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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 22

A Note on Latin Place-Names. Read before the Otago Institute, 12th October 1886

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From the "Transactions of the N.Z. Institute," Vol. XIX., 1886

Art. LXVII.—A Note on Latin Place-names.

page 507

In Livy, xxi., 19, we read, "turn maxime Sagunto exciia;" further on, in xxi., 21. we read, "Sagunto capto." The first expression is explained per synesin of "urbe" vith Sagunlum, and the participle is taken in agreement with it. Livy occasionally introduces urbem, vicum, in apposition to the names of towns, in "urn." Hence has arisen a certain perplexity as to the gender of Latin place-names; add to which the influence of Greek place-names, and we have the erroneous statement of our Latin Grammars on this point seemingly justified. But Livy, in using such a sentence as the folloving (among a host of such instances), ii., 63: "Fusi, in primo proelio hostes, et in urbem Antium, ut turn res erant putentissimam acti," is telling us that the enemy fled to Antiun— a town of very great wealth, as the times were then—and uses the plainest way of saying what he has to tell us.

In our Latin Grammars, (two books of this year, 1886, are enough to cite,) the statement runs substantially thus : "Nanes of countries, cities, islands, and trees are feminine." In another Grammar the statement is somewhat guarded: "Most nanes of cities are feminine." Here is a qualification of the previous statement; and it is to be hoped that in time the statement will be further attenuated, so as to represent the facts.

What are the facts? In my copy of Madvig's Gramnar (third edition, an old book), p. 28, the author says very little about the subject; but adds, "of the words in us the names of towns are feminine. These mines are all Greek." The itaics are mine; and the statement is worth noting, because it indicates the natural order of things: that, in the case of one highly-inflected language passing on names into another highly-inflected language the names hear their gender with them. All these Latinized spellings of Greek place-names only go to show that in Greek the names of towns in os are feminine.

But in his "Notes on Latin Word-systems," published in 1844, this great scholar (who has died since this note was can-piled,) goes further: "Not a single name of a place in Lain, irrespective of the nature of its termination, is of the feminne gender." Notwithstanding which dogma of the master, compilers of Latin Grammars for English boys have gone on reiterating the same misleading "rule" with a sort of hide-bound obstinacy.

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We find place-names declined according to the scheme of the first, second, and third declensions. I am not acquainted with any belonging to the fourth and fifth declensions, and am inclined to think that as geographical names usually belong to rough speech, these somewhat obscure varieties of declension do not contain any place-names.

Taking suffixes in order, we begin with

i.—a, œ.

Pola Cremona Roma Ilerda
Aquileia Brixia Sinuessa Corduba
Vicetia Florentia Gaieta Dertosa
Ravenna Pisa Aquilonia Cæsaraugusta
Bononia Cortona Tarracina Sǎmǎrobriva
Mutina Sena Ostia
Placentia Ancona Ardea
Faesulæ Fidenæ Minturnæ Allifæ Cannæ

All feminine, as the terminations require.

ii.—ii or i.

Corioli Gabii Puteoli Volsinii
Falerii Veii Volci

And, by analogy, Pompeii, together with numerous tribal names, of which, in the case of towns, the suffix ii is a survival. These are masculine words.


Patavium Clusium Ferentinum Antium
Tarvisium Ariminum Aquinum Herculanum
Altinum Pisaurum Arpinum Surrentum
Mediolanum Assisium Tusculum Salernum
Bergomum Spoletium Pæstum Saguntum
Ticinum Asculum Venafrum Casilinum
Comum Lanuvium Bovianum
Arretium Nomentum Teanum

—with many others. These are all neuter.

iv.—a (of the plural).

Susa Leuctra Megara Tigranocerta
Arbela Bactra Artaxata

—Greek names, but neuter, as their suffix requires.


There are no Latin place-names with this suffix, which is native, however, to Greek, and brings with it its gender; even in the case of variants,—as e.g., Canopus, Isthmus, Orchomenus, Pontus,—names masculine in Greek are masculine in Latin.

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vi.—o (gen. -onis).

Croto Hippo Olisipo Vesontio
Telo (Martins) Frusino Pompaelo Tarrǎco
Narbo Sulmo Mago

—all masculine, as the suffix requires.


Tergeste Caere Bibracte Soracte
Praeneste Reate Nepete

—all neuter, as the suffix requires. (But Arelate, a Greek word of 1st declension, is feminine.)


Tibur Anxur

—neuter, as the suffix requires. (Anxur, the mountain, is masculine by analogy with the usual gender of the names of mountains.)

ix.—Various suffixes.

Gadîr Tuder Asty Hispal
Ierusalem Illiturgi Pessinous (-nus) Tunes

—neuter or masculine. (The indeclinable words are neuter.)

In all the cases quoted above we note that the suffix determines the gender of the place-name; the "rule" is not even traceable. There is, e.g., a well-known suffix -onis, and another -inis. The former is masculine, the latter feminine: hence Narbo -onis is masculine (Narbo Martius), and Carthago -inis is feminine (Carthago Nova).

If we follow Latin further afield, the question is further elucidated. In Gaul, the Romans meet with a place-suffix din (enclosure, wick, or burg). To bring this suffix within the scope of their system they add a neuter suffix, um, and the place-names become neuter: hence we have—
Noviodunum Verodunum Camalodunum (Britair)
Lugdunum Eburodunum Sorbiodunum (Britain)
Segodunum Uxellodunum

And even such hybrids as Augustodunum and Cæsarodunun. All these words are neuter.

But the suffix um, or ium, is freely used to reduce to the Latin scheme a very large number of words found amoig subject tribes:—

Londiniumq Corinium Glevum Lindum
Eburacum Maneunium Verulamium Regulbium
(All in Britain)
Turicum Avaricum Aginnum

—besides words like Trajectum, Durotrajectum, and many others, all neuter, as the suffix requires.

page 510

What becomes of the "rule"? As Zumpt seems to have felt, it is so overwhelmed with exceptions that mole ruit earum. Having examined three hundred and fifty place-names, found chiefly in the western section of the Orbis Romanus, I am not able to discern any "rule" applicable to the names of towns. But the influence of the "rule" is very great. Even Lewis and Short, s. v., are misled by it. In order to justify Liv., xxi., 19, cited above, they allege that Liv. used Sazuntus. But Saguntum is in good prose the only form used, cf. Mayor on Juv., xv., 114. Poets and writers like Mela and Florus use Sazuntus. Juv., loc. cit., uses Zazynthus, a thinly-veiled form of Zacynthus.