Maps

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Ptolemy: Prima Europe Tabula (1486)

One of the earliest surviving copies of Ptolemy’s second-century map of the British Isles. Originally published in Ptolemy’s Geographia. This is the second issue of the 1482 map, printed at Ulm, which was the first woodcut map of the British Isles and the first to be printed outside Italy. (National Library of Wales)

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Roman York

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Roman Yorkshire

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Roman Britain: Industrial Production

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Roman Britain – the Invasion Early Days

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Roman Britain: the Military Situation in the North

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Roman Britain: Main Roads and Towns

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Agricola’s Campaigns

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Roman Britain About AD 410

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Iter Britanniarum

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The Roman Empire AD 117

Introduction

A Historical Guide to Roman York is published to coincide with the 1950th anniversary of the founding of the city by the Romans in AD 71. There have been numerous books published on the Roman city of York over the years. The majority deal with Eboracum (to give York its Roman name) in a thorough and interesting way, basing their accounts, in the absence of much real literary evidence, on the epigraphical and archaeological evidence which is being dug up here all the time. The sites and finds are described in intriguing detail – but often in a one-dimensional way; there is very little context to be found, context explaining why such and such a thing happened, what a tombstone tells us beyond its notice of death, why an artefact was found here and what it signifies, or why this person or that did this or that. In other words, the tendency has often been to view Roman York in isolation from the empire that was going on all around it informing, engaging and dictating life in York. Many of the existing descriptions of Roman York do not give the circumstances that form the wider context for, or a more precise perspective on, a particular building, tombstone or find – be it exposing an historical event, military strategy, imperial policy or fashion trend. Only with this background detail can we fully understand what we are digging up and what we are looking at. If we are to understand York properly, it is vital to know and understand the norms, practices and events prevalent in Rome and in other parts of the Roman Empire and how they impinged on this northernmost fortress.

The Roman world in and after AD 43 for some 300 years – from the Roman invasion by Claudius and the establishment of York twenty-eight years later, to the Roman exodus around AD 410 – was a huge, diverse and multi-faceted world: York had a significant role to play in its development and progress, exemplifying or reflecting many of the political, societal and military concepts, factors and events that were going on from Egypt to north Germany, from Iberia to Persia. This book describes Roman York, but in the context of the wider empire.

So, for example, we will examine, empire wide, what really attracted the Romans to Britannia; the military and political motives behind Julius Caesar’s invasions; what was going on in Rome to make Claudius feel the need to annex Britannia; we ask the intriguing question, why York for a fortress and as second city of the province? We follow the progress of the invasion under Agricola and others before and after him and ask what drove Hadrian and Antoninus to build their walls? We expatiate on Roman religion in York and on Christianity and its eventual acceptance; we describe ‘Romanisation’, army life and what triggered the Severan reform of Britannia’s imperial status and why Severus made Eboracum the political and administrative centre of the known world. We describe York’s communications, we meet empresses Julia Domna and Helena and Alaric the Hun; we ask what actually triggered that history-changing Roman withdrawal.

We examine funerary epigraphical evidence; we discuss the significance of Serapis and Mithras; and we cover the importance of local jet deposits. We pay the ferryman and discuss other funerary conundrums and burial rituals. We elaborate on fortress, castrum, vicus, canaba and colonia. We pursue gladiators, imperial visits and imperial deaths here, and the social function fulfilled by the bath house and putative and sought-after amphitheatre. And we look at the evidence for the existence of an imperial palace and much, much, more . . .

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