[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


Castle Law


Location: southwest of Abernethy, Perth and Kinross

OS map reference:  NO 183 153                                           

Celtic name:  Ocsava, Mocsava or Lecimocsava

Source:  Ravenna Cosmography (222) - Levioxava


This hillfort stands on high ground to the southwest of Abernethy, the ground dropping steeply to the north, east and south.

The writer’s reasons for associating the name Levioxava with Abernethy are given in Chapter 16 (Roman place-names in Scotland) of the Home menu. The name appears earlier to have been Lecimocsava (cf. LeciodanumLeviodanum and RacatoniumRavatonium) and since this is a compound name including the old-style element ocs meaning ‘steep hill’ it will have been the name of a Celtic fort/settlement which existed long before the Romans came to this area. It will indeed have been the name of the Castle Law hillfort, standing high above Abernethy. The hillfort will have been called Ocsava at one time, the x in Ravenna’s form of the name standing in for cs, and may later have been Mocsava or Lecimocsava, though it is possible that Mocsava or Lecimocsava was a new settlement, replacing the hillfort, built at or close to Abernethy itself. The name, whether of the hillfort or a new settlement, was then apparently adopted by the Romans for a fort which they built at or near Abernethy, though so far as the present writer is aware, that fort, which will have been a Flavian fort, has not yet been found (though there is a known marching camp in the vicinity and the Severan fortress at Carpow is just a little to the east).

The river-name corresponding to the place-name Lecimocsava will have had a form such as Arbet or Arbete (the l  is l2 so the corresponding river-letter t is placed at the end of the existing river-name), which, with b→v→n, became Arnet or Arnete. Presumably later settlers coined the name Aberarnete for their settlement at the mouth of the river Arnete and Aberarnete was later shortened to Abernete, which later became the modern Abernethy. The nethy element of Abernethy thus has no connection with any "Pictish" king called Nectan or Nechtan, as is commonly supposed. Note that it was the initial part Arne of the river-name which survived as the modern river-name Earn.


[This page was last modified on 06 August 2020]