Dumnonii

Attested:  Ptolemy Δουμνονοι 2,3,30 with 5 πολεις;   inscription civi dumnonio;   inscription civitas dumnon;   inscription civitas dumni;
Isca Dumnoniorum on iter 15 of the Antonine Itinerary;   Scadumnamorum at position 16 in the Ravenna Cosmography
Iscadumnoniorum on the Peutinger map;   Gildas 28 Damnonia

Where:  A people in the West Country with settlements at Ουολιβα (probably Falmouth), Ουξελλα (probably Cadson Bury), Ταμαρη (probably Calstock), Ισκα (Exeter), and Λεγιον δευτερα Σεβαστη ‘venerable second legion’.

Name Origin:  Rivet & Smith presented Celticist thinking about *dubno- ‘deep’ and *dumno- ‘world’, without really suggesting how that was relevant to the Dumnonii.  Maybe therefore these people were really *Damnonii, named after the rocky Lizard peninsula, and Gildas was using their correct name instead of indulging in his customary word-play.  Or maybe their name was related to Δουμνα island and referred to banks of cloud (or smoke).  None of these ideas seems really satisfactory, leaving the way clear for a hypothesis that the Dumnonii were ‘darkies’, because the fundamental meaning of dumno- was ‘dark’, as discussed here.  Tacitus famously remarked (Agricola 11) that the Silures (in south Wales) had brownish faces and curly hair, because ancient Iberians had crossed the sea to settle.  Back in Roman times, most peasants lived and died close to home, so gradients of skin and hair colour would have been relatively sharper than now, so it is entirely possible that future Cornish speakers were visibly darker, in complexion and/or hair, than future English speakers living further east.

NotesIsca has always been assumed to be the base of the second legion, but Ptolemy specifies them in two separate entries, with slightly different coordinates.  The 2nd legion appears to be half a degree west (in the best manuscripts, or none in the others) and 10 minutes south (or 15) of Isca, which average to about 18 km west, 23 km south.  Of course this is subject to huge uncertainty, but the best candidate for the legion's base (perhaps at an early phase of the Roman conquest) would be Totnes.  See Milidunum for further discussion.

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Last edited 25 August 2020     To main Menu