Attested:  Ptolemy 2,3,19 Ουιροκονιον, a πολις of the Κορναουοι;  Utriconion Cornoviorum at position 79 in the Ravenna Cosmography
  Antonine Itinerary iter 2 Vrioconio/Vriocunio, iter 12 Viroconiorum, iter 13 Viriconio/Viroconio

WhereWroxeter, Shropshire, SJ566088, beside the river Severn, where an early Roman legionary fortress developed into a large settlementViroconium was surrounded by other forts and marching camps.  It was a hub of Roman roads and had a river port.  It is close to the later English-Welsh border, to later Shrewsbury, and to the Wrekin hill-fort, a likely original tribal centre of the Cornovii.

Name originViro- has been likened to PIE *wiro- ‘man’, the root of Latin vir ‘man, male person’, Old English wer, and Welsh gŵr.  Personal names from Gaul beginning with Vir- are often claimed to have developed in Celtic, though Delamarre (2003: 320-1) pointed out that there seem to be two roots involved, pronounced differently (what would now be written weer- and wirr-), and meaning ‘true’ and ‘man’, respectively.  Furthermore, there is a huge number (at least 20!) of other PIE roots that might potentially explain ver-, vir-, etc in early names, with little unanimity among advanced linguists in how to present them.  Candidates include *wer-3 ‘to turn, to bend’ (possibly referring to a river), *wer-4 ‘to perceive, watch out’ (with derivatives including wary), *wer-5 ‘to cover’ (with derivatives including weir and guard), *per-1, a prefix variously meaning ‘forward’, ‘chief’, etc; and *per-2 ‘to pass over’ (hence words such as fare).  If the -conium part can be translated ‘coming together’, as explained for Ariconium, the balance tips towards translating Viro- as ‘man’, especially because Uxacona 11 miles away and next on iter 2 begins like Latin uxor.

Notes:  It is noteworthy how many early place names seem to refer to meeting places, where a modern observer struggles to understand distinctions of meaning among the words used and to identify the landscape markers towards which people congregated.  In the case of Viroconium one wonders who were the men (as distinct from women) involved: were they Roman soldiers, local farmers, or tribal elders?  And how far did they travel: had Viroconium taken over the role attributed to Stonehenge in an earlier era?  Attempts to relate this name to werewolves, based on a desire to explain C-vowel-N in early names with a Celtic word for ‘dog’, are not convincing.

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Last edited 5 April 2020     To main Menu