Caerleon net Home Page

Spelling and dervation

Through the centuries the spelling of Caerleon has seen some twists and turns. In old documents it is not unusual to see different spellings on the same page! Having a unique spelling for a word is a relatively recent development.

Caerleon appears in Roman sources as Isca. The commonly held theory is that the Romans adopted the Old British word isca meaning water. It would seem, though, that they did not call it Isca Silurum - see Bob Trett's discourse on this.

By the 9th century it is referred to as Caer Legeion guar Uisc (on Usk). Guar Uisc was added to distinguish it from the other Caer Legeion (Chester).

Since then just about every conceivable spelling has been used. The place name we are so familiar with arrived at the start of the 1700s. By the middle of that century Caerleon had become the standard spelling.

Here are some of the variations I have come across while researching the history of the area:

Cairlion Carlion Carleion Karleon Karliun Carleon Carleun Carlyon Carliun Karliwn Karlywn Karleun Karlyon Kerlyon Kaerlyon Kairlion Kaerlioun Kaerlion Kaerleon Kerleoun Caerlion Kaerlyun Carlyoun Kaerlyoun Kirlyon Karluyn Kayrlyon Kaerlyun Karlioun Kerlion Kairlyon Karlyons Karlheon Kerleon Kayrlion Caerlyon Kayrlyon Kaireleon Caerlion Kairlion Carlian Carlyon Carelion Carelyon Caerlleon Carlleon Caerleon

Many assume that Caer Lleon means Fortress of the Legion or City of the Legion. However, a Mr Owen made a strong argument for a different meaning in an appendix to William Coxe's Historical Tour in Monmouthshire published 1801. He stated that the Welsh word for legion is lleng which he said had been used in writing through the ages. If the meaning were to be Fortress of the Legion he argued that it would have been named Caer Lleng. He also pointed out that in the very earliest manuscripts the ending is more often lion not leon. He argued that Llion meant streams, torrents or floodings. Thus City of the Flood would have been an apt name considering the proximity of the River Usk with its huge rise and fall with the tide and the flooding of the adjacent low lying land that frequently occurs.

Others have argued that the name Caer Lleon predates the Roman period, and that it means Fort of Lleon. Lleon the Mighty they say was a British King whose base was Lodge Camp ten centuries before London was built!

You might like to visit our antique maps section. You will find three variations there!

Caerleon net Home Page
Home | A-Z Index | History Pages | Archive | Did the Romans call Caerleon Isca Silurum?