Eburacum

Attested:  Mentioned by all the main ancient sources, including Ptolemy 2,3,17 Εβορακον, RC Eburacum, AI Eburacum and Eburaco, plus various inscriptions and early writers, some with vowel U, some with O.

Where:  York, around SE6051.

Name origin:  Latin ebur (whose genitive eboris contains an O) ‘ivory’, referring to boars' tusks, offers a perfect fit to the observed name.  The -acum part was a common adjectival ending seen in early place names, especially in Gaul.  York's later strong association with boars has been dismissed as a reinterpretation based upon Germanic words such OE eofor ‘wild boar’, but, long before Romans lost control of York, a traveller from there set up a stone altar in Bordeaux with a detailed image of a boar on one side, securely dated to AD 237.  How *ebur- may have evolved linguistically is discussed at length here.

NotesLegio IX Hispana which built the Roman fortress at York around AD 71 was originally recruited in the part of Iberia where ancient personal names based on *Ebur- were most prevalent and where Verraco ‘boar’ monuments are common.  Presumably boars had a symbolic/religious significance there much like that in India for Varaha ‘boar’.  The implication is that the name Eburacum had nothing directly to do with boar hunting or the ivory trade, and the widely promoted idea of an association with Celtic words for ‘yew’ is a big red herring.  Peter Schrijver (2015) clarified the range of plants in Ireland, Wales, and Brittany that had names possible derived from an ancient form *eburos, as also discussed here.

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Last edited: 18 March 2019     to main Menu