Attested: Tunnocelo, where the Tribunus cohortis primae Aeliae classicae was based, in the Notitia Dignitatum.
Where: Ravenglass Roman fort at SD088958 on the Cumbrian coast at the mouth of one river Esk. Shotter (1998) corrected a previous misallocation of this name.
Name Origin: The -ocelum part resembles Latin ocellus ‘little eye’. The Tunno- part probably arose from the curious shape of the Ravenglass estuary. Three rivers share one exit to the sea, which has been progressively squeezed by sandbanks advancing from both sides over the centuries. The resulting shape looks uncannily like a mouth, complete with teeth, and with the Roman fort sitting on the tip of a tongue. Old English tunge descended from PIE *dnghu- ‘tongue’, which had a remarkably diverse range of descendants.
Notes: This naval base was probably first used in AD 71-74 when this area was first conquered by Romans and became important again to defend against Irish pirates in the AD 300s. Ancient Greek ships often had an eye painted or attached at the front, a tradition that may have started with Phoenicians, was adopted by Romans, as here or here, and persists to this day in Malta. Most discussions focus on the eyes' apotropaic (warding off evil) function, e.g. by Nowak (2006). Sailors are famously superstitious and Tunnocelum was primarily a naval base. It remains conjectural that –ocelum was used in Latin for a ship's eye, and how far it developed towards a sense of ‘lookout’ or whether it referred purely to keeping out bad guys.
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Last edited 13 May 2020 to main Menu