A quick linguistic note I just feel I need to write.
If you make a search on the etymology of Varduli (one of the historical Basque tribes of the early Roman era), we find that it is almost invariably attributed to the alleged Celtic root *bhar- meaning border, frontier. This is the same logic used with the better known tribe of the Vascones, which gave their name to Basques in general later on in Indoeuropean languages.
|Ancient tribes of the Greater Basque Country (blue Celts, red pre-IE)|
One of the problems here is that Latin letter v was not originally /v/, much less /b/ but originally just /u/, i.e. the same sound as English w when used as semi-consonant. In fact the letter u did not exist in Classic Latin, just v (i.e. IVLIVS: Julius). Both letters j and u evolved only at a later stage. However both cases are documented with other phonetics: Varduli in Greek are said Bardoúloi, Bardiétes (where the B, beta, should sound like English v). In the case of the Vascones there is a coinage with the word Barscunes, which should sound /b/ and is the main link to the alleged Celtic root *bhar-.
Often the country of the Varduli is assimilated to Gipuzkoa but the actual Varduli did not just occupy most (not all) of that modern province but their domain extended much further south into lands now belonging to the provinces of Navarre and Araba until the Ebro river. Their capital was in fact the town that Romans named Ara Coeli, later Araceli and that Basques know by the compound name of Uharte-Arakil (Sakana valley, Navarre), where Arakil is obviously Ara Coeli but Uharte is a Basque word that means island or more precisely between waters (ur-arte). Therefore Uharte is the genuine Basque name.
My understanding is therefore that Varduli means nothing else than Uharte-Uli (shortened to Uhartuli), i.e. the city of Uharte. Uli, ili, uri, iri: city in Basque and Iberian, as well as many other Mediterranean languages (cf. Ilion, *Irisalem, *Iriko, etc.), being a clear wanderwört of prehistoric origins. Today it’s said mostly “hiri” but toponimy includes all variants: Uribe, Basauri, Ulia, Irun, Iruinea, Pompaelo (= Pompaeius-Ilu), etc.
Therefore the rewriting of this ethnonym with Greek beta (/v/) seems a misunderstanding by those cartographers who used it.
Harder is to be certain about other ethnonyms but if I’m correct about the true meaning of Varduli, it may mean that other tribal names reported by Greco-Roman erudites could also mean locations, such as towns, without further ado, mistaken by collective denominations. I know that it was usual to add the suffix -ani or similar to these cases (example: Basti → Bastetani) but probably the ancient cartographers did not have enough knowledge in all cases, especially if their sources were second or third hand.
A notorious case is in my opinion the name of the Astures, which could well mean, if Basque (or otherwise Vasconic), Aitz-Uri, i.e. the city (uri) of the rock or mountain (aitz). We know that the capital of the Astures (Asturica Augusta for the Romans, Astorga by the modern name) existed since at least the Atlantic Bronze Age, so it is not like nearby Legio Augusta (León) a Roman foundation by any means. So it seems, on first sight, plausible that the ancient Astures were also named by their capital city: Aitzuri, now Astorga.
However on second thought, it happens that Astorga is located on flatlands, but, as you can see in this picture, right under an often snowed mountain. Aitzuri can also mean (and would be the natural translation in modern Basque) white peak. I leave this open therefore because it could mean either.
Another ethnonym of ancient North Iberia that seems very Vasconic is Artabri (sing. Artabrus), who lived in what is now Northern Galicia, next to the Astures. A plausible Basque etymology can well be Arte-Buru, i.e. the head of the holm oak (Q. ilex). The holm oak grows well by the coast, precisely where the ancient Artabri lived, being like other oaks often considered special and a sacred meeting place. The second compound buru (head) may mean either a promontory or hill, if geographic, or maybe chieftain, leader.
This would lead us to the similarly-sounding name Cantabrus/-i. If -brus is indeed buru (head), what is canta-? Possibly gain, gane (height, peak) maybe in the form ganeta (zone of peaks, the peaks), very common in Basque toponymy. If so, it could well be ganeta-buru: the head of the peak-zone, what makes good sense, especially if we reckon that the Cantabri were a confederation of many smaller tribes (→ approximate map, notice that the eastern border has been displaced surely for modern political reasons).
I don’t wish to finish without mentioning the Ausci. Sometimes this Aquitanian tribe, the larger one among northern Basques, is said to be at the origin of the Basque endonym euskaldun, which derivates from euskera (Basque language), having the pseudo-mysterious root eusk-. The apparent similitude between Ausci (/awski/) and eusk- (/ewsk-/) has led some to propose an etymological relationship.
However I tend to think that euskera derives, like all other words beginning with eusk- from the verb eutsi (hold, persist, resist), where -ts- transforms regularly into -sk-. Hence euskarri (pillar, lit. holding stone), euskailu (bowl, lit. holding gadget), etc. Euskera would therefore be the persistent (eutsi) mode, lifestyle or language (-era), in contrast with erdera (applied to all non-Basque languages but primarily Indoeuropean ones) which should mean the dividing (erditu) mode, lifestyle or language.
It is difficult to find a meaning for the ethnonym Ausci but it does not seem to make sense from the verb eutsi, as there is no suffix attached. The singular form was Auscus, what makes me think of the Navarrese village of Aezkoa (where -a is nominative article and -ko must mean of a place). Aez- here could well be aitz (rock, peak) again (of the rock therefore, no wonder considering its location) or alternatively could well be a shortening of ametz (a type of oak, Q. pyrenaica). But while these etymologies seem to fit well for Aezkoa, they are more difficult to relate to the Ausci, who lived in the northeastern flatlands near the Garona (Garonne).
A bit far fetched but a possible etymology could be ahozko, meaning oral: aho = mouth, -zko= made of. Ahozko is a real word, not something I just made up. However “the orals” is not something that sounds correct so maybe for them it could mean something else, like those who speak or whatever.
If so I wonder if my previous best guess about the origin of the word euskera was wrong after all, could it be just ahozkera, i.e. the oral (or spoken) mode or language. Could it be that the divide meaning of erdera refers to being partly written, as happened with Latin?
Enough for this quickie linguistic note. Thanks for reading and feel free to add comments, especially if you’re open-minded.