Attested: Tacitus (Agricola 39) used the name Calgacus for a Caledonian leader who addressed the British warriors (in a speech that was probably Tacitus' own invention) before the battle of mons Graupius.
Where: Mons Graupius was probably in the Ochil hills, midway between Stirling and Perth.
Name origin: Calgacus is usually claimed as Celtic for ‘swordsman’ because of Old Irish colg, calg ‘anything pointed’. Adomnan's life of Saint Columba (2,39) mentioned locum qui in Scotice dicitatur Daire Calgaich as a harbour in Ireland in the late 500s AD, where Calgaich has been interpreted as the genitive of a personal name *Calgach with daire (oak wood) being modern (London)Derry. However, note that a word ancestral to Old English galga ‘gallows’, with cognates in other Germanic languages, would have been current among Agricola's troops in its early meaning of ‘tall stick’. Preferring the Celtic explanation amounts to saying that Spike is a more natural name for a warrior than Lofty, and placing great reliance on initial C rather than G written to represent in Latin a sound in another language. Tacitus may have made up the name, or at the very least heard it third-hand.
Notes: As an example of confusions possible between C and G, consider PIE *gal- ‘to call, to summon’ plus German gackern ‘to cackle’ or OE geák ‘cuckoo’. That might make Calgacus a sort of herald who travelled around to summon the tribal warriors rather than a great fighter himself. One great unanswered question about mons Graupius is how a huge number of politically disunited Caledonian warriors were persuaded to assemble.
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Last edited: 11 July 2018