ‘steep’ or a t meaning ‘high’, examples including the vert of Vertis and possibly also of Vertevia. Where the hill-letter is n this yields the well-known name Venta, meaning ‘slope of hill high’. This is clearly appropriate for Venta at Winchester, but appears inappropriate for the Venta at Caerwent and that at Caistor St. Edmund. This can probably be explained by the fact that these were new towns founded by the Romans after they had defeated the Silures and the Iceni. The element ‘duro’ may have gone out of fashion for naming new towns and the Romans simply adopted the name Venta from Venta Velgarom and applied it to their new towns at Caerwent and Caistor St. Edmund. One can see, bearing in mind that ‘high’ is signified by b in old-style names and by t in inversion-type names, that venta is the mirror-image of banva.
2.4 In inversion-type names the letter d meaning ‘summit’ is qualified by a hill-letter, this coming after the d. Where the hill-letter is n this yields the well-known element dono or dunum, appearing in Camulodono, but examples are available where other hill-letters are used. Thus the hill-letter r is used in the dar of Lutudaron, the hill-letter l in the dulo of Manulodulo and the hill-letter m in the dam of Uxellodamo. These inversion-type elements involving the letter d with a hill-letter normally come at the end of a name, quite regardless of whether the earlier part of the name is an old-style element as in Camulodono, or an inversion-type element as in Lutudaron. The only exceptions which come to mind are Dolocindo, where the dol element appears at the beginning of the name, and Demerosesa, where the dem element also appears at the beginning of the name. The hill-letter is normally not itself qualified in such elements, but in Omiretedertis, probably originally Omirededertis, the final element dert means ‘summit of hill high’.
3 Transitional place-names
3.1 Transitional place-names or name-elements are names or name-elements in which a hill-letter is qualified by two qualifiers, one coming before the hill-letter and the other after. The commonest example is the element cnt meaning ‘steep hill high’. It appears as cant in Canza (z = ti), as cent in Gabrocentio, as canat in Concanata (the original Celtic spelling of the ND's Congavata), as cunet in Cunetio and as cinat in Durcinate. It would appear that where a transitional element is compounded with either an old-style element or an inversion-type element the two elements are simply arranged in chronological order, with the earlier one first. This can be seen in Gabrocentio and Concanata (in both cases an old-style element followed by a transitional element) and in Castaractonion (later Cataractoni) (a transitional element followed by an inversion-type element).
3.2 The name Brocara may include the transitional element broc in the hill-letter r. Likewise, the element broc appears to be present in Brocoliti.
3.3 The AI name Blatobulgium (Birrens) appears to include a transitional element bulg in the hill-letter l. This name was probably earlier Bladobulgium, a straightforward topographical name with an old-style element blad referring to a location on the top of high ground (literally ‘high hill summit’) and a transitional element bulg meaning ‘high hill steep’. The fort stands at the top of an escarpment on the bank of a river. At least at the southeast corner of the fort the escarpment is indeed high and steep.
4 Categories of Roman place-names
4.1 The Romano-British place-names will now be assigned to various categories in the hope that this will help the reader to understand the names more easily. Each name is assigned to one category only. The topographical elements in the names are shown bold. Where it is thought helpful a space is left between adjacent elements to ensure that these may be distinguished clearly. Some names are given in the earlier or corrected forms discussed elsewhere on this website – these names are shown in italics. Each such name is accompanied by the form of the name actually given in Ravenna or Ptolemy. The reader should not worry at this stage about the forms of the names shown in italics – these names are all discussed later. Duno-type endings are treated as normal inversion-type elements. In names with an essa-type ending the essa-ending is ignored when assigning the name to a particular category. The duro element in names in southern and southeastern England is also ignored – this is assumed to be an element adopted by the Romans when in Gaul and used by them when naming new towns in England, i.e. the element had lost its topographical significance.
The numbers accompanying names below are those provided by Richmond and Crawford (Richmond and Crawford 1949). Where a name is not accompanied by a number it may be assumed that the name is taken from the Geography of Ptolemy.
4.1.1 Simple old-style names
Banva (151: Banna), Banvio (53: Bannio), Becsa (193: Pexa), Begsesse (194: Begesse), Bereda (128), Bindo (176: Ebio/Epiacum), Binovia (134: Vinovia), Bravonia (123: Ravonia), Caluvio (112), Calveva (67: Caleba Arbatium), Celovion (178), Cibra (199), Cironium Dobunorum (66), Clavinio (29), Conda/Conva (40: Onna), Condo/Convo (146: Onno), Corda (171), Durobravis (74: Durobrabis), Durobrivis (102: Durobrisin), Gabluv ion (113: Galluvio), Glavo (1: Giano), Glevon Colonia (62: Glebon Colonia), Lavaris (135)
4.1.2 Compound names with two old-style elements
Abrav naris (20: Apaunaris), Alvin undo (51: Albinumno), Bamvocalia (125: Pampocalia), Banvobalum (105: Bannovalum), Berni lis (8: Vernilis), Bindo gara (Vindogara), Bindogladia (38), Bogr andium (218), Bravogenium (58: Branogenium), Br emia (54), Br inavis (77), Car bandium (161: Carbantium), Car nis (42: Armis), Cer ma (205), Cer mium (223), Cindocelum/Cindoceldum (204: Cindocellum), Cl indum (160), Condecor (144), Credigone (200), L andini (75), L ondinium (97), Ma boridon (163: Maporiton), M agnis (57,130), Mediolano (84), Mo rionio (30), Navim agno (44: Navimago), Nedio mano/Sedio mano (81: Mediomano), Nedion emedo/Sedion emedo (196: Medionemeton), Noviom agno (39), S andonio (85), S aranus (34: Aranus), Ucs ela (169: Uxela), Ucs elis (13: Uxelis), Ucs elda/Ucs elva (Uxella)
Morionio is included here on the assumption that the chronological sequence of the hill-letters m and r in the name, and the manner in which they are used (old-style or inversion-type), are the same as in the omired of Omirededertis, which is in the same region of the country.
4.1.3 Compound names with three old-style elements
Bind ol ande (132: Vindolande), Cam bagl anda (131: Gabaglanda), Coru cin golonion (157: Croucingo), Ne medon bala (50: Metambala)
4.1.4 Compound names with four old-style elements
Cam bro l anda (167: Cambroianna)
4.1.5 Simple transitional names
Biriconion Cornoviorum (79: Vtriconion Cornoviorum), Brocara (156), Cantia (27: Canza), Cunetione (46: Cunetzione), Durcinate (100), Yposcessa (60: Ypocessa)
4.1.6 Compound names with an old-style element and a transitional element
Alo bergium (22: Alovergium), Cir cultio (56: Cicutio), Gabro centio (117)
4.1.7 Simple inversion-type names
Alicuna (110), Alitacenon (164), Anicetis (35), Avalava (153), Delcutaria (138: Decuaria), Delca (217: Decha), Dunium, Duroaverno (72), Durovirguto (101: Duroviguto), Esica (150), Isca (16, 52), Litana (198), Lucotion (170), Macatonion (61), Matagea (226: Tagea), Rate (92), Valt eris (127), Velunia (191), Venta (41, 48, 103), Venutio (182), Vertevia (14), Vertis (64), Vilatis/Vilacis (7: Pilais), Volitanio (192)
4.1.8 Compound names with a transitional element and an inversion-type element
Brigo mono (174), Broco liti (148), Casta ractonion (136: Cactabactonion), Coriti sotar (177: Coritiotar)
4.1.9 Compound names with two inversion-type elements
Der iscoti (140: Dixiolugunduno), Lectoseto (94: Lectoceto), Leucomago (45), (L)itucodon (179: Itucodon), Lugunduno (140: Dixiolugunduno), Lutudaron (88), M estevia (18), R ascat onion (209: Ravatonium), Rigodunum, Velurcion (149)
4.1.10 Compound names with an inversion-type element and an old-style element
Bin natis (211: Pinnatis), Carda donecon (43: Ardaoneon), Cerd o dalia (108: Zerdotalia), Dolocindo (28), Lagubalium (129), L indinis (26), L indum (104), Lo bocarion (142: Corielopocarium), Locat reve (166), L ocsa (165: Loxa), L ocsa (Loxa), Lotuco bimvion (Loucopibia), M andio (109: Mantio), Mutu andonis (69: Mutuantonis), Olcaclavis (188), Seg undio (82: Seguntio)
4.1.11 Compound names with two-inversion-type elements and an old-style element
Arg ist ilum/Arg ist ildum (63: Argistillum), Dem er osessa (203: Demerosesa), Leci m ocsava (222: Levioxava), L inco bigla (133: Lincovigla), M arcot acson (225: Marcotaxon), Mug ul esde (219: Ugueste)
Demerosessa is included here on the assumption that the chronological sequence of the hill-letters m, r and s, and the manner in which they are used within the name (old-style or inversion-type), are the same as in Marcotacson, another name with the hill-letters m, r and s and in the same region of the country.
4.1.12 Compound names with three inversion-type elements
Lace roco maguve (180: Maromago), Leci den sca (189: Evidensca), Ma ri dunum, M ili dunum (19), Mo ri duno (23), Ol er isca (121: Olerica), Rugu l entum (208: Ugrulentum), Sig uli mocenon (116: Iuliocenon)
4.1.13 Compound names with an inversion-type element and two old-style elements
Caman ulo dulo (99: Manulodulo), Cam ulo dono (111), El conion emedo (3,4: Elconio Nemetotatio), Laco bri nda (80: Lavobrinta), L indino naco (214: Lintinomago), Muco gan ges/Luco gan ges (141: Coganges), Omi rede dertis (25: Omiretedertis), Ucs elu damo/Ucs eldu damo (152: Uxelludamo)
Moriduno is included here on the assumption that the chronological sequence of the hill-letters m and r in the name, and the manner in which they are used (old-style or inversion-type) are the same as in the omired of Omirededertis, which is in the same region of the country.
4.1.14 Compound names with two inversion-type elements and two old-style elements
Vr es me denaci Veteranorum (124: Bresnetenaci Veteranorum)
4.1.15 River-names transferred to forts/settlements or otherwise used to create place-names
Abisson (175), Alabum (55), Alavna (78), Alavna (118), Alavna (187), Alavna Colonea(s) (32,33), Alavna Silva (24), Anderelionuba (68), Bretemona (185: Bremenium), Bribra (119), Burocoronavis (6: Purocoronavis), Cantiventi (115), Canubio (83), Carduaravenatone (9: Arduaravenatone), Coccuveda (186), Derbentione (89), Derventione (122), Deva (86), Deventiasteno (11), Devionisso (10), Devoni (215), Devovicia (139), Duabsissis (181), Dubris (71), Duriarno (12), Iberban (210: Iberran), Ibernio (37), Isurium, Lano (201), Luba (49: Iupania), Matovion (207), Navione (106), Punctuobice (47), Rerigonius, Rumabo (190), Rutupis (73), Tuessis (212), Veratino (87), Veromo (206)
4.2 There are quite a few names which do not fit comfortably into any of the above categories. These are indicated below.
4.2.1 Latin names or names with Latin elements
Aquae calidae, Aquis Arnemeze (107), Cesaromago (98), Fanococidi (155), Orrea, Poreoclassis (221), Salinae (Catuvellauni), Salinis (65), Salinis (90), Trimuntium (183), Victoria
4.2.2 Names where the absence of a qualifier or qualifiers makes it impossible to decide whether the name, or an element in it, is old-style or inversion-type:
Inac iso dulno (95: Iaciodulma), s not clear
Isca lis, l not clear
Lec ilo danum (220: Leviodanum), second l, which is l1, not clear
L el amon (15: Melamoni), m not clear
Le manis (70), m not clear
Luca m osessa (172: Camulosessa), s not clear
Ma sona (21), m and s not clear
Mac ulion/Mat ulion (202: Maulion), l not clear
S er duno (143), s and r not clear
S met ri (168), r not clear
S met ri adunum (159: Smetriadum), r not clear
Vir olanium (96), l not clear
Note 1: Iscalis may alternatively be a river-name of the kind comprising a river-element, in this case the river-letter l, used as a suffix to a land-name, in this case isca (the river-names are discussed below).
Note 2: Smetriadum (159) was probably originally Smedriadunum, where all three hill-letters s, m and r are used in the old-style manner and dunum is an inversion-type element.
4.2.3 Cases where it is not clear what the elements of a name are
Bolvelaunio (31) (may be Bolv elavnio or Bol belagunio or Bor beladunio)
Bullaeum (may be Bulgaeum or Buldaeum)
Eburacum(137) (may be old-style Ebur + acum-ending, or transitional Eburac + um-ending)
Eburocaslum (184) (may be an old-style place-name in the hill-letters r, s and l or a river-name with the river-element ebur attached as prefix to the place-name caslum)
Lagentium (126) (may be Lag + ent or Lag + end)
Medibogdo (114) (may be Medi bogldo or Medi boglo dono)
Melantvrum (216: Memanturum) (not clear whether vr was originally vr or br)
Meletio (36: Melezo) (may be m and let or m and led)
Stodoion (158) (may have been St oldonion or St ondonion)
Subdobiadon (197) (may have been Su bredo biladon or Su bredo bila don)
Tadoriton (162) (may have been Carta doriton or Carda doriton)
Vindovala (145) (may have been Bindo bala or Vinto vala)
4.2.4 Other names not assigned to any of categories 4.1.1 to 4.1.15
Calatum (looks transitional, but may be just another form of Caluvio/Galacum), Celunno (147) (later form of Celovion (178)), Colanica (195), Condate (91), Coria (of the Votadini), Corieltavori (93), Ebio (176)/Epiacum, Galluvio (113), Lodone (213), Luentinum, Maia (154), Maio (120), Voliba, Voran (227) (alternative form of Veromo (206))
4.3 Whilst the river-names and the categories into which they fall are discussed in detail in Chapter 19, it will be helpful to mention the different categories here since they are referred to in several of the chapters which follow. The categories are:
4.3.1 River-names comprising only one or more river-letters (ignoring name-endings)
Examples are Abona, Adron, Bdora, Eltabo, Rutupis and Tuerobis.
4.3.2 River-names formed by the Romans transferring to a river the land-name of a place located on or close to the river
Examples are Certisnassa, Metaris and Stuccia.
4.3.3 River-names formed by adding to a land-name a prefix comprising an element including one or more river-letters
Examples are Mori cambre/Mori camve and Tr axula (the spaces being left to help distinguish the prefix from the land-name).
4.3.4 River-names formed by adding to a land-name a suffix comprising an element including one or more river-letters
Examples are Anderelion uba, Leugo sena and Rato stabius (the spaces being left to help distinguish the suffix from the land-name).
[This page was last modified on 14 May 2021]