Cataractonium

Attested:  AI itinera 1,2 & 5 Cataractoni, Cataractone;  RC Cactabatonion;   Ptolemy 2,3,16 κατουρακτονιον
  Bede Cataractam, Cataractone

WhereCatterick, near where Dere Street crossed the river Swale at SE225992, not far from the Roman road junction now familiar as Scotch Corner.

Name origin: R&S (copied by some place name-dictionaries) offered an improbable theory (contrary to the advice from their celticist advisers Ivor Williams and Kenneth Jackson) that the name started in Celtic as a compound of *catu- ‘battle’ and *ratis ‘rampart’, which was only later Latinised.  Actively engineering rivers, for land drainage or navigation, was much more common in the ancient world, notably in the river cradles of civilisation (Indus, Euphrates, Nile, etc), than is commonly realised.  It was a Roman specialty, as stressed particularly by Selkirk.  Here Latin cataracta ‘waterfall, drawbridge, floodgate’ (from Greek καταρρακτης) probably referred to some kind of barrage or weir with floodgates across the river Swale.  See here for a discussion of sluice gates.  The suffix –onium was a way of Latinising a non-Latin word.

Notes: There is nothing obvious to see now, but a vestige of an old flash-lock survived at Catterick into living memory (Selkirk 1995:365).  To a geographer it is noticeable that the modern river-channel has moved away from the old river cliff by the end of Catterick airfield, which is visible on maps and aerial photos of the area near SE252972.  If the Romans left any stonework behind it would have been robbed to build Killerby Castle Hills.  Being able to take barges further upstream on the Swale, would have enabled the silver-hungry Romans to reach Swaledale lead mines, which perhaps explain the Roman coin hoard found at Richmond in 1722, and possibly even the Greek tinge to this name, since lead mining was a particularly Greek skill.

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Last Edited: 12 June 2017