Argistillum

AttestedArgistillum at position 63 in the Ravenna Cosmography

Where:  Near the Welsh border, best guess = the little-studied Towbury Hill Camp at SO879369, near Tewkesbury, beside the modern M50 near where it crosses the river Severn.  This might have made a good place, close to the known Roman road between Gloucester and Worcester, for the family of Caratacus to be kept as hostages after being captured by the Romans, as discussed here.

Name origin:  A name meaning something like ‘hostage place’ could have arisen in a Celtic language of local people or in a Germanic language of Roman troops.  Richmond & Crawford drew attention to Arwystli, a mediaeval cantref (region) in mid-Wales, which probably relates to Welsh arwystl ‘pledge, mortgage’, via words for ‘hostage‘ such as Old Cornish guistel or Old English gisel, from PIE *gheidh- ‘to desire’.  The name CONGEISTLOS, found in Austria on an inscription from the AD 100s, is cited to suggest that words like *gistl existed first in Celtic, but actually the Germanic attestations are earlier and more widespread (such as the personal name Gisela/Giselle or the place Gistel in Belgium).  The meaning of initial ar- is similarly debatable: Celtic scholars tend to focus on *are- ‘near, before, east of’ mainly because of Endlicher's Glossary; Germanic scholars prefer to see *ar- as meaning ‘high, noble’ (as in Aryan) or confused with a word for ‘eagle’ in names such as Arnold.

Notes:  The Cosmography lists Argistillum between Glebon Colonia (Gloucester) and Vertis (probably Worcester).  Placing Argistillum in the later Welsh district of Arwystli would make the Cosmography's track across the maps uncomfortable.  Previous guesses here, now out of favour, include the large hillfort at Herefordshire Beacon, also called British Camp, at SO760400, and the Roman fort at Stretford Bridge, Shropshire, SO428847.  Modern Tewkesbury (Domesday Teodekesberie) is unconvincingly explained as derived from an unattested personal name, but in 1125 William of Malmesbury spotted that it actually looks as if based on a Greek name of the Virgin Mary, essentially ‘god-bearer’, based on PIE *tek- ‘to beget’.  Maybe the Romans treated Caratacus' wife tenderly because she was symbolically or religiously very important.  After all, they had recently killed one son of god in Judaea and that would end up with a bloody war.

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Last edited 29 April 2020     To main Menu