The Roman Civilian Settlement

Eboracum with the Colonia in the foreground and the fortress across the river.

In AD 71, the Ninth Legion of the Roman army moved from the relative safety of their fortress at Lincoln into the untamed Brigantes territory to the north.  Naturally, their first priority was to establish a new fortress and York (Eboracum) became a major military base.

In the centuries that followed, however, the city also became a thriving civilian settlement.  By the early 3rd century York had been designated a colony, the highest level of Roman city and was the capital of the newly created province of Britannia Inferior.  The civilian area is known as the Colonia.

The Colonia at York lay on the south-west bank of the river Ouse, opposite the military fortress.  The main road to the south, the via Praetoria, ran through the settlement.  Stretching out on either side of the road, the civilian settlement encompassed the area south of the river now enclosed by the medieval city walls.

Excavations and building works on the site of the civilian settlement have uncovered a wealth of evidence denoting a bustling residential and commercial centre.

There were houses, of varying sizes and prosperity from small timber-framed buildings to large, stone structures with elaborate mosaics.  There were craft workshops.  Metalworking and leatherworking were particularly prominent trades – it is easy to imagine the craftsmen producing and repairing weapons, armour, clothing and camping equipment for the local soldiers.

The settlement had deliberately planned drainage facilities and provisions for the supply and storage of food and distribution of water.  There were temples to numerous deities and a large Roman bath complex – in fact everything needed for everyday life in a major Roman city.

Many of the finds unearthed from the site of the Roman colonia are now on display in the Yorkshire Museum.