The history of York can be traced back as far as the Romans who landed in Britain, marched to the city we now know as York and camped some five thousand soldiers here in the year AD 71. York under Roman rule was called Eboracum and was the first northern city to be conquered by the Romans who had settled in the south of the country some twenty five years previously.
Why Did The Romans Move North?
The Romans probably always intended to move further north with their campaigns but the decision was prompted by a relationship that developed between a Celtic Queen of the Brigantes and a Roman Governor. The queen who was separated from her husband favoured being friendly with the Romans unlike her former husband. Following their separation the queen nurtured an amicable relationship with the Romans, fought against her former husband alongside them, resulting in the Romans setting up camp in York.
When the Romans settled on the land that was to become York it looked nothing like the York we know today. The land was widely uninhabited being more a succession of fields, meadows, hills and valleys. The Romans were very astute people and soon realised that this area would be ideal as a base from which to further their campaign northwards against the Brigantine people of the North York Moors. The River Ouse also influenced their decision as goods could be shipped up the Ouse to York from the North Sea.
How Long Did The Romans Rule?
The Romans stayed in York for three hundred years building and establishing a busy settlement where people worked and lived their daily lives, the result is the wonderful place we know today. York became the hub of the Roman Empire for many years with emperors living and working in York, while some even died here.
They began by building a substantial fortress then a civilian encampment followed soon after. Once the Romans left, York still remained a very important city in terms of its rulers and their influences on the rest of the country. Even during the Middle Ages York was one of the main citys in the kingdom, all this was started by The Romans.
The Roman Walls
One of the lasting legacies of the Romans in York is of course the city walls. The Romans originally built the wall, while now much of what they built is gone with only the Multiangular Tower remaining. During the reign of Emperor Severus this ten sided tower was built some thirty feet high having originally eight huge towers.
The original fort was built across fifty acres and was surrounded by streets, a forum and Roman baths. Today a pub called The Roman Baths stands on the site where the original baths were excavated in the 1920's.
The Roman Baths
Visitors to the Roman Baths Pub can watch an interactive video that enables them to ask questions regarding the baths and is an interesting draw for customers to visit the pub. An underground museum is also accessed via the pub where visitors can view the remains of a Roman steam bath and a Roman plunge bath that is located nearby. There are also Roman artefacts and exhibits to see relating to the baths including unique tiling, while armour and weapons are also on display.
Emperors in York
York became a very important site for the Romans and as a result a palace was built where Emperor Septimus Severus ran the imperial court between 209 and 211. Constantius I visited York in 306 and unfortunately died, while his son Constantine The Great who was the first Christian emperor of Rome was proclaimed emperor and successor in York soon after. The site where the coronation took place can be found under York Minster.
The headquarters of the Roman legions was actually sited where the Minster is today. Remains were discovered when restoration work was being done at the Minster with a huge column over thirty feet high unearthed and relocated close to the south entrance of the cathedral.
Daily Life in Roman York
Many people who were living in the Roman era around York remained living in the countryside working as farmers, growing crops, tending to animals, basket weaving, spinning and working as blacksmiths. Even though certain artefacts and remains have been unearthed we don't know very much about the city dwellers as much of the evidence has been destroyed over the centuries.
Whether The Romans in York lived in exactly the same way as they did in Rome or other places in Europe we are not entirely sure. Large villas did exist but were probably the homes of wealthy Romans with ordinary folk living in thatched round houses.
Once the Romans left Britain the Latin dialect went with it being replaced by dialects with a Germanic orgin. One remaining feature however are Roman roads with todays A64 road from York being an example of a Roman highway still in use today.