Gabrosentio

Attested:  RC Gabrocentio;  ND Gabrosenti, where the Tribunus cohortis secundae Thracum was based.

Where:  The Roman coastal fort, at NX982210, north of Whitehaven, Cumbria, whose location is usually described as Moresby, but actually it is between Parton and Lowca.  Confirmed by three inscriptions, RIB 797, 803 and 804 mentioning Thracians.

Name Origin:  Translation as ‘goat-path’, suggested by R&S and widely accepted, does not fit this site.  Irish gabor ‘goat’ and sét ‘path, way’ exemplify the Celtic parallels suggested, but they raise awkward questions, notably that it is not obvious how PIE *kapro- ‘he-goat’ shifted to initial letter G in Celtic.  Trying to think clearly about the role of this fort (and questioning whether a language not attested locally until 500 years later is relevant to a strictly Roman site in a thinly populated area) leads to a better translation as ‘cape sentinel’.  The fort sits in relatively low ground, as a base from which Roman troops would have patrolled the west coast of Cumbria, particularly St Bees head, the westermost point of northern England, which mariners would have known very well.  The name ending matches Latin sentio ‘to sense, to perceive’, while the Gabro- part presumably came from PIE *gab- ‘to show, to watch’. 

Notes:  How does the apparent sense of Gab- in this name and in many others (such as Γαβαιον in Brittany, Gabes in Tunisia, Καφαρευς, in Euboea, Greece, or this site's counterpart on the east coast of England, Γαβραντουικων Ευλιμενος κολπος) relate to the word cape, in its twin senses of ‘headland’ and ‘heading’?  Was Pokorny right to separate out two roots like *kap-, meaning ‘piece of land’ and ‘thing in the water’, in addition to kaput ‘head’?  What does the R add in gabr- and where do goats come into the story?  Gabrus was the name of one or more potters, probably based in north-east Gaul, surely more likely to have had the gift of the gab than to have named himself after a goat.  A possible parallel place name is Gabromagus, Windischgarsten, Austria, which illustrates neatly how magus meant a small flat area among mountains, but still gives no hint why gabr- was relevant.  Latin sentus ‘thorny’ made it tempting to notice that sea buckthorn is now being encouraged to grow on the Cumbrian coast.  This plant, which is native to Britain, and is useful for food and dyeing, can form great thickets on sand dunes.  Maybe the Romans protected this fort with a thicket of thorn bushes as well as their usual preference, marshes. 

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Last Edited: 13 September 2017