AttestedMelezo at position 36 in the Ravenna Cosmography

Where:  Shaftesbury, Dorset.  An approximate location can be deduced from the sequence of names as the Cosmography heads from the Somerset levels towards Poole Harbour.  Melezo is immediately preceded by Anicetis (possibly Wells) and followed by Ibernio (almost certainly Hod Hill).  In the right area is a cluster of vaguely similar names: Melbury Beacon at ST873197 is one of the highest points in Dorset, surrounded with evidence of long habitation, such as at Melbury Abbas; Fontmell Magna, at ST866169, is an ancient village whose initial Font- probably came from Latin fontanus ‘spring’; also Malacombe Bottom and a local surname Mullins.  No recognised Roman military site is in this area, but Alcester and Bedchester are nearby.  A Roman road (Margary 46) runs north-south some way to the east.  Shaftesbury is on the strategic route NE-to-SW from London to Exeter, which is recognised as Roman (Margary 4b) where the modern A30 is notably straight up to Salisbury, but then leaves a huge gap where there was perhaps a pre-Roman ridgeway route, from which later roads (see here) have departed.

Name originMel- is one of the M-vowel-L name elements that meant ‘protruding, sticking up or out’, which were widespread across ancient Eurasia, as discussed at length here.  The -ezo part matches Greek εζω ‘to settle’.  Shaftesbury is relatively unusual among English places in being so definitely a hilltop settlement.  Its steep, cobbled Gold Hill is famously pretty.

Notes:  The similarity to Μελιτα ‘honey’, which prompted Richmond and Crawford to suggest emendation to Meletio, is a red herring.  French mélèze means a range of tree species, probably so named because they are tall and prominent, not because they produce sweet sap.  English place-name dictionaries are a bit confused in their treatment of all Mel- names.  Alcester, at ST85572264, occupies a logical position for a Roman army camp situated on low ground alongside a (friendly) indigenous hilltop settlement during the initial Roman conquest.  Its former name Alynchester (compare align and a French word for copulation) might support that idea, but there may be confusion with the other Alcester in Warwickshire (see here).

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Last edited 13 May 2020     to main Menu.