Little is known about the area we now call York before Roman times. Britain was ruled by many tribes one of the largest of these being the Brigantes. This tribe occupied a large geographic area to the north of the Ouse.
The Ninth Legion built their first fortress above
the flood plane between the rivers of the Ouse
Unlike today the rivers were tidal allowing sea going ships, or more correctly galleys, to supply the fortress. Originally called Eburacum, and with the name evolving in to Eboracum, the fortress was rebuilt or modified a number of times during the Roman occupation. Occupying a rectangular site of approximately 500 metres by 400 metres the fortress stood in an area which, if the outline was drawn on a modern map of York, the Minster would appear to be virtually at it's centre. The walls of the fortress would have had towers at intervals along their length with a gate at approximately the midway point along each wall. A further tower was constructed at each of the four corners.
Little remains above ground but the tower that formed the west corner of the fortress, the Multangular Tower, can still be seen and views of it are shown below. A square interval tower is also shown breeching a short stretch of Roman wall although there remains some debate over when it was constructed.
Vespasian, the Roman Emperor, had decided to put down the warring Brigantes and in AD 71 the Roman Ninth Legion arrived and set up their fortress on the Ouse.
This is a copy of the bust of Vespasian which resides in the British Museum.
The Multangular Tower as viewed from the Museum Gardens (left). Rising to approximately 10.5 metres the first 6.6 metres is Roman construction topped with a further 3.9 metres of medieval stonework.
Viewed from the central library gardens the Roman stonework and brick banding is clearly visible on the inside of the tower.
A number of books and/or websites describe our city walls as Roman. Not so! It is certainly true that parts of the walls, as we see them today, follow the line of the Roman walls or were indeed built over them. However this was in medieval times between the 12th and 14th centuries. Parts of the original Roman wall can, none the less, still be seen. (see right)
This picture shows the base storey of a square tower built in to a breech in the Roman wall. The tower is believed to date between 616 and 632 AD. This section of Roman wall can be seen in the central library gardens.
(Note this photograph has been edited to distinguish the wall and tower form the adjacent medieval wall run.)
During the period AD 71 and AD 410 the Eboracum settlement beside the fortress rose to become one of the four most important Roman towns or colonia, the others being at Colchester (Camulodunum), Gloucester (Glevum) and Lincoln (Lindum).
Septimius Severus and Constantius Chlorus, both Emperors of Rome died at Eboracum. The son of the second was proclaimed Emperor in AD 306 at Eboracum and was ultimately to become Constantine the Great.
The modern statue of Constantine shown left stands at the south door of the Minster.
(Arguments persist over the size of the sword which does not appear to be of Roman dimension)
The pillar in the photograph to the right has been reconstructed following it's discovery during excavations of the Minster foundations. A demonstration, if one were needed, of the magnificent buildings which would have been in place during the period.
Two heads of the Roman Emperors associated with York, Constantine and Severus, can be seen in the Minster although that of the latter is a copy of the bust to be found in the British Museum. The head of a statue of Constantine ( left) was found during excavations.
A wide variety of artefacts found are on display including a selection shown below. The smaller pillar is displayed as it was found demonstrating the ultimate collapse of the basilican hall.
The Romans left Eboracum in 410 AD as part of the general withdrawal from the British Isles in that year.