Cantium

Attested:  (1) Caesar  Cantium;  Strabo  Καντιον
  (2) Ptolemy  2,3,27 Καντιοι with 3 πολεις;  Duroaverno Cantiacorum at position 72 in the Ravenna Cosmography;   CANT on an inscription at Colchester
  (3) Ptolemy 2,3,4  Καντιον (Νουκαντιον) ακρον;  Diodorus Siculus 5,21 ακροτηριον Καντιον ακρον

Where:  (1) Kent; (2) its people, with πολεις at London, Canterbury, and Richborough; (3) probably the North Foreland at TR401697 (because Ptolemy located it north of Canterbury and it was most noticeable to sailors) not the South Foreland at TR360432.

Name origin:  PIE *kan-tho- ‘corner, edge, rim’, as cogently explained by Rivet and Smith.  Cant/Kent was quite a common geographical name, not limited to the south-eastern county, whose ancient extent remains uncertain.

Notes:  It has been argued that this root developed from a more basic *(s)kamb- ‘to bend’ (the likely root of several early names in Camb- etc, and of the English word hump), and therefore that Latin canthus ‘iron wheel rim’, Dutch or Norwegian kant ‘edge’, English cantle, etc, gained their T from the word being used by Celtic speakers – not convincing, because Greek κανθος ‘corner of eye, rim of wheel’ was in use way too early (Homer, Aristotle, etc).  Andrew Breeze (2020) in Archaeologia Cantiana 91, 286-293 argues that: (1) Cantium was named by its inhabitants, not by external observers; (2) the name was coined in a Celtic language; and (3) it referred to the North Downs sticking up, not its corner shape sticking out.  A key part of his argument is to follow Ifor Williams and Kenneth Jackson in accepting the spelling Cantscaul in Annales Cambriae over Catscaul in Historia Brittonum for a battle whose site Bede called Deniseburna; they place it south of Hexham rather than at the traditional Heavenfield site north of Hexham, right by Hadrian's Wall; then they argue that the Cant- part rather than the -caul had the sense ‘wall’; not convincing!  Almost all places with cant- in their modern or ancient names have something in their topography that is a corner or wedge shaped.  So, too, most dictionary words that contain cant- are somehow angular: cantilever, canting, canton, gantry, etc, plus Latin words for vine trellis, pack-ass panniers, etc.  Alex Woolf (2018) argued that the name Hengest was invented in Kent to anglicise Latin canterius ‘gelding’ and also noted the name Cantiorix on an inscription in Wales.

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Last edited 21 August 2021.     to main Menu