AttestedCalidonia or Caledonia as an area, and Caledonii or Καλεδονιοι as a tribe, were mentioned by many classical authors, listed by Rivet & Smith pp289-291, including Pliny, Lucan, Martial, and Florus, who wrote before Ptolemy.  Hills came first, then their name was applied to people and trees living on top.  See also about Dicaledones.

Where:  Scotland, especially north of the Antonine Wall.  The words of Ptolemy 2,3,13 about his Καλεδονιοι are usually interpreted as placing them in the vicinity of the Great Glen, but Hind (1983) argued (fairly convincingly) that they actually lived in the productive farmlands east and south of there, towards modern Perth and Aberdeen.

Name origin:  The -donia part meant ‘hills’, derived ultimately from a PIE root for ‘come full circle’, which developed towards ‘defensive enclosure’ in Celtic languages and towards ‘high ground’ in Germanic languages, as discussed here.  For the Cali- part there are up to 20 PIE roots to consider, but the general usefulness of Greek parallels in explaining names in ancient Scotland directs attention to “Is bald beautiful?” by Thompson Clarke (1988).  Greek καλος is usually translated as ‘beautiful’ but it evolved from an original form containing a digamma (like English W), which was cognate with Latin calvus ‘bald’.  So its original meaning was something more generally positive, like ‘good’, even ‘vigorous’ or ‘tall’.  In Calidonia its best translation is probably ‘noble’.

Notes:  This analysis rejects the common claim that Welsh caled, Irish calad, etc ‘hard’ are good parallels.  Cal- may show up with a sense of ‘high, noble’ in many other early names, including Calleva (Silchester), Caletes (Normandy cliffs), Καλατον (Burrow-in-Londsdale), and Caluvio (Wharton Crag?).  Smith (1956) cited Old English calu ‘bald’ and *celte ‘cliff?’ as common contributors to later place names.

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Last edited 3 May 2023     To main Menu