OF THE NAME AND ORIGIN OF THE CITY
Sitomagus, Deodford, Deodford, Tedford, Tetford, Tefford, Theford,
and Thetford, as it is now called, was a place formerly of great
renown, and now to be taken notice of for its great antiquity;
who were the first wise people that made choice of its commodious
situation, whether a colony of the Senones, an ancient people of Gaul,
or the Sitones, an ancient people of Germany, I cannot certainly
learn; but am apt to conclude that it was a place of note before
the coming of the Romans into this isle, and doubt not but the name
Sitomagus was given it long before they ever set foot in the place; for
I believe it will be found by observation, that they generally continued
the ancient names of towns in those countries they conquered, to
avoid confusion; for, without doubt, had they altered the names of
places in this isle, we should have abounded with towns of the same
names with those in Italy, few of which are to be met with, except
those places which they themselves were first founders of, and there
we may observe they always gave them Roman names; thus Stratum
or Stratton, Castrum or Castor, &c. received their names; and indeed if we come to examine the various names this place hath gone
by, we shall find that they all are of the same signification. Thus,
Sitomagus, I take it, is no more than the city or habitation of the
Senones or Sitones, (fn. 1) upon the Ford, which induced the Saxons to
keep its old name, only varied in their language into Deodford or
Deodford (fn. 2) Now Deod signifies Deod gens, populus, or provincia, (fn. 3) and so
the signification is much the same as the old name of Sitomagus, viz.
the Ford of the People, that is, the most frequented ford by which
people used to enter into Norfolk, and not the ford over the river Thet,
Sit, or Deor, as many great men have imagined, (fn. 4) there being no such
river in these parts; neither was the river that this town stands on
ever known by any other than its present name. From Deod and
Deodford, it came to Tedford, and Tetford, which last name it had in
the Conqueror's time, ted being the natural abbreviation of deod and
tet of deor About Henry the First's time, it was commonly written
Tefford, and about Henry the Third's, generally Theford, and so continued till about Henry the Eighth's time, and indeed I much question
if this might not be its proper name, without any further search; divide the word, and you will find it The-Ford, (fn. 5) by way of eminence, the
inlet into Norfolk; as it always was. Indeed, the present name hath
prevailed for some time, occasioned, I suppose, by the invention of
the new name of the river, from which they would have the place
called. But upon the whole, I am of opinion, whether you will have
it the city of the Sitones on the Ford, or the Ford of the People, or
The-Ford, by way of eminence, it is much the same thing; and thus
far as to my thoughts of its present and ancient names.
But least I should be thought to have explained the word Sitomagus in my own way, without any authority, I could not omit inserting
a letter wrote to the Earl of Arlington, by the learned Dr. Plot, upon
this subject, which, I believe, will not be thought impertinent by my
To the Right Honourable Henry Earl of Arlington, Viscount
Thetford, Baron Arlington of Arlington, Lord Chamberlain, &c.
It being your pleasure to intimate, when I had first the honour to
wait on your Lordship, that you would gladly know somewhat of the
ancient Sitomagus, now Thetford, near your magnificent seat at
Euston, I thought it my duty to interpret your Lordship's desire as no
less than a command, that I should search not only the ancient but
modern writers, concerning it, and then to give your Lordship the
best account I could.
Not, therefore, to trouble your Lordship with the fopperies of Annius Viterbiensis, (fn. 6) and, out of him, of Count Palatine, White of Basingstoke, (fn. 7) that not only the towns here in Britain ending in magus or magum, but all those also of the same termination beyond the seas, were
so denominated by I know not what Magus, the second king of the
Celtœ, son of Samothes, who, forsooth, first taught this western part
of the world to build them houses and cities, which might deservedly,
therefore, receive their names from him.
Nor groundlessly with Isacius Pontanus, to run up so high as the
first ages of the world, and derive it from the Hebrew magon, (fn. 8) which
(says he) signifies habitationem vel habitationis locum, or with Goropius
Becanus (fn. 9) and Skinner, (fn. 10) to fetch it from the German mac, whence the
word machen, facere, and whence the things made were called magen,
all which seems to refer to the building of houses; with whom agrees
Beatus Rhenanus, "Magum, priscis Gallis, domum significasse." (fn. 11)
To avoid and pass by, I say, all such trifling etymologies, and proceed upon surer grounds than such mere fancies of the brain, without
foundation in the things themselves, I thought fit, my Lord, to search
out all, or most of, the cities and towns, as well in the neighbouring
nations to us, as here at home, whose ancient names did terminate in
magus or magum, and then consider their antiquities, situations,
whether fortified or no, their initial differential titles, preceding the
common one of magus, and other accidents attending, from which I
thought might be raised much more probable conjectures.
First then for the cities whose ancient names did terminate in magus,
I find in and about
Noviomagus Batavorum, nowNieumagen, in Gelderland.
Noviomagus Trevirorum, now Neumagen.
Noviomagus Nevetum, now Oldenheim, or Diiren, in the Palatinate.
Marcomagus, now Diiren, between Triers and Cologne.
Rigomagus, now Rimagen. LLoydo. Rinc.
Durnomagus, now Dursmagen.
Drusomagus, now Kempten Ptolom. Memmigen.
Juliomagus, now Pfullendorf Rhenano.
Brivomagus, Brucomat Rhenano, near Strasburgh.
Augustomagus Silvanectum, now Senlis.
Cœsaromagus Bellovacorum, now Beaubais, in the dukedom and
country of Valois, in the isle of France.
Juliomagus, now Angiers, in Anjou.
Caturigomagus, now Chorges, in the Upper Delphinate.
Rotomagus Vellocussiorum, now Roan,
Noviomagus Lexoviorum, now Lisieor, in Normandy.
Noviomagus Tricastinorum, now Noyon, in Picardy.
Sitomagus, now Chetford, in Norfolk.
Casaromagus, now Chelmesford, in Essex.
Noviomagus, now Crayford, in Kent.
In The Alpine Countries And Entrance of Italy.
Scingomagus, now Sesans, at the foot of the Alps.
Bodincomagus, Plin. Industria, Camillomagus ad Padum.
Secondly, as to the antiquity of the places, that had these terminations, I find them, to have been long before the coming of the
Romans into these western parts of the world, though it be also true,
that the Romans did make use of them afterwards, as will appear
For had this termination been brought in by them, or at all used
by them, before their coming this way, we should certainly have had
towns in the heart of Italy of the same name in great plenty, whereas
we find but two, and those in Gallia Italica, (Bodincomagus and Camillomagus)
that ever enjoyed it.
Thirdly, for the situations, I find them all upon rivers, and most, if
not all, upon the most fordable places, as indeed it seems but necessary, that all cities should be, before the building of bridges and boats,
all passengers being absolutely obliged to flock to such places, where
they might either wade through themselves, or upon the backs of
Fourthly, to have been fenced for the most part, with ancient
works cast up, and to have had the reputation of strong holds.
From which considerations I take leave to infer in all probability,
First, that the people of Germany, Gaul, the Alpine countries, and
part, at least, of Britain, were originally but one nation, of one language, (viz.) the old Celtœ or Kelts, brought hither after the flood and
confusion of Babel, by Ashkenaz, great grandchild of Noah, as is
concluded by Cluverius, (fn. 12) not only for naming their cities after the
same manner, but from very many words signifying the very same
things, in all these nations, as is copiously made out by the same
Philip Cluverius, in his Germania Antiqua.
Secondly, that the colonies of the Celtœ of Germany and Gaul, as
they arrived in Britain, gave the same names to the cities they built
here, that the cities had from whence they came, whereof Cœsar gives
us ample testimony: "Britanniœ pars interior" (says he) "ab iis
incolitur, quos natos, in insula ipsa, memoria proditum dicunt:
maritima pars, ab iis, qui, predæ ac belli inferendi caussa, ex Belgio
(forte Galliâ Belgicâ) transierant; qui omnes, fere iis nominibus
civitatem appellantur, quibus orti ex civitatibus eo pervenerunt." (fn. 13)
So that all our British cities terminating in magus, being not far from
the sea coasts, over against Gaul or Germany, in all probability they
did receive their names from other cities, of the same denomination,
in those countries; thus our Cœsaromagus peradventure, received its
name from a colony that came from Cœsaromagus, now Beaubais, in
the isle of France, and our Noviomagus from another, that came from
Noviomagus, now Lisieur, in Normandy, or Noviomagus, now Nieumagen
in Gelderland; as for Sitomagus, of that in the conclusion.
Thirdly, if it be demanded what magus should signify in the Keltish
(or Cettic) language, upon consideration that all these cities are situate upon rivers, and most of them, if not all, upon the most fordable
places, and secondly, it having been customary in ancient times, to
give names to cities upon such accounts, (fn. 14) as appears from Oxford,
Hereford, Stafford, Bedford, Hartford, Guildford, Dartford, &c. in
England, and both the Frankfords, Erford, Shawnford, Hasenford,
Klagenford, Steenford, Ochsenford, &c. in Germany, what, if I should
guess with Cluverius, (fn. 15) that magus, in the old Keltish (or Celtic) language, should signify the same with vadum a ford? which being understood by the Saxons at their arrival here, they might probably turn
all the magi into so many fords, a word then more in use among them:
thus Sitomagus turned into Thetford, Cæsaromagus into Chelmsford,
and Noviomagus into Crayford; or else,
Fourthly, most of these magi having been fortified places, perhaps
magus may signify strong or fortified, from moghen, potestas, potentia,
from the verb magan posse, among the Low Dutch, moghan, mighty,
hence the old Noviomagus Batavorum, and Noviomagus Trevirorum
are called Nieumagen and Neumagen, that is, the new fortresses, to
this very day; which in process of time arriving to greatness, and becoming cities, in all likelihood, made the Roman emperors, and other
great men, to prefix their names to many of them, as is plain from
Juliomagus, Cœsaromagus, Augustomagus, Drusomagus, Camillomagus,
&c. which probably also made Paulus Merula think magus signified
urbem a city; whence, says he, magen denotes a people of the same
city, especially if joined in affinity to one another; (fn. 16) (fn. 17) whence also, by
the way, it may not be amiss to take notice, that Mr. Cambden, and
after him, Mr. Burton, are of the same opinion, both of them citing
Pliny's authority, (fn. 18) which had I found true, I should gladly enough
have closed with them: but I appeal to any indifferent judge, whether
any such matter, can be gathered from the place cited, that it signifies urbem, or any other place that could yet be met with in him,
either by Cluverius, (fn. 19) or others.
Now which of these conjectures concerning the signification of
magen comes nearest to truth, is wholly left to your Lordship's judg
ment, the magus enquired after answering all the three; first, being
situate on a ford, as its present name imports; secondly, there remaining now a high mount, fenced with a double rampier, and as
report goeth, fortified in ancient times with walls; and thirdly,
having been a large city, and an episcopal see. But as for the city
Sitomagus, (fn. 20) I take it either to have received its name from some other
foreign city of the same denomination, forgotten and lost, or else
from a colony of people themselves, that lived formerly among cities
of that termination, who might plant themselves here, and give their
city the name of Sitomagus. In the Military Tables of Conrad
Pentinger, perhaps more truely written, Sinomagus, or Senomagus,
from themselves, being a colony of the ancient Senones of Gaul,
whose capital city was Senonorum Civitas, now Sens in Champayne;
or that the name Sitomagus should seem more agreeable as to its.
orthography, it is easy to deduce it from a colony of the Sitones,
an ancient people of Germany bordering on the Sinones, mentioned
by Tacitus, (fn. 21) concerning whom, if it be doubted (by reason of the
distance) how they should ever come hither, the same Tacitus affords
us a great probability they might; for speaking in the same place of
the Estyi, a neighbouring nation to them, he says, that though in
their manners they agree with the Sinones, yet in their language they
were nearer the Britains, which how they should come by, without
some communication, will be hardly made out; from all which it is
easily deducible, that whether our Sitomagus, Sinomagus, or Senomagus, received either its name from a foreign city or people, yet
it imports no more than the fortress or city built by the Senones
or Sitones, on the ford, on which the same people thought fit to plant
And thus, my Lord, I have given you my thoughts concerning your
neighbouring town, Sitomagus, and of all others of the same termination, wherein, if I have not satisfied your Lordship's judgment, yet
if I have given your Lordship any diversion, or but shewed my readiness to serve your Lordship, either of these will appear abundant
satisfaction to your Lordship's most faithful and most obedient
As to this town's not being the ancient Sitomagus, as some authors
have lately advanced, one placing it at Wulpit in Suffolk, (fn. 22) another (fn. 23)
at Wymondham in Norfolk, and another, (fn. 24) (as I am informed, never
having seen the work,) not so much as mentioning the name of
Thetford at all in his whole book, I must observe the reasons that
convince me that this was the Sitomagus, and no other. And first,
the unanimous consent of most, if not all writers, (till these appeared,)
is to me no small argument; next, the natural deduction of its name,
which I have spoken of before. In the third place, the coins and
Roman fortifications which are still visible. And in the last place,
the agreement in the Itinerary, as to the distance, being so exact, it
being from Thetford to Norwich 30 measured miles, wanting one
quarter, by the wheel, and I presume, carry your road, as in this case
must be done, down to Castor by Norwich, (as it is now called for distinction sake,) and you will find it not half a mile over or under the
complement of the Itinerary, which says, that Sitomagus is 31 miles
distant from the Venta Icenorum, which all mankind formerly placed
at this Castor, and not at Castor by Yarmouth, which, in my opinion,
is altogether impossible, as I hope to make out when I come to treat
of that place. Neither am I certainly convinced that this Castor
was the Venta Icenorum, though there are several reasons, I own, to
induce me to think so, but there are also as many to incline me to
imagine it might be at another place in this county: but let it be at
either of them, the distance is so agreeable, that still Thetford, and
that only, must be the Sitomagus.