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Eboracum

[eb-uh-rey-kuhm]
Eboracum was a fort and city in Roman Britain. Today it is known as York, located in North Yorkshire, England. The etymology of Eboracum is uncertain as the language of the indigenous population of the area was never recorded. One theory is that Eboracum is derived from the Proto-Brythonic word Eborakon which can mean "place of the yew trees" or "the field of Eburos". Efrog in Welsh, Eabhrac in Irish Gaelic, Iorc in Scottish Gaelic. The name is then thought to have been Latinised by replacing -akon with -acum. Another theory is that the language of the indigenous population was a Germanic language similar to Old English and so Eboracum is derived from *eburaz meaning a boar.

Origins

The Roman conquest of Britain began in 43 AD but advance beyond the Humber did not take place until the early 70s AD. This was because the people in the area known as the Brigantes by the Romans became a Roman client state. When their leadership changed becoming more hostile to Rome Roman General Quintus Petillius Cerialis led the Ninth Legion north from Lincoln across the Humber.. Eboracum was founded in 71 AD when Cerialis and the Ninth Legion constructed a military fortress (castra) on flat ground above the River Ouse near its junction with the River Foss. In the same year Cerialis was appointed Governor of Britain.

A legion at full strength at that time numbered some 5,500 men, and provided new trading opportunities for enterprising local people, who doubtless flocked to Eboracum to take advantage of them. As a result permanent civilian settlement grew up around the fortress especially on its south-east side. Civilians also settled on the opposite side of the Ouse, initially along the main road from Eboracum to the south-west. By the later 2nd century, growth was rapid; streets were laid out, public buildings were erected and private houses spread out over terraces on the steep slopes above the river.

Military

From its foundation the Roman fort of Eboracum covered an area of 50 acres (0.202 km²) the standard size for a legionary fortress. The layout of the fortress also followed the standard for a legionary fortress with wooden buildings inside a square defensive boundary. These defences originally consisting of turf ramparts on a green wood foundation, were built by the Ninth Legion between 71 and 74 AD. Later these were replaced by a clay mound with a turf front on a new oak foundation, and eventually, wooden battlements were added which were then replaced by limestone walls and towers. The original wooden camp was refurbished by Agricola in 81, before being completely rebuilt in stone between 107 and 108.

There is evidence that the Emperor Hadrian visited in 122 on his way north to plan his great walled frontier. He certainly brought with him the Sixth Legion to replace the existing garrison. Emperor Septimius Severus visited York in 211 and made it his base for campaigning in Scotland, The fortress wall was probably reconstructed during his stay and at the east angle it is possible to see this work standing almost to full height. In that same year, Severus became the first of the two Roman Emperors to die in York and was succeeded by his sons, Caracalla and Geta.

In the later 3rd century, the western Empire experienced political and economic turmoil and Britain was for some time ruled by usurpers independent of Rome. It was after crushing the last of these that Emperor Constantius I came to York and, in 306, became the second Emperor to die there. His son Constantine was instantly proclaimed as successor by the troops based in the fortress. Although it took Constantine eighteen years to become sole ruler of the Empire, he may have retained an interest in York and the reconstruction of the south-west front of the fortress with polygonally-fronted interval towers and the two great corner towers, one of which, the 'Multangular Tower', still survives, is probably his work. In the colonia, Constantine's reign was a time of prosperity and a number of extensive stone town houses of the period have been excavated.

Culture

As a busy port and a provincial capital Eboracum was a cosmopolitan city with residents from throughout the Roman Empire.

Religion

A range of evidence of Roman religious beliefs among the people of Eboracum have been found including altars to Mars, Hercules, Jupiter and Fortune, while phallic amulets are the most commonly found type of good luck charm. In terms of number of reference the most popular deities were the spiritual representation (genius) of Eboracum and the Mother Goddess. There is also evidence of local or regional deities. Evidence showing the worship of eastern deities has also been found during excavations in York. For example evidence of the Mithras cult, which was popular among the military, has been found including a sculpture showing Mithras slaying a bull and a dedication to Arimanius, the god of evil in the Mithraic tradition. Another example is the dedication of a temple to Serapis a Hellenistic-Egyptian God by the Commander of the Sixth Legion.

There was also a Christian community in Eboracum although it is unknown when this was first formed and in archeological terms there is virtually no record of it. The first evidence of this community is a document noting the attendance of Bishop Eborius of Eboracum at the Council of Arles in 314. The Episcopal see at Eboracum was called Eboracensis in Latin and Bishops from the See also attended the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the Council of Sardica, and the Council of Ariminum.

Government

For the Romans, York, or Eboracum, was the major military base in the north of Britain and, following the third century division of the province of Britannia, the capital of northern Britain, Britannia Inferior. By 237 Eboracum had been made a colonia, the highest legal status a Roman city could attain, one of only four in Britain and the others were founded for retired soldiers. This mark of Imperial favour was probably a recognition of York as the largest town in the north and the capital of Britannia Inferior. At around the same time Eboracum became self-governing, with a council made up of rich locals, including merchants, and veteran soldiers. In 296 Britannia Inferior was divided into two provinces of equal status with Eboracum becoming the provincial capital of Britannia Secunda.

Economy

The military presence at Eboracum was the driving force behind early developments in its economy. In these early stages Eboracum operated as a command economy with workshops growing up outside the fortress to supply the needs of the 5000 troops garrisoned there. Production included military pottery until the mid-third century, military tile kilns have been found in the Aldwark-Peasholme Green area, glassworking at coppergate, metalworks and leatherworks producing military equipment in Tanner Row.

Archaeological remains

Substantial remains of the headquarters building of the Roman legionary fortress were discovered under the Minster, and they are open to the public. A re-erected Roman column now stands, upside down, on nearby Deangate, where there is also a recent statue of Constantine. Other sites of excavated remains include a Roman bath, located under the Roman Bath pub in St Sampson's Square, a Roman temple, near the foot of Lendal Bridge, and the site of a Roman bridge over the River Ouse. Some remains of the Roman city walls can be seen between Monk Bar and the Merchant Taylors' Hall, and a more substantial section can be seen between Museum Gardens and the Central Library, together with the late Roman Multangular Tower. Outside the city walls are the remains of substantial Roman cemeteries. A large number of Roman finds are now housed in the Yorkshire Museum.

References

See also

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