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York’s turbulent history can be traced back nearly 2,000 years. It begins in earnest in AD71 when the Romans, at the height of their powers, conquered the Celtic tribes known as the Brigantes and founded Eboracum which, by the 4th century, was the capital of lower Britain. In the 7th century, known as Eoferwic, it was the chief city of the Anglo-Saxon King Edwin of Northumbria and, two centuries later as Jorvik, it became an important trading centre for the Vikings.
The city was ravaged by William the Conqueror, but by the Middle Ages it had gain become an important commercial centre. In the 16th and 17th centuries Tudor and Stuart kings were among its visitors, in Georgian times it was the social capital of the north, and in the 19th century, with the coming of the railway, its industrial future was assured.
Today, while trade and industry are still important, it's the preservation of its long and varied history which has brought it world fame. For here, visitors can not only hear about England’s history, they can actually see it and walk in it.
In AD71, the Roman Governor of Britain, Quintus Petilius Cerealis, led his troops northwards from Lincoln to invade ‘Brigantia’. Recognising a good military strongpoint, he based his camp at the juncture of two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss.
Having conquered the Brigantes, the Ninth Legion built a fortress on the site of their camp and called it Eboracum. On the departure of the Ninth Legion in AD120, the Sixth Legion took command of the fortress which eventually enclosed 50 acres and housed a garrison of several thousand soldiers.
New roads were constructed, a civilian town grew up outside the fortress walls and Eboracum became the capital of Lower Britain and a leading city of the Roman Empire.
Several Emperors visited Eboracum and Severus held his Imperial Court there until he died in AD211.
In AD306, Emperor Constantius Chlorus died in Eboracum and was succeeded by Constantine, his son. Constantine the Great as he became known was proclaimed Emperor and the proclamation is thought to have been held on the site of the present Minster. Constantine went on to found Constantinople and was the first Christian Emperor of Rome.
The Legions, who occupied Eboracum until around AD410, had their headquarters where the Minster stands today and, during restoration work, Roman remains were discovered beneath it. These included a 31 foot Roman pillar which was re-erected and can now be seen near the Minster’s South Entrance.
After the Romans withdrew from Britain in the 5th century, the Anglo-Saxons began their invasion.
Eventually York would become Eoferwic and, under the rule of Edwin, King of Northumbria, it became an important religious centre. In fact, Edwin was instrumental in re-introducing Christianity to the city and was baptised at Eoferwic.
Edwin married the Christian Princess Ethelberga of Kent who came north with her Chaplain, Bishop Paulinus. He baptised Edwin and many of his subjects on April 12 627, at one of the city’s wells where a little wooden church had been built for them to worship in. This was the first cathedral of St Peter in York, with Paulinus as its first Bishop in the present continuous line.
Christianity also brought learning to York. In the 8th century, the great scholar Alcuin was Master of the School of St Peter which received students from all over Europe. By the time he left Britain to become Master of Emperor Charlemagne’s Palace School at Aachen, Eoferwic was the most important centre of learning in this part of Britain.