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The north gate of Cardiff Castle, following the old Roman fortifications and rebuilt along Roman lines.

Caer (Welsh pronunciation: [kɑːɨr]; Old Welsh: cair or kair) is a placename element in Welsh meaning "stronghold", "fortress", or "citadel",[1] roughly equivalent to an Old English suffix (-ceaster) now variously written as -caster, -cester, and -chester.[2][3]

In modern Welsh orthography, caer is usually written as a prefix, although it was formerly—particularly in Latin—written as a separate word. The Breton equivalent is kêr, which is present in many Breton placenames as the prefix Ker-.


The term is thought to have derived from the Brittonic *kagro- and to be cognate with cae ("field, enclosed piece of land").[4] Although stone castles were largely introduced to Wales by the invading Normans, "caer" was and remains used to describe the settlements around some of them as well. An example is the Roman fort at Caernarfon, formerly known in Welsh as Caer Seiont from its position on the Seiont; the later Edwardian castle and its community were distinguished as Caer yn ar Fôn ("fort in the land opposite Anglesey").[2] However, the modern names of the Roman fort and Edwardian castle themselves are now Segontiwm or Castell Caernarfon, while the communities carry on the name caer.

Note that the term is not believed to be related to the Irish cathair ("city"), which is instead derived from Proto-Celtic *katrixs, *catarax ("fortification").[5][6]


Gildas's account of the Saxon invasions of Britain claimed that there were 28 fortified Roman cities (Latin: civitas) on the island, without listing them.[8] The History of the Britons traditionally attributed to Nennius includes a list of the 28, all of which are called "caer".[7][12] Controversy exists over whether this list includes only Roman cities or a mixture of Roman cities and non-Roman settlements.[13] Some of the place names that have been proposed include:

Roman Britain (1911).
Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon derives its name from the Edwardian Caernarfon Castle, although it is now known in Welsh as Castell Caernarfon...
...while the Roman fort now known as Segontium derived its name from a Latinization of the British community along the Afon Seiont.[2]


Examples in modern Wales include:


Modern Welsh exonyms for English cities include:

Carriden House, a refurbished Roman fort which formerly formed part of the Antonine Wall in Scotland.


Southern Scotland, the former Old North of the Romano-Britons, contains many modern placenames with variant forms of caer, including:

In fiction[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carlisle, Nicholas. Topographical Dictionary of the Dominion of Wales, "Glossary", p. xxx. W. Bulmer & Co. (London), 1811.
  2. ^ a b c Allen, Grant. "Casters and Chesters" in The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. XLV, pp. 419 ff. Smith, Elder, & Co. (London), 1882.
  3. ^ More precisely, these English placename elements derive from Latin castrum ("fortified post") and its plural form castra ("military camp"), making them the more precise equivalent of the Welsh castell.
  4. ^ Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, vol. 1, p. 384.
  5. ^ Ebel, Hermann Wilhelm (April 6, 2001). The Development of Celtic Linguistics, 1850-1900: Celtic studies. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780415226998 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Stifter, David (June 12, 2006). Sengoidelc: Old Irish for Beginners. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815630722 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ a b "JTK". "Civitas" in Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, Vol. I, p. 451. ABC-CLIO (Sta. Barbara), 2006.
  8. ^ De Excidio Britanniae, § 3. (in Latin) Cited in the "Civitas" entry of Celtic Culture.[7]
  9. ^ a b Nennius (attrib.). Theodor Mommsen (ed.). Historia Brittonum, VI. Composed after AD 830. (in Latin) Hosted at Latin Wikisource.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Ford, David Nash. "The 28 Cities of Britain Archived 2016-04-15 at the Wayback Machine" at Britannia. 2000.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Newman, John Henry & al. Lives of the English Saints: St. German, Bishop of Auxerre, Ch. X: "Britain in 429, A. D.", p. 92. Archived 2016-03-21 at the Wayback Machine James Toovey (London), 1844.
  12. ^ Latin names according to Mommsen's edition of Nennius,[9] translations and modern equivalents according to Ford,[10] Ussher,[11] or as otherwise noted.
  13. ^ Breeze, Andrew. "Historia Brittonum" and Britain’s Twenty-Eight Cities at Journal of Literary Onomastics. 2016.
  14. ^ Bishop Ussher argued for Bristol.[11]
  15. ^ Cited in Frank Reno's The Historic King Arthur: Authenticating the Celtic Hero of Post-Roman Britain, Ch. 7: "Camelot and Tintagel", p. 201.
  16. ^ Usser,[11] following John Leland.[15]
  17. ^ On page 20 of Stevenson's 1838 edition of Nennius's works.
  18. ^ Bishop Ussher cites another passage in Nennius:[17] "Here, says Nennius, Constantius the Emperor (the father probably of Constantine the Great) died; that is, near the town of Cair Segeint, or Custoient, in Carnarvonshire". Nennius stated that the emperor's inscribed tomb was still present in his day.[11] Ford credits this to Constantine, son of Saint Elen.[10]
  19. ^ Per Ford, who ascribed Nennius's "Caer-Custoeint" to one of the Dumnonian kings named Constantine.[10]
  20. ^ Although note that Bishop Ussher ascribed this to the Cambridge in Gloucestershire.[11]
  21. ^ Veprauskas, Michael. "The Problem of Caer Guorthigirn" at Vortigern Studies. 1998.
  22. ^ In Academy, Vol. XXX, Oct. 1886.
  23. ^ Henry of Huntington previously ascribed it to Lincoln, which was followed until the 19th century, when Bradley placed it at Lichfield,[22] thinking it to be the Roman Letocetum. Instead, excavations have shown that Letocetum was located at nearby Wall instead.[10]
  24. ^ Both Ussher and Ford use the transcription Lundein; with regard to Mommsen, note the similarity with Lindum, the Roman name for present-day Lincoln, and the generic name *Lindon, "lake".
  25. ^ Williams, Robert. "A History of the Parish of Llanfyllin" in Collections Historical & Archaeological Relating to Montgomeryshire, Vol. III, p. 59. J. Russell Smith (London), 1870.
  26. ^ Roman Britain Organisation. "Mediomanum?" at Roman Britain Archived 2007-04-01 at the Wayback Machine. 2010.
  27. ^ Coit is Welsh for "woods" or "forest". Ford takes the name as a single construction "Caer-Pensa-Uel-Coyt" ("Fort Penselwood"), while Mommsen and Ussher treat vel as the Latin word for or: "Cair Pensa or Coyt".[9][11]
  28. ^ "Fife Place-name Data :: Kirkcaldy".