Herbam quae Gallice

Gaulish Herblore
3 min read-time

Herbam quae Gallice... is a Gaulish plant knowledge database named after the common phrase uttered by Classical herbalists and other authors before introducing the Gaulish name of a plant, Marcellus Empiricus (a.k.a. Marcellus Burdigalensis “Marcellus of Bordeaux”) in particular, in his work De medicamentis. HqG aims to go beyond a simple glossary by providing some additional context to each entry, including pictures, taxonomy (to the extent possible), and references for the sources of each term. It is also categorized loosely by different plant types rather than merely alphabetically, so as to provide more context and relevance to the reader. HqG lists all of the known attestations of plant names that can be reasonably secured as being Gaulish, as well as a few terms that are reconstructed from various dialects known within the realms of Gaulish speakers.

What HqG is not: A guide to the usage or cultivation of these plants. A field guide (the taxonomy of most entries is incomplete or uncertain at best).

Some limitations to HqG: Gender is largely uncertain, so the inflections presented here cannot be considered authoritative. Genders were surmised in order to list whole words here rather than merely lemmas or stems, but they should always be examined critically. In ambiguous cases, especially when no Insular comparanda exists, trees will generally be presumed animate (not neuter), although keep in mind that o-stems may still be feminine in a botanical context as with *abal(n)os. This follows a general Indo-European trend where tree names are animate but their fruits are inanimate.

There are many more plant names claimed to be “Gaulish” that are not presented here, because the forms we receive them in cannot be reconciled or comprehended by what we know of the Gaulish language. It’s possible some of those terms had genuine currency among Gaulish speakers (perhaps as loanwords, especially from non-Indo-European substrata), but it is equally possible that they had been corrupted beyond comprehension by the hands of authors with no knowledge of Gaulish or that “Gaulish” was used as a catch-all term in some cases to refer to anything of a strange or “barbarous” provenance.

The spelling conventions here use ‘v’ to represent /w/ (often spelled ‘u’ in other sources), ‘í’ to represent /j/ or /iː/ (often spelled ‘i’ elsewhere), and ‘đ’ or ‘đđ’ to represent what in some cases may be ‘ss’, ‘st’, or ‘ts’ in Latin or Anglo source material.

There is no known or reconstructed taxonomic system from the Gauls, so all plant names should be viewed as common names (with all of their attendant problems). “Gaulish” itself is a broad appellation for various speaking communities that existed over a large swath of Western Europe, and East all the way to Anatolia. The various source material is not only sometimes hundreds of miles apart, but also hundreds of years. So it must be understood that perhaps no single Gaulish speaking community shared all of the same terms or definitions as listed below, and that this is necessarily a hodge-podge of terminology collected from disparate sources, most of which were colonial texts. That said, instances that correspond well to Insular Celtic terminology may fairly be regarded as “Common Celtic,” although there can be pitfalls to this methodology as well (particularly in the case of eburos).

You can visit Herbam quae Gallice here.

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