How old is English?




Changing place-names

Did the Anglo-Saxons change all Brythonic place-names in the east? Changing place-names is a recent invention, and is merely applied in former colonies like in some African countries. We have a lot of Latin or Romanised place-names in England (e.g. Londinium) and we know that today’s names are often direct deformed descendants from the Roman ones (e.g. York = Civitas Eburacorum). Did the Anglo-Saxons only change the local proto-Welsh place-names, and left unchanged the Roman place-names? Very unlikely.

 We also can argue that most old place-names in France are, despite a heavy latinisation of the language, very well traceable to their original (para-) Brythonic names and etymology.

 Gildas: see sources


[2] Badonici montis = Bath? Yes, there is some consensus amongst historians here. Some propose Badbury, but for a number of reasons the place Badbury is rejected.
Many historians however believe that Gildas meant : the hill near Bath. There are some arguments against this assumption:
(a) This battle was a small fight. Certainly according to Roman standards. In such a situation, one side often places itself in a strong defensive position, like a city (you never know how numerous the enemy is).
(b) Battles were named until the 19th century after a reasonably place-name in the neighbourhood. Hills and valleys are rarely specified.
(c) There are many (wooded) hills around Bath. Which one was it? This creates confusion.
(d) Battles in woods are a nightmare for the commanders. They prefer by far a situation which they can oversee. A battle in open field for instance. Or a siege.
(e) Winning 'near a hill' would not necessarily have secured the city.

The only possibility for a fight outside the city is if both 'armies' (200 men?) would have met each other by accident. Although not entirely impossible, this would have been an extraordinary coincidence. As soldiers in this unlikely event would have used the self-evident road in the valley to go to the city, the question remains why Gildas allegedly mentioned a hill.

An other question is whether Gildas would have known such a precise (and in fact redundant) information.

[3] Sulis

We know that Sulis was a goddess. Sulis is a genitive declension. The noun is Sule, Sules or simply Sul. The Romans associated her with Minerva . Minerva was the goddess of the mind: poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, crafts and combat skills. There is an English word for all this: the skills of the soul (Du: ziel, old low Franconian: sela, old Saxon: seola, old Fries: sele, old English: sawol, Gothic: saiwala.) The etymology is unknown, but it's clearly a proto-German word. There is a possible connection: Sule = soul. Bath was known as a healing place. Bathing in warm water was a luxury, and revived the soul. If Sule is the same as soul (maybe Sela in the local dialect), then this could be the proof that Bath was proto-English before the Romans conquered Britain. The local lord must have been a political ally to the Welsh in the 5th century.



[4] Early Wessex spanned over Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The West-Saxons called themselves the Wise-Saxons, the Wise Ones or (Latinized) Gewissae. They later expanded their power to the south and west. Eventually, in 1066, Harold, earl of Wessex, would become Harold, king of England.



Why Gildas [1] used the name Bath


language border in Britain

The picture represents the areas of proto-English and proto-Welsh around 550 BC
and the expansion to the west of proto-English.
Stonehenge, although build by a Brythonic speaking people was already within
the proto-English language zone.

Badonici montis, Bath. Gildas mentioned clearly the victory of the ‘Britons’ over the Anglo-Saxons at ‘Badonici montis’. Ancient writers who wrote in Latin often used 'mons' (mount) as a translation for the Germanic 'burgh', 'bury' (fortified city, often upon a hilltop), a word related to 'berg' (like in iceberg, a word of Dutch origin) = mountain, hill. The Dutch verb 'bergen' means 'to secure in a safe place' . The Dutch word 'burg' means stronghold.
Badonici montis
should be read as 'Badon-bury'. In a modern translation, this would be: Bath-city (the word 'city' is French) [2].

There is a strong Welsh tradition to link Badon to Bath. Badon has no meaning in Latin or Welsh. The use of an obvious Anglo-Saxon place-name (‘The Baths’) by a well educated man like Gildas, is very disturbing for anybody who prefers to stick to the idea that the Anglo-Saxons not only changed the language, but also the local place-names. The presence of '-bury' confirms the Germanic character of the place-name.

The ‘o’ in Badon must be read aphonically, so we can replace it with the more modern ‘e’: Baden. ‘-en’ is a plural, singular it would be: Bad (this is in line with continental German writing standards) or Bath in English. We can compare with the many cities in modern Germany where the word ‘Bad’ or ‘Baden’ is present. The clearest one is Baden-Baden, in the Black Forest. For reasons unknown to me, the word is repeated twice. The city is well known for its hot springs, something that can be found in Bath too.

The word ‘bath’ is very easy to understand, and is not difficult to translate. The Roman name was Aquae Sulis (Sule's' waters). Sule [3] was a local goddess and was identified by the Romans as Minerva. Given the 'official fact’ that the whole of Britain spoke a Brythonic language, the place-name must have existed in Welsh too. It is very strange that Gildas, who disliked the Anglo-Saxons very much, did not use the hypothetical original Welsh name. He even didn’t use the Roman place-name, although he used Roman place-names on other occasions, e.g. legionem urbis (Caerleon). Following ‘official history’, one can only suppose that the Anglo-Saxons had conquered the city and almost immediately changed its name. This must have been accepted by all Britons in a record time. Compare it with the place-name Saint Petersburg in Russia that was changed by the communists into Leningrad. Once the communists lost power, the old name of the city was reinstated. Nobody had forgotten what the original name of the city was.

Gildas wrote for a Welsh public. He had to use place-names that were known by his public. Why didn’t he use a Welsh name for the city? The word for fountain in Welsh is ffynnon, water is uske . The oldest meaning of fountain (a French word) is spring, source, well, bourne. The earliest moment the Anglo-Saxons could have conquered the city was around AD 446 (the date of the alleged take-over of Britain). The battle was calculated around AD 500-510. Had the whole population of Britain accepted within some 50 years this Anglo-Saxon place-name, and forgotten the Roman or original ‘Brito’ place-name? We must recon with the fact that Bath was a very well known marvel during the Roman Empire.

The only reasonable answer is that the 'Brits' knew Bath only as Bath and not as Aquae Sulis.

Gildas added that the victory happened the day he was born. So, his information was hearsay. As he disliked the Anglo-Saxons very much, and preferred by far the Roman way of live, he should have used at least the Roman place-name. ‘Badon’ was however not a slip of the tongue. The only logical reason for its use is that the place was known under that proto-English name for centuries. ‘Badon’ is a strong argument for the existence of 2 languages in Britain.

'Bath' is a genuine Germanic word, which was imported into Welsh. We have no date for this, but it could have happened during or even before the Roman occupation. This can be the reason why the Welsh knew the city as Badon.

Bath could have been a Welsh place before the Romans conquered Britain. During the 5th century the city remained in the hands of the southwest Welsh (people who lived in modern Wiltshire, east Gloucestershire, Dorset, Somerset). The majority of the citizens in Bath however spoke proto-English.

reconstruction of Bath
The city had some 3000 inhabitants

The battle of Bath wasn't probably about Bath itself. In 577 the Saxons of Wessex [4] would win the battle of Dyrham and subsequently conquered the whole region (modern Gloucestershire and a part of Wiltshire). They effectively separated the Cornish people (or southwest Welsh) from the Welsh-Welsh. Around 500, the Saxons (Gildas) or Anglians (according to Bede) must have had the same idea. At the time Gildas wrote his sermon (around 544), the proto-Welsh lords were quarreling amongst themselves., thus creating an possible opportunity for whom were in fact proto-English lords of Wessex. Gildas knew that Gloucestershire was the pivot of the Welsh defense. So he urged the 'real Britons', the Brythonic speakers, to unite.
In fact, the whole text Gildas wrote was about civil and religious unity. He drew a parallel between the Welsh people and the Jewish tribes in the Old Testament : when pious and subsequently united, they were victorious; divided however they were easy prey for their enemies, for God had abandoned them. This was the main idea behind his sermon.