[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


Mount Caburn


Location: just southeast of Lewes, East Sussex

OS map reference:  TQ 444 089                                                 

Celtic name:  probably Racstomessa

Source:  Ravenna Cosmography (268,269) - Raxtomessasenna


This is a small multivallate hillfort standing at the top of a steep slope and overlooking the river Ouse and its tributary the Glynde Reach.

Racstomessa is a straightforward compound in the hill-letters r, s and m, the compound comprising the inversion-type elements rac, meaning ‘hill steep’, and st, meaning ‘hill high’, together with the hill-letter m and the essa-ending. In British names the essa-ending is added to the names of places at the top of a steep slope and overlooking a river. The name is thus entirely appropriate for the location. The chronological sequence of the hill-letters within the name will be m, s, r. Note that Ravenna’s form (which uses x for cs) is actually a river-name (the then name of the Ouse) of the kind comprising a river-suffix, here senna, attached to a place-name, here Racstomessa. The senna river-suffix was probably serna originally, this comprising the river-letters s and r corresponding to the hill-letters r and m in Racstomessa.