1     In other pages on this website the emphasis is on identifying and explaining the Roman or Romano-British names in the ancient sources available to us, primarily in the Ravenna Cosmography and the Geography of Ptolemy, but also to some extent in the Antonine Itinerary and the Notitia Dignitatum. The names are mostly Celtic and most of the Celtic names are topographical, that is to say the name of a particular fort or settlement describes some feature of the topography at the site of that fort or settlement. In the course of the study it became clear that a number of the names had in fact been the names of Celtic hillforts in the pre-Roman period and had simply been adopted by the Romans for forts or settlements which they built nearby. In the present page the study approaches the material from the other end. That is to say a number of hillforts are listed under their modern names, their Celtic names are indicated and it is shown that those names were transferred by the Romans to forts or settlements which they built in the vicinity of the hillforts concerned, though more often than not the Celtic names were modified in some way, sometimes slightly, sometimes more extensively. Now there are thought to be more than 4000 hillforts in Britain and we have not hitherto known the Celtic names of any of them. But the names of at least 54 hillforts lie hidden within the names given in the ancient sources referred to above. It should be noted that on this page the term hillfort is used broadly so as to embrace not only some structure which is generally recognized by the majority of scholars as having been a fort, but also a structure which many scholars see as having been simply a defended settlement.

2     The hillforts of which we can be fairly certain as to their former Celtic names are listed below. By clicking on a particular modern name the reader will access notes relating to that particular fort. The notes for a particular fort indicate the location of that hillfort, its Celtic name, the name included in one or more of the ancient sources, a brief discussion of the topography of the site of the hillfort, a discussion of the Celtic name and an indication of the transfer of that Celtic name to a nearby Roman fort or Romano-British settlement.

3     An explanation of the building-blocks used in Celtic names is given in Chapter 1 of the Home menu, whereas the structure of compound names is discussed in Chapter 2. A brief recapitulation might be useful here. Different waves of Celtic settlers arriving from the Continent used different letters of the alphabet to signify 'hill'. These letters are nsmr  and l, though each of the letters and l appears to have been used by two different groups of settlers arriving at different times. The normal chronological order of the hill-letters appears to have been n1smrl1n2l2, though there is some regional variation - for example in Lincolnshire the hill-letter n2 appears to have arrived before the hill-letter l1, this being seen in Croconcalana (apparently the Celtic form of the Crococalana of the Antonine Itinerary) and Banvobalum (apparently the Celtic form of the Bannovalum of Ravenna). There are three different types of Celtic name - old-style names, transitional names and inversion-type names. In old-style names a hill-letter is used as generic term and a qualifier is placed before it. The qualifier may be the letter b signifying 'high', as in the br of Bremia, or c/g signifying 'steep', as in the Cer of Cerma. In transitional names the hill-letter has two qualifiers, one before it and the other after. The qualifier 'high' may come before the hill-letter, in which case it is represented by the letter b.  Alternatively the qualifier meaning 'high' may come after the hill-letter, in which case it is represented by the letter t. The qualifier c/g meaning 'steep' may appear before or after the hill-letter. Examples of transitional names or name-elements include the broc of Brocara, the cunet of Cunetione, the cent of Gabrocentio and the bulg of Bladobulgio (the Blatobulgio of the Antonine Itinerary). In an inversion-type name the hill-letter is again used as generic term but the qualifier comes after it. The qualifier may be a t signifying ‘high’ as in Litana or c/g signifying ‘steep’, as in Alicuna and Isca. The letter d is used in some names to represent ‘summit’, ‘top of hill’. This d is used as the generic term and it is qualified by one of the hill-letters. The hill-letter comes before the d in old-style names and after it in inversion-type names. And the qualifying hill-letters may themselves be qualified by letters signifying ‘high’ or ‘steep’ as set out above for old-style and inversion-type names. Bereda and Corda are examples of old-style names of this kind, the dert of Omiretedertis  an example of an inversion-type name-element. The writer is not aware of any transitional name or name-element employing the letter d signifying ‘summit’. The letter v is used in some names to represent ‘side of hill’, ‘slope’. This v is used in the same way as the d meaning ‘summit’. We thus see old-style names such as Banva (Ravenna’s Banna) and Glevon, and inversion-type names such as Venta and inversion-type name-elements such as the Ver of Verolamium.

4     Where a topographical name includes only one hill-letter it may be that the Romans built a fort on a greenfield site and simply asked the locals what the place was called. They were then given a name including the hill-letter used by the local population. But it may be that such a name was coined for a new fort/settlement built by Celts in the late pre-Roman period and the Romans simply adopted the name of that fort/settlement for a new fort which they built on the same site or in the vicinity. In addition, where a name includes two or more hill-letters it is safe to assume that at least the earlier or earliest element of the name was coined in the pre-Roman period but we cannot always be sure whether the Roman/Romano-British place-name was simply based on a topographical name applied to some feature of the landscape or was actually the name of a Iron Age hillfort or settlement. In general, on this page, where there is no evidence of an Iron Age hillfort/settlement on the actual site of a Roman post or Romano-British settlement, or in the immediate vicinity, then it is assumed that the name was transferred from an Iron Age hillfort or settlement somewhere else in that same region. The Iron Age hillfort/settlement must not be an unreasonable distance from the Roman post or Romano-British settlement and of course the topographical name must be appropriate for the actual site of the Iron Age hillfort/settlement.

5     It should also be noted that the people who used the different letters signifying ‘hill’ also used different letters signifying ‘river’. Those who used the hill-letter s used the river-letter b. Those who used the hill-letter m used the river-letter r. Those who used the hill-letter r used the river-letter s. Those who used the hill-letter l used the river-letter t. Those who used the hill-letter n appear to have used the river-letter l for minor rivers and the river-letter m for major rivers. Some river-names employ only one river-letter, others use two or more as in Alavna (the v being a modified b), Rumabo or Matovion.

6     In the notes relating to the different hillforts the numbers accompanying names in the Ravenna Cosmography are those provided by Richmond and Crawford in Richmond and Crawford 1949.


7     List of hillforts where we can be fairly certain as to the Celtic names of the hillforts.

Badbury Rings, northeast of Shapwick, East Dorset

Barcombe Hill, east of Chesterholm, Northumberland

Bigbury Camp, immediately west of Canterbury, Kent

Birdoswald, Cumbria

Borough Hill, Northamptonshire

Bowden Hill, West Lothian

Brandon Camp, Herefordshire

Brinklaw Hillfort, Northumberland

Cannington Park, southwest of Combwich in Somerset

Castle Craig (Pairney), east of Auchterarder in Perth and Kinross

Castle Ditches, north-northeast of Ansty, Wiltshire, to the west of Salisbury

Castle Hill, just northeast of Bar Hill, East Dunbartonshire

Castle Law, southwest of Abernethy, Perth and Kinross

Cockleroy, West Lothian

Craigie Hill, Midlothian

Credenhill Park Wood, northeast of Kenchester, Herefordshire

Crickley Hill, east of Gloucester

Danesborough, Milton Keynes

Downhill, on north side of Castlehill reservoir, north of Yetts o’Muckhart, Clackmannanshire

Dundon Hill, Somerset

Grinnan Hill, Braco, Perth and Kinross

Haffield Camp, Herefordshire

Ham Hill, Somerset

Hembury Hill, west of Honiton in Devon

Hillsborough, east of Ilfracombe, Devon

Holborn Head, Caithness

Little Doward Camp, in Herefordshire, northeast of Monmouth

Lydney, Gloucestershire, west of Severn estuary

Maiden Bower, west of Dunstable, Bedfordshire

Maiden Castle, just south of Dorchester in Dorset

Maiden Castle, Durham

Merlin’s Hill, east of Carmarthen

Norton Camp, just north of Norton Fitzwarren, Somerset

Oldbury Camp, south-southwest of Mancetter, Warwickshire

Old Sarum, north of Salsbury, Wiltshire

Pond Farm, northwest of Silchester, Hampshire

Portfield Camp, southeast of Whalley, Lancashire

Prae Wood, west of St. Albans, Hertfordshire

Roulston Scar, east of Thirsk, North Yorkshire

St. John's Point, Caithness

The Trundle, north of Chichester, West Sussex

Wandlebury, southeast of Cambridge

Weatherby Castle, south of Milborne St. Andrew, Dorset

Welshbury Camp, northeast of Cinderford, Gloucestershire

Westbury Camp, northwest of Westbury-sub-Mendip, North Somerset


8     There are a few other hillforts where we cannot be certain as to the Celtic name but where the suggested name appears likely to be correct. These are:


Burnswark, Dumfries and Galloway

Caer Dynnaf, just west of Cowbridge, Glamorgan

The Castle, Knowle, Devon

Castle Hill, Wiveliscombe, Somerset

Castle Law Forgandenny, Perth and Kinross

Castle Ring, Cannock Wood, Staffordshire

Chase Wood Camp, south of Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

Dow Hill, immediately south of Girvan, Ayrshire

Grindon, Northumberland

Mount Caburn, East Sussex

Naish Hill, Wiltshire

Old Winchester Hill, east of Corhampton, Hampshire

The Wrekin, Shropshire



[This page was last modified on 20 May 2021]