Axelodunum

AttestedTribunus cohortis primae Hispanorum, Axeloduno in the Notitia Dignitatum

Where:  Probably the Bowness-on-Solway Roman fort (and stores depot) at the west end of Hadrian's wall, at NY225628.

Name origin:  Latin axilla ‘armpit’ is poorly attested, but is the presumed origin of Italian ascella, French aiselle, etc with vowel E.  The latest thinking seems to be that this was the parent, not a successor, of Latin ala ‘shoulder, wing’.  De Vaan (2008:66-67) drew attention to the huge number of cognates surrounding axle.  Plus of course dunum ‘fort’.  If the Axelo- part is to be interpreted as “armpit” the figurative shoulder would need to be Solway Firth, not the land.
  There may be a better explanation in the English word ashlar ‘finely dressed masonry’, which probably came via French from a diminutive of Latin assis or axis, meaning something like ‘board, plank’ and presumably a technical, builders' term.  That would be very appropriate for this large fort, which was rebuilt several times, ending up in stone.

Notes:  Rivet & Smith unwisely guessed that Axeloduno should be emended to Uxeloduno, because Axelo- is not “a good Celtic form”!  A previous suggestion here was the large Roman fort at Blennerhasset, Cumbria, at NY190413, beside the river Ellen, which now presumably needs to claim another name.  The Bowness fort appears to have also been called Maia, which possibly described a military function of imperium maius projecting out to sea and into south-west Scotland, thereby allowing a name describing its construction to apply later.

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Last edited 25 May 2020     To main Menu