Antrum

AttestedAntrum at position 257 in the Ravenna Cosmography.

Where:  Whitby, deduced from its position in the Cosmography's harbour-estuary tour, where there was probably a Roman signal station.

Name originAntrum is Latin for ‘cave’ (from Greek ἄντρον), but could be applied to any hollow, evidently describing Whitby's distinctive feature, its narrow harbour entrance, squeezed between cliffs on both sides, leading to a long river-bank port, where goods could interchange between sea-going ships and river barges heading up the river Esk to the Roman fort at Lease Rigg.

Notes:  In Latin slang antrum could also mean ‘anus’, which makes it rather like Corda.  Whitby is famous for its synod in AD 664, which prompted Bede to supply a name Streanaeshalch, whose start parallels early Dutch strene and early German streno, meaning ‘strand’ or ‘strain’ in the sense of something extended, like a strip or a stream.  OE halh ‘nook’ is, and probably was, confusable with holh ‘hollow’ and halga ‘saint’.  Bede's Latin gloss quod interpretatur sinus fari incorporates sinus ‘bent surface’ whose topographical meanings include ‘bay’ and ‘valley’, plus fari, which has many potential translations, but it is usually interpreted as from pharus/φάρος ‘lighthouse’, perhaps implying that the Roman port had a beacon on the cliffs where the Abbey later stood.  It might also be Bede’s word-play on OE beornan ‘to burn’ and beorn ‘prince’, because people of that region were called Beornice or Bernicii, a name that makes little sense in Celtic.

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Last edited: 19 February 2020
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