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In the Gallo-Roman religion, Alaunus or Alaunius was a Gaulish god of the sun, healing and prophecy. His name is known from inscriptions found in Lurs, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence in southern France (in the dative form Αλα[υ]νειουι) and in Mannheim in western Germany. In the latter inscription, Alaunus is used as an epithet of Genius Mercury.[1]

In trying to ascertain the etymology of this theonym, it is important to bear in mind that it is used not only to refer to deities, but also as a toponym and hydronym. In Roman times in its feminine form, for example, it was used to refer to Roman Valognes in Normandy, Roman Maryport in Cumbria, Roman Alcester in Warwickshire, Roman Watercrook in Natland, Cumbria, Roman Low Learchild on the Devil's Causeway in Northumberland, Ardoch in Perthshire and the River Aln in Northumberland. The array of referents for this word, together with the masculine and feminine alternations it exhibits, suggests that the word is an adjective, with an adjectival *-n- suffix used to form adjectives in many Centum Indo-European languages (cf. Latin -n- in cani-n-uscanine' from Latin cani-sdog,’ Latin Roma-n-usRoman’ from Latin RomaRome;’ Modern English wood-en from wood and ash-en from ash).

Welsh has alaw ‘harmony, melody’ and the name may represent an adjective meaning 'melodious, harmonious' derived from the Romano-British precursor of this word.

Looking across Indo-European languages, it becomes apparent that the name could be cognate with Old English fealu ‘pale, faded, dark, yellowish-brown,’ Modern English fallow, from Proto-Germanic *falwaz, cognate with Old Norse fölr, Middle Dutch valu, German falb, from Proto-Indo-European *polwos ‘dark-colored, gray,’ cf. Old Church Slavonic plavu, Lithuanian palvas ‘sallow,’ Greek polios, Latin polus 'brilliant white,' Welsh llwyd ‘gray’ and Irish liath from Proto-Celtic *φleito-s, Latin pallere ‘to be pale’ and hence also cognate with words for ‘pigeon’ as Greek peleia, Latin palumbes and Old Prussian poalis.

All the same, Proto-Celtic had *alamo- ‘treasure, asset’[2] and, if the alternation Alaunus ~ Alauna represents the Gaulish and Romano-British pronunciation of a derived adjective *alamo-n-o- (treasure-ADJ.SUFF-GEN-), it may have carried the sense of ‘rich, opulent, fecund, etc.’

See also

Notes

  1. ^ L'Arbre Celtique, entries for Alaunus and Alaunius.
  2. ^ Koch, John T. (2008) A Proto-Celtic lexicon. University of Wales: available at [1]

References

  • Ellis, Peter Berresford, Dictionary of Celtic Mythology(Oxford Paperback Reference), Oxford University Press, (1994): ISBN 0-19-508961-8
  • Wood, Juliette, The Celts: Life, Myth, and Art, Thorsons Publishers (2002): ISBN 0-00-764059-5

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