In his Geography , Claudius Ptolemy records seven inland “cities” in Ireland. The fifth of these he refers to as ἑτερα Ῥηγια [hetera Rhēgia], which literally means Another Rēgia. Clearly, Ptolemy has bestowed this unusual name on the settlement to distinguish it from the first of his inland cities, which is also called Rēgia:
|ἑτερα Ῥηγια||altera Rhegia||Another Rēgia||11° 00'||59° 30'|
Source: Nobbe 66, Wilberg 103, Müller 80
For the third time in this series, I quote Amalia Gnanadesikan, the Technical Director for Language Analysis at the University of Maryland’s Center for Advanced Study of Language, on the use of diacritics in ancient Greek. In her book The Writing Revolution , she makes the following pertinent comment on the question of smooth and rough breathing in Ptolemy’s Alexandria:
In the process of accumulating and copying texts, the Alexandrian scholars began to show concern for matters of orthography. They found that at certain points the lack of a written form of [h] made for ambiguity. They noted that the Greeks living in Italy had been more free-thinking than the Athenians. While they had gone along with the adoption of the Ionic alphabet, they continued to write [h] by cutting the hēta in half and using ├. The Alexandrians adopted the Italian Greeks’ half H, but wrote it as a superscript on the following vowel, so that, for example,
was ho . Loving symmetry, they made the other half of H stand for the lack of an [h] sound before a vowel:
These diacritics came to be termed “rough breathing” (for [h]) and “smooth breathing” (for lack of [h]). Their use was for many centuries largely reserved for cases where ambiguity could arise without them. These marks later became ‘ and ’ , so that ὁ was ho and ὀ plain o ... Only by the ninth century AD (well into the Byzantine period, AD 330–1453) did the use of breathing and accent diacritics become fully regular, with all vowel-initial words marked for “rough” or “smooth” breathing and all words marked for accent. (Gnanadesikan 220 ... 221)
I take these remarks to imply that Ptolemy probably only employed the diacritics for smooth and rough breathings in cases where the correct reading was not already obvious to the reader. In other words, he probably did not include the rough breathing in ἑτερα [hetera], as its presence in that common word was too well known to. The pitch accents—acute, grave and circumflex—were probably not used by him at all. This is the practice I have tended to follow in this series.
It need hardly be repeated that Ptolemy lived in an age before the development of what we today might call the lowercase Greek letters:
Another invention of Byzantine times was the small letters, or minuscules. Ancient Greek was written entirely in what we now consider capital letters. All in all, ancient Greek inscriptions are rather difficult for modern readers, used as we are to visual cues such word spacing, punctuation, and capitalization. (Gnanadesikan 221)
Another point worth repeating in connection with Another Rēgia involves the letter rho. In ancient Greek, an initial rho, Ρ , always took a rough breathing:
13. Every initial ρ has the rough breathing:_ ῥήτωρ orator_ (Lat. rhetor ). Medial ρρ is written ῤῥ in some texts: Πυῤῥος Pyrrhus .
14. The sign for the rough breathing is derived from Η, which in the Old Attic alphabet (2 a) was used to denote h . Thus, ΗΟ ὁ the . After Η was used to denote η , one half (ⱶ) was used for h (about 300 B.C.), and, later, the other half (˧) for the smooth breathing. From ⱶ and ˧ come the forms ῾ and ᾽ . (Smyth 10)
This explains why Ptolemy’s ἑτερα Ῥηγια is sometimes transcribed into Roman script as Regia altera (Müller) and sometimes as altera Rhegia (Wilberg). The former, as we shall see, is probably closer to the original Celtic name, so the introduction of the rough breathing here is simply the result of Ptolemy or one of his transcribers applying Smyth’s general rule.
No variant readings of this name have been recorded by Ptolemy’s modern editors Friedrich Wilberg (1838) or Karl Müller (1883), unless one counts ἑτερα Ῥηγια and Ῥηγια ἑτερα as variants. One alternative figure for the latitude, 58° 30', is found in two manuscript sources. This is one degree south of the latitude found in the majority of the manuscripts:
|Most MSS||11° 00'||59° 30'|
|P, V||11° 00'||58° 30'|
P is a Venetian manuscript identified by Müller as Venetus 383 . It is possibly kept in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, though I have not been able to confirm this.
V is a manuscript in the Vatican Library, Vaticanus Graecus 177 (ἑτέρα ῥιγϊα is on p 40b, line 7).
Karl Nobbe (1843) and Friedrich Wilberg accept the majority decision, but Karl Müller hedges his bets: in the Greek text he records 59° 30', but in his parallel Latin translation he records [58°] 30'. This unusual practice is defended in a lengthy footnote:
58 ½ PV, which Mercator [ Europae Tabula I, Annotationes in Hiberniam ]] wished to be placed beyond conjecture: “Another Regia, he said, has a latitude of 59 ½ degrees in all copies; but because it is listed after Rhaiba, Laberos and Makolikon, it requires another, smaller latitude on account of this order. I have established, then, that its true location is in latitude 58 ½ degrees; there is no doubt that Makolikon is the Malck of modern maps, in relation to which Lymbrich ( Limerick ) *city (which appears to be none other than Another Regia), has this location and distance.” This is not at all implausible, although this numerical order is not always observed, and nothing is clear concerning the true positions of the cities, and the authority of codices P and V may well be of no value. (Müller 80)
Of all Ptolemy’s Irish toponyms, none has been moved about the country more widely than Another Rēgia. It has been identified with St Patrick’s Purgatory in the northwest of the island and with Limerick City, which lies 220 km away in Munster—not to mention several other places in between.
As we have seen above, the 16th-century Dutch cartographer Gerardus Mercator was of the opinion that Another Rēgia was identical with Limerick City. His edition of Ptolemy’s Geography was first published in 1578, with a second, revised edition coming out six years later. On the map of Ireland, Regia altera is on the Shannon at the location of the modern city of Limerick.
In the previous article, I discussed the possibility that Ptolemy’s Makolikon might be Limerick. To repeat myself, the modern city of Limerick dates from the Viking settlement of about 812 CE on King’s Island in the Shannon, but there is evidence of earlier occupation of this site. The very name King’s Island , however, suggests a link with Another Rēgia. The Old Irish word for king is rig , so Ptolemy’s Rēgia may be a Greek transliteration of an early name for King’s Island.
It is possible, however, that the name King’s Island was only bestowed on the island after the building of King John’s Castle in the 13th century. Nevertheless, I find it at the very least a plausible match for Another Rēgia. It is also a good geographical fit, assuming that Ptolemy’s Sēnos is the River Shannon. Ptolemy places the mouth of the Sēnos in the same latitude as another Rēgia, and one and a half degrees to the west.
The English antiquarian William Camden identified Ptolemy’s ἑτερα Ῥηγια with St Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg, County Donegal:
The Liffer [ie the River Derg, which actually has its source in Lough Derg], not far from its rise, spreads into a broad Lake, which contains an Island; and therein stands a little Monastery, near which is a narrow Vault, famous for I know not what terrible Apparitions, or rather Religious Dreams ; and (as some foolishly imagin) dug by Ulysses, when he made his descent into Hell. The natives at this day call it Ellan u’ frugadory [ Oileán an Phurgadóra , or Purgatory Island], that is, the Isle of Purgatory , and Patrick’s Purgatory . For some are so piously credulous, as to believe that Patrick the Irish Apostle, or some other Abbot of the same name, obtain’d of God by his fervent Prayers to make the People eye-witnesses of those punishments and tortures, which the wicked endure after this life; to the end he might recover the Irish from their sinful state, and the errors they then lay under. Seeing this place is call’d Reglis [Old Irish: reiclés ] in the life of St. Patrick , I am apt to think it the other Regia in Ptolemy; for the situation is agreeable to the account which he gives of it. (Camden 1409)
Lough Derg has certainly been an important place of pilgrimage for centuries. Its name possibly refers to the pagan deity Da Derga [The Red God], an obvious personification of the Sun in its rising and setting aspect (O’Rahilly 127-128). In ancient Ireland, lakes were often identified as the location of the Celtic Otherworld, where the lord of the Otherworld had his residence (O’Rahilly 481). When Christianity was adopted by the native Irish, Lough Derg remained a popular place of pilgrimage, a reputation it has continued to enjoy down to the present day.
It is, however, unlikely, that there is any etymological connection between Ptolemy’s Rēgia and the Irish Reglis , which first appears in the Latin Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii [ Treatise on St Patrick’s Purgatory ], a late 12th-century tract (Maggioni 153 ff). Camden’s identification has not been well received by the scholars who have followed him.
In the 17th century, the Irish antiquary James Ware offered an alternative identification for Another Rēgia:
Another RIGIA or REGIA. By Camden called Reglis , in the rocky Island of Lough Derg , in the County of Donegall , where St. Patrick’s Purgatory stands. But the Situation in Ptolomey , as well as the Narrowness of the Island, containing scarce Three Quarters of a common Irish Acre, will not admit of this Opinion. I rather take it to be Athenrie , in the County of Galway , [the last Syllable of which imports something like Regia , signifying Royal.] (Ware & Harris 43)
The final comment, in square parentheses, was added by Ware’s 18th-century editor, the Irish antiquary Walter Harris. T F O’Rahilly’s opinion on the etymology of Ptolemy’s Rēgia might as well be repeated here:
Rēgia is not to be taken as a Latin word ... Rather it is an early form of Celt. * rīgiā , dating back to a time before Indo-European ē had become ī in Celtic. Each of the two places called Rēgia was probably a royal seat ( ríg-ráith ); but they cannot now be identified. Compare Ir. ríge , ‘kingship’, from * rīgion . (O’Rahilly 14)
Ware’s identification of Another Rēgia with Athenry has been better received than Camden’s with Lough Derg. It has been endorsed not only by Walter Harris in 1745 but also by Karl Müller in 1883 and by Goddard Orpen in 1894:
According to others, this regia seems to have been the capital city of the Auteini, today’s Athenry . (Müller 80)
The Αὐτεῑνοι ... follow, with perhaps [Another] Ῥηγία as their chief seat. If this word be connected with the Irish rí , ríg , a king, we might guess it to be still represented by Athenry, Ath na Riogh [The Ford of the Kings], which is in about the right place. It must be observed, however, that it is not the Latin regia , but the Greek ῥηγία, that we have to deal with. (Orpen 119)
Athenry lies about 25 km east of Galway City on the Clarin River. It is said that the royal part of its name refers to the local ruling family Cenél nDéigill . These belonged to the earliest of the Celtic peoples who settled Ireland, the Priteni (or, as they were known in later times, the Cruthin). In the Short Chronology to which I subscribe, the Priteni were hunter-gatherers who migrated to Ireland from mainland Europe around 750 BCE. Their archaeological remains have been grossly misdated by mainstream archaeology by several millennia and attributed instead to fictitious Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.
There are a number of factors that favour the identification of Athenry with Another Rēgia:
It is associated with Cenél nDéigill, who are certainly of very ancient stock.
It stands on the Eiscir Riada , along which ran one of the ancient roadways of Ireland, the Slige Mór , or Great Way.
It commands a ford of local importance.
Archaeological remains that pre-date the Medieval Period have been found in the area.
On the other hand, there are equally many factors that count against it:
Cenél nDéigill are not usually identified with the Autenoi, the Celtic tribe whose royal seat Another Rēgia is thought to have been. This is a point to which I will return in a later article.
The ancient roads of Ireland may actually be of medieval provenance, and therefore irrelevant to Ptolemy’s geography of Ireland. See The 5 Great Roads of Ancient Ireland: Fact or Medieval Fiction? for further comment.
The modern town of Athenry grew out of the medieval town, which itself sprang up around the castle erected in 1235 by the Anglo-Norman warlord Meiler de Bermingham to control the nearby ford. There is no evidence of an earlier settlement than this, notwithstanding the ancient archaeological remains in the environs.
In the Short Chronology, the earliest dates attributed to these nearby remains by mainstream archaeology— circa 2200 BCE in the Bronze Age—must be moved forward by about two thousand years, making them too late for Ptolemy’s principal source of information, thought by O’Rahilly to have been Pytheas of Massalia, who may have visited Ireland around 325 BCE (O’Rahilly 40-42). In the Short Chronology, the so-called Bronze Age is the period following the Laginian colonization of Ireland, around 250 BCE. As O’Rahilly painstakingly demonstrated, Ptolemy’s description of Ireland does not contain the slightest trace of the Lagin, even though their close relations the Dumnonii are recorded in Ptolemy’s description of Britain (O’Rahilly 39-42).
I find it hard to believe that Ptolemy’s Rēgia could refer to Athenry. But who knows?
In recent years, Turoe, which is also in County Galway, has been identified with Ptolemy’s Another Rēgia. The etymologists at Roman Era Names have the following to say:
ἑτερα Ρηγια πολις (‘the other Regia or Rigia’ 2,2,10) may be the Rath of Feerwore, source of the Turoe Stone , east of Galway.
According to the Irish archaeologist George Coffey, the Turoe Stone was relocated in the 1850s from the Rath of Feerwore (Coffey 260). This ringfort lies in the townland of Turoe , about 13 km southeast of Athenry. It was excavated in 1938 by a team led by Joseph Raftery, a member of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. His conclusions, though tentative, do not support the identification of Feerwore Fort with Ptolemy’s Another Rēgia:
At all events, the evidence, meagre though it is, indicates a date somewhere between 500 and 300 B.C. for the carving of the Turoe stone ... On other grounds I have dated the beginning of the occupation and presumably first erection of the fort of Feerwore to the first century B.C. If we accept the above suggested date for the carving, the stone was thus in position before the first of the new settlers arrived. It may have been the magnet which drew them to this region, and it may have continued to serve as a symbol of significance for the newcomers. Were these people settlers from some other part of Ireland or were they travellers from a foreign land? The evidence on this point is just as unsatisfactory as for the other aspects of the history of the site. (Raftery 45-46)
Recent scholarship dates the Turoe Stone to between 100 BCE and 100 CE (Harding 181), which only strengthens the case against the identification of Feerwore Fort and Another Rēgia. As for Feerwore Rath, little trace of it remains today (Waddell 132).
Nevertheless, Turoe remains a popular candidate. See William Finnerty’s website for the case in favour of Turoe: Archaeological Notes by Dr Kieran Jordan .
Rathcroghan, or Cruachan, in County Roscommon was the ancient seat of the Kings of Connacht. We have already seen that it was identified with at least one other of Ptolemy’s inland cities: Rhaiba. Darcy & Flynn also cite it as candidate for Rēgia, but this appears to be an error for Another Rēgia.
In 1789, the Irish architect and member of the Royal Irish Academy William Beauford first proposed that the other Rēgia might be a reference to the royal seat of Rathcroghan:
Ετερα Ῥηγια or another Regia . Camden thinks this situated in Lough Derg in the county of Donegal, where St Patrick’s purgatory was; and [Ware] thinks it Athenry in the county of Galway; but from the situation in Ptolemy’s tables it seems to be the Croghan of the Irish, the ancient capital Conaught, situated between Boyle and Elphin in the county of Roscommom. There are stiIl remaining a rath and an ancient cemetery, called by the natives Rioligh na Righ [Cemetery of the Kings]. (Beauford 71)
More recently, Seán Duffy also appears to have tentatively equated Ptolemy’s Another Rēgia with Rathcroghan. Although he labels it as simply Regia on his map, it is clear that he is referring to Another Rēgia, with Rēgia itself being tentatively identified with Clogher in County Tyrone.
Before concluding, I might mention in passing that Charles Trice Martin identifies a certain Rhigia with Railstown in County Tipperary, a place I have never heard of (Martin 299). If this is a candidate for Ptolemy’s Another Rēgia, I have no idea what Martin’s source could be.
Rathcroghan is clearly a place of ancient standing, and it undoubtedly played a very important part in early Irish history. In my opinion, it is too significant not to find a place somewhere in Ptolemy’s geography of Ireland. Another Rēgia is probably the best candidate to fill this essential role.