[If the text below uses any of the terms ‘hill-letter’, ‘river-letter’, ‘old-style name’, ‘transitional name’ and ‘inversion-type name’ a reader who is not familiar with those terms may wish to refer briefly to ‘The Celtic names of hillforts’, where an explanation of those terms is given].




The Celtic names of hillforts


Badbury Rings


Location: northeast of Shapwick, East Dorset

OS map reference:  ST 964 030                                           

Celtic name: most probably Sorbilodoni

Source: Antonine Itinerary - Sorbiodoni (Iter XV)

                                       Sorvioduni (Iter XII)


This hillfort surrounds the summit of high ground. The summit is only 100 metres high, but it is the highest point in that area, so that one has a clear view in all directions from the hillfort. It is believed that there were at least two phases of construction, a first, multivallate fort some 18 acres in extent and a later univallate fort of some 41 acres (see, for example, the Pastscape website of Historic England).

For the writer’s reasons for associating the Sorbiodoni of the Antonine Itinerary with Badbury Rings (instead of with Old Sarum as is conventional) see Chapter 11 (Roman place-names in central southern England) of the Home menu. As it stands the name is a compound in the hill-letters s, r and n, where the element don means ‘summit of hill’. The name is thus appropriate for the site. However, the qualifier b meaning ‘high’ comes before its hill-letter, so there must earlier have been another hill-letter between the i and the o. Given the normal chronological order of the hill-letters the missing hill-letter was most probably an l, so that the Celtic name of the hill-fort will most probably have been Sorbilodoni, where the l is l1.  This would mean that the hill-fort was at one time in the hands of the Durotriges, who used the hill-letter l1, but was taken over by the Atrebates, who used n(see 'Ptolemy's Celtic tribes in Britain').

The Celtic name appears to have been adopted by the Romans for the new settlement which they are said to have built just southwest of Badbury Rings, and it is that settlement which will have been the Sorbiodoni of the Antonine Itinerary. The Iter XII form shows the common change of bv.


Note that the term Atrebates is used broadly above so as to embrace also the groups later referred to by Ptolemy as the Belgae and the Regni. All three groups, if indeed they were separate groups at that early date, appear to have used the hill-letter n2.


[This page was last modified on 10 May 2019]