AttestedMilidunum at position 19 in the Ravenna Cosmography

Where:  Probably at Totnes, under the Castle, whose mound at SX800605 in south Devon sits in a bend of the river Dart, near its tidal limit.

Name originMil- is an instance of M-vowel-L ‘prominent, sticking up or out’ an ancient wander-word discussed at length here and dunum ‘fort’ is discussed here.  The vowel I in Mil- has parallels in Latin miles ‘soldier’, mille, ‘thousand’, milium ‘millet’, and milvus ‘bird of prey’.

Notes:  Thanks to Nadia Randle for bringing Totnes properly into focus as the answer to a longstanding puzzle.  The Cosmography's sequence of names clearly points to the South Hams area of Devon, but no Roman sites are known there.  Totnes Castle does not look at all like a classic Roman camp, but as a fortified enclosure on a low hill it does fit the prospective translation better than anywhere else in the area.  The surviving Norman motte is largely artificial, and historical records of Totnes go back only to AD 907, but presumably there was some sort of fort there in Roman times, when river marshes were more extensive.  Totnes is perfectly placed to profit from the export of tin mined on Dartmoor, because its river Dart has the largest catchment area out of nine main named rivers that drain the moor.  Direct evidence of tin mining in Roman times or earlier has been destroyed by later mining, but the earliest miners of tin ore (and gold) naturally got the easiest pickings.
  Both the Historia Brittonum and Geoffrey of Monmouth chose Totnes as the alleged landing place for their mythical arrival of Brutus to found Britain.
  Place-name dictionaries explain the Tot- of Totnes as from a personal name, but it is far more likely that it derives from an Old English word tot ‘?projection’, seen for example at Totland, and possibly related to teat.  If so, that matches Mil-.
  See under Dumnonii for the way that Ptolemy's Geography locates the 2nd Legion away from Exeter and possibly at Totnes.
  An intriguing parallel for Totnes/Milidunum is Benevento, formerly Maloenton, whose geographical similarity extends to possible emporium neighbours on the sea coast of Sarna (maybe the Ικτιν of Diodorus Siculus) and Sarno near Pompeii.  Evidence for a Roman road network in this area is at present limited to (unpublished) archaeology at Ipplepen on the way from Exeter to Totnes, and the suggestive place name Strete on the coast of Start Bay.

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Last edited 5 May 2020     To main Menu