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Title: Eburacum  
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Subject: Roman Britain, 208, Constantius Chlorus, List of Roman legions, Jet (lignite), Priestess of Avalon, List of castra, West Woodburn, Calcaria
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See Francis Drake (antiquary) for the 1736 publication.
Roman wall and the west corner tower of the fort at York, with medieval additions
Alternate name Eburacum
Location York, North Yorkshire, England
Region Brittania

53°57′42″N 01°04′50″W / 53.96167°N 1.08056°W / 53.96167; -1.08056Coordinates: 53°57′42″N 01°04′50″W / 53.96167°N 1.08056°W / 53.96167; -1.08056

Type Fortification and settlement
Builder Quintus Petillius Cerialis
Founded 71
Periods Roman Imperial
This article is part of the series on:
Military of ancient Rome (portal)
753 BC – AD 476
Structural history
Roman army (unit types and ranks, legions, auxiliaries, generals)
Roman navy (fleets, admirals)
Campaign history
Lists of wars and battles
Decorations and punishments
Technological history
Military engineering (castra, siege engines, arches, roads)
Political history
Strategy and tactics
Infantry tactics
Frontiers and fortifications (limes, Hadrian's Wall)

Eboracum was a fort and city in Roman Britain. The settlement evolved into York, located in North Yorkshire, England.


The first known recorded mention of Eboracum by name is dated circa 95-104 AD and is an address containing the Latin form of the settlement's name, "Eburaci", on a wooden stylus tablet from the Roman fortress of Vindolanda in what is now the modern Northumberland.[1] During the Roman period, the name was also written in the form Eboracum and Eburacum.[1]

The etymology of Eboracum is uncertain as the language of the indigenous population of the area was never recorded. However, the generally accepted view of British history,[2][3][4] is that the inhabitants of Britain at this time spoke a Celtic language related to modern Welsh. This language has been reconstructed from Latin place names and modern Celtic languages, and has been called by scholars Common Brythonic. The name "Eboracum" is thought to have derived from the Common Brythonic Eborakon which probably means "place of the yew trees".[5] The word for "yew" was probably something like *eburos in Celtic (cf. Old Irish ibar "yew-tree", Irish: iobhar, Scottish Gaelic: iubhar, Welsh: efwr "alder buckthorn", Breton: evor "alder buckthorn"), combined with the suffix *-āko(n) "place" (cf. Welsh -og)[6] meaning "place of the yew trees" (cf. efrog in Welsh, eabhrac in Irish Gaelic and eabhraig in Scottish Gaelic, by which names the city is known in those languages). The name is then thought to have been Latinized by replacing -acon with -acum, according to a common use noted in Gaul. The different Évry, Ivry, Ivrey, Ivory in France would all come from *Eboracum / *Eboriacum f. e. Ivry-la-Bataille (Eure, Ebriaco in 1023–1033), Ivry-le-Temple (Evriacum in 1199)[7] Évry (Essonne, Everiaco in 1158),[8][9] etc.

Otherwise *eburos can be found in ethnic tribal names such as the Celtiberian Eburanci in Spain, the Belgian Eburones and the Gaulish Eburovices ( > Évreux) in Gaul.[9]


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.[10] 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.[11]

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.


From its foundation the Roman fort of Eboracum covered an area of 50 acres (200,000 m2) 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.[12] 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.[13] 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 Eboracum 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 Eboracum 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 Eboracum 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 Eboracum 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.


As a busy port and a provincial capital Eboracum was a cosmopolitan city with residents from throughout the Roman Empire.[14]


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.[15] Another example is the dedication of a temple to Serapis a Hellenistic-Egyptian God by the Commander of the Sixth Legion.[16]

There was also a Christian community in Eboracum although it is unknown when this was first formed and in archaeological 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.[17] 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.[18]


For the Romans, Eboracum, was the major military base in the north of Britain and, following the 3rd 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.[19] This mark of Imperial favour was probably a recognition of Eboracum 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.[20] In 296 Britannia Inferior was divided into two provinces of equal status with Eboracum becoming the provincial capital of Britannia Secunda.


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-3rd 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.[19]

In the Roman period, Eboracum was the major manufacturing centre for Whitby Jet. Known as gagates in Latin, it was used from the early 3rd century as material for jewelry[21] and was exported from here throughout Britain and into Europe.[22] Examples found in York take the form of rings, bracelets, necklaces, and pendants depicting married couples and the Medusa.[21] There are fewer than 25 jet pendants in the Roman world,[23] of which six are known from Eboracum. These are housed in the Yorkshire Museum.


The true paths of all original Roman roads leading out of Eboracum are not known,[24] although eleven have been suggested.[24] The known roads include Dere Street leading North-West from the city through Clifton towards the site of Cataractonium (modern Catterick), Cade's Road Towards Petuaria (modern Brough), and Ermine Street towards Lindum (modern Lincoln).[24] A road bypassing the south wall wall of the fortress, between the fortress and the River Ouse has not been formally planned, although its path is conjectured to run beneath the York Museum Gardens.[24]


The River Ouse and River Foss provided important access points for the importation of heavy goods. The existence of two possible wharves on the east bank of the River Foss[25] support this idea. A large deposit of grain, in a timber-structure beneath modern day Coney Street, on the north-east bank of the River Ouse[26] suggests the existence of storehouses for moving goods via the river.

Archaeological remains

Substantial physical remains have been excavated in York in the last two centuries[27] including the city walls, the legionary bath-house and headquarters building, civilian houses, workshops, storehouses and cemeteries.

Visible remains

In pop culture

The Roman city is mentioned in Robert Heinlein's novel Have Space Suit - Will Travel. It is also seen in the game King Arthur II: The Role-playing Wargame as the base for a fictional group of Roman families who stayed on after the evacuation by Rome from Britannia.

See also


  • Allason-Jones. 1996. Roman Jet in the Yorkshire Museum. York: Yorkshire Museum
  • Drake, F. 1736. Eboracum or the History and Antiquities of the City of York
  • Ottaway, P. 2004. Roman York. Tempus: Strougd
  • RCHME, 1962, Evuracum: Roman York (Royal Commission on Historical Monuments England).
  • Wellbeloved, C. 1852(1st Edition). A descriptive account of the antiquities in the grounds and in the Museum of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society


External links

  • The Romans in West Yorkshire
  • Roman collections in the Yorkshire Museum
  • York Minster Undercroft
  • Roman Bath Museum

Template:Roman visitor sites in the UK

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