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Attestation: MI·10.1 (ṃeśiọlanoXXIIỊỊ[) (1)
Language: unknown
Word Type: proper noun
Semantic Field: placename

Grammatical Categories: unclear sg.
Stem Class: o

Morphemic Analysis: medi̯-o-lān or medi̯-o-lān-o
Phonemic Analysis: /medolānō/ or /medolāno/
Meaning: 'from Mediolanum' or 'Mediolano'


The form represents the only attestation of the etymologically Celtic toponym Milano in a Celtic context, though maybe not grammatically in its original Celtic form.

The toponym, which is also used for a considerable number of other Celtic settlements, sometimes with a i̯-suffix (see DNP s.v. Mediolan(i)um, DLG: 221 s.v. mediolanon), is generally assumed to be formed with medi̯o- 'middle' and lāno- 'plain' (e.g. AcS II: 497, IEW: 806, Falileyev 2010: 159, De Bernardo Stempel 2000: 94). Differently Delamarre DLG: 221 f., who follows Meillet DELL: 513 – Meillet notes that lāno- 'plain' is not attested in any Celtic language (see the morpheme page), and that it is thus not clear what the second element means; he compares the Brit. toponym medi̯onemeton (AcS II: 524) and suggests that lān- in medi̯olānon also has some religious significance. Delamarre adds (with references) that many of the settlements which bear the name medi̯olānon are, in contrast to Milano, not situated anywhere near plains, and derives the second element from PIE *pl̥h₁-nó- 'full' (lexically in OIr. lán etc., see Matasović 2009: 132 s.v. flāno-), interpreting the toponym as "'plein-centre', c.-à-d. 'centre sacré'". While the lack of lāno- 'plain' in Celtic does shed some doubt on the traditional etymology, the mountainous situation of some medi̯olānā is not necessarily a counter-argument, as place names are easily transferred. De Bernardo Stempel 2000: 94, n. 18 argues that, considering Celtic word order, a meaning 'middle of the plain' is impossible anyway; she interprets the compound as 'the central plain (place)'.

In any case, the Celtic toponym is best reconstructed as a neuter o-stem *medi̯olānon < *medi̯olānom, which was rendered in Greek as μεδιόλανον (Polybius, Cassius Dio) or μεδιολάνιον (Strabo), in Latin as mediolanum (Pliny) or mediolanium (Livy); the attestations with i may indicate that a variant of the toponym with i̯-suffix was also in use for ancient Milano (full list of Classical attestations in Falileyev 2010: 159). The form attested in MI·10.1 could be a Latin ablative of the Latinised mediolanum. Tibiletti Bruno 1986: 101 analyses it as a Celtic ablative -*ū < *-ōd, with /ō/ instead of /ū/ due to Latin influence, but this seems unnecessarily precarious considering, alternatively, the lack of evidence for ablatives in Old Celtic, and De Hoz' theory that the PIE ablative became a genitive -*ū in Continental Celtic (see The Cisalpine Celtic Languages). The ending -⟨o⟩ could, however, be simply the nom. sg. of *medi̯olānon with dropped final n, though this development is only attested in late Transalpine Gaulish, and not for the neuter nominative, but only for the accusative morpheme -on (see DLG: 342 f.), which is otherwise attested in the Cisalpine Celtic corpus with -n intact. Syntactically, both nominative and ablative are feasible.

On the exact phonetic form of the first element and the function of san, see the discussion on the inscription page.

Corinna Salomon


AcS Alfred Holder, Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz, Leipzig: Teubner 1896–1907.
De Bernardo Stempel 2000 Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel, "Ptolemy's Celtic Italy and Ireland: a Linguistic Analysis", in: David N. Parsons, Patrick Sims-Williams (eds), Ptolemy. Towards a linguistic atlas of the earliest Celtic place-names of Europe. Papers from a workshop, sponsored by the British Academy, in the Department of Welsh, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 11–12 April 1999, Aberystwyth: CMCS 2000, 83–112.
DELL Alfred Ernout, Antoine Meillet, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue latine. Historie des mots, 4th edition, augmented and revised by Jacques André, Paris: Klincksieck 1959.
DLG Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental, 2nd, revised edition, Paris: Errance 2003.
DNP Hubert Cancik, Helmuth Schneider (eds), New Pauly Online, Leiden: Brill 2002–.
Falileyev 2010 Alexander Falileyev, Dictionary of Continental Celtic Place-Names. A Celtic Companion to the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, Aberystwyth: CMCS 2010.