Attested: Ptolemy 2,3,10 Ωταδηνοι (or Ωτααηνοι)
Where: A tribe with 3 πολεις, at Κουρια (probably Edinburgh), Αλαυνα (probably Low Learchild) and Bremenium (High Rochester), which places them in the Scottish borders, between Northumberland and Edinburgh. The Romans are usually suggested to have enjoyed generally friendly relations with them.
Name origin: This name is commonly written *Votadini, upon the supposition that Ptolemy's Greek form had lost an initial W sound that existed in a Celtic word ancestral to Welsh Gododin and Gaelic Fothudan. Another possible parallel is the Irish Saint fothad from about AD 800, whose name probably meant ‘foundation’. Celtic scholars prefer to segment the name as wo-tad- not wot-ad-, and then to explain initial *wo- in proper names as from PIE *upo- ‘under, up from under’, cognate with Greek hypo-. For the -tad- part of *Votadini and fothad James (2016:395) suggested *sta- ‘to stand’, but a better parallel may be Welsh tad ‘father’, from the babble word Daddy.
Speakers of languages current around Ptolemy's time could have (mis)interpreted *Votadini as meaning something like ‘noisy, crazy’: Latin votum ‘vow, promise to a god’ plus dine ‘whirlwind’; Greek ωτος ‘of the ear’ plus δινη ‘whirlwind’; or Germanic exemplified by OE woş ‘sound, cry, noise’ or woda ‘madman’ plus dyne ‘din, noise’.
The archetypal founding figure of Germanic dynasties, Woden/Wotan/Odin, is very similar, even also having a disappearing W. Most authors trace his name back to PIE *wet- ‘excited, crazy’, but it is very similar to Welsh gwadn and Irish fotha ‘foundation, bottom’. The English words bottom and fundament are usually traced to a PIE root *bhudh-, but there is also a range of other words usually discussed as coming from an ancient word, with links far outside even PIE, *putos ‘vulva, back-end’, which include Scots fud, Norse fuð, French foutre from Latin futuo and ‘to fuck’. Greek had φυτον ‘plant’ and βυθος ‘depth’.
A bilingual inscription from about AD 545 in south-west Wales mentions voteporigis in Latin and votecorigas in Irish Ogham, who is usually identified with Gildas' Vortipor of the Demetae. This name has been much discussed, but without noting that if it is segmented to make -por- a separate element its natural meaning comes from PIE *per- ‘to pass over’, while Irish cor meant ‘setting up’, both appropriate to an incoming Irish hegemony.
How all these words interacted linguistically in northern Europe is debatable, but there may be a common notion of a starting point. Craziness might link in too, via the idea expressed by John's gospel as “In the beginning was the word”. It is part of human nature to label as crazy the bardic rituals, war cries, sexual practices, and new ideas of other people!
The implication is that Romans recognised the *Votadini as ‘aborigines’, the local founder population.
Notes: Most of Ptolemy's ethnic names looks as if they were created by outside observers of the lifestyle or peculiarities of people who were not politically united. Historia Brittonum, probably written in the 800s, mentions Manau Guotodin in section 62. Llyfr Aneirin, probably written in the 600s, but surviving only in a manuscript from the 1200s mentions Gododdin in the prelude, ododin on page 14, and Gododin on page 26. Fothudan occurs in a Gaelic poem of about 1058. The poem known as Y Gododdin tells how 300 warriors set out from Edinburgh around AD 600 to attack Catterick and got wiped out. A remarkable number of later battles reprised a similar scenario.
Last Edited: 12 August 2017