Eburacum

Attested:  Mentioned by all the main ancient sources, including Ptolemy 2,3,17 Εβορακον, Ravenna Cosmography Eburacum, Antonine ItineraryEburacum and Eburaco, plus various inscriptions and early writers, sometimes with vowel U, sometimes with O.

Where:  York, at SE603521.  The Roman fortress nestled in the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Foss, at a location with no evidence for major pre-Roman settlement by indigenous people, and which makes sense only in the context of a militarily expanding Roman province, with a substantial economy, a strategic road system, and trade links via the North Sea.

Name origin:  Latin ebur (whose genitive eboris contains an O) ‘ivory’, referring to boars' tusks, offers a perfect fit to the observed name.  The -acum part was a common adjectival ending seen in early place names, especially in Gaul.  York's later strong association with boars has been dismissed as a reinterpretation based upon Germanic words such Old English eofor ‘wild boar’, but, long before Romans lost control of York, a traveller from there set up a stone altar in Bordeaux with a detailed image of a boar on one side, securely dated to AD 237.  How *ebur- may have evolved linguistically is discussed at length here.

NotesLegio IX Hispana which built the Roman fortress at York around AD 71 was originally recruited in the part of Iberia where ancient personal names based on *Ebur- were most prevalent and where Verraco ‘boar’ monuments are common.  Presumably boars had a symbolic/religious significance there much like that in India for Varaha ‘boar’.  The implication is that the name Eburacum had nothing directly to do with boar hunting or the ivory trade, and the widely promoted idea of an association with Celtic words for ‘yew’ is a big red herring.  Peter Schrijver (2015) clarified the range of plants in Ireland, Wales, and Brittany that had names possible derived from an ancient form *eburos, as also discussed here.

You may copy this text freely, provided you acknowledge its source as www.romaneranames.uk, recognise that it is liable to human error, and try to offer suggestions for improvement.
Last edited 28 August 2021     to main Menu