All one knows from Ravenna’s river list is that the Naurum was somewhere between the Tamaris (the Tamar) and the Abona (the Bristol Avon). It may be, however, that the Naurum was closer to the Abona than to the Tamaris, in other words that the Naurum was not far to the south of the Abona. In this case Naurum may have been the Celtic name of the river now called the Axe. The name Axe may be derived from Ptolemy’s Iscalis in the territory of the Belgae. Iscalis may have been a Celtic fort or settlement adjacent a steep slope (the meaning of the isca element) on or very close to the river, the name being transferred by the Romans to a fort which they built close to the river and later to the river itself. If the name Iscalis were reversed, as happened to the Devon river Isca(s) and some other names (see Novitia for other examples), this would yield a name somewhat like Lacsis. If, then, later Anglo-Saxon settlers took the l of Lacsis to mean ‘river’ (as they appear to have done in the case of the river Alavna at Stratford-on-Avon), they will have taken the proper name of the river to be Acs, i.e. Axe. The n of Naurum is probably a modified v, this itself being a modified river-letter b corresponding to the hill-letter s, as in Iscalis/Lacsis, so it is possible that the Axe was previously called the Naurum. There is, however, another possibility. The river-letters b (changed to n) and r of Naurum correspond to the hill-letters s and m, and there is a place-name with this letter combination in Ravenna, namely Masona. It is not entirely clear where that place was, but from the order of names in Ravenna it appears to have been in North Devon or West Somerset, perhaps on the coast to the east of Ilfracombe (apparently Ravenna’s Alovergium). If this is correct then the Naurum may have been a river in that area, a river flowing into the Bristol Channel.
[This page was last modified on 18 May 2021]
[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]