Academic journal article Scottish Language

Three Celtic Names: Venicones, Tuesis and Soutra

Academic journal article Scottish Language

Three Celtic Names: Venicones, Tuesis and Soutra

Article excerpt

The Celtic expressions discussed here have different origins. Venicones and Tuesis, occurring in Ptolemy, refer to a Grampian tribe and to the fiver Spey. Soutra, in contrast, is a medieval settlement in Midlothian. The forms are set out chronologically.


Ptolemy mentions the Venicones (variants Venicomes, Vennicones and Vernicones) as a people of eastern Scotland. Charles Thomas said this of them. He thought they lived in Fife and that some of them spoke a Celtic language, 'even if the tribal name is not certainly Celtic'; their territory would be a regio of the southern Picts, and they probably included Christians in the Niuduera regio visited in 661-664 by St Cuthbert, where (following a suggestion of Peter Hunter Blair) Professor Thomas linked Niuduera with Bede's Giudi or Stirling (Thomas 1968:114).

Yet some of this must be rejected. The Venicones have long been placed not in Fife but north of the Tay, as they lived by the Roman fort of Horrea Classis, formerly located at Carpow (NO 2017) five miles southeast of Perth, but now situated near Monifieth (NO 4932), six miles east of Dundee (Rivet and Smith 1979: 372-3,491). They ruled lands between the Tay and the Mounth, south of Aberdeen. They were hence distinct from the Niduari visited by Cuthbert, who lived in southern Fife, their name 'people of Nid' perhaps referring to a river at Newburn (NO 4404), near Largo (Breeze 2003), whatever the exact nature of its etymology. Hunter Blair's link with Stifling may thus be discounted.

Even though all may now agree that the Venicones lived in Angus and its environs, their name has remained obscure. It has been variously discussed. Watson thought the second element meant 'hounds' if (as in some variants) its o was short. But his suggestion 'swamp hounds; alder hounds' (from the variant Vernicones) is not convincing (Watson 1926: 22-3). O'Rahilly dismissed the forms Venicones (with short o), and Venicones, Venicomes, and Vernicomes (with long o), as corruptions of Verturiones, which gives Middle Irish Fortrenn, referring to the region west of Stirling and Perth (O'Rahilly 1946:382 n.2). But that is not credible. Jackson's comments here were thus to the point. Although he did not think Venicones 'could be said to be Celtic with any confidence', he ruled out O'Rahilly's suggestion on Verturiones by citing the inscription DIE MINERUE VENICO PR(O) S(ALUTE) P(OSUIT) S(UMPTU) S(UO) 'To the goddess Minerva, Venico for his welfare set this up at his own expense' (1543 in Collingwood and Wright, 1965) from Carrawburgh, and not, as Jackson imagined, Ilkley (Jackson 1955:136 n.7). This implies that the correct reading in Ptolemy is Venicones. (Although a link between VENICO and Venicones is doubted by some, it was accepted by Jackson, who was not known for credulity.)

Rivet and Smith (1979: 490-1), who identified Venicones with Venutio (which they took as an error for Venico) in the Ravenna Cosmography, related the first element to the Indo-European root *uen-'strive; wish, love', as in Latin venus 'beauty; love' and venor 'I hunt, pursue', and Old Irish fine 'tribe, family'. They took Venico in the Hadrian's Wall inscription as 'a Veniconian tribesman' or as a cognate personal name. They admitted the second element was unclear, but associated the first with that of Gwynedd in North Wales, linking this and Venicones with concepts of kindred (Rivet and Smith 1979: 490-1). This, discussed further by Koch (1980), is now accepted by Isaac (2005: 201), Who translates 'related ones, ones bonded by friendship'.

Nevertheless, another and more compelling derivation seems possible. The etymology for Gwynedd is here very pertinent. Gwynedd is from British *Ueneda, associated with Irish Feni (a name the Irish gave themselves), itself related to Irish fian 'band of warriors and hunters' (an a-stem noun) and perhaps the Indo-European root *uen- 'strive; wish, love' (Geiriadur 1950-2002: 1773; Dark 1994: 78). …

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