A bit of messing about …

The Tabula Peutingeriana indicates that, from Agen, the Roman road went to Excisum, from Excisum to Diolindum and from Diolindum to Divona/Cahors. All four places seem to be placed in a line as if situated on the same river, which they aren’t. Toulouse is placed somewhere between Bordeaux and Agen, whereas from Agen it is about the same distance as Bordeaux – but in the opposite direction – Agen equidistant from the two.

It’s clear, as described before, that the section of the map covering modern Brittany should be swivelled clockwise about 90º. Now, take the section showing Tolosa, Aginnum, Excisum and Diolindum, leading to Divona (Cahors):

If this is twisted round anti-clockwise 135º, we have Toulouse in its correct position in relation to Agen, while Excisum and Diolindum lead to Vesunna (Périgueux) rather than Cahors – just as the Itinerary has Agen, Excisum, Traiectus, Vesunna.

Absurd, though, to manœuvre a small pencil of land into the desired position and leave its surroundings untouched. What kind of mistake could explain that?

But … Just One More Thing.

Looking at the figures after the placenames: XIII indicates the distance from Aginnum to Excisum, exactly the same as the distance given in the Itinerary. No mystery there because there’s no argument that Excisum was Eysses so they are recording the identical journey. Something more of a coincidence is that Excisum to Diolindum is XXI (enhanced this is quite clear and accepted by the authorities). This is exactly the same as Excisum to Traiectus in the Itinerary. Then Diolindum to Cahors is XXIIII. Annoyingly, Traiectus to Vesunna/Périgueux is XVIIII. Doubly annoying because XXIIII could so easily have been misread as XVIIII – or vice versa.¹ But it’s weak evidence that is based on, ‘Yes, but perhaps someone made a mistake there’.

But my money is still on Diolindum and Traiectus being at roughly the same place on the Dordogne.

Probably time now to move on from Aquitaine and scour the Itinerary for other examples of the placename Traiectus.

¹ In fact, if the Itinerary’s XVIIII was a misreading for XXIIII, the distance between Traiectus/Lalinde and Vesunna would be much more accurate (‘as the crow flies’  26 Roman miles rather than 18) .


Traiectum, Traiectus, traiectus (3c)

This is a wander round the Tabula Peutingeriana, focusing on the section covering present-day France with the roads and towns of Aquitania – that is, the area surrounding the Traiectus of the Antonine Itinerary. The immediate impression is that there are huge inaccuracies in the location of known towns and cities, and the orientation needs constant adjustment.

The wide inlet resembling a river estuary is marked Sinus Aquitanicus – which is the Bay of Biscay. From the towns that we can identify, it looks as if the upper ‘jaw’ should be prised up 90 degrees and either stretched out east-west or squashed down north-south. Then the placing of some of the towns, at least, would make a bit more sense. Most notably, Pretorium Agrippe (Valkenburg) and Lugdunum (Leyden) in the Netherlands would then be over to the east rather than in north west ‘Brittany’. Portunamnetu (Nantes) would lie due south of Condate (Rennes), Fanomartis (Corseul) would be north west of Rennes, rather than just south of west, and Darioritum (Vannes) would move from south east of Rennes to, correctly, south west.

The lower ‘jaw’ cannot so easily be explained. As it stands, the map depicts Vesonna (Périgueux) as roughly west-north-west of Agen, whereas it ought to be almost due north; and Tolosa (Toulouse) is almost due west of Agen when it should be south-east. This leads one to examine why the road Aginnum-Excisum-Diolindum goes in an easterly direction and leads to Divona (Cahors) when, especially if one wanted to identify Diolindum with Lalinde, the road should go north and lead to Vesunna.

Again, there appear to be two rivers running east to west. Agen and Tolouse both lie on the Garonne, whereas Eysses and Cahors are on the Lot; yet all four towns are depicted in an east-west line on or close to the same river. Is the more northerly river the Dordogne? If so, Périgueux is lying on the southern bank, but Périgueux is not on the Dordogne at all, but further north on the river Isle.

Whether or not Traiectus is Diolindum at Lalinde/Pontours, as Dr Chaume thought¹ is not really relevant. Lalinde is roughly where the ‘traiectus’ was, by whatever other name the place was known. The name ‘Diolindum’ is merely a curiosity of Peutinger. But, in the search for truth: Did Aginnum-Excisum-Diolindum go north to Vesunna, as the Itinerary would have it (Peutinger, contradicting the Itinerary, has no road at all linking Agen with Périgueux); or did it go east to Cahors as Peutinger suggests? Answers on a postcard, please.The first case explains why some consider Lalinde, or the closely surrounding area, to be the site of Diolindum, the second why the towns of Duravel² or even Belvès³ are suggested.

For the record, my tossed coin falls in favour of Lalinde … It is hard to make a strong case based on Peutinger’s geography.

¹ Review, M. Chaume, ‘Le “trajectus” de la Dordogne’, Bulletin of the Société historique et archéologique du Périgord, Périgueux, 1908.

² Conjecture in ‘Les voies romaines en Gaule’, Revue archéologique, n.s. 4º year, vol 8,  p 74. Duravel is a site rich in Roman archaeological remains. But one of many.

³ P. Barrière, ‘A propos des voies antiques des Cadurques. Organisation et circulation’, Revue des Etudes anciennes, 1952, pp. 102-108.

Traiectum, Traiectus, traiectus (3b)

So, the most potentially useful measurements to locate the place between Agen and Périgueux called Traiectus are sadly inaccurate – or are they? Another way of viewing the measurements in the Antonine Itinerary, rather than calculating Roman miles x 1.48 to give the number of kilometers, is to look at the number of Roman miles between the stations as percentages of the entire distance.

If Agen to Périgueux is 52 Roman miles, Agen to Excisum, at 13 miles, would be exactly 25% of the total journey; Périgueux to Traiectus, at 18 Roman miles, is 34.62% of the journey; and Excisum to Traiectus, at 21 Roman miles, is 40.38% of the journey. Measurement of the ‘as the crow flies’ distances ¹ using these percentages had astonishingly accurate results:

The journey Aginnum to Excisum, using the percentage method, ends about one Roman mile north of the archaelogical remains of Excisum in Villeneuve-sur-Lot

In other words, the Itinerary reckoned the distance as 27.3km and it was actually 26.1, a percentage error of about 4%. The figure for Traiectus is even more interesting. The Itinerary‘s percentage would place it at 37.8km south of Périgueux.

Mouleydiers, Couze and Pontours, as well as Lalinde, have all been considered possible sites of the crossing place, the ‘traiectus’. Mouleydiers and Lalinde are almost exactly the distance from Périgueux which the Itinerary specified.

However, the only point relevant to the current study is confirmation that the ‘traiectus’ concerned was across the River Dordogne; though a possibly useful further clue is the discovery at the turn of the last century by the archaeologist and historian, Dr Maurice Chaume, of what he claimed to be the signs of a Gallo-Roman ford,² just down-river from Pontours, visible when the water level was low: a traiectus could be effected by ford, ferry or even a bridge.

The main points to take away are that this ‘Iter’ necessitated the crossing of a river and that it appears in the Itinerary as Traiectus.

A related study is the evidence of the Tabula Peutingeriana, though, if anything, it tends to muddy the already turbid waters. Whether the river crossing was at the place which Peutinger calls Diolindum, or whether Diolindum was somewhere else is not of great importance, but I may as well look at it anyway while I’m in the area. Traiectum, Traiectus, traiectus (3c) follows.

¹ ‘As the crow flies’ will not be exact in terms of Roman miles/kilometers travelled because the length of the actual journey will reflect the twists and turns of the road. If we  presume that the four stations are roughly in line with each other (which they are), the deviations to one side or the other will be to some extent self-compensating. I think.

² Archaeological remains of the ford are apparently preserved in the museum at Périgueux.

Traiectum, Traiectus, traiectus (3a)

The example in the Itinerary which most closely resembles the occurrence of Traiectus, between Bristol and Bath, is a place in Gaul. Item de Aquitania in Gallias is in sections 461- 462 of the Parthey-Pinder edition. The first journey here is A Burdigala Argantomago, that is from Bordeaux to Argenton-sur-Creuse, in Berry – not to be confused with Argentan in Normandy.

The first thing to be noted is that this is not ‘how to get to Argenton from Bordeaux’. It seems more likely to represent a ‘business trip’ which involved visits to Bordeaux, Agen, Périgueux and Limoges (since a journey from Bordeaux to Argenton would not include Agen). That would explain why the journey began travelling south east, then turned in a northerly direction for the rest of the way.

At the start, the journey from Bordeaux to Agen, two intermediate stations  – Sirione and Ussubium – are tentatively identified; and ‘Fines’ (a word frequently occurring throughout the Itinerary) between Ussubium and Agen may denote a border between the tribal lands of the Bituriges Vivisci, centred on Burdigala/Bordeaux, and the Nitobriges who were established at Aginnum/Agen¹.

If Sirione is Cérons, and Le Mas d’Agenais Ussubium, as is conjectured, the distances in the Itinerary from Bordeaux to Agen are quite accurate, with a border between the Bituriges Vivisci and the Nitobriges somewhere around the Lot river. However, the story is very different for the next section of the journey, from Agen to Périgueux, Aginnum to Vesunna.

There are just four stations – Aginnum, Excisum, Traiectus and Vesunna. The beginning and the end are clear: Agen and Périgueux; and we know the Itinerary‘s measured distances between the four stations which should confirm the exact locations of the two intermediate stations, Excisum and Traiectus.

But the distances given are as follows:

Aginnum to Excisum, 13 Roman miles; Excisum to Traiectus, 21 Roman miles; Traiectus to Vesunna, 18 Roman miles, making a total of 52 Roman miles between Aginnum and Vesunna, approximately 77 kilometers. But, as the crow flies, Périgueux is about 110 kilometers from Agen, about 74 Roman miles, so a road journey could not be less than 74 Roman miles, and must be appreciably more. The Itinerary‘s 52 Roman miles is some way out.

Excisum has certainly been identified as the Roman site of Eysses within Villeneuve-sur-Lot. This is some 16 Roman miles north of Agen, rather than 13, but that is not too inaccurate. Measuring 21 Roman miles north from Excisum and 18 Roman miles south from Vesunna should pinpoint Traiectus – but it doesn’t: there is a gap of 18 Roman miles between the two points, which is not surprising in view of the discrepancy between the Itinerary‘s measurements here, and ‘as the crow flies’ which is appreciably longer.

However, Traiectus, as we know, is a crossing place, and approximately mid way along that 18 Roman mile gap runs the Dordogne river and the place suggested by some (and contested by others) for Traiectus. The name of the modern settlement is Lalinde – particularly interesting because on the Tabula Peutingeriana there is a place close to Aginnum and Excisum, otherwise unidentified, called Diolindum.

The debate among French archaeologists and historians seems to have revolved around the question of whether Traiectus was at Lalinde, or a little up river at Pontours, or down river at Couze or Mouleydier. One could draw a small ellipse round an area covering Mouleydier, Lalinde and Pontours and agree that it was somewhere inside it, on the Dordogne river. Drawing a straight line between Agen and Périgueux, one would expect nothing else.

A few further points may be considered, for example: the distances given in the Itinerary, the interpretation of the evidence of the Tabula Peutingeriana; and any relevance to ‘our’ Traiectus, between Bristol and Bath. Traiectum, Traiectus, traiectus (3b) follows.

¹ Fines also occurs between Vesunna (Périgueux) and Augustoritum (Limoges), the respective tribal centres of the Petrocorii and the Lemavices.  The two towns eventually dropped their Roman names and adopted their tribal names.

Traiectum, Traiectus, traiectus (2)

(The forms Traiectum, Traiectus, Traiecto &c. are not standardised but follow whichever Latin form is found in the Itinerary)

We’ve seen that the word traiectus appears in the Itinerary a number of times where it indicates, not a precise town or settlement, but the ferry crossing of a stretch of water from Place A to Place B. Discounting those examples, what occurrences of the word might suggest that it was also a placename, the name of a particular settlement at a crossing point?

A first example, Sections 86-89 in the Parthey-Pinder edition, is not without problems:

The first half of the journey A Traiecto Lilybaeo

This is back to the Strait of Messina again – a journey right across Sicily, starting at Traiecto, to Lilybaeo (Marsala) on the west coast: A Traiecto Lilybaeo  …… mpm CCLVII, that is a total of 257 mille passus or Roman miles.

But was there a place called Traiecto/Traiectum/Traiectus, and if so where was it located? The first leg of the journey is to ‘Messana ……. mpm XII‘, which according to the Itinerary‘s usual format would mean the distance from ‘Traiecto’ to Messina was 12 Roman miles, so they are two distinct places, roughly 18 km apart.

The conjecture that best fits the (few) known facts is that Traiecto was on the mainland, at or near the point known as Columna Rhegia or Columna Rhegina, and that was the point where a ferry left for Messina. A site has not been identified but it was somewhere north of Reggio, and a stopping place on the Via Popilia which ran from Capua, north of Naples, to Reggio itself. One view is that Columna was a column-shaped tower, perhaps in the area of Cannitello, and that the crossing to Sicily was from that point to the Peloro Promontory, where Torre Faro is now situated. This was almost exactly where legend placed Scylla and Charybdis (in which case Odysseus might have advised that between the rocks and the whirlpool was not the best place to cross the straits¹).

The red line is the Via Popilia, Columna Rhegia somewhere north of Rhegium (Reggio)

The Itinerary does provide some confirmation of this. A journey of 956 Roman miles runs from Milan to near Reggio (Sections 98-106 in Parthey-Pinder), ‘a Mediolano ad Columnam, id est Traiectum Siciliae‘.

Columnam, in full Columna Rhegia, was the end of the journey; Traiectum Siciliae could be either descriptive, in apposition (‘Columna where the crossing to Sicily was’), or the two places were so close as to be treated as one.

This is the final section of the Milan-Columna journey, from Summurano (Morano Calabro), through Cosenza and Nicotera, to Columna Rhegia, which is 14 Roman miles from Mallias (Bagnera Calabra). This would place Columna just about opposite Messina, with a ferry going directly to Messina, presumably, rather than to a place called Traiecto, 12 Roman miles further north.

Some modern maps (Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire) do presume a town called ‘Traiectus’ in Sicily, north of Messina (Greek name Zancle), but there is no archaeological evidence of such a town. It seems to be conjectural based on the Itinerary‘s evidence that on the Traiecto to Lilybaeo journey,  ‘Traiecto’ was the starting point and Messina, 12 Roman miles away, was the first stopping place.

If that is how the Itinerary is read, it appears that Traiectum, coming from Milan, is on the mainland (if that is what we are to understand by Columnam, id est Traiectum Siciliae) and Traiecto going to Lilybaeum is in Sicily. A ‘Traiectum’ on both sides of the strait? That would make it unlikely that it was a distinguishing placename, and mean little more than ‘ferry terminal’.

Conclusion: no conclusive evidence here that Traiectum was the name of a settlement, rather than the crossing point from which the ferry departed.

Next: Off to Aquitania.

¹ Was it possible that the Columna Rhegia was a pillar placed opposite a similar one, or a lighthouse, on the other side of the strait (near Torre Faro) used for navigation? Line your boat up exactly between the two and that would guarantee a clear passage between the hazards?

Traiectum, Traiectus, traiectus (1)

This is another look at certain aspects of the Latin place-names appearing in the Antonine Itinerary, especially gender, case and number. The first point to note is is that, most commonly, the names seem to be either first declension, singular or plural (-a, -ae), for example, in iter XIV  there is Isca, Calleva, Aquis [Aquae] Solis, Spinis [Spinae]; second declension neuter singular; or third declension singular (Verlucione, Cunetione, probably feminine). Abone is unclear: is it just an alternative spelling for Abonae or Abona?

Where following the preposition a(b), the case is generally ablative, as one would expect; though where a journey is presented as ‘from A to B’, one would expect B to be in the accusative though that also seems to be in the ablative, albeit without a preposition. Not a locative (some sort of dative? obviam? on the way from A to B?).

For second declension names, the fact that the ablative is invariably used means that the gender is not immediately clear, whether neuter (-um) or masculine (-us), except that, where the nominative form is familiar from other sources, it is invariably neuter: Burrio (Usk) is Burrium, Blestio (Monmouth) is Blestium, Clevo (Gloucester) is Clevum, more usually Glevum, Londinio is Londinium

A very few names are also Latin common nouns (Aquis/Aquae and Spinis/Spinae – these two, notably, are also both in the plural).

But throughout the Itinerary few are second declension masculine nominative singular forms (ending in -us). Traiectus (near Bath) stands out as a rare form: it is i) a Latin common noun (‘a crossing’), ii) recognisably a second declension masculine noun, and iii) it is in the nominative case. That makes it rare on all three counts in the Itinerary.

There are, on the other hand, frequent occurrences of the word traiectus, but it invariably refers, not to a staging post on a journey, but to an actual crossing of some distance over water (where it is more often measured in stadia rather than passus). For example:

a Regio traiectus in Siciliam, civitas Messana …….. stadia LXX
from Reggio (di Calabria) to Sicily, civitas Messina …. 70 stadia

This crosses the Strait of Messina, so refers to the crossing itself, not a place (in, ‘into’, is followed by the accusative, but why is civitas in the nominative? what is its connection with traiectus?).

A Brundisio traiectus Dyrrachium usque ……….. stadia Ī CCCC
From Brindisi to Durrës (in Albania) ……….. 1,400 stadia

And: Sasonis insula traiectus Hydrunto provinciae Calabriae………stadia CCCC
The crossing from Sazan island to Otranto in Calabria province … 400 stadia

In both the word traiectus clearly refers to the sea crossing  at the southern end of the Adriatic and is not the name of a place (Dyrrachium, as one would expect, is accusative). In both these cases the sea crossing is measured in stadia .

Next, the occurrences where it could be taken as a precise placename.

Antonine Itinerary XIV 5): Venta Silurum to Abone

This section near the beginning of the Iter presents several problems (which is the reason that it’s been left until last). Venta Silurum is Caerwent, Aquae Solis is Bath; in between are the two stations Abone  and Traiectus.

The text of Iter XIV from the 1848 edition of Parthey and Pinder: ‘Also another journey from Isca to Calleva’ – the first being via Gloucester.

Looking at the other stages on this Iter, it seems that the Itinerary‘s distances are fairly accurate, especially on the shorter stages and where the route of a Roman road is clear or can be conjectured.

Both Venta and Aquae Solis were Roman towns. Their identification with Caerwent and Bath is certain, the distance between the two being 14 + 9 + 6: 29 mpm or approximately 43 km. But where would the Severn Estuary have been crossed (and why does the Itinerary make no mention of a crossing which would have been at least a mile by ferry)?

Theoretically, the crossing could be made in three places: the shortest would be the ‘Old Passage’ between Beachley and Aust, about 1.7 km (how did they measure a sea or river crossing in paces?). The drawback here is that the Itinerary gives the distance between Venta Silurum and Abone as 14 mpm (about 21 km). But if Abone is Sea Mills, the distance via Aust – even as the crow flies – would be nearer 27 km, which suggests an actual road (and ferry) route of nearer 30 kms.

The second possible crossing would be the ‘New Passage’: from Caerwent it  is a mere 5 km down to Sudbrook on the estuary (where there was a Roman camp), and a 3 km crossing to Redwick. It would be, as the crow flies , about 21 km in total to Sea Mills, which makes the whole distance to Bath about 43 kms. Exact, though the road route down from Redwick to Sea Mills is not clear. And good luck to the ferryman because that entailed crossing by the treacherous narrow channel known as The Shoots, thus described:

“Sailing through The Shoots in the days before powerful engines was especially dangerous, and called for very high level of seamanship. The area is fringed by rocks on each side of the river and known for tricky whirlpools.”

The third possibility would have been a considerably longer crossing from Sudbrook, straight to the mouth of the Avon, and then upriver directly to land at the port at Sea Mills, portus Abonae. That would also be about 43-44 kms to Bath and there is a certain logic to arriving at a port by boat. Evidence of an important port has recently been found at Caerleon (Isca Silurum), where Iter XIV started. From Caerleon where would boats  sail to?

Blue: Beachley to Aust; green, Sudbrook to Redwick; pink, Sudbrook to Avonmouth

There appears to be no incontrovertible evidence that Sea Mills was Abone/Abona/Abonae, other than that there was a Roman settlement there, on the Avon, dating from a very early period; and the identification seems to have been accepted as a given. So we have arrived at Portus Abonae.

The extent of the Roman port of Abonae at the confluence of the rivers Avon and Trym