Othona

Attested:  ND:  Othona, Othonae;  Bede Ythancaestir

Where:  Bradwell, Essex, a Saxon Shore fort at TM033081.

Name originOth- (or ož-) was a common prefix of OE words (a precursor of out-) and the final –ona makes best sense related to Latin onus 'cargo'.  This would imply that Othona, located at the outer (north-eastern) edge of the Dengie peninsula, was involved in exporting agricultural produce to the Continent.  The name, as recorded, is uninterpretable in Celtic.  We reject –ona or onno 'river', and words for lambing (Welsh oen, OE eanian, English yean, Dutch dialect oonen), and an –en ending (English outen, Dutch buiten) as explanations for the –ona part.

Notes:  Despite being the closest Saxon Shore fort to London, Othona was very out-of-the-way.   Its site is now by the chapel of St-Peter-on-the-Wall, at the seaward (north-eastern) end of a slight ridge running out through the marshes, along which ran a Roman road.  Its exact environment is uncertain, not least because it was built (probably in AD 250 to 300) during a phase of rapidly rising sea level.  Although the coast of Essex has changed since Roman times, silt deposition tends to maintain coastal land at about high-tide level.  So the saltmarsh, which now lies seaward from the fort, originally extended up to three miles further inland, where Map 3 of Fawn et al. (1990) shows a line of Red Hill salt-making sites active between 50 BC and AD 150 in what is now arable farmland.  Saxon Shore forts are often discussed as naval bases intended to counter seaborne pirates, but the name interpretation offered here is more in keeping with a guarded-warehouse function similar to that of Gariannonor.

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Last Edited: 8 August 2016