Identification: the river Lossie


This appears to be a name like Iscalis and Uxella but with the hill-letters s and l in reverse order. It appears to be the same name as Ravenna’s Loxa at Exley Head, Keighley, Yorkshire (for an explanation of this identification see Chapter 15: Navione to Alavna (187)). What is interesting is that Loxa appears to be a land-name transferred to a river and in other cases where this happened it is clear that it was the Romans who effected the transfer. The Celts had no reason to transfer a land-name to a river since they had perfectly good river-names made up of one or more river-letters.  One possible explanation is that there was an important native settlement called Locsa (Celtic form of Loxa) on the banks of the Lossie and the Romans were well aware of its existence. They may have spoken of the river at Locsa and in due course the name came to be applied to the river itself. This would be unusual. Indeed no example comes to mind. Another possible explanation is that Loxa was indeed the name of the river. It would be a name of the kind comprising a river-element, here the river-letter l, used as a prefix to a place-name employing one or more hill-letters. The place-name in this case would be the old-style element ocsa, meaning ‘steep hill’. There are several river-names of this kind, for example Abravannus, Traxula and Velox.  A third possibility again involves a native settlement and there was indeed an important settlement close to the Lossie. This was the Iron-Age settlement at Birnie, some 6 kilometres south of Elgin. This settlement was immediately north of a hill on the eastern bank of the Lossie. The sides of the hill are steep, especially on the western side, adjacent the river. The name Locsa would thus be appropriate and indicates that the settlement had been in the hands of people who used the hill-letter s but was taken over by people who used the hill-letter l. The Romans might then have built a fort in the vicinity of that settlement and simply transferred the name of the settlement to their fort. They then transferred the name of their fort to the nearby river, this now being the Locsa, or Loxa as given by Ptolemy. Now there is in fact a rectangular enclosure about one kilometre south of Birnie, at Thomshill (NGR: NJ 211 574), though many scholars appear reluctant to accept that it might have been a Roman fort. However, the enclosure is rectangular and is surrounded by a V-shaped ditch with a drainage channel at the bottom, and the ditch has rounded corners (see, for example, the entry for Thomshill on the Canmore website of Historic Environment Scotland). The enclosure is much smaller than the known Roman marching camps in the north of Scotland but with an internal area of about 4.3 acres it has a size fairly common for Roman forts. And there are a number of examples of the Romans transferring the name of a Celtic settlement to a new fort and then transferring the name of their fort to a river/estuary/bay, for example Lemana  and Tuessis. This third possibility seems to the present writer the one most likely to be closest to the truth, to the facts. But note that Loxa will have been the Roman name of the river. The Celtic name most probably included the river-letters t and b corresponding to the hill-letters l and s in Locsa.


[This page was last modified on 18 June 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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