Madus

Attested:  Peutinger map madus xvii, in the small strip of Britain that has survived after the leftmost page of the manuscript was destroyed.  The initial letter seems to be a small m, not a capital M, and the final s is the letter that looks like an f, which is not normally put at a word end.  It is not 100% certain that the 17 miles figure belongs east of this place, rather than west.

Where:  Probably somewhere on, or associated with, the river Medway, an idea that has been around since at least the time of William Camden before 1600; see here.  The argument that madus is just the cut-off end of a larger name is weak, since there would have been space for more letters in the surviving area to the left, though Baromaci nearby is almost certainly a cut-off end of *Caesaromaci.  Expansion to *Noviomagus, suggested by Rivet & Smith, is highly unlikely.  Peutinger's distance of xvii Roman miles from Roribis (which was probably near Sittingbourne) hints at somewhere high up the Medway, perhaps near Yalding.  However, the strongest candidate is the Roman villa at Cobham Park, on the line of Watling Street, close to the point where the modern A2 road becomes the M2, fairly high on the North Downs.  It was described by the excavator Tester (1962) as “an unpretensious Romano-British farmhouse, built c. AD 100 on the site of a first-century native settlement and continuing in use for a further two and a half centuries”.

Name origin:  Latin madeo ‘to be wet, to flow’, from PIE *mad- ‘moist, wet (especially with food)’ naturally fits a river, but it could also fit a roadside hostelry.  Its nearest surviving relative in English is meat, but if madus did mean the river Medway it got reinterpreted towards middle, as with the rivers Medina and Meden.  Possible parallels include Maidstone (whose original name has never been explained satisfactorily), Matrona (now the Marne, one of many rivers apparently named for their benevolence, flowing with good things, like a μαστος ‘breast’, or like a good mate), or Ptolemy's Μοδονου (probably the ‘muddy’ river Slaney in Ireland), or even the *Madingas said to have founded Madingley.

Notes:  Watling Street runs through Kent along the relatively high ground of the North Downs, with a series of descents into river valleys.  Towards Canterbury, in the east, Roman names hint at the use of estuaries during the conquest of Britain to bring supplies inland from the Thames estuary by ship, perhaps with Roman officers, accustomed to the sunny, tideless Mediterranean struck by how much ground in rainy Britain went squelch!  The Roman battle to cross the Medway in AD 43 (which has been called the second most important battle of British history) has been much discussed.  David Young suggests a location near Halling, whereas Simon Elliott (2016:115-7) prefers the Snodland area.  Arguing for Roman names further south, for example at Yalding, where the rivers Teise and Beult joined the Medway (and was therefore formerly known as Twyford), is weak because no Roman traces have been reported around Yalding, and no Roman road is known from Sittingbourne to Yalding.
    The eastern part of Watling Street, between Cobham at the east and the “temple” in Greenwich Park at the west, looks rather un-military, being surrounded by Roman villas and by villages with Street in their modern names.  It would make sense if madus, and Vagniacis to its west, were civilian-run rest stops on the Roman road.
    Thanks to Mike Haken for prompting a closer look at Peutinger names and to Paul Smith for prompting some thought about this part of Kent.

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Last edited 16 May 2021     to main Menu.