[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


Old Sarum


Location: north of Salsbury, Wiltshire

OS map reference:  SU 138 326                                

Celtic name: apparently  Saranus, but possibly Sardanus or Sarandus

Source:  Ravenna Cosmography (33,34) – (Colonea)s aranus


This is a roughly oval hillfort surrounding the summit of a hill. The site is believed to have been occupied in the Neolithic period, but the hill-fort is thought to have been built around 400BC.

The writer’s reasons for taking the Celtic name to be Saranus and for associating it with Old Sarum are given in Chapter 11 (Roman place-names in central southern England) of the Home menu. The name is a straightforward compound in the hill-letters s and r  with an ending. Note that the river-letter corresponding to the s of Saranus is b and this appears, changed to v, in Avon, the name of the river flowing past the hillfort. Note that the Celtic name may have included a d, meaning ‘summit’, since the hillfort was built on the summit of a hill. The name might thus actually have been Sardanus or Sarandus.

The name as it appears in Ravenna may refer to the hillfort itself, or to a Roman post built inside the hillfort or somewhere in the vicinity.