After The Romans

Anglian burial urn found near York

The period of York's history from 400 to 600 AD is often known as the Sub Roman.  It has been described as ‘one of the most elusive epochs in York’s history’. 

It was also the time when Germanic immigrants from northern Europe – mainly the Anglo-Saxons – came to settle in the area.

There are large gaps in our knowledge of York in the days after the Romans.  No contemporary written reference to the city exists between 314 and 627.  Mass production of pottery, glass, metalwork and other items seems to have stopped in the 5th century.

The lack of any evidence of inhabitation has led some to speculate that the city was deserted for a while, perhaps due to catastrophic flooding.  But no trace of such an event has been found.

More likely is that the inhabitants found themselves at a loss following the end of empire.  Gone were the Roman army and its support structures, and gone with them were trade and industry.  York lost its status as the centre of things, and its people dispersed to a self-sufficient life on farms and estates.

But after centuries of being an important seat of power, perhaps local leaders continued this tradition, governing the region from York.  This certainly happened in other major Roman towns in Britain.

We know that the Roman basilica under the Minster was radically altered around the late 4th century.  It could be that the changes were to provide central amenities for the remaining population, or a new power base.

Some historians have suggested that York operated as capital of an independent kingdom known as Ebrauc from about 470: this theory emerged from interpretations of the Welsh genealogies, medieval documents chronicling the kings of Wales.  The city would certainly have retained some of its Roman grandeur in this time and it is tempting to believe that  continued to play a major role.

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Anglian York >

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