Ουενικονες

Attested:  Ptolemy 2,3,14  Ουενικονες (or Ουενικωμες), a tribe with one πολις at Ὀρρεα.

Where:  Probably on the south side of the river Tay, in modern Fife.

Name OriginBreeze (2006) translated this name as Celtic for ‘hunting hounds’.  This relies upon PIE *wen- ‘to beat, to wound’ or *gwhen- ‘to strike, to kill’, which led to Greek φονος ‘murder, slaughter’ (as in Bellerophon) and survives in Welsh gwn ‘stab, thrust, wound’.  Not convincing.  However, the closest parallel to *wenicones in the ancient world was actually Phoenicians.  No one seems sure how this relates to Greek φοινιξ ‘palm tree’ and φοινικων ‘palm grove’, but a possible link runs via words for a red-purple colour, like blood, to that notion of killing.  Celtic scholars (e.g. Delamarre, 2017) tend to explain C-vowel-N in ancient names (e.g. Viroconium, Ariconium, Cunetio) overenthusiastically as meaning‘dog’.  It seems better to go to the opposite extreme and explain *wenicones as peaceful, sharing people, based on PIE *wen- ‘to love’, which was the core of many proper names with a sense of family, clan, or likeableness, plus PIE *kom- ‘beside, near’ whose M (seen for example in Latin cum) readily became N (for example in Greek κοινη ‘common, shared’ or *coneo the likely precursor of Latin coeo ‘to come together’).  Alternatively, Greek εικων ‘image’, related to Latin victima ‘beast for sacrifice’ and to Germanic forms such as wih ‘idol’ would make the *wenicones ‘image lovers’, a very suitable name for Picts with their symbol stones.

Notes:  Fife's position in Scotland is rather like Lindsey's position in England, a peninsula of relatively flat agricultural land, where farmers might have accepted the Romans fairly peacefully, and allowed Agricola's army to overwinter with ready access to ships.  Contrast that with the rebellious Δαμνονιοι.

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Last edited: 26 July 2018