AttestedNovitia at position 253 in the Ravenna Cosmography, in the list of harbour estuaries.

Where:  Probaby the same as Ptolemy's Νοουιου river mouth, which has long been identified with the river Nith, leading past Caerlaverock to Dumfries.  If the preceding names in the Cosmography (Anava and Bdora) have been located correctly that would make the sequence slightly dogleg back, as seen on a modern map, perhaps because the Cosmographer source was a map like Ptolemy's, with the whole of Scotland pivoted about 90 degrees clockwise, around a hinge near Carlisle.  It is possible (given that the idea of Novitia evolving into Nith is weak), but less likely, that Novitia meant the whole eastern end of the Solway estuary (see here for a fine map), where the Rockliffe Marshes by the mouths of the Esk and Eden are “constantly changing through accretion and erosion”.  Better still, maybe Novitia was Wigtown Bay.

Name OriginNovitia is a late Latin variant spelling of the feminine (or neuter plural) of the adjective novicius ‘new, newly arrived’, the origin of modern English novice.  See also about rivers called *Navis, *Novis, etc.

Notes:  To explain how a river could be new, the classic explanation is “freshness and verdure of the riverside” (Watson 1926:54-55).  Or else maybe the name picks up on how much the Nith changes in apparent length between high and low tide because of all the sand in its estuary.  The most intriguing possibility is that people there were newcomers, since Ptolemy's Νοουανται had two πολεις, at Λουκοπιβια, probably near Wigtown, and at Ρεριγονιον, probably near Dunragit, plus the Νοουαντων peninsula and promontory, probably in Galloway.  Might that refer to Gaels (speakers of Irish) already present centuries earlier than usually suggested?  Among the problems in linking Nith with Novitia is that *nitio- in ancient names resembles Sanskrit nitya ‘indigenous’.

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Last edited 20 March 2023     To main Menu