Litana

AttestedLitana at position 198 in the Ravenna Cosmography

Where:  A fort of the Antonine Wall, on the outskirts of Glasgow, most likely at Balmuildy, by the river Kelvin, NS58117169, which was one of only two forts on the Antonine Wall with stone ramparts rather than turf.  This outranks the next fort along to the west, at Bearsden.

Name Origin:  The distinctive characteristic of this fort fits Greek λιθος ‘stone’ (with no known deep etymology), whose vowel O could become A, as in λιθαξ ‘stony’, or I, as in λιθινος ‘made of stone’.  But why did Greek θ become plain T, instead of the digraph TH conventionally used in English and Latin?  There was, and still is, a huge range of variant ways to pronounce the dozen or so T-like consonants recognized by phoneticians, depending on the native language of the speaker.  Many Roman troops on the Wall, who were of Dutch or Low German origin, would have naturally used a T not a TH sound.

Notes:  See also about Litinomago near Aberdeen in stone-circle country.  Romans would have remembered the Silva Litana ambush battle in the second Punic War.  This analysis rejects an explanation based on words close to litana meaning ‘broad, wide’ in all the Celtic languages, derived from PIE *plat- ‘flat, wide, spread out’, with the classic Celtic loss of P.  The land near the fort is not especially flat, but it is more than 4 km from any serious hills or the river Clyde.  It also outranks Greek λιτανα ‘someone praying’ (of uncertain origin), which led to the modern word litany.  Other possible parallels, including litus ‘river bank’, Lithuania, etc, do not obviously lead to any better explanations.

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Last edited 23 January 2023     To main Menu