Monday, 29 April 2013

Y? It has to be Roman York

 Y is for York – Roman name ‘Eboracum’

Am I cheating on my A to Z post title for Y? Probably, but please forgive since York/ Eboracum became a very important place during the many centuries which followed my target era of Celtic/Roman Britain AD 71-84.

Was York/ Eboracum even started during my focus time period? 

Yes, it was.

The date of AD 71 is the one that was generally credited with being the beginning of Roman occupation of the land on which Eboracum evolved. Governor Cerialis would have been incumbent at that time, but there are now signs that the site was, in fact, used even before Cerialis - though in what way has still to be established. What is documented by Tacitus is that Governor Cerialis sent around 5000 soldiers of the Legio IX up from Lindum (Lincoln) to set up camp, the camp evolving into a more permanent wooden fortress.

Assuming, though, that the first wooden fortress appeared in York/Eboracum around AD 71 – do we know what would it have been like?  As in my last post ‘X for Xystum’ a typical to Britain fortress layout was likely used in York/Eboracum, based on a rectangle. The site chosen for the York/Eboracum fortress was on a slightly raised ridge at the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Foss. This meant the rivers strengthened Roman defences.

What was strategically important about the site? A continual fresh water supply was guaranteed for the huge amount of troops, the surrounding flat land which bordered the camp would have had good grazing for the horses of mounted troops and pack animals, and being relatively flat was easy to build on. (those conditions always sought by the Roman exploratores/ agrimensores - engineers) Even more important the river Ouse gave them access to the North Sea meaning supply vessels could sail up river on a regular basis to offload both goods and men.

Archaeological excavations have not yet revealed much in the way of evidence of the site having been used by Celtic tribes before the Roman Empire took it on.  Reasons for this may have been because...

the site at Eboracum was also close to the territorial borders between the Brigante and the Parisii tribes.

This would have been important if the territory was regarded as a sort of no man’s land between the two. When Cerialis had his troops set up camp, the intention was to subdue and control the whole Brigante border with other southern Celtic tribes- the Coritanii, the Cornovii and the Deceangli - the Brigantes having become an unstable client kingdom after the ‘Fall of Cartimandua’ (already covered in a different A to Z post).

What was the fate of the York/ Eboracum fort that Cerialis laid down? It’s thought Agricola further strengthened it and used it as a main supply base for personnel during his term as Governor AD 78-84. Tacitus and other Roman writers mention he sojourned a number of times to the base at York/Eboracum where he both planned his military campaigns in the north (to subdue the Celtic tribes of the far north/ in modern day Scotland) and to oversee the legislation he put in place to improve on Celtic/ Roman relations (domestic, social and judiciary/taxation reforms).

The wooden fortress at York/Eboracum evolved into one of stone by the late first century, what remains giving a good idea of what the buildings were like.

In my sequel to THE BELTANE CHOICE I've included the first wooden fort at York/Eboracum being built, and Agricola nips back down there a couple of times to do that overseeing of social reforms mentioned earlier! 

Modern day York/ Eboracum  (York was also known as other names during the two millennia of its existence)
I've visited York a number of times, love the city for all of its many historical eras, and have visited as many of the tourist sites and museums as possible.

A particularly fascinating (though highly touristy) tour was in subterranean levels showing that York has been settled on by many generations of people, and builders. Passing through some very damp-dripping walled cellars some lucky tourists just might be 'fortunate' to see the resident ghosts and hear the clomping hob nailed feet of the auxiliaries tramping on the still-in-place Roman cobble stones that you see below the panelled walkway you're standing on. The most popular resident ghost is said to be of a Roman horse, only the upper part of it visible since the soil levels have changed dramatically over the two thousand years of occupation and the lower legs and hooves are 'not visible' at the lowest cobblestone level.

Over dramatic? Perhaps, but it did hit it home how tricky archaeology can be sometimes when an area is settled by so many peoples for so long.

A walk along the Roman Wall at York/ Eboracum is a 'must do', as is a nip into one of the guard towers that still pepper the length of the wall - of course the wall was NOT built in the period AD71-84 but in its first form appeared a few decades after Agricolam times. The turf covered rampart slope is, however, likely to have started even before Agricola set foot on it.

These photos were taken during one of my trips, somewhere around the mid 1990s, about two thousand years after the wall was possibly started.

Hey! That woman wearing the tartan skirt is ME!


Now only 2 Days left to BELTANE on the 1st May. My historical adventure  - THE BELTANE CHOICE  - can be yours for the bargain price of 77p /99c on Amazon UK/US.

And... There's still time to WIN an ecopy by entering my competition! Check my A to Z blog post of Sat 20th April HERE 

Find the answer to this question...Which Beltane concept did I know I could definitely use in my novel The Beltane Choice? 

...and then email your answer to
Draw will take place on the 1st May.
Good luck!


  1. Just discovering your blog for the first time as I make my way through the A-Z Challenge. Please check us out and sign up to follow if you like what you see. Juliet atCity Muse Country Muse

  2. What a huge amount of history! Our oldest history is such a short time compared to yours. I know little about British history. Sad because my ancestors are from there. I always wondered about Gravely, England, home of some of them.

    Mary Montague Sikes

    1. Hi Mary. I live totally surrounded by history, dating back to many standing stone circles and Roman Marching camps right across the road from my house which itself was built in the 1820s. Could be that's why I'm a bit obsessed with history! Thanks for commenting.

  3. What an informative post, Nancy! I've never been to England but would love to go there with MY Nancy. It's a place so rich in history.

    1. Hi Bob. I actually live in Scotland but both are very stteped in history. Nice to meet you.

  4. Excellent bit of history! I love touring old fortresses and castles, although don't get to do much of that in the states.


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