Rivet and Smith (1979)

Once in a while a book comes along that dominates its field so completely that everyone regards it as the ultimate source of wisdom, never to be criticised or supplanted.  The Place-Names of Roman Britain, by ALF Rivet and Colin Smith, published in 1979, is just such a book.  We use an abbreviation R&S indiscriminately to mean the authors and their book.

In Part One, the two authors survey all the sources of information: Literary Authorities, Ptolemy’s Geography, Itineraries, Ravenna Cosmography, Notitia Dignitatum, and Inscriptions.  See our article here for more about these sources.  Then Part Two is an alphabetical list of names.

Copies of the book are readily available second-hand, and you can look up substantial chunks of it by typing   Marikavel name  into an Internet search engine, to access a valuable website run by Jean-Claude Even, a Breton who describes himself as a retired master builder.

The present website builds upon R&S and we heartily endorse the words of Isaac Newton: If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.  Please do not misinterpret the fact that this site devotes so many words to correcting deficiencies in R&S, which are the inevitable consequence of three issues.
(1) R&S wrote before there was an Internet, developer-funded archaeology, digital cameras, understanding of climate change, and many other developments.  In the 37+ years since they wrote, entirely new Roman-era sites have been discovered, and historical understanding has advanced.
(2) R&S wrote when it was conventional wisdom that (a) most early names were created by ancient Britons and (b) those ancient Britons mostly spoke languages ancestral to Welsh.  Consequently, they fell for many “Celtic” etymologies that are (with hindsight) geographical nonsense, often endorsed by their principal adviser, the top Celticist of their day, Kenneth Jackson.
(3) R&S believed that the Ravenna Cosmography was grossly corrupt, and therefore they freely amended its observed spellings and scattered its names semi-randomly across the map.  In fact (as a forthcoming publication will show) the Cosmography is a hugely valuable source of information, whose spellings are no more corrupt than in other ancient manuscripts, and which lists names in geographically logical sequences, often following Roman-era roads.