Attested:  Caesar (de bello Gallico 5,13) Mona;   Pliny Mona (2,187 & 4,103);  Tacitus Monam insulam (3x);
   Dio/Xiphilinus Μονναν, Μοννης   Ptolemy 2,2,12 Μονα island;  Mona at position 276 in the Ravenna Cosmography

Where:  Caesar's Mona was in medio cursu ‘half-way’ from Britain to Ireland, which fits the Isle of Man, and the text of the Cosmography hints that Mona was well north.  On the other hand, in Pliny, Tacitus, and Dio, Mona clearly meant Anglesey, since they wrote after the Roman military had campaigned in north Wales before Boudicca's rebellion.  Caesar's information probably came from ship-borne traders who had sailed in the Irish Sea, including perhaps Pytheas of Massalia, so it is unnecessary to follow Rivet & Smith in thinking he was mistaken.  Ptolemy's latitude coordinate for Mona is unhelpfully weird.

Name origin:  Greek μονος ‘solitary, alone’, originally describing the isolation of the Isle of Man, seems to have later become applied to Anglesey, thereby creating 2x Mona, so that Pliny used the name Monapia, literally ‘far off Mona’ to label the Isle of Man.  Ptolemy then mentioned two more possible Monas, Μοναοιδα or Μοναρινα, literally ‘swollen Mona’ and ‘Mona ness ’, respectively, which would make sense as the Isle of Arran and the Mull of Kintyre, respectively.

Notes:  Confused?  You should be!  Ancient writers may have been as puzzled as modern ones by all the M-vowel-N names that lie near the interface between ancient Irish and Welsh people.  Besides Mona, Monapia, Μοναοιδα, and Μοναρινα, there were Manna, Maiona, and Menapii, plus possibly Menevia, Gerald of Wales' name for St David's in AD 1188, and the modern Monach Islands.  To explain Mona up to a dozen etymologies need to be explored, many of which can be tracked down via the PIE roots of English man, mane, money, monger, monitor, monk, month, and monument.  The explanation most often cited, but rejected here, was offered by Rivet & Smith thus: “Mona is simply ‘mountain’ or ‘high island’”.  This is usually linked to PIE *men- ‘to project’, the source of Latin mons ‘hill’.  Also attractive but rejected as a parallel is proto-Celtic *mon-ī ‘to go’, which Matasovic (2009:276) reconstructs from Welsh mynd, Breton mont, Cornish mones, and Irish muinithir.

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Last edited 13 May 2020     to main Menu.