The Real Rianorix

One of the problems with writing about ancient Britons is knowing what to call them. There’s a distinct shortage of names in the surviving record, and some of the ones we have simply don’t work for twenty-first century readers. I’m hoping never to be desperate enough to use ‘Enemnogenus’.*  Maybe they  used abbreviations when they spoke to each other? Or maybe conversation was slower in the Iron Age?

Anyway, it’s a joy to run across a name that’s relatively simple and doesn’t sound ridiculous. Welcome, Rianorix. Anyone who’s read ‘Ruso and the Demented Doctor’ (‘Terra Incognita’) will hopefully remember him as a local with an attitude problem. His name came from a reference book, but last weekend he and I finally met – or at least, we came as close as we ever will.

Rianorix’s tombstone is in the Senhouse Museum at Maryport, on the Cumbrian coast. It nearly wasn’t, having been ‘borrowed’ from the collection while it was in storage, but honesty prevailed and now it sits near a collection of grand Roman altars. It’s a simple and badly battered slab with uneven lettering bearing the words, ‘Rianorix vixit annos…’  Tantalisingly, the rest of the line is illegible.

The tribute was raised by an unknown mourner who evidently spoke Latin. It rests amidst the work of professional stonemasons: a silent reminder of the people who lived in Britain before, and after, the Roman army.

The fort at Maryport was part of a chain the Army built to keep an eye on the dangerous Northerners, lest they decide to sneak around the western edge of Hadrian’s Wall. This, from the museum watchtower, is their view across the Solway Firth to what’s now Scotland:

View from Senhouse Museum watchtower
You'll never spot the marauders if you stand there reading the information panel

*’Taximagulus’ won’t be appearing anywhere soon, either.

2 thoughts on “The Real Rianorix

  1. Hi,
    I am currently reading and enjoying your book Terra Incognita and was searching on Rianorix to try to find its meaning when I found your post. Do you happen to know what the name Rianorix means? I wonder if the name Ryan is derived from it…
    Thanks & Kind Regards,

    1. Hi Joe,

      Good question. I never found a full meaning I’m afraid, and to get a proper handle on this you’d have to talk to a scholar instead of someone who just steals plausible names for fictional characters. However, ‘The Celtic Heroic Age’ (edited by Koch and Carey) has a list of ‘Special terms and names’ in the back, where I found RHIANNON (Welsh) Rigantona, ‘great, divine queen’, RHUN (Welsh, old Welsh RUN) …. brother of Owein, converted the Northumbrians to Christianity [but no meaning is given], and – “RI (Irish), Welsh RHI, Ancient British RIX, Gaulish -RIX… ‘king’.

      All of this seems to be in the right area, but as to how it fits together, if indeed it does, I wouldn’t dare to hazard a guess. There are probably people who’ve written whole theses on this sort of thing. If any of them is reading this, please come and set us straight. Meanwhile it’s very tempting to assume a connection with the modern name Ryan, isn’t it?

      Best wishes,


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