Magis

Attested:  ND Magis, where the Praefectus numeri Pacentium was based, listed between Maglona (probably Blennerhasset) and Longovicio (probably somewhere coastal).

WhereBurrow Walls fort, at NY00363004, by Workington on the Cumbrian coast, at the mouth of the river Derwent, was only a guess by R&S, because ND does not supply a location.  However this site (or possibly another Cumbrian river mouth) is an excellent fit to the meaning of Latin magis, as discussed below.  A technical report on the “Geology of Workington and Maryport” mentions extensive deposits in the Derwent and Ellen valleys terraced “3-5 m above river level”.

Name origin:  Latin magis ‘platter’, from Greek μαγις ‘kneading trough’, probably came ultimately from PIE *mag- ‘to knead’, which led in English to make, macerate, masonry, etc.  If this developed a geographical sense (possibly analogous to Sanskrit mahI ‘earth’) it might have applied to any area of flat ground that was put to good human use.  Hypothetically, this entered the “extended Latin” of place names across the Roman Empire and developed semantically in much the same way as πλατη ‘flat object’ led ultimately to plate and piazza in English.

Notes:  This analysis seems like a good way to explain most of the 60-plus place names across the Roman Empire that end in –magus or similar (Sims-Williams, 2006:27-29).  Usually that element is claimed to descend from proto-Celtic *magos- ‘plain, field’ (Matasovic, 2009:253), whose deeper etymology is uncertain, though PIE *meg- ‘great’ is often suggested.  The places concerned tend to be small towns, associated with leaders (Caesaromagus, Augustomagus, Juliomagus, etc) or water (Brocomagus, Maromagus, etc), or described as “new” (Noviomagus), which manifestly do not fit the idea of vast open prairies.  So R&S (p287) and Delamarre (2003:213) accepted a sense development to ‘market’, with a sociological (economic/political) explanation for the many Newmarket-style places involved (Falileyev, 2010:23:24).  Is it possible these commentators have got the chronology wrong and the relatively rural sense seen in later Celtic parallels developed after the relatively urban, Graeco-Latin ‘town square’ sense?  One wonders how many other –magus places were on river terraces relatively safe from floods.

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Last Edited: 31 August 2017