Attested: Blatobulgio on iter 2 of the Antonine Itinerary, 12 Roman miles from Castra Exploratorum (probably near Gretna), which was 12 miles from Luguvallo (Carlisle).
Where: Probably (1) the Roman camp at NY188785 south of the besieged hill-fort at Burnswark, rather than
(2) the Roman fort at Birrens at NY21907518, near Middlebie, Dumfriesshire, or
(3) the Roman fort at Broomholm beside the river Esk at NY37868145.
Name Origin: Possibility 1 fits Latin blatta ‘blood clot’ or its associated adjective blatteus, for the colour of dried blood or a cockroach. The implication is that a lot of blood was shed when the Roman army assaulted Burnswark hill-fort, now recognized as the site of a proper battle not mere practice. Possibility 2 arises from the argument by Jackson (in the text copied below) that the name was created in a Celtic language, with a specific parallel in Welsh blawd ‘flour’ referring to the the prominent granaries at Birrens, though actually Stodoion has a stronger claim to them. Possibility 3 arises from the colour of a heather-covered hillside, such as Breckeny Knowe, seen looking north from the fort, as in the photograph below, kindly provided by Walter Baxter, which was taken in October, when the heather blooms have faded.
The -bulgium part resembles Latin bulga ‘purse’ (also womb and other body cavities in common speech), which almost certainly passed from PIE *bhelgh- ‘to swell’ into multiple language families. The notion that this word originated in Celtic (hence Irish bolg ‘bag, satchel’) and passed from there into Latin rests on a single throwaway line by one Roman author, referring to Galli. Several Germanic languages (including Gothic and Old Frisian) have that ‘purse’ sense, but most of them (plus Gaelic) have a word related to Old English balca, from which comes modern balk, meaning ‘ridge’ appropriate to that elongated hill-fort. Smith (1956:18) perceived *balg- as ‘rounded hill’ in later English place names.
Notes: All three locations have problems. Possibility 1 wins, because it fits Itinerary mileages perfectly, measured along the known tracks of Roman roads, but it requires Castra Exploratorum to lie undetected somewhere near Gretna and the England/Scotland border (which is no worse than the usual guess about Netherby Hall), and Croucingo may also have a claim on Burnswark. Possibility 2 is heavily promoted as certain (because of Jackson's eminence), but it introduces a distance discrepancy of 3 miles, and offers no logical explanation for Castra Exploratorum. Possibility 3 corrects the the linguistic weakness of 2, but it is even worse in terms of mileage and known Roman roads, and also depends on a weak guess about Netherby Hall. The robes of Roman aristocrats were dyed with Tyrian Purple, which was actually a redder shade than the word “purple” usually suggests to a modern English speaker.
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Last edited 10 February 2022 To main Menu