AttestedVindovala at position 145 in the Ravenna Cosmography; Vindobala in the Notitia Dignitatum.

WhereRudchester Roman fort at NZ11276755, from its position in the Cosmography's list of forts on Hadrian's Wall.

Name origin:  See here for why Vindo- meant something like ‘floodplain, pasture’ rather than the ‘fine, pleasant’ previously suggested.  However, derivation from Latin vindex ‘defender’ is also possible.  For the -vala part see Luguvalium for why ‘wall’ may be the best translation.  For the alternative spelling bala see here, where Prosper (1998) invokes *uba/*oba/*upa ‘water, river’.  The Roman fort is on a local high point flanked by two small burns each 200m away, leading 3km downhill to the river Tyne, which is locally meandering and flood-prone.  On the other side, northeast between Whitchester and Ouston Airfield, is some floodable low ground with streams feeding Med Burn, which may also explain the Vindo-.

Notes:  There is no conclusive reason for preferring either the B or the V spelling.  Rivet & Smith, thinking along purely Celtic lines, suggested a translation ‘white peak’, which is almost certainly wrong, but it motivated them to prefer the -bala spelling.  (A nearby place called Whitchester may owe its name to boggy ground, rather than whiteness, plus a ploughed-out structure.)  A previous version of this analysis laid out 5 other possibilities.  (1) Many later place names in England contain an element *ball/*balg/*bol/etc that meant ‘smooth rounded hill’ (Smith, 1956:18-19), which could fit the Roman fort's situation on a local high point with the ground falling away by 30 metres or so on all sides.  (2) Another meaning of Middle English ball was ‘boundary-marker mound’, which, like Welsh bâl ‘pointed summit’, might fit a hypothetical burial mound nearby that was long ago ploughed out.  (3) Cornish bal ‘mine’ and Gaulish *balma ‘cave, hole in the rock’ (Delamarre, 2003:66) might fit the rock-cut cistern known as Giant's Grave found close to the fort.  (4) If the V in the Cosmography is preferred to B in the Notitia, this name might relate to the valleys on either side of the fort's location.  (5) Bailey (walled enclosure) of a castle, written ballium in mediaeval Latin, has been invoked to explain Continental place names such as Bellegem, and has no certain etymology, though Greek βαλλω ‘to throw, lay foundation’ is in the running.
  If -vala/-bala does refer to the river Tyne, not the wall, maybe the place name Wylam there is relevant, because its suggested derivation from fish-traps is unconvincing.  To explain the river Wylye, Ekwall (1928) invoked wily, in a sense of bending, which is related to walk.

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Last edited 4 November 2021     to main Menu