Mavia and Sarna

Identification: the river Exe in Devon, or possibly its tributary, the Lowman 

These two names probably belong together as one river-name Maviasarna, where sarna is just a river-suffix like the senna, probably originally serna, of Raxtomessasenna. The suffix includes the river-letters s and (the latter corresponding to the hill-letter m in Mavia), the full name just meaning the ‘Mavia river’, where Mavia was a place on the river. From its position in Ravenna’s list the Maviasarna was between the Exe and the Tamar, though it is not clear which river it might have been. There is, however, a suggestion that can be made, and it rests on the fact that Isca was not the Celtic name of the river Exe – it was the official Roman name obtained by transferring to the river the name of the Roman fortress Isca at Exeter. In addition, it would appear that Ravenna’s Mestevia was at Tiverton, on the Exe (see Chapter 10: Giano to  Alavna Colonea(s) for an explanation of this identification). It is just possible that Mavia is a simplification of Mestevia, so that Maviasarna really means the ‘Mestevia river’, i.e. the Exe. Ravenna’s giving two different names for the Exe (the other being Axium) is possible if the compiler of the Cosmography had two different maps for southwest England, one giving the Roman name Axium for the Exe and the other giving the Celtic name Maviasarna. The compiler of the Cosmography presumably did not realise that the two names referred to one and the same river, and so he included both names in his list. Alternatively, the name Maviasarna may have been applied to the river Lowman, which joins the Exe at Tiverton.

But note that the presence of the river-letter s in the river-suffix sarna indicates that people who coined inversion-type place-names in the hill-letter r  lived somewhere in that region, so either an inversion-type element in the hill-letter r  is missing from the front of Mavia/Mestevia or the people who used the hill-letter r  lived somewhere else along the course of the river, but not at Mavia/Mestevia itself.



[NB. Detailed information as to the different river-letters and 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]


[This page was last modified on 03 April 2021]