Γαβραντουικων κολπος

Attested:  Ptolemy 2,3,6  Γαβραντουικων Ευλιμενος κολπος

Where:  A bay near Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire coast, where two Roman roads are believed to converge on Bridlington at TA183665, near the north end of the broad sweep of sandy beach of Bridlington Bay.  Ptolemy's coordinates always leave a potential distance error of tens of kilometres.

Name Origin:  Ευλιμενος κολπος is straightforward Greek for ‘bay suitable for a harbour’, but the Gabrantwikōn part is more difficult.  The core meaning of wic was ‘trading place’, but in this location it could have the sense of Norse vík ‘bay’ or of Latin vicus ‘village’ (more specifically a settlement that aspired to Romanitas).  Here its ending appears to be a Greek genitive plural.  To explain initial Γαβραντ-, it is tempting to note that Gabrosentio was Flamborough Head's counterpart sticking out from north-west England, and therefore to infer that Gab- had a sense of ‘sticking out’, possibly related to cape and to PIE *gab- ‘to show, to watch’.  That would make sense if Ptolemy had run together two locations that should really be separate, the dramatic cliffs of Flamborough Head as an important navigation mark, and a harbour in Bridlington Bay.  Or else maybe the narrow cove of Selwicks Bay near the Head itself was the harbour.
    It is better to regard Gabrant- as beginning with a relative of gap and gape, which descend from PIE *ghāi- ‘to gape, yawn’.  That idea is prompted by the name Rit her Gabail in the Historia Brittonum for the battle site, otherwise known as Episford, where Horsa was killed, probably on the river Gipsey Race on the outskirts of Bridlington.  Irish gabul, Welsh gafl, and German Gabel ‘fork’, plus Latin gabalus ‘gibbet’ and Norse gafl ‘gable’ all converge on the idea of an angle of 90 degrees or less, mostly seen from the inside.  This implies that Ptolemy was indeed referring to Bridlington (Praetorio), where there was presumably a bigger river estuary and harbour in Roman times than now, and not to the headland.  The next syllable, -rant-, matches Greek ραινω ‘to sprinkle’, whose root (pre-Greek according to Beekes, 2009) readily accepted prefixes and a following T.  Gabrant- would therefore perfectly describe how the Gipsey Race is an intermittent stream (a winterbourne) reaching the sea where the coast bends sharply.

Notes:  This analysis rejects the daft idea, repeated by Rivet and Smith, that there was a tribe of ‘goat-fighters’, based on resemblance to Old Irish gabor ‘goat’, from PIE *kapro-, plus fichid ‘fights’.  It also rejects any parallel with Old English brant ‘high, steep’, preceded by ge- ‘with’.  Or with gabrannjaidau ‘burned’ in Wulfila's Gothic Bible, with two similar words in other Gothic texts.  Jim Storr suggests that the huge promontory fort between by Dane's Dyke and Flamborough Head was a focus from which the kingdom of Deira developed.

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Last edited 22 October 2020     To main Menu