[NB. The reader will probably find it easier to understand the details on this page relating to the meaning of the name Verbeia if he or she has already acquainted himself or herself with the contents of Chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1 concerns the basic building-blocks used in Romano-British place-names and river-names, and Chapter 2 explains how those building blocks were assembled by the Celts to form compound names. In addition, the reader should not worry about any identification made below which appears to be at odds with conventional wisdom - 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.] 



Chapter 7


The name Arbeia


1     In Chapter 15: Roman place-names in the North of England it is explained why the name Corielopocarium  (142) is associated with the Roman fort at South Shields. But for more than 30 years it has been almost an article of faith that the South Shields fort was called Arbeia. Some explanation is therefore called for.


2     The Notitia Dignitatum indicates that a unit called the numerus barcariorum Tigrisiensium was stationed at Arbeia, and in their book of 1979 Rivet and Smith stated that the only suitable location for such a unit in Britain was South Shields. That was a very rash statement – South Shields cannot have been Arbeia no matter what unit was stationed there. In any event the military high command was free to relocate units as and when it wished, so the apparent function of a unit as conveyed by its name has no bearing on the location of that unit at any particular time, including the time at which data was gathered for inclusion in the Notitia Dignitatum.


3     After listing York and Malton the Notitia starts a northbound journey at Dano in Doncaster. It then lists Morbio, Arbeia and Dicti on the way to Congangios at Chester-le-Street. After Chester-le-Street it heads west via Lavatres at Bowes and Verteris at Brough-under-Stainmore to Braboniaco at Kirkby Thore, and then up via Maglone at Whitley Castle to Mag(n)is at Carvoran. It then returns east to Longovico at Lanchester and then goes to Derventione, which can only have been a fort on the river Derwent in County Durham, most likely the fort called Washing Well close to the confluence of the Derwent with the Tyne. The Notitia then lists the forts along the line of Hadrian’s Wall from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway. It then continues with Axelodunum at Maryport and then goes down to Ribchester via Hard Knott and Burrow-in-Lonsdale. It then concludes by listing Olenaco, which was presumably the same place as Ravenna’s Alicuna at Castleshaw, and Virosido, which was apparently the later fort at Brough-on-Noe (the fort built around AD154 and occupied until about AD350 - the earlier fort at Brough, the Flavian fort, was of course called Navione). It can be seen that the Notitia names form a quite clear geographical pattern, first going up the east side of the Pennines to Chester-le-Street, then doing a little circular tour via Kirkby Thore and Carvoran before coming back east to Lanchester, then going north to the Tyne, then listing the forts from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway and then starting a journey down the west side of the country to Ribchester. Given that clear geographical pattern it is quite clear that Arbeia was not at South Shields – it was somewhere between Doncaster and Chester-le-Street. Part of the Ravenna list overlaps the Notitia list, for Ravenna lists Decuaria at Brough-on-Humber, Devovicia at Stamford Bridge, then a Dixio, a Lugunduno at Dinsdale Park on the Tees, and Coganges at Chester-le-Street. The Notitia Dicti and Ravenna’s Dixio were most probably one and the same place, and that place was apparently a Roman post at Thirsk, the name having been transferred from the nearby hill-fort known as Roulston Scar. Arbeia was thus between Doncaster and Thirsk. Now, some odd derivations have been offered for the river-name Wharfe, but the name is actually derived from the Romano-British river-name Verbeia (Verbeia → Verveia → Werfeia → Wharfe). This is a river-name of the kind where a river-letter, in this case b, is used as a suffix to a land-name, in this case ver. The element ver refers to a location on the side of a hill, on the slope, or, if the original Celtic spelling was ber, then to a location adjacent a high hill.  Rivet and Smith refer to an altar found at Ilkley and dedicated to the goddess Verbeia (Rivet and Smith 1979, 493), but, as they rightly point out, Verbeia would in fact be the name of the river at Ilkley, i.e. the Wharfe. So, the Notitia lists Morbio and Arbeia north of Doncaster on a route leading to Thirsk, Dinsdale Park and Chester-le-Street, and that route crosses the river Verbeia/Wharfe at Newton Kyme. It is thus quite clear that Verbeia and Arbeia are in fact one and the same name – a river-name adopted by the Romans and applied by them to their fort at Newton Kyme, on the southern side of the river Wharfe. What is not clear is whether the name of the fort had actually changed from Verbeia to Arbeia by the time the Notitia Dignitatum was compiled, or whether Arbeia has simply lost its initial V at some stage of copying.


4    Note, however, that the name Verbeia is almost certainly incomplete. There was probably earlier a second river-letter between the e and the i, most probably an s or a t. The river-letter s was used by the people who lived around the lower reaches of the river Wharfe, the corresponding hill-letter r being seen in Cartadoriton/Cardadoriton (Tadoriton) at Tadcaster. The river-letter t  was used by the people who lived around the upper reaches of the river, the corresponding hill-letter l  being seen in Bamvocalia (Pampocalia) at Ilkley. This second river-letter had evidently been lost or omitted before the inscription found at Ilkley was carved.


5     It may be noted in passing that Morbio was the then name of the river Aire (Morbio → Morvio → Orvio → Orio → Aire). The river-name was simply transferred by the Romans to a late fort which they built at Castleford, on the river Aire. Presumably Lagentium at Castleford had been abandoned at some earlier date. It may also be noted that the river-name Morbio corresponds to the place-name Camulodono at Skipton, higher up the river Aire at the point where it is joined by its tributary, the Eller Beck. The river-letter corresponding to the hill-letter m in Camulodono is present in both Eller and Morbio. Those Celts who used the hill-letter n, present in the dono element of Camulodono, applied the river-letter m to major rivers and the river-letter l to minor rivers, including tributaries of major rivers. One thus sees the river-letter in Morbio and l in Eller.


[This page was last modified on 15 February 2021]