also: Litauia, Letauia
Old Welsh: Lettau
Middle Welsh: Llydaw
Irish: Letha

A Latin name for Brittany, which in Welsh is Llydaw. Llydaw also refers to a lake in the Snowdonia range.

Litavia is also a hypothetical name both for the original Celtic homelands, based on the belief that the word means "settlement by water," as well as for the Underworld.

According to John Rhys: Stokes conjectures Llydaw to have meant coast-land, and Thurneysen connects it with the Sanskrit prihivi and Old Saxon folda, 'earth': and, so far as I can see, one is at liberty to assume a meaning that would satisfy Llydaw, 'Armorica,' and the Llydaw of Llyn Lydaw, 'the Lake of Llydaw,' namely that it signified land which one had to reach by boat, so that it was in fact applicable to a lake settlement of any kind, in other words, that Llydaw on Snowdon was the name of the lake-dwelling.

Thus the folk etymology of The Dream of Macsen Wledig is quite incorrect. In that story, that the name Llydaw means "half-tongue", for when Conan Meriadoc and his men settled the area, they cut out the tongues of the women so that the British language would replace the local Gaulish language.

The association with the Afterlife is pointed out in Quintela's article "Celtic Elements in Northwestern Spain in Pre-Roman times." He shows several places where the name Letavia is related to the underworld: a river named Lethes, which Strabo identifies with the Lethe of Hades; a Gaulish goddess named Litavis; and an enchanted forest named Litana which traps the Roman consul Postumius in 216 BCE. As Quintela explains:

Strabo's tale contains echoes of others. In a place named *Letavia the armies died, did not return and were lost; this is where Patrick lost his family and was taken prisoner, a distant territory visited by fully equipped warriors. It is therefore very likely that the theme taken up by Strabo is a Hispanic version of a pan-Celtic myth explaining ideas about the afterlife. This interpretation is further supported when considering the Diadem of Mones from Asturias, dated to around 125 BC.

In this image we see warriors armed in the same way as stone statues from this region, consistent with descriptions from literary texts. There are also characters bearing two cooking pots each. The scene is completed with marine animals filling in gaps in a type of horror vacui (Fig. 16). F. Marco has argued that each of these elements belongs to the Celtic iconography of the afterlife, situated in islands beyond the sea. In this place social hierarchies disappeared, and those who reached their shores ate wonderful, abundant delicacies and drank heady beverages. In the tales examined, *Letavia is also situated beyond the sea (in the episodes of Patrick and Maxen Wledig), while in the northwestern peninsula it is reached by crossing a river). Warriors who went there would never return, living without any type of hierarchy (there is a particular emphasis on chieftains or parents who had died or disappeared).

It is also worth noting that the description of the Diadem of Mones is similar to certain scenes on the Gundestrup Cauldron, which features strange animals, cauldrons, and battle.

Finally, the idea that "Letavia" may be a name for the original homeland of the Celts may have come from the early settlements in central Europe, which were typically round houses built on or around lakes, such as the famous Hallstatt on the Hallstättersee, near Salzberg, and La Tène on Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Quintela, Marco V. García. "Celtic Elements in Northwestern Spain in Pre-Roman times" e-Keltoi. v.6. URL: Rhys, John. Celtic Folklore: Welsh And Manx. Oxford University Press, 1901. URL: .

Back to "L" | Back to JCE

Mary Jones © 2005