The Celtic names of hillforts


Bowden Hill


Location:  southwest of Linlithgow, West Lothian

OS map reference:  NS 978 744

Celtic name:  Becsesse

Source:  Ravenna Cosmography (194) – Begesse


This hillfort stands on the summit of a hill rising steeply above the east bank of the river Avon.

The name is an old-style name in the hill-letter s, the element Becs meaning ‘high steep hill’. The element esse is an essa-type ending referring to a location at the top of a steep slope and overlooking a river. The river-letter corresponding to the hill-letter s is b, and this appears, changed to v, in the modern river-name Avon. The Becs element is seen also in Becsa, the Celtic form of Pexa, the name before Begesse in Ravenna. Becsa appears to have been the Iron-Age hillfort on the summit of Cockleroy, a little over one kilometre to the east of Bowden Hill. Presumably the Cockleroy hillfort is the earlier of the two. Presumably, further, the Cockleroy hillfort became too cramped at some stage and as there was no room for expansion its occupants simply built a second hillfort on the summit of the nearby and slightly lower summit of Bowden Hill. They applied the same name-element Becs to the new hillfort, simply adding the essa-type ending to the name in order to distinguish one hillfort from the other.

The name Becsesse was transferred by the Romans to one of a chain of fortlets built across the Forth-Clyde isthmus in preparation for the construction of the Antonine Wall. The writer’s reasons for identifying a fortlet at Seabegs as Roman Becsesse are given in Chapter 22 (The Antonine Wall) of the Home menu. At some stage the hill-letter s was dropped and the c changed to g to yield Roman Begesse.



[This page was last modified on 06 August 2020]