The Roman Fortress

71AD - 400AD

The original Eboracum fortress, built from earth and timber more than 1,900 years ago, established the centre of York and a pattern of streets that still exist today.

A Roman fortress existed first to provide accommodation for the men and equipment of a legion.  It had defences to discourage attacks, but was primarily a base for Roman army missions to suppress and conquer its enemies: in this case the northern tribes of the Brigantes.

Fortresses were built to a plan. The outer walls enclosed a rectangular space of about 50 acres.  Inside was a grid of streets and buildings which performed the same functions from place to place.

The four corners of the fortress were placed at the points of the compass, north, south, east and west, so it looks like a distorted diamond shape on a map.   The main streets, the via principalis and the via praetoria, then run diagonally across the map.  This can confuse visitors to the city as they seem misaligned with the York Minster, which runs strictly east to west. 

The four gates (portae) which gave access to the main roads correlate with modern entrances to the city.

The gates were made from timber and were openings in the walls, which were initially 3m high ramparts made of clay and turf.  A palisade – a tall fence of pointed wooden stakes – ran along the top of the rampart with look-out towers at regular intervals.  The ramparts themselves were protected by ditches. 

One of the main streets ran down what is now Stonegate and across the bridge to the civilian settlement, or colonia, on the south side of the river.  

Rebuilt in Stone >

Inside the Roman Fortress >

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