Attested: Raxtomessasenua at position 268 in the Ravenna Cosmography, clearly written as a single word in all three manuscripts. Its penultimate letter might be N not U.
Where: In or near the Solent, deduced from its position in the Cosmography's tour of harbour estuaries between Novia and Cunia.
Name origin: A pile-up of three elements.
The first part fits PIE *reig- ‘stretch’, which led to Scots rax, equivalent to rack, meaning ‘to stretch out’. It also led to the sailing term reach, meaning to hold a straight course for a while, which shows up in Regulbio (Reculver), the turning point at the north end of the Wantsum Channel. Gelling (1984:183-5) translated Old English *raec as ‘raised straight strip’, taking note that Ekwall (1960:386) translated Old English *ric as ‘stream, ditch’ related to Swedisk raik ‘stream, ditch’. Raxto- is also close to Old English ræhte ‘it reaches’ from ræcan ‘to reach’, from PIE reg- ‘to move in a straight line, to lead, to rule’.
The second part is prima facie Latin messa ‘cut off’, derived from PIE *me- ‘to mow’, but it could also be a variant of Greek-derived meso- ‘in the middle’.
The third part, –senua or –senna, may just come from PIE *senə- ‘apart, separated’. This may also show up in Leugosena and Insenos. Or it might be related to Latin sinus ‘bay’, because of the medieval name Sinah beside the entrance to Langstone Harbour, which is discussed by Coates (1991). Or maybe to various words with a sense of cutting such as Latin scindo or English shingle and chine.
Notes: There are several alternative ways of segmenting Raxtomessasenua, but they all end up plausibly at the Solent, where 3 name elements might fit the 3-in-a-row harbours (Portsmouth, Langstone, and Chichester) or their adjoining land promontories, although that number match seems less impressive once Brading Haven, Wootton Creek, Pagham harbour, or Southampton Water are considered. The main pre-Roman site in that area is on Hayling Island, written up as a “Sacred Island” here, then Fishbourne Roman palace is generally thought to have been the residence of king Togodumnus, in charge of a large area around Chichester when the Romans landed in AD 43. The element Raxto- may be related to modern English row, seen in the place name Rowner (ruwan oringa in a medieval charter) on the coast of Gosport. Also in Rew Street on the Isle of Wight, leading from “the original Isle of Wight ferry”, which ran from an estuary now silted up at Stone Farm, near Lepe (Bede's ad Lapidem, to a small harbour on the Island, in the lee of a promontory, now washed away, by Gurnard, on the Island. See Clarke (2003) and Ulmschneider (1999). An experienced Roman sailor seeing the Solent would have thought of the Strait of Messina, a name derived from Μεσσηνια a relatively fertile part of Greece, possibly within miscopying range of messasenua.
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Last edited 26 August 2023. To main Menu.