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KINGS OF THE WORLD On The Nature of Ce .pdf

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KINGS OF THE WORLD – On the Nature
of Celtic Personal Names

”These men also he sent back, calling them friends, and ranking them as allies, only
adding the remark that the Celts were braggarts”.
(Arrianus. The Anabasis of Alexander (4)

While many attributes have been associated with the Ancient Celts, modesty is
certainly not one of them. From their very first appearance in recorded history
classical authors note their tendency for exaggeration and boasting. In 335 BC a
Celtic delegation met with Alexander the Great on the Danube during armistice and
alliance negotiations. Of this encounter we are informed – ‘And Ptolemaeus, the son

of Lagus, says that on this expedition the Celti who lived about the Adriatic joined
Alexander for the sake of establishing friendship and hospitality, and that the king
received them kindly and asked them when drinking what it was that they most
feared, thinking they would say himself, but that they replied they feared no one,
unless it were that Heaven might fall on them’ (Strabo vii, 3,8; see also Arrianus
Anab. I, 4, 6-8).

This supreme self-confidence is duly reflected in Celtic personal and tribal names,
which tend to be particularly descriptive. Compare, for example, names such
as Esumaro meaning ‘He Who Is Great As (the God) Esus’ (Ellis Evans (1967) = GPN –
p. 449-450), Atepomarus – ‘He Who Has A Very Great Horse’ (GPN 52-53),

Branogeni – ‘He Who Is Born of the Raven’ (McManus/1991:105), Cunorix= ‘The
Hound-King’ (Wright/Jackson 1968), Sumeli (f.) – ‘Sweet as Honey’ (GPN:114-116;
Matasovic 2009 = EDPC:163) or Catumarus (EDPC:195), whose name means ‘He
Who Is Great in Battle’.

The CUNORIX inscription from Wroxeter, (Shropshire) England (CISP = WRXTR/1)
Translation: Cunorix (PN) son of Maqui Coline (PN)
= Hound-King, son of The Son of the Holly (Wright/Jackson 1968)

(The inscription is partly-Latinized Primitive Irish. The name Cunorix preserves the
final x, which makes it unlikely that the inscription can be later than the loss of
certain final consonants, including x, which is an early aspect of the loss or
shortening of some final syllables about 500 (loc cit).

An analysis of Celtic personal names, and our increasing understanding of their
meaning, strongly indicates that these names were not given at birth, but that the
individuals received them later in life, probably as part of a ceremony to mark their
passage to adulthood. Compare, for example, names such as Curmi-Sagius whose name
literally means ‘He Who Seeks Beer’ (Meid 2005), Nertomarus = ‘He Whose Strength Is
Great’ (GPN 223-228; see also EDPC 289), and Caromarus (f) = ‘Great Lover’ (GPN 6162). A particularly descriptive personal name is the case of a Celt called Bussumaros,
which is interpreted as ‘He Who Has A Great Penis’(EDPC:84).

The Morvah Inscription from Cornwall, England
(CISP MADR1/1 – The stone is now in a field on a moor about 3km from Morvah –
dated mid 6th c.)
Rialobrani (*Rigalo-branos) son of Cunovali (*Cuno-ualos)
= Royal Raven, son of Valiant Hound
(Readings: Okasha, E. 1985, Thomas/1994:283 (Fig 17.5)


Probably the most common Celtic name element was Bitu- meaning ‘World’ (GOlD:
OIr. bith [u m], W: OW bid [m], MW byd [m], BRET: OBret. bit, bet; CO: OCo. bit gl.
mundus, bys; GAUL: Bitu-; Matasovic EDPC) which occurs in a multitude of personal
and tribal names across Celtic Europe: Cf. – from Britain – Bitu[cus] (Catterick, N.




Bitilus (Bath, 175-275 AD – TS 78.1, 2);

Bitupr[…] (Chesters, Northumberland – RIB II 2501.105); Bitucus (Cirencester,
Gloucestershire – RIB I 108 = Duo Nomina – Fl[au]ius Biticus); Bitudacus (Leicester,
dated AD 45-65 – RIB II 2501.108); Bitu[…] (York – RIB II 2494.111), etc. It also
appears in the name of Bituitus, a King of the Averni tribe who fought against C.
Fabius Maximus in Gaul (Bituitus – Livy (per. LXI. Eutrop. 4, 22 [from which
Hieronym. chron. a. Abr. 1891 Vituitus); Βιτύιτος as Genetiv – Poseidonios, Athen.
IV 162 d = FHG III 260, Strabon IV 194 – Βιτσίτοσ, Appian. Celt. 12 – Βιτοῖτος), and




as Bitugentus (Dunaujaros,



1220) and Bitumarus (Alsoszentivan, – CIL 6 112) from Hungary.

In Dacia the element is also found, for example, in a Celtic inscription from
Potaissa (Cluj, Romania – CIL, III, 917): D. M. Aia Nandonis vixit annis LXXX, Andrada
Bi[t]uvantis vix. anis LXXX, Bricena vixit anis XL… (Felecan 2010:69), while over 300












onwards (Detschew 1957:66, Georgiev 1977:68, Duridanov 1997: 131; 370
according to Felecan 2010:61; see Mac Gonagle 2013). Particularly interesting are
triple component names such as Вρειζενις Βειθσος from the Pizos site in
Thrace (Detschew 1957:88) meaning ‘High Born of the World’. Also among the
eastern Celts, a Celtic officer – Bituitus (App. Mith. 16, 3), is recorded in the
personal bodyguard of Mithridates VI (see Mac Gonagle 2014). A Galatian Chieftain
in 63 BC also carried the name Bitoitos (Livy. Per CII).
In the territory of the Leuci tribe in Gaul, a 2nd century inscription (CIL XIII, 4661;
RG 4828):
Apollini et Sironae Biturix Iulli f(ilius) d(onavit)
= ‘To Apollo and Sirona, Biturix, son of Jullus offered (this altar)’.

The Biturix inscription from Tranqueville-Graux. (Musée d’Epinal (Vosges)

The personal name Biturix, composed of bitu- ‘world’, and –rix/-rig, ‘king’ (*rig‘king’ [Noun], GOlD: OIr. ri [g m], Ogam VOTECO-RIGAS, W: OW ri, MW ri [m] (GPC
rhi), Gaul.-rix, Celtib. in Teiuo-reikis [PN] (K.6.1) from PIE: *(H)reg- ‘king’ (IEW:
855); Matasovic EDPC) is a common Celtic personal name literally meaning ‘King of

the World’ (Delamarre 2003: pp. 76-77, 259-260). The latter element also forms
the second component in Celtic tribal names such as the Caturiges, a Gaulish tribe
in the Alpes Maritimae (Caesar, Bell. Gall. I 10,4). The name of the Caturiges tribe
thus means literally ‘The Kings of Battle’ (Matasovic EDPC 8, GPN 243-249), -

riges also










the Gaulish Bituriges Cubi, and Bituriges Vivisci (DAG 148/153, GPN 248), who lived
in the areas around Bourges/Berry, and Burdigala (Bordeaux) respectively.
One of the leaders of the Bituriges, Ambicatus, is mentioned in the founding legend
of Mediolanum (Milan) by Livy, whose source is Timagenes. Ambicatus ruled in the
days of Tarquinius Priscus (5th century BC). He sent his sister’s sons, Bellovesus and
Segovesus, with many followers drawn from numerous tribes, to found new colonies
in the Hercynian forest and in northern Italy, Bellovesus subsequently founding
Mediolanum (Livius 5.34).
Particularly interesting in this context is an ogham inscription from the Isle of
Man (CISP = ANDRS/1) dating from the 5th c. which also bears the name Ambicatus

– ‘He Who Gives Battle All Around’ – indicating a remarkable continuity in Celtic
given names.

The Ambicatus ogham inscription from Castle Rushen, Isle of Man (5th c.)






Translation: Ambicatos (PN) son of Rocatos (PN)
(Reading = Jackson/1953, McManus/1991)

Ambicatos suggests British influence on the name in vocalism of the first syllable
(AM for IM – *Imbicatos being the Primitive Irish form). This influence has not
extended to the -mb- which had become -mm- in British (McManus/1991, 114;
Ambi- = Proto-Celtic *ambi- ‘around’ [Prep], GOlD: Olr. imb, imm [Aspirating,
+Acc.], W: OW im, MWam, BRET: MBret. am, em, GAUL: ambi-)

Territory of the Bituriges as marked on the Tabula Peutingeriana
Composed of the aforementioned elements bitu– = ‘world’, and –rix/-rig = ‘king’,
the names of the Bituriges tribes therefore literally mean ‘The Kings of the World’,
continuing the tradition of ‘modesty’ in Celtic personal and tribal names.

Thus, it would appear that in his brief meeting with them on the Danube in 335 BC
the Macedonian king had little to offer the Celts. For what does one offer those who
have no need for emperors or titles, a people who feared only that ‘the sky would
fall on their heads’, and where each (at least in his own mind) was already ‘King of

the World’ ?


Carney J. (1975) The Invention of the Ogam Cipher. In: ‘Ériu’ 22, pp. 62–63
Delamarre X. (2003) Dictionnaire de la langue Gauloise. Paris
Detschew D. (1957) Die thrakischen Sprachreste. ÖAW, Phil.- hist. Kl. Schriften der
Balkankomission, Linguist. Abteilung XV. Wien
Ellis Evans D. (1967) Gaulish Personal Names. A study of some Continental Celtic
formations. Oxford 1967 = GPN
Felecan O. (2010) A Diachronic Excursion into the Anthroponymy of Eastern
Romania. Philologica Jassyensia”, An VI, Nr. 1 (11), 2010, p. 57–80
Георгиев Вл. (1977) Траките и техният език. София
Jackson K. H. (1953) Language and History in Early Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press.

Mac Gonagle B. (2013) –
Mac Gonagle B. (2014) –
MacNeill E. (1931) Archaisms in the Ogham Inscriptions. In: ‘Proceedings of the
Royal Irish Academy’ 39, pp. 33–53, Dublin
Matasovic R. (2009) An Etymological Lexicon of Proto-Celtic. University of Leiden =
McManus, D. (1991) A Guide to Ogam Maynooth Monographs 4. Maynooth: An

Meid W. (2005) Keltische Personennamen in Pannonien, Archaeolingua, Budapest
Okasha, E. (1993) Corpus of Early Christian Inscribed Stones of South-west Britain.
Leicester: Leicester University Press
Thomas, A. C. (1994) And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions
in Western Britain. Cardiff: University of Wales Press
Wright R.P., Jackson, K.H. (1968) `A Late Inscription from Wroxeter’, The Antiquaries
Journal 48, part 2: 296–300

Mac Congail 2015

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