Corstopitum

AttestedCorstopitum on iter 1 of the Antonine Itinerary

Where:  The Itinerary lists Corstopitum as 9 Roman miles from Vindomora (Ebchester) and 20 from Bremenium (High Rochester), which cannot be correct, because the total distance Vindomora–Bremenium as the crow flies is 33 miles, not 29, and trying to follow the wiggles of the Roman road just makes the discrepancy worse.  However, amending viiii (9) to xiiii (14) miles (like changes needed elsewhere on the Itinerary) would place Corstopitum possibly near Little Whittington (NY991695), where the straight lines of the Roman roads later known as Dere Street and Devil’s Causeway would originally have intersected or, more likely, at Beukley (about NY98707) where their curved (possibly later) versions met.  This places Corstopitum about 5 km north of Corbridge Roman town, on a local high spot that would have served as a sighting point for the Roman main roads and there is a fine view over the landscape.

Name origin:  Rivet & Smith described Corstopitum as “meaningless in British” and then launched into some unnecessary emendation.  Their long discussion of ideas derived from various Celticist thinkers is essentially misdirection, away from the key points of geography and language.  That hill-top location matches a compound of Greek κορση ‘(fore)head’ (from PIE *ker- ‘horn, head’) and τοπιτης ‘of a place’ (from τοπος ‘place’ plus the suffix -ιτης that still survives in English as -itis), which might reasonably describe that road junction on a local high place.

Notes:  This analysis raises a series of interesting questions.  Was there an early Roman fort at Beukley, where the modern farm is shaped suspiciously like a classic playing-card fort and a medieval pele tower has been discussed?  Presumably, the road junction existed first, before a full-scale Roman town and supply base developed beside the river Tyne, with Hadrian's Wall between the two.  Why does there seem to be so much Greek in early British names, discussed here?  Maybe army logistics, and lead/silver mining at nearby Επιακον were Greek specialties.  Here is a crude map of the neighbourhood of Corbridge, showing the generally accepted Roman roads (in dark red), plus other roads that Selkirk (1995:98-105) suggested as Roman (in yellow).  Whether the straight line between Beukley and Ebchester actually got built as a road is open to doubt (see, for example, Poulter, 2010), but if it did, its crossing of the Tyne at Bywell would be a plausible location for Brigae.  Also needing a location nearby is Lopocarium.
[map here]
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Last edited 12 April 2020     To main Menu