Eboracum, Eoforwic, Jorvik, York; many names, one glorious city. The Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans all valued its strategic location at the confluence of the Fosse and Ouse rivers, in what became Yorkshire, and the place is like a giant layer cake of history.
Following the Roman invasion of what they called the island of Britannia - somewhere their merchants in Gaul had been trading with for some time - the Romans began a series of small wars or campaigns to subdue their new land. Sometimes they used 'honeyed words' and proposed alliances with the various Celtic tribes, if they thought that a campaign would be too costly. The Brigantes, whose homeland included the area where the River Fosse and the River Ouse meet, were first wooed and then when they rebelled, conquered by the famous IXth Legion, the 'Hispania' (Legio Nona Hispania). This is the Legion which has many legends attached to it, with some saying that it was destroyed during an expedition north of Hadrian's Wall (see, Rosemary Sutcliffe's 'Eagle of the Ninth' - but DON'T see the film!). Whatever its ultimate fate, the Ninth quickly built a wooden Legionary fortress on this site in 71 CE; this marked the beginnings of the great city of York.
Historical benchmarks followed with blinding speed; the IXth rebuilt the fortress in stone in 108 CE and gave the Roman 'colonia' its first city walls. It became a major Roman outpost, being designated as the capital of the Roman Province of 'Britannia Inferior'. Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor in Eboracum in 306 CE, after the death of his father, the Emperor Constantine Chlorus, in the city.
As quickly as they had come, the Romans withdrew, with the last Legions leaving their posts - and their Romanized British allies - behind in 410 CE, Eboracum was abandoned. A Saxon tribe from what is now the Province of Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, the Angles, joined the general flood of peoples from the western shore of Europe to the now almost abandoned land. Under their rule, York Minster was founded in 627 CE, and the name for the city became Eoforwic.
In the 9th century a newer and even more war-like people, the Vikings from Scandinavia (in this case, mostly Denmark) laid waste to monasteries and coastal settlements and moved inland, using rivers like the Ouse and Trent to penetrate deep into Saxon territory. Eoforwic was conquered in 866 CE and was transformed into a major inland port with the import of amber and other goods and, I dare say, the export of slaves (as was done from Dublin). Another name change to Jorvik reflected the fact that the Danes had made it their capital city. Despite the fact that the Danes had strengthened the remains of the existing walls, their kingdom was not to last for too long, as King Edred of Northumbria forced Eric the Bloodaxe from his throne in 954 CE.
The coming of the Normans in 1066 was to prove to be the last great Continental invasion of Britain. William the Conqueror and his leigemen quickly threw up a series of motte and bailey castles all over their newly-won land, to emphasise their might and to demonstrate the imposition of the new Feudal system. The 'locals' in York were not very happy with this and in 1068 - just two years ofter the Conquest - they revolted. William put this uprising down - with extreme savagery.
The Norman city was by now the seat of the Archbishop of York, and the Minster became a great expression of ecclesiastical power and architectural genius. Of the original Roman wall little remains, but the later structure, from the 12th to the 14th centuries, is now around 2.5 miles long, and has some magnificent city gates and fortified towers located along its length. The wall is classified as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a Grade 1 Listed Building by the British Government.
Here you see the remains of a Mediaeval round tower, close to the east bank of the River Ouse. The riverside walk passes beneath a short section of low wall which, judging by its smaller, well-finished stonework and the shape of the arch, probably dates from the Tudor period. The arrow slits in the curved tower walls have rounded ends; these are called oillets and this is a design feature which enabled archers to more easily aim their arrows at an approaching enemy. Since the development of the oillet can be easily dated, this means that they are from the 13th century at the earliest.
You are positively encouraged to walk the remaining sections of the wall, and this will offer you a magnificent view of the ancient city. If you ever get the chance to visit York, this is something NOT to be missed!