[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



Maiden Castle


Location: just south of Dorchester in Dorset

OS map reference:  SY 670 884                                                

Celtic name: most probably Magno

Source:  Ravenna Cosmography (39) - Noviomagno

             Antonine Itinerary (Iter XV) - Durnonovaria (var. Durnovaria)


This is a large multivallate hillfort surrounding the summit of a hill, there being steep slopes on all sides of the fort except the northwest, where the fort encroaches on neighbouring Hog Hill.

The writer’s reasons for associating the name Noviomagno with Maiden Castle are given in Chapter 11 (Roman place-names in central southern England) of the Home menu. The magno element of the name is an old-style compound in the hill-letters and n, where gn means 'steep hill'. Presumably the hillfort was just called MagnoNoviomagno was probably the name of a new settlement built a little to the north of Maiden Castle and to which many of the inhabitants of the hillfort will have been moved by the Romans. Despite the near universal belief that Maiden Castle belonged to the Durotriges, the hill-letter n  in the magno  part of the name indicates that at the date of the Roman invasion the hill-fort was in fact in the hands of the Atrebates, where the term Atrebates is used broadly here so as to embrace also the people referred to later by Ptolemy as the Belgae and Regni. All three groups, if they were indeed separate groups at that early date, used the hill-letter n2 (see 'Ptolemy's Celtic tribes in Britain'). 

The Celtic name was incorporated in the name of the new town built by the Romans on the site of nearby modern Dorchester, this being called Duronoviomagnoaria, which was shortened to  Duronovaria by deleting some internal letters (as was done with several other names – see paragraph 11.1 of  ‘Changes in names over time; comments on place-name list’ under the Alphabetical List menu). This form was further shortened to give the Durnovaria of the Antonine Itinerary. It is not clear at what time the aria ending was added.


[This page was last modified on 13 November 2019]