2 May 2018

Celtic *duno- and *duro- in connection with Akkadian

It is generally accepted that *duno and *duro, and their corresponding variants, are some of the most common and productive elements in ancient Celtic toponymy, with examples that can be found throughout Europe and Asia Minor. Among them, Camulodunum (Britain), Cambodunum (France), Singidunum (Serbia), Durovernum (Britain) or Boiodurum (Germany). In the picture, an inscription from Carnuntum, in Austria, with the word CAMVLODVNI.
What is the meaning of these elements? *duno is generally interpreted as 'enclosure' or 'fort'; *duro as 'gated fort', 'yard' or 'forum'. The problem is that there is no clear explanation for the etymology of these words. Pokorny's dictionary hints at some possible links with PIE roots. For *duno, a possible connection with the root *dheu-2, dhu̯-ēi- is given. This is a verbal element, with the meaning 'to vanish , faint', from where Latin funus would stem. Personally, I can't see the connection between a funeral, or a funerary memorial monument, and a fortified place. Delamarre (2003:155) offers another possible explanation, also based on some very weak arguments. For *duro, a connection with *dhu̯ē̆r-, dhu̯ō̆r-, dhur-, dhu̯r̥- is proposed. The meaning of the root, attested in many IE languages, is 'door', so the idea is that the meaning of 'fortress' developed from it.

In my opinion, the possible links with IE roots are not conclusive, so maybe another kind of explanation could be proposed. The other day, browsing an online Akkadian dictionary, I came across a couple of interesting words. Let's remember that Akkadian is a Semitic language that flourished in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. The words I found are these:

- duru: 'city wall, fortress'.
- dunnunu: (adj, used for fortifications): 'solid, very strong'.

The parallelism with the supposed meanings of Celtic *duno and *duro is striking. Does it make sense to think of a borrowing from Akkadian that spread thorughout Asia Minor and Europe at an early date? One thing is for sure: the earliest examples of walled cities and citadels are found in Mesopotamia, so it's quite logical to suppose that some of the words connected with these concepts spread beyond the Middle East.

Obviously, these two Akkadian words produced a considerable amount of placenames in their homeland, Mesopotamia. Trevor Bryce (2009: 203ff) mentions three examples of Dunnum and many more with the element Dur: Dur-Katlimmu, Dur-Kurigalzu (photo), Dur-Yakin, etc. Examples can be found in many areas of present-day Irak and Iran (e.g. Dur Untash).

I don't know if this possible connection between 'Celtic' placenames and Akkadian has been proposed by any expert in the field. After some research, I haven't found any such proposal. I'm not an expert myself, so let's say what I've written here is basically an intuitive idea that would require more serious research.

In any case, I'm glad to be back at the blog with this article!

- Bryce, T. (2009). The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia. Routledge.
- Delamarre, X. (2003). Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Éditions Errance.
- Sims-Williams, P. (2006). Ancient Celtic Place-Names in Europe and Asia Minor. Blackwell.

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