Othona

AttestedNotitia Dignitatum: Othona, Othonae;  Bede Ythancaestir

Where:  Bradwell, Essex, a Saxon Shore fort at TM033081, positioned to be a southern guard post for the big estuary (probably Coguveusuron leading to Colchester and Chelmsford.

Name origin:  This name is uninterpretable in Celtic, but it makes perfect sense as Greek οθονη ‘canvas, sails’, a word of uncertain origin, perhaps originally Egyptian.  This analysis outranks drawing attention to oth-/ož- as an Old English a precursor of out- and to Latin onus ‘cargo’ or to -ona a common ending of river names.

Notes:  Despite being the closest Saxon Shore fort to London, Othona was very out-of-the-way.  Its site is now by the chapel of St-Peter-on-the-Wall, at the seaward (north-eastern) end of a slight ridge running out through the marshes, along which ran a Roman road.  Its exact environment is uncertain, not least because it was built (probably in AD 250 to 300) during a phase of rapidly rising sea level.  Although the coast of Essex has changed since Roman times, silt deposition tends to maintain coastal land at about high-tide level.  So the saltmarsh, which now lies seaward from the fort, originally extended up to three miles further inland, where Map 3 of Fawn et al. (1990) shows a line of Red Hill salt-making sites active between 50 BC and AD 150 in what is now arable farmland.  Saxon Shore forts are often discussed as naval bases intended to counter seaborne pirates, but it might also have had a guarded-warehouse function similar to that of Gariannonor.

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Last edited 27 November 2022     To main Menu