Roman Empire Governed from York

The Roman world was governed from wherever the emperor was located.  York was priviledged to be the heart of the Roman empire in two periods, about 100 years apart.  Remarkably, both times the Emperor died in the city and both times a battle for succession began here.

This first time was when the emperor Septimius Severus lived in York between 208-11.  Having restored stability to the empire after a period of civil war, he came to Eboracum (Roman York) to lead campaigns against the Caledonians who had been attacking Roman targets in the north of Britain.

Severus, known as the African Emperor because he was born in what is now Libya, was over 60 when he arrived in York.  He came with a huge retinue of civil servants and soldiers, including the Praetorian Guard – an elite force who were the emperor’s bodyguards.

Severus brought with him his wife, Julia Domnaand their sons Caracalla and Geta.  In 198 Caracalla had been declared co-emperor, a status also bestowed on Geta, in York, 11 years later.

Severus died in York on February 2, 211.  This was a moment of enormous significance as emperors were considered halfway between men and gods, and he was given a suitably lavish send-off.  Soldiers threw gifts as the late emperor’s body clad in military garb was consumed by the flames of the funeral pyre.

It is said that on his death bed Severus advised his sons  to treat the army well and ignore everyone else.  Caracalla and Geta, as co-emperors, returned to Rome shortly after their father's death.  Their subsequent rivalry had a bloody end: Caracalla had his brother assassinated.

Caracalla named Eboracum as the capital of upper Britain (Britannia Inferior) when the country was divided into two provinces, and this is probably what led to the city being granted the highest status of Roman city, that of Colonia.

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