The Celtic names of hillforts




Location:  south of Linlithgow, West Lothian

OS map reference:  NS 989 744

Celtic name:  Becsa

Source:  Ravenna Cosmography (193) - Pexa


This hill-fort, a little over 0.5ha in size, stands on the summit of the highest hill in that area.

The Celtic place-name element Becs means ‘high steep hill’ and is entirely appropriate for the location. In addition the hill-letter s corresponds to the river-letter b, and this is seen, changed to v, in the local river-name Avon. The fort stands a little over 1 kilometre to the east of the Bowden Hill hillfort, which appears to have been Celtic Becsesse (Ravenna’s Begesse). It seems probable that the Cockleroy fort is the earlier of the two hillforts and that it at some point became too cramped. As there was no space for expansion its occupants decided to build a second fort on the nearby and slightly lower summit of Bowden Hill. They gave that fort the same name but with an essa-type ending indicating that the fort was located at the top of a steep hill and overlooked a river, in this case the Avon.

The name Becsa  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 Mumrills as Roman Becsa are given in Chapter 22 (The Antonine Wall) of the Home menu. At some stage initial B changed to P and cs was replaced by x to yield Roman Pexa.



[This page was last modified on 06 August 2020]