Attested: ND Congavata; Staffordshire Moorlands Pan COGGAVATA
Where: Drumburgh Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall at NY26475987 sits on a low hill on the south side of the river Solway, guarding one end of what is now called Sandy Wath, where until quite recently people and animals regularly waded across the estuary at low tide.
Name origin: Congavata meant essentially ‘pool wades’. Greek κογχος or κογχη ‘mussel etc’ led to Latin concha or conca ‘shell’, plus congius ‘gallon’, and to English conch and cockle. That might describe the raised ground on which the fort sat, or seashells on the adjacent shore, but most likely it referred to the whole sandy estuary of the rivers Solway and Esk in front of the fort, in keeping with the way that conca evolved to mean ‘basin, pool’ in languages that descended from Latin. The –vata part is related to Latin vadum ‘ford’, English wade, and the Norse-derived local word wath. Notice the very Greek-looking GG in CONGAVATA.
Notes: Parallel names may include Κονκανα (Ptolemy 2,6,51) in Spain, the Konkani tribe around Goa, India, and possibly Γαγγανοι in Ireland, plus the Γαγγανων ακρον in Wales. Seashells were prominent in ancient thinking, not just as a source of food, but also for production of indigo dyes. Although best known from the eastern Mediterranean (think of Tyrian purple and the garments of Roman emperors and Jewish priests) this ancient technology (Cooksey, 2013) worked just as well with molluscs from other waters, for example at Pouplinière in Brittany in the first century AD.
Last Edited: 22 November 2017