Sunday, 22 March 2015

Origins of Place Names: Greek Cities

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. This time we continue the tour of Western Europe and a look at the largest Greek cities.

Athens is often heard to be named after Athena, the goddess of Greek mythology. Correctly it should be said that both share a common origin. Athens got its name, note it is plural, from the sisterhood of the Athenai. At that time the city was Mycenae, similarly a plural name for the sisterhood of females who were related to the same goddess but then known as Mykene. This all begs the question as to the root word and meaning of all these terms – this is not known, although we do know why the name is uncertain. There have been numerous suggestions as to the etymology of these names since at least Plato’s time – and here lies the problem. These names are simply too old and have been used by too many languages for us to have any chance of seeing changes in sequence and thus following a trail back to the earliest usage.

Thessaloniki is from the Greek for ‘Thessalian victory’, the suffix nike easily understood. The first element refers to Thessalonike of Macedon, a princess and half-sister of Alexander the Great. In turn she was named because of the victory by the Macedonians at the Battle of Crocus Field in 353 BC and on the day of her birth.

Patras is named after the mythical Patreus, he the son of Preugenes.

Heraklion was founded by Arab raiders from Andalusia who called it Rabd al-handaq or ‘castle of the moat’ during the early ninth century. Later Byzantine conquest saw the name become Megalo Kastro, Greek for ‘the big castle’. By the nineteenth century the ancient and original name of Heraklion was revived, itself from the Roman port of Heracleum and both meaning ‘the city of Heracles’.

Larissa is from the pre-Greek or Pelasgian word meaning ‘fortress’.

Volos has two possible origins, both agreeing that Volos had previously been known as Golos. Some maintain this is a corruption of the wealthy landlord Folos, yet it seems more likely to be from the early Mycenaean Iolkos, an ancient city of unknown meaning and given as the embarkation point for the Argo, aboard which Jason led the so-called Argonauts to search for the Golden Fleece.

Rhodes the city is named after Rhodes the island and, in turn, from the nymph Rhodos of mythology who bore seven sons sired by Helios, the sun god. While she gave her name to the island, three of her grandsons are remembered in three places on the island, Camirus, Ialysus, and Lindus.

Ioannina is Greek for ‘town of John’.

Chalcis is an ancient name and comes from the early Greek for ‘copper, bronze’, although no archaeological evidence of any mines in the area has ever been found.

Agrinio was built by King Agrios, according to mythology, and thus named after him.

Trikala is built on the site of ancient Trikka or Trikke, itself named after the mythological nymph Trikke.

Lamia was either named after the mythological daughter of Poseidon or from the Malians, the tribe who lived in this area around the same time.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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