Gobannium

Attested:  AI iter 12 Gobannio;  possibly the same as RC’s Bannio

Where:  Abergavenny Roman fort at SO29851409, which occupied the flat summit of a bluff above the confluence of the rivers Usk and Gavenny.

Name origin:  Most likely a description of the broad, marshy valley of the river Usk upstream from Abergavenny, for reasons set out at length here.  The first element Gob- came from a PIE root *gheub- ‘cavity’ ancestral to cove, Irish and English gob ‘mouth’, etc, describing the way that hills hem in the river valley.  And the -annium part probably meant ‘marsh’ as in Endlicher's Glossary and other names such as the river Annan.  The closest parallel name is actually Greek ζουπανια (land ruled by a župan) used in a book by Constantine VII, Byzantine emperor in the AD 900s.

Notes:  The oft-repeated theory that the river Gafenni was a ‘river of the blacksmiths’ because of medieval Irish gobae or gobann ‘smith’ is hard to defend, mainly because there is no evidence for significant iron smelting reasonably near Abergavenny until many centuries after Roman times.  The idea of an ancient god Gobannus, ancestral to Welsh Gofannon, Irish Goibniu, and Lithuanian Gabija, is not unreasonable, but it rests upon a problematic record: five inscriptions mentioning Coban(n)o, plus others mentioning γοβανο, Goban, gobannilno, and Xuban, plus Vercingetorix’s uncle Gobannitio.  Most likely, *bann- was an early word for skilled craftsmen (possibly from the Semitic root *ban- ‘to construct’), which led to Greek βαυνος ‘furnace’ and βαναυσος ‘artisan’, plus various personal names such as Bannonius and the potter's mark Banna fecit.  In that case, initial co- or go- might have a sense of ‘with’, appropriate to a patron deity of artisans.

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Last Edited: 13 September 2017