Place-names with a Bindo or Vindo element
1 The known names of this kind in Britain are Bindogladia, Vindolande, Vindovala, Vindomora, Vindomi and Vindogara. Richmond and Crawford saw the vindo element, appearing in all but one of these names, as being related to Irish find and Welsh gwyn meaning ‘white’. Rivet and Smith, perhaps realizing that ‘white’ is somewhat restricting, added the meanings ‘bright, fair, happy, fortunate’, though when one starts down this road, inventing new meanings, where does one stop?
1.1 Looking at these names one at a time, Bindogladia (originally the name of the hill-fort at Weatherby Castle in Dorset) is the form given in Ravenna. The form given in AI Iter XII is Vindogladia and in Iter XV Vindocladia. The Roman post has in the past been assumed to have been at Badbury Rings, though this was never more than an assumption. And because there is at that place an iron-age hill-fort cut into the chalk of the hill the name has been assumed to mean ‘white ditches’. Note that this assumption has been repeated so often by so many scholars that it is now accepted as established fact, though logically an assumption remains an assumption no matter how often it is repeated. One will remember from Chapter 11 that Bindogladia occurs in the sequence Aranus (Old Sarum), Anicetis (Ansty), Melezo (Melbury), Ibernio (Hod Hill) and Bindogladia (Weatherby Castle). It is unlikely that these places lay on a road. They may have defined a temporary frontier in the early years immediately after the Roman invasion, but it seems much more likely that they simply record the progress of the young Vespasian when he was sent by the then governor to subdue the tribes of the southwest. The form Bindogladia, with initial B, thus appears to have been taken from an early Claudian map. It appears to be a straightforward old-style topographical compound in the hill-letters n and l, the bind element meaning, literally, ‘high hill summit’.
1.2 Vindolande at Chesterholm is bounded on its eastern and southern sides by a slope going down to a stream. Richmond and Crawford gave the meaning ‘white close’ (‘close’ in the sense of ‘enclosure’), a meaning which did not seem entirely satisfactory to Rivet and Smith, who preferred ‘bright moor (with heather in flower?)’ or ‘fair moor’. The slope to the east and south of the fort is not dramatically high, but an element bind meaning ‘high hill summit’ or, more generally, ‘on the top of raised ground’ would certainly be applicable to the location of the fort. Nonetheless, Bindolande is most likely to have been the name of the Iron Age hill-fort/settlement on Barcombe Hill, just east of Chesterholm, and was simply transferred to the Roman fort at Chesterholm with the common b→v change.
1.3 Vindovala at Rudchester was thought by Richmond and Crawford to mean ‘white strength’, though quite what they had in mind is not clear. Rivet and Smith were evidently equally puzzled and proposed ‘white peak’ or ‘bright peak’. The fort stands at the top of a high hill on the north side of the Tyne, being some 130 metres above the river. Again the element bind meaning, literally, ‘high hill summit’ or, more generally, ‘on the top of raised ground’, is entirely appropriate. But the name seems originally to have been that of an Iron Age settlement at Horsley, some two kilometres to the southwest of Rudchester or of a hillfort downhill from Horsley, nearer the river Tyne. The settlement at Horsley is at the summit of a high hill, so the name Bindobala would be appropriate. The hillfort is on the slope of the hill, so the name Vintovala would be appropriate, where the inversion-type elements Vint and val respectively mean ‘slope of hill high’ and ‘slope of hill’.
1.4 Richmond and Crawford offered no meaning for Vindomora at Ebchester, whereas Rivet and Smith suggested ‘bright waters’. The mora part of the name was previously thought by scholars to mean ‘the sea’, though since the sea is not visible from Ebchester they were forced to invent some other meaning. Perhaps with an eye to Maridunum at Carmarthen or Moriduno at Hembury Hill they plumped for the alternative meaning ‘extensive inland water’, but since there is no extensive inland water at Ebchester Rivet and Smith were obliged to invent yet another new meaning, ‘bright waters’, though it is not altogether clear why anyone should apply the adjective ‘bright’ to the river Derwent at Ebchester. This name was originally Bindomora. Bindo will have been the name of the Iron Age promontory fort (NGR: NZ 098 560) believed to have been located on the summit of the high hill on the opposite side of the river Derwent from Ebchester, and Bindomora is actually a river-name of the kind comprising a river-suffix attached to a place-name. The river-suffix here is mora, comprising the river-letters m (corresponding to the hill-letter n in the place-name Bindo) and r. The second phase fort at Ebchester, believed to have been built around AD150, will have been the Vindomora of the Antonine Itinerary, the fort simply having taken the name of the river in the Bindomora form, with the common b→v change (the other name for the river was of course Derbentione: see the entry for Ebio in the Alphabetical List).
2 We see a ringing of the changes here. Vindo is sometimes taken to mean ‘white’, sometimes ‘fair’, sometimes ‘bright’ – indeed whatever seems convenient. But the one thing all four places mentioned above have in common (with the possible exception of Vindovala) is that they (or the original settlements) were all located at the top of a hill, or at least on the top of raised ground, so it would seem logical to assume that that is indeed the information conveyed by the element bind/vind. It thus seems quite clear that vind is just the old-style topographical element bind with the initial b changed to v. This change appears to have occurred between the early Claudian period and some point in the Flavian period, since both Bindogladia and Vindolande appear in Ravenna, and the map used by the compiler of Ravenna when he saw the name Vindolande appears to date from the Flavian period.
3 Whilst one needs to be wary of assuming that name-elements in place-names in Britain necessarily have the same meaning when they occur in names on the Continent, there are a few names which repay consideration.
3.1 Firstly, the fortress Vindonissa, at the confluence of the rivers Aare and Reuss to the northwest of Zurich, was located on a plateau some 30 metres above the rivers, with a steep drop down to the Reuss. It was explained in Chapter 4 that British names with an essa-type ending have as the first part of the name, the part before the ending, either a place-name in the hill-letter s or a river-name in the corresponding river-letter b, which may be changed to v. Vindonissa appears to follow different rules - see Updates: 19 October 2015.
3.2 Another example is Vindobona at Vienna. The Roman fort was built up on high ground in the Hoher Markt area of the modern city. The ground is not dramatically high, but high enough to give a good view of all the low-lying ground to the north, on the other side of the Danube. Again an initial Bind is appropriate. The second n is unlikely to be the hill-letter n since it is not likely that an element Bind meaning ‘high hill summit’ would be followed by an element bon meaning ‘high hill’. The second n is probably the name-ending and there was probably originally another hill-letter after the b. The name also appears as Vindomana in the Antonine Itinerary, as Vindomarae/Vindomanae in the Notitia Dignitatum, as Vindomina/Vendomina in Jordanes and as Bendobona in Vegetius’ Epitoma rei militaris. Given the preponderance of the letter m in these forms it seems likely that the missing hill-letter is m and that the Celtic name had been somewhat like Vindobomona. The Vindobona/Bendobona forms have simply dropped the m and the other forms have dropped the b.
3.3 Another example is Vindobriga at Vendeuvre-du-Poitou in France. The substantial Roman settlement there stood on a slight eminence some 25 metres above the nearby river Pallu, though it may be that the name (or at least the Vindo part of it) was originally that of an iron-age fort or settlement up on the hill immediately adjacent the modern village, if indeed there was such a fort or settlement.
3.4 A further example is Vindisca, normally identified with Venasque, located some thirty kilometres to the east of Avignon in the south of France. The site is impressive, being located at the top of a high cliff towering above the valley of the river La Nesque. An initial Bind meaning 'high hill summit' would thus be entirely appropriate, as is the element isca meaning 'hill steep'.
3.5 Finally, Le Mans in France was apparently called Vindinium in the Roman period, and the Roman settlement stood on a terrace some 30-35 metres above the river Sarthe.
In these five examples, too, the places concerned were all located on the top of a hill, or at least on the top of raised ground, so that the element bind is entirely appropriate for the locations. It thus seems only sensible to conclude that all of the above names – in Britain and on the Continent - did originally start with the element bind and that the initial b later changed to v. Bindogladia is known to us in that form simply because it was taken from a very early map, produced before the change from b to v took effect in Britain (though the change may have started earlier on the Continent).
4 Going back now to the Vindomi of the AI Iter XV, this name is generally accepted now as having been the name of the Romano-British settlement on the north side of the river Wey east of Alton and north of Neatham, in Hampshire. The name will originally have been Bindomi, where Bindo, meaning ‘high hill summit’, will have been the name of the large univallate contour hillfort at Dicket’s Plantation (NGR: SU 723 434), on the summit of a high hill on the north side of the river Wey. Note, however, that Bindomi is in fact a river-name of the kind having a river-suffix attached to a place-name. The river-suffix in the present case comprises the river-letter m corresponding to the hill-letter n of the place-name Bindo. Bindomi will thus have been the then name of the river Wey and the Romano-British settlement simply took the name of the river, with the common b→v change.
5 As to Ptolemy’s Vindogara, Rivet and Smith thought the gara element might possibly be derived from hypothetical pre-Indo-European kar(r), taken to mean ‘stone, rock’, the name as a whole then perhaps meaning ‘white rock, bright rock’. Vindogara appears to have been a Roman fort/harbour at Irvine in North Ayrshire, at the end of the road coming over from Trimuntium at Newstead via Loudon Hill. The name Vindogara will have been transferred to the Irvine Roman fort from an Iron-Age hillfort called Bindogara somewhere in the vicinity, most probably that at Dundonald Castle (NS 364 345) to the south east of Irvine, though there are several other hillforts in that area only a little further away from Irvine. The hill at Dundonald Castle is steep (the gar element means ‘steep hill’) and whilst not dramatically high the summit is some 27 metres above the base of the hill, so the element bindo, meaning ‘high hill summit’, is appropriate.
6 Finally, it is to be noted that bind/vind was not actually a word in any Celtic language – it was merely one member of a family of topographical elements using the various hill-letters. One sees the same element as band in Carbandium, the original form of Ravenna’s Carbantium at Harrogate, and as bered in Bereda, the fort at Plumpton Wall in Cumbria. The latter fort, as the name tells us, stood at the top of a high hill. And the element can be seen with the hill-letter l in Bladobulgium, the original spelling of the AI Iter II Blatobulgium at Birrens. The idea, put forward by earlier writers, that this name means ‘flowery hillock’ or ‘flowery hollow’ (though a hillock is hardly the same thing as a hollow) or ‘flour-sack’ is just a flight of academic fancy. Bladobulgium is a straightforward topographical compound comprising the old-style element blad meaning ‘high hill summit’ and the transitional element bulg meaning ‘high hill steep’. The fort at Birrens did indeed stand on a terrace at the top of a high, steep river embankment, though the name is most likely to have been transferred to Birrens from the Iron Age hillfort on Burnswark Hill.
[This page was last modified on 18 May 2021]