Romano-British towns—Ancient lists—Methods of identification—Dense rural population—Remains in Cam valley—Coins—Thimbles—Horseshoes.
B. 1.—Of these many Romano-British towns we have five contemporary lists; those of Ptolemy in the 2nd century, of the Antonine ‘Itinerary’ in the 3rd, of the ’Notitia’ in the 5th, and those of Nennius and of the Ravenna Geographer, composed while the memory of the Roman occupation was still fresh. Ptolemy and Nennius profess to give complete catalogues; the ‘Itinerary’ and ‘Notitia’ contain only incidental references; while the Ravenna list, though far the most copious, is expressly stated to be composed only of selected names. Of these it has no fewer than 236, while the ‘Notitia’ gives 118, Ptolemy 60, and Nennius 28 (to which Marcus Anchoreta adds 5 more).
B. 2.—With this mass of material it might seem to be an easy task to locate every Roman site in Britain; especially as Ptolemy gives the latitude (and sometimes the longitude also) of every place he mentions, and the ‘Itinerary’ the distances between its stations. Unfortunately it is quite otherwise; and of the whole number barely fifty can be at all certainly identified, while more than half cannot even be guessed at with anything like reasonable probability. To begin with, the text of every one of these authorities is corrupt to a degree incredible; in Ptolemy we find Nalkua, for example, where the ‘Itinerary’ and Ravenna lists give Calleva; Simeni figures for Iceni, Imensa for Tamesis. The ‘Itinerary’ itself reads indiscriminately Segeloco and Ageloco, Lagecio and Legeolio; and examples might be multiplied indefinitely. In Nennius, particularly, the names are so disguised that, with two or three exceptions, their identification is the merest guess-work; Lunden is unmistakable, and Ebroauc is obviously York; but who shall say what places lie hid under Meguaid, Urnath, Guasmoric, and Celemon? And if this corruption is bad amongst the names, it absolutely runs riot amongst the numbers, both in Ptolemy and the ‘Itinerary,’ so that the degrees of the former and the distances of the latter are alike grievously untrustworthy guides. Ptolemy, for example, says that the longest day in London is 18 hours, an obvious mistake for 17, as the context clearly shows. There is further the actual equation of error in each authority: Ptolemy, for all his care, has confused Exeter (Isca Damnoniorum) with the more famous Isca Silurum (Caerleon-on-Usk); and there are blunders in his latitude and longitude which cannot wholly be ascribed to textual corruption. Still another difficulty is that then, as now, towns quite remote from each other bore the same name, or names very similar. Not only were two called Isca, but three were Venta, two Calleva, two Segontium, and no fewer than seven Magna; while Durobrivae is only too like to Durocobrivae, Margiodunum to Moridunum, Durnovaria to Durovernum, etc. The last name even gets confounded with Dubris by transcribers.