AttestedSubdobiadon at position 197 in the Ravenna Cosmography

Where:  A fort on the Antonine Wall.  Among the bigger forts on the Wall, Cadder fort at NS61677253 is fractionally more likely than Balmuildy at NS58117169.

Name origin:  Initial Sub- obviously looks like Latin for ‘under’, but how should the remaining -dobiadon be segmented?  Interpreting the next -do- as ‘double’ or as a fragment of dunum ‘hill(fort)’ is unattractive, and it makes best sense as part of Latin subdo ‘to set under, to subdue’.  Native people living in this area (to whom Ptolemy attributed six named places) were called the Δαμνονιοι ‘condemned, punished’ (perhaps after the battle of mons Graupius).  The -biadon part has a Greek noun ending, which hints at βια ‘strength’, generally perceived as present in the name Alcibiades and with limited penetration into Latin.  Scholars are undecided between two interpretations of name elements of forms bii/bio/biu in Gaulish (Delamarre,2003:75-77) – ‘living’ or ‘cut’.  Here the relevant PIE root seems to be *bheid- ‘to split’.  While both Latin and Greek descendants retained the meaning of ‘to split’ they shifted to initial F, and for initial B one must look to more northerly languages such as English bite and Russian бить ‘to fight’.  The best parallel is actually the divided (and often mistranslated) tribe in Gaul Bituriges.

Notes:  On the map one can see how this part of the Antonine Wall cuts through a generally flat area with no natural division in lifestyle or culture more serious than the river Kelvin and its fringing wetlands, nor any obvious tribal gathering point nearby.  Whether or not it was a Roman policy aim to divide local people, the Wall would have produced a divided region.  This analysis rejects several ideas that are widely repeated, such as a link with Dumbarton Rock and its two peaks, or a link with Gaelic dobhar ‘water’ invoked to explain Ptolemy's Δουβις or Δουβιος, now the river Doubs in Burgundy.

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Last edited 14 April 2020     To main Menu