Malaca

Attested:  RC malaca.  All three surviving manuscripts of the Cosmography contain this piece of text at the start of the British section: Iterum sunt in ipso [northern] oceano [islands] quae dicitur vectis malaca insenos taniatide.

Where:  These islands appear to be off south-eastern England, between Vectis (Wight) and Taniatide (Thanet), where there are at present no islands.  However, there used to be a definite archipelago around the eastern end of the Solent, including Hayling Island, Thorney, Portsea, the Bembridge end of the Isle of Wight (still separated by a shipping channel when the Mary Rose sank), and the Selsey peninsula, often claimed to be Cymenesora, the coming-ashore place of Aelle in AD 477.  A second archipelago existed at Dungeness: see here for a map of what it may have looked like mediaeval times.  RC's order of listing suggests that Malaca belongs in the west, perhaps at Selsey, leaving Insenos to claim Dungeness, whereas tentative name translations favour the opposite.

Name origin:  M-vowel-L in ancient names often meant ‘sticking out, prominent’ (ongoing investigation, to be published soon).  Among possible parallels to Malaca perhaps the closest is Malaga, in Spain, whose name most likely derived from the prominent Monte Gibralfaro that towers over the ancient port.

Notes:  Difficulties with this name are well illustrated by a detailed discussion of the name Malaga by Villar (2000), who slightly favoured a river-mouth explanation, from PIE *mel- ‘bad’, leading to a word for ‘swamp’ in Slavic languages.  Alternatively PIE *mel- ‘to mill’, leading to Greek μαλακος ‘soft’ might imply that Malaca was a marshy island.  Off Selsey lies a rocky reef called The Mixon, which may represent the southern tip of Selsey in Roman times, before sea levels rose.  It was much used over the centuries as a quarry conveniently accessible from the sea and may have contributed stone to the “palace” at Fishbourne, near Chichester.  That might make Latin moles ‘heap of rock, mole, breakwater’, from PIE *mo- ‘to exert oneself’ relevant.  It is conceivable that Manhood, a curious name for the Selsey peninsula dating back before Domesday Book, came from Latin masculus ‘male’ reinterpreted from Malaca.  The Semitic root *m-l-k- ‘king’ that led to the Phoenician god Melqart, called Moloch in the Bible might be distantly related.

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Last edited: 16 June 2018