One of the aspects which bespeak Celticisation consists on the names of persons, peoples and towns present in classical texts or in the epigraphy dating from the time of Roman rule, albeit referring to ages previous to the conquest.
Adolf Schulten (Los cántabros y astures y su guerra con Roma – 1962) considers already the Celticity of the Astures and mentions some names which he deems Celtic, amongst which a large number from the Asturian onomastics: Albius, Abrunus, Abucia, Agedius, Alla, Alles, Ambatus, Amia, Ammia, Andotius, Annua, Apilicus, arausa, Aravus, Atta, Atticus, Attua, Bodus, Bodecius, Bederus, Bevegius, Broccus, Cabrilius, Caesardia, Caesarus, Camalus, Calles, Camplus, Caturius, Cillius, Clotius, Cludamus, Clutaius, Clutamus, Cumelius, Cumonius, Magilo, Mandica, Mascelio, Medugenus, Origenus, Palarus, Pelia, Pentius, Reburinia, Reburinius, Reburrus, Segeus, Segisamus, Silo, Talavus, Tritia, Trito, Vado, Vendiricus, Vennius, Viamus, Virillius, Vironicus, Vironius and Vironus.
He also develops a list of Celtic names of Astur towns and places mentioned by classical authors. For instance, Mons Vindius, where the Astures are said to have taken refuge in their fight against Rome, would stem from the Celtic vindo and would mean “white” or “glimmering” (cf. Welsh gwyn). It would have analogies in Europe in Vindobona (Vienna), the Vindelici (tribe from the Southern Danube), Vindobala (England) or Vindonissa (Switzerland).
Noega, as the great Astur oppidum (fortified castro) identified with the present-day Campa Torres castro (Gijón), mentioned by Strabo, Mela, Pliny and Ptolemy, would have a Celtic origin for Schulten and he correlates it to Noecium (Belgium). Likewise, the inhabitants of this settlement, the Cilurnigi, known from epigraphy, have a Celtic name.
Argenteola (according to Ptolemy), located on the Southern road from Asturica to Bracara, would stem from the Celtic argent; Calubriga, city of the Astures Gigurri, would have a Celtic root (cal); Camala, frequent in Gaul and Britannia (e.g. Camulus); Aligantia has a Celtic suffix (as Numantia, Pallantia etc.); Veniatia, located in the Southwest of Asturias, would stem from the Celtic veniatus; Uttare, located 16 miles from Bergidum (other Celtic names are Utta, Utto and Uttius); Nemetobriga, city of the Tiburi, combines two Celtic components: nemeton (sacred forest) and briga (hillfort); Cambracum, mentioned in the Ravenna Cosmography and located in the vicinity of present-day Potes (Cantabria), has the Celtic suffix -acum. Tu sum up, out of the 32 cities of the Astures, some 14 are known to have a Celtic name. And the same occurs with the names of tribes and clans, considering this author the following clans Celtic: Aplaidaci, Avolgigi, Cantiani, Cabruagenigi, Beriso, Ketiani, Araum, Abilici, Corovescum, Veliagum, Viromemici, Arani, Boddegum and Arronidaeci; Avolgigorum, from the tribe of the Orniaci.
From the tombstone found in Cangas de Onís “Teae filiae sue Cantianoru(m)…”, the name of the clan is given by a Celtic personal name: Cantius.
Another Celtic clan would be the one occurring on the tombstone of Corao (Cangas de Onís), “Cassio Corovescum fil Vadiniensi”. Corovescum corresponded to the Celtic Crovius, like the Gallaecian tribe of the Crovii or Grovii.
In present-day León (at the time in the Asturia Cismontana) we find as well “Negalus Veronigorum”, the clan of the Verogini (from the Celtic Veronius); “Elanio Veliagu(n)”, from the Celtiv Velio; “Munigalio Arani(cum)”, from the Celtic Aramus; “Neconi Boddegum Leoncinis filio vadiniensi”, Boddegum stemming from the Celtic boddus and meaning “victory”. This is also the origin of the names Bodus, Bodecius and Boderus (chiefly amongst the tribe of the Vadinienses), or Bodocena (on a stele discovered in Vil.laverde, Belmonte de Miranda) and which share origin and root with Boudica (also known as Boadicea), queen of the Iceni of Britain who led the revolt against Nero A.D. 61. Furthermore, an altar dedicated to the Celtic deity Bodus (victory) was discovered in El Bierzo (León).
Martínez Sobremaza (Nombres cántabros y nombres célticos – 1999) underlines in the onomastics typically Celtic anthroponyms such as Ambatus, Danuvios, Bodus, Bovecio, Cadus, Lugua, Ama, Brigetino, Cludamus, Duratonis, Dovidena, Irmana, Irmunicus, Medugenus, Origenus, Segismus and Segaida. All of them belonging to Cantabrian tribes, some whereof in Astur territory.
Peralta Labrador considers anthroponyms of the type Celtius or Ambatus evidence of Celticisation.
In the case of the name Ambatus, we can find analogies in the name Ambactos from Gaul and which alludes an institution known as Devotio, whereby several people bound to a chieftain for life in a type of situation of “patronage”.
Examples abound in the well-populated patronages of Gaulish chieftains like Vercingetorix, Ambiorix, Orgetorix etc.
The Ambacti mentioned by Cæsar in Gaul, occur in other Celtic areas. For instance, Polybius alludes the Ambacti from the cisalpine area, whom he call “Simperipheromenoi” and which can be translated as “those who go around” (a warrior chieftain).
Ambatos, as a personal name, can be found in Corao (Cangas de Onís – Asturias); Barniedo, Fuentes de Peñacorada and Lois (León); Amaya (Burgos) and Lurienzo (Liébana – Cantabria). Except Lurienzo and Amaya, the rest all appear within the territory of the Vadinienses whose capital, Vadinia, also has a Celtic name.
For authors like Le Roux or Dottin, the Ambacti were a sort of elite of the patronage bound to the warrior chieftains.
For Almagro Gorbea and J. Lorrio “…These anthroponyms whose etymology references the patronage system of Celtic society are one of the most characteristic elements to define the Celticised areas of the Iberian Peninsula…”.
Another interesting name is Celtius, found in a graffito on a fragment of pottery in the archælogical excavations in the Cellagú castro (Oviedo – Asturias) (La dieta y l’ artesanía ósea nel pobláu de Cellagú (Llatores, Uviéu). Un castru de los siglos V e.C. al II d.C., Gema E. Adán Álvarez – 2001). We see here clearly Celtic onomastics which bespeaks Celtic peoples in Asturias, or which consider themselves Celtic and possess awareness of being so.
For some authors this would reflect people displaced from their original territory, Celts amongst non-Celtic people, and their name would therefore constitute, in a certain manner, a sort of ethnic or cultural vindication (El Castiellu de Llagú, un castro astur en los orígenes de Oviedo, Luís Berrocal-Rangel et al. – 2002). We do not fully agree with this appreciation since we have other cases like the name Centill, father of Vercingetorix, amongst Gauls; ethnic name amongst Celtic people. We have likewise similar examples with other names, for instance Asterius (Cangas de Onís), Asturius, Asturia (Zamora, in the Asturia Cismontana) and Astur (Ponte do Navea in Orense, Astur territory at the time). They are names of ethnic origin and it is remarkable to find them in actual Astur territory (La onomástica personal indígena del Noroeste peninsular -astures y galaicos-, Mª Lourdes Albertos Firmat – 1985 in Acts from the 3rd Colloquium on Palæo-Hispanic Languages and Cultures, Lisbon). In our opinion, the reason for this ethnic anthroponyms lies in an exaltation of the self, an ethnic pride even in their own people. We have current examples in some minor toponymy: El Prau del Asturianu (Murias – Aller – Asturias), or Camín Real or Camín de los Asturianos (Salas – Asturias). All of them reference Asturians within Asturias.
Other names which allude to Celts are Celticus (Braga – Portugal), Celtius (Balsemão – Lamego – Portugal), Celtienus, Celtiatus and Celtiaticus from the Lusitanian-Vetton area or the Cantabrian clan of the Celtigum.
Among the names of gentes or tribes stemming from a Celtic tongue we can find the Orgenomesci, situated by Pliny in the River Sella area, and ascribed to Puerto de Vereasueca (also in Celtic language) and their city Argenomescon, to the North-East of the Vadinienses. Tombstones from the Orgenomesci were found in Bodes (Astur toponym of Celtic origin) in Cangas de Onís, dedicated to Boveccio and mentioning the clan of the Pembelorum (also Celtic) in Fuentes (Parres – Asturias) and Torrevega (Llanes – Asturias), as well as some Orgenomesci’s tombstones in Palencia.
They would be related to Orgenus, Celtic god from Cisalpine Gaul, and the Gaulish name Orgetorix, which could be translated as “the killer”. The very word “Orgenomesci” is composed by the Celtic orgno-orgeno, meaning “to kill”, and mesc, meaning “drunkenness” (cf. Irish meisce). The name, thus, could be translated as “those who get drunk on killing”.
We have orge in Gaulish and orcaid in Old Irish, both meaning “kill”, the Gallic personal name Orgeto and the Breton Orgiat (La langue gauloise, Dottin – 1918; Ir orn Worn, celt org-no, Evans – 1972 in “Homenaje a Antonio Tovar”). Their name is clearly related to the state of trance acquired during the heroic initiations through a type of homicidal intoxication which some warrior phratries, which we will discuss later on, achieved by means of alcoholic beverages or certain drugs, seeking the warriors’ trance in combat. The Irish tale “Mesca Ulad” (The intoxication of the Ulaid) relates the ritual intoxications and nocturnal rides during the Celtic celebration of Samhain. References to these mystic-warrior trances in ancient Celtic societies abound in the North of Ireland (Los Cántabros ante Roma, Eduardo Peralta Labrador – 2000).
Appian mentions as well the Lusitanians fighting alongside Viriathus, stating that: “…They combated waving their long hair before the enemy, yelling war cries and trying to frighten the enemy with the clamor, much in the manner the Barbarians combat…”.
Another gens boasting a Celtic name are the Luggoni, tribe associated to the god Lug, theonym which originated multiple toponyms in Western Europe and wherefrom other demonyms appear likewise to derive, such as the Lougei (Caurel – Lugo – Galicia), the Loggoni from a city to the South-West of León or the Lugi from Scotland, as well as some communities known as Lingoni on the Adriatic coast and North-West of France (Estudios del poblamiento prerromano de la Ría de Villaviciosa, Jorge Camino Mayor et al. – 1986). Presence of Luggoni in the central-eastern part of Asturias is confirmed by an inscription found on the hillsides of El Sueve (“Astur et Luggonem”) or the tombstone found in the church of Grases (Villaviciosa – Asturias), which was used as building material for the portico and which mentions some Luggoni Arganticaeni.
Other surviving toponyms related to this gens are Lloxu (Oviedo), Lugones (Siero) or Lugo de Llanera (Llanera). Ptolemy mentions this people and claims that its capital is Pælontium, name accepted to be identified with Beloncio (Piloña – Asturias).
Presence of the Luggoni is attested even after Romanisation, in Visigothic times, towards 6th or 7th century, since some chronicles tell us that Sisebut orders his general Richila to crush the revolt of the Astures Ruccones or Runcones, term corrupted from the original Luggoni. Moreover, the name Arganticæni is associated to the Indoeuropean or Celtic arganticæni, meaning “shining” or “silver”. It is also associated to certain hydronyms, such as Arganza (Tineo – Asturias). Regarding the Luggoni hailing from the area of León, it has been suggested that this settlement was promoted after Roman conquest with the objective of obtaining workforce for the gold mines. Jorge Camino Mayor bases this thesis on the fact that one of the most emblematic Luggoni’s castros hitherto excavated -El Picu Castiellu de Moriyón, in Villaviciosa, Asturias- was abandoned after the Roman conquest, and the same occurs in Picu’l Castru in Caravia, also without any evidence of Romanisation, which for this author would indicate forced migration.
We could also include the Ablaidiaci (Piloña – Asturias), with an ethnonym which can be explained through the Welsh blaidd (wolf). The Tiburi, who occupied the Orense area of Tribes, Astur territory, and whose name reminisces that of the Helvetii Tigurini (Switzerland). The capital of these Tiburi is of evident Celtic influence: Nemetobriga. The Brigæccini (Astures probably located in present-day Benavente, Zamora) also allude to a toponym typical of all Celtic Europe, where we can find several Brigetio. We can also mention Bergidium (present-day El Bierzo, León). The particle briga is characteristically Celtic, meaning “hillfort” -and still present in modern Celtic languages like the Irish bré, meaning “hill”, Welsh brig or Breton bre- (Los celtes y la etnoxénesis astur, mitu y realidá, Gausón Fernández Gutiérrez – 2001 in “Asturies, memoria encesa d’un país”), with examples like Artobriga (Bavaria), Bondobriga (Rhineland), Magetobriga and Sodobriga (Gaul), and Pitobriga and Ecobriga (Galatia – Turkey).
In Asturias we find Agubriga, settlement of the tribe of the Pæsici, which is mentioned on a stela dedicated to Bodocena (Villaverde – Belmonte de Miranda – Asturias); Cadabriga in Riosa, possibly home to the Abilici from Morcín; Ercoriobriga (Villanueva – Cangas de Onís); Longebriga (Valdés); Tebriga (name ascribed to Teverga) or Peña Tilobriga (Lena). Also related to “fortress” we find the suffix dun-dunum, present in the Gaulish dunom as “enclosed” or “fortified” and surviving in the Irish dún (e.g. the hillfort Dun Aengus on Western Ireland). With the same etymology we have in Asturias the toponym Valdunu (Las Regueras), stemming from Valodunom which is explained by the castro located there, known as “Castiello de los Vallaos” and alluding to its impressive defensive display consisting on ditches, ramparts and defensive walls.
There is an interesting corpus of toponyms originating in Celtic deities in Asturias: Cermuñu, Tarañes, Beleñu, Candamu, Deva etc. (Posibles vestigios toponímicos de cultos célticos en el Norte de la península ibérica, Martín Sevilla Rodríguez – 1979 in Memorias de la Historia Antigua vol. II).
We can find toponyms of Celtic roots in Pintueles (Piloña), stemming from the numeral pentos (five); Peña Ubiña (known as Pinubina) derived from vindos, Celtic particle meaning “white” or “shining”; Bedón (as a stream in Vibañu, Llanes, and the mediæval temple San Antolín de Bedón), deriving from the Celtic bedo (stream or riverbed); Boundenaya (Salas), site of the source of the River Nonaya, would have this etymology.
The River Dobra, with source in Posada de Valdeón, and which flows through Dobraseca, Amieva, Covadonga and into the River Sella in Pontedobra, derives from the Celtic dubron meaning “water” (cf. Irish dobhar). We find the same etymology in Doiras (River Eilao). The very ethnonym of the Astures, which appears as Æstures in some epigraphs, could be related to the term stur, “river” in Breton (stêr in modern Breton), an deriving from the River Esla (also appearing as Estura, Estula and Estola), name preserved until mediæval times on the right bank of the River Sella as Stora (present-day Santianes – Ribadesella). Name likewise linked to the River Stura and the Stura Valley in Piedmont, in Northern Italy, known at the time as Cisalpine Gaul.
We find likewise a Celtic tribe known as the Esturi in this Alpine area. Another Asturian river appearing in in Celtic Europe is Ayer (Alier and Allae in Asturian mediæval sources), related to the Allier (France), Aller (Germany) or Aller (Great Britain). The list could be even longer. The very Asturian language, albeit a Romance tongue, a dialect derived from Latin -as Castilian-, still preserves numerous words of Celtic and Germanic origin. For instance, the bear (ursus arctos) is known in some areas of Quirós as “bardión” (cf. English “bear”, of Germanic origin; in Celtic art means “bear”), and in the rest of Asturias the bear cub is known as “esbardu”.
Terms like “bregar” (in the sense of combating, fighting) or “brétigu” (as in brave or haugty) have a Celtic origin in brenga. The very name of the Celtic chieftain Brennos, who looted the Sanctuary of Delphi in the III century B.C., would have the same root. Or the classic “llabiegu”, from laboga or labrego to refer to the plough. A sizeable number of names of farming tools, utensils, animals, qualities etc. which do not have Latin origin and which hitherto receive the indeterminate label of “Pre-Roman origin” constitutes an interesting field of study for linguists, yet to be explored.
“Celtas en Asturias”; Alberto Alvarez Pena; Editorial Urriellu, 2002
Spanish – English translation:
Sergio Fernández Redondo.
Illustrations and photographs:
1st.- Drawing of Noega hill fort; source: Educastur; Author: unknow.
2nd.- Medugenus funerary stele of the gens of the Cilurnigos, inhabitants of Campa Torres hill fort, found in the defensive wall of Gijón. Source : Wikipedia
3rd.- Llábana funeraria de Fusi Cabedi, fíu’l vadiniense Ambatus. Foi atopada’n Corao – Cangues d’Onís – Asturies. Fonte: Google. Autor/a: desconocíu/a
4th.- Stone with Celtic drawing found in the hill fort of Cellagú, Oviedo, Asturies; currently in the Arqueológical Museum of Asturies. Source of the photo: Asturnatura
5th.- Funeral stele of Luggoni Arganticaeni, found in Grases , Villaviciosa council, Asturies. Photo author: Xurde Morán.
6th.- Bodocena funeral stele, found in Balmonte, Asturies. Source of the photo: LNE newspaper.
7th.- Roman inscription in which you can read: “Astvurv et Lvggonv”, found between the Sella river and the Sueve mountain range (Asturies).
8th.- Ayer river, in Ayer council, Asturies. Author photo: Lorena