All Gaul divided into three – or perhaps four – parts

I’ve been studying – for no particular reason – the place names of Gaul, or rather France. From studying some of the old works on French toponymy, mainly Houzé and Nègre, it seems that something like 60% of the départments have place names (cities, towns, communes, villages) which clearly derive from Gaulish Condate, and which stand at the confluences of large or small water courses.

Extent of the place names Condat, Condé, Contes &c

Extent of the place names Condat, Condé, Contes &c

Group 1 consists of places called Condat, in the southern half of the country; Group 2 consists of places called Condé, in the north. This represents the normal phonological difference between the Langue d’Oc and the Langue d’Oïl. Free accented a, derived from Latin, remains in the south e.g. vadu > ga, amare > amar; but became the –ay– sound like –é– in the north e.g. vadu> gué, amare > aimer. According to Bourciez, this probably occurred some time in the Gallo-Roman period – perhaps the end of 7th century. So Condat and Condé are the southern and northern variants of the same name.

On this map, the dark red and the mottled red départements all have Condat/Condé and are differentiated (dark/mottled) only because I found them noted in different sources. Of course, it’s only accurate in marking the names we know about, but it may be significant that there are barely any examples in the west and north west (Brittany), nor in the south. Does that indicate a movement of people into ‘Gaul’ from the north east?

On the left is the south coast of England: Dubris is Dover, Iscadumnoniorum, Exeter. To the right, Condate, Rennes. All distances, and directions, are approximate.

Tabula Peutingeriana (4th/5th c.): On the left is the south coast of England: Dubris (upper circle) is Dover, Iscadumnoniorum (lower circle), Exeter. To the right, Condate is Rennes. All distances, and directions, are approximate…

Group 3 consists of a few places which bear quite different names now, but for which there is written evidence that there was an early settlement called Condate. The most notable examples are Rennes, which stands at the confluence of the rivers Ille and Vilaine and which is marked as Condate on the Tabula Peutingeriana (the original presumed to date from the 4th or 5th century); and Lyons which had two older settlements, Condate and Lugdunum. Condate stood at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône, and Lugdunum overlooked it on the other side of the Rhône. The number of names in this group is unknown because unless there is written evidence in some form we wouldn’t know that the ancient name had been Condate.

There is a small fourth group of places which have a modern form that is neither Condat nor Condé but for which the evidence is that Condat(e) was an earlier form. Contz les Bains in the east of France, Condes and Conte in Jura – again in the east, Contes in Pas de Calais, Conty in Somme,  Condes in Haute Marne and several examples of Cosne.

These forms (except Conty) seem to derive from forms where the Gaulish accent was preserved on the antipenultimate: Cóndate > Conde(s); whereas the forms Condat and Condé come from Condáte, the later Latin/French accentuation.

What all names have in common (as far as I have been able to check) is that they all stand at or by a confluence, usually of at least one large river though the second is sometimes more of a stream – at least nowadays. So Condate itself must just mean confluence (as Koblenz derives from Latin confluentes, the confluence of the Rhine and the Moselle). I wonder if everywhere stands near a confluence if you look hard enough?

I believe there is just one inscription, at Allonnes, Sarthe, apparently addressed to a god (not clear if this is Condatis – I can’t find the text), rather than just the actual confluence; there are several more dedications in Britain.

Back to England again next time. Probably.


2 thoughts on “All Gaul divided into three – or perhaps four – parts

  1. This really becomes a study for experts (but I am none). In fact, given that Belgica was, very roughly, the north eastern area, later stretching down to the east of ‘Gaul’, I don’t see much sign of similar names surviving in modern Belgium. The majority are firmly based in the Gallia Celtica of pre-Roman Gaul, Roman Gallia Lugdunensis and Aquitania – modern France.


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