Attested:  Sarna at position 239 in the Cosmography's list of harbour estuaries.

Where:  Probably the estuary of the river Avon, which flowed into the sea at about SX656440 in the South Hams part of Devon.  On one side of its mouth lay Burgh Island, which is a strong candidate to be the Ικτιν of Diodorus Siculus where tin was carried across a causeway to a tidal island to be traded across to Gaul, and which has recently become best known from Agatha Christie stories.  On the other side much archaeological evidence has been found for an ancient emporium on the peninsula of Bantham Hams.

Name origin:  The ancient river Sarnus (modern Sarno) through Pompeii (before Vesuvius erupted) is a clear parallel, not just in name, but in function as a trading centre.  Krahe (1963:290-1) reckoned it was one of 27 river names derived from PIE *ser- ‘to flow’, which also included the ancient Sorna (modern Zorn) in Alsace.  Compare Sanskrit sarNIka ‘water’, or the ancient river Σαρος.  One ancient writer commented (here p113) that the Sarnus flowed from mount Saro.  Ekwall (1928:374-5) also puzzled over the river name Soar and its relatives.

Notes:  Demoted from top candidate to be Sarna (as discussed here ) is the estuary of the river now called Camel, which flowed from the Roman fort at Nanstallon near Bodmin to a Romano-British settlement at Lellizzick beside Harbour Bay on the northern side of Cornwall.  The river name Avon tends to be associated with ancient transport routes, especially trans-peninsular ones (Sherratt, 1996).  Alovergium might have been nearby.  In the light of Burgh Island's causeway, what is to be made of modern Welsh sarn ‘causeway’?  First attested in the 1200s it has been unconvincingly traced to PIE *ster- ‘to strew’, though *ser- ‘to line up’ seems more appropriate.

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Last edited 30 October 2022
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