Ancient Place Names: Alalia, Salona and Thessaly


By Eleanor Nickerson, British Baby Names

When I was at University, I was lucky enough to study Ancient History as an undergraduate degree. l found the whole subject absolutely fascinating, but I must admit that I could often get sidetracked from my studies whenever a research paper or book contained a map or list of ancient cities. You see, the name-nerd in me couldn’t help revelling in the names of ancient places — I’d frequently roll the lyrical syllables around my tongue and scribbled them down on the corner of my research notes.

A whole heap of ancient place names are not only mellifluous but also aesthetically pleasing. Sadly, many are lost to us today or have long-since been renamed. Wouldn’t it be nice to reclaim a few of them back into nomenclature? There’s no doubt that place names are hot property in the baby name world at the moment. Camden, Holland, India… all have been climbing name charts and given recent celebrity approval. If Brooklyn, London and Kingston are in fashion, why not Edessa, Lycia and Illyria? After all, the likes of Lydia, Sebastian, Petra and Alexandria prove positive that ancient place names do make perfectly acceptable and lovely first names.

Alalia – Situated in Corsica, Alalia was once an ancient Greek city. It was said to have a large beautiful harbour and was a principle trading port. So much so that when, in 535, the Greeks were defeated at the Battle of Alalia, it lost them control of the Mediterranean. Its original Greek spelling was Alali?, thought the modern Corsican form is the equally pleasing Aléria.

Alyzia – The ancient city of Alyzia (or Alyzeia) was one of the most important in ancient Acarnania. The city was said to have named after Alyzeus, a brother of Odysseus‘ wife Penelope.

Andros – Andros was the name given to an ancient Ionian island, home to the 4th century comic poet Amphis, and a famous temple to Dionysus. Andros still bears the name today, which it shares with its principle town.

Caria – Once a Neo-Hittite kingdom in western Anatolia, Caria was said to be named after King Car, the ancestral hero of the Carians. Similar sounding Coria was the name of Roman forts and towns in both Northumberland and Inverness.

Dacia – was a region inhabited by a people known as the Daci, in what is now modern Romania. When Emperor Trajan staged a series of successful campaigns, Dacia became a Roman province.

Deva – a Celtic goddess whose name meant “goddess,” Deva gave her name to the River Dee, which in turn gave its name to the Roman fortress Deva – modern day Chester.

Edessa – thought to mean “settlement on the water,” Edessa was once the capital city of Macedonia. The modern site is known as “the city of waters.”

Elaia – The ancient Greek harbour town of Elaia [el-eye-a] was situated in Epirus. The Roman form of the name was Elaea. Elateia – an ancient city in mainland Greece, Elateia [el-a-tay-a] or Elatea was a site of considerable military importance thanks to its strategic position. Its name was said to derived from its mythological founder Elatus. Another similar sounding city was Elatreia [el-a-tray-a] or Elatria, situated in the Peloponnese.

Elea – an ancient city in Italy which was once part of Magna Graecia and home to the philosopher Zeno of Elea. The original Greek name was Hyele – named for a water nymph whose name meant ‘glassy water’ – and later became Elea. The city’s modern Italian name is Velia.

Illyria – an ancient kingdom of the Balkan Peninsula said to be named for Illyrius, the son of Cadmus and Harmonia. Shakespeare also used the name for his fictional kingdom in Twelfth Night.

Ithaca – the beautiful ancient island of Ithaca was once the capital of the Ionian Kingdom and was famously ruled by the legendary hero Odysseus. Ithaka is an alternate spelling.

Lilaia – an ancient Greek city which was mentioned by Homer as one of those which supplied Trojan soldiers. The city got its name from the naiad nymph Lilaia [lil-eye-a], spelt Lilaea in Latin, who presided over a local spring.

Lycia – The Lycians were an ancient people who inhabited the area of present day Turkey. They were greatly admired by the Greeks with a reputation for being a hard working and affluent nation. They are also credited with creating the first democratic union.

Mellaria – an ancient Roman settlement in Spain, situated along the straits of Gibraltar. The name translates as “city of honey.”

Messenia – an ancient region in the Peloponnese. Thanks to its good climate and fertile soil, the Messenians were constantly fending off Spartan invasion.

Noreia – the ancient capital city of the Celtic kingdom of Noricum. It was situated in southern Austria, though the exact location is uncertain.

Novae – once a legionary base and Roman town in Moesia, what is now Bulgaria.

Paros – a picturesque Greek island in the Aegean which was purportedly one of the wealthiest island-states in Antiquity.

Perseis – an ancient Macedonian city which was founded by Philip V of Macedon in the name of his son Perseus. Perseis [per-say-is] was also the name of an Oceanid nymph in Greek mythology.

Salona – an ancient city in modern Croatia which was once the Roman capital of Dalmatia.

Soli – the name of at least two ancient Greek cities: one in Cyprus and one in Cilicia (modern -day Turkey).

ThessalyThessaly, or Thessalia, was a major region in ancient Greece, homeland of the mythological heroes Achilles and Jason. Its capital city was Larissa.

Thoricus – an ancient Greek city in Attica. It is also called Thorikos. Tomis – the original name of Constanta in Romania. Tomis (or Tomi) was once a Greek colony and the place of the poet Ovid’s exile.

Tyros – an ancient island-city, known for its maritime importance and having one of the best harbours in the Mediterranean.

Zakros – a town on the island of Crete which was one of the major Minoan commercial centres. It is also the site of a great Minoan palace.

For a more extensive list of ancient place names, check out this post at British Baby Names.


About the Author

Eleanor Nickerson

Eleanor Nickerson, better known to Nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a primary school teacher living in Coventry, England and author of the blog British Baby Names.

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