AttestedMavia at position 238 in the Ravenna Cosmography in its sequence of harbour estuaries.

Where:  Probably the Dart estuary in the south of Devon, with its mouth around SX887502, near Dartmouth.  It is possible that Milidunum lay under Totnes Castle near the tidal limit of the river Dart and that Masona was at the estuary mouth, but neither location has yielded significant Roman archaeology.

Name origin:  Possibly a compound of PIE *ap- ‘water’, preceded by an M, to create an analogue of the river names Tavy, Tay, etc that began with T.  Initial M might convey many senses (including movement, damp, mother, or small) but perhaps the best is suggested by μυω ‘to close (the eyes)’.  Possible parallels include maw (belly, pocket) and mew (seagull).  The most obvious parallels are the modern rivers Meavy in Devon (which rises near the head of the Dart but does not feed into it) and Mawddach in Wales leading to Barmouth.

Notes:  See here for a discussion of the Cosmography's harbour estuaries in the West Country.  An alternative possibility is that the name Mavia got linked with a saint (possibly of Irish origin) called Maudez in Brittany, leading to the modern name St Mawes, around SW8533, on a peninsula opposite Falmouth.  Nothing links that area with the Romans, except perhaps a heavy tin ingot dredged from the sea off St Mawes, which might have been ancient (Beagrie, 1983).  The river name Dart may have originated from an ancient form similar to Derwent, but the usual claim of a link to a word for oak tree is not very convincing.  Ekwall(1928) could not suggest any plausible explanation for the river name Meavy, better than a precursor of mew (seagull), and it is noticeable that one of the offshore rocks called Mew Stone lies just off the entrance to the Dart estuary.  At the head of this estuary lies Totnes, possibly Milidunum, with a history of being the landing place of settlers.

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Last edited 30 April 2021       To main Menu