Dobunni

Attested:  Ptolemy 2,3,25 Δοβουνοι people with one πολις at Κορινιον.  Cassius Dio Βοδουννων.  RC Cironium DobunoInscription CIVES DOBVNNA.  Post-Roman inscription DOBVNNI FABRI FILII ENABARR.  Bronze diploma of British unit in Pannonia LVCCONI TRENI F DOBUNN.

Where:  Roughly the modern counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset.  See the 2001 conference report called Land of the Dobunni (Ecclestone et al., 2003).  The Dobunni seem to have prospered on trade up the Severn estuary, leading to the establishment of a Roman civitas around Cirencester.  Names on their pre-Roman coins ran in sequence CORIO, BODVOC, ANTEDRIG, COMUX, EISV, CATTI (Van Arsdell, 1994).

Name originDobunni = ‘two basins’.  The parallels are clear in Irish: dó/dá ‘two’ plus bun ‘thick end of anything, including estuary, river mouth’.  The W sound of PIE *dwo also disappeared in Persian , Latin di-, and spoken English two.  In Old English, bune shows up in Beowulf with a meaning something like ‘cup, sacrificial vessel’, in the river name Bune (Ekwall, 1928:56-7), in Bunan in para 893 of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle referring to Bononia (Boulogne), and possibly in other place names and in the dialect word bunny for a river valley.  There is no accepted PIE root for bune (nor indeed for many words beginning with bun-), but several other words (such as bin, fen, and pan in English) cluster around the idea of something wide and deep.  PIE *bhudh- ‘bottom’ seems to provide the best answer, leading to the Gaelic place names that start with Bun in Scotland, German Bühne ‘stage’ (possibly extended to mean ‘granary’), Avestan buna, Sanskrit budhna, etc.  Related words exist in non-Indo-European languages.

Notes:  R&S and others could not explain Dobunni, but Yeates (2008:162) recognised the potential relevance of OE bune, which may show up in the later place names Bunhill and Buncombe.  He suggested that the religion of the Dobunni focussed on a sacred cauldron, reflected in the later tribal name Hwicce.  Both Glouchester and Cirencester each sit in a huge landscape bowl, to fit the number two, with the Somerset levels up to Glastonbury off at the southern edge of their likely territory.  Recently, Counihan has offered a similar analysis, but with a more Irish slant that interprets do as a preposition and bun specifically as an estuary, so that Dobunni were people at the river mouth.  There was a possible Dobunnic trading post on Lambay Island (Εδρου) off the Irish coast (see Hooker).

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Last edited: 2 June 2018