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The City of York began life in the time of the Romans. The Vale had been inhabited quite intensively since prehistoric times, but it took the Romans, with their unerring eye for a good site to see the advantages of its position - the tidal nature of the River Ouse, which enabled ships to reach it by sailing in through the Humber estuary, The natural placing as the hub of routes crossing from all points of the compass and its elevation above the surrounding plain, which meant that it was dry, despite its proximity to the river, and easily defensible. They called their new settlement Eboracum, a latinized form of an old Celtic word probably meaning "Place of the Yew Trees".
In AD 70, nearly thirty years after the Romans' initial invasion of Britain, a strategic alliance with a federation of Northern Celtic tribes, known as the Brigantes, began to break down. The Roman governor, Petillius Cerialis, was ordered to march north from Lincoln with the Ninth Legion Hispana and crush these potential enemies. The Brigantes were to fight hard, but futilely to expel the Roman intruders, who constructed their first fortress at Eboracum in AD 71, even before they had totally subjugated the area. This rectangular 'playing-card' construction consisted of a V-shaped ditch and earthen ramparts with a timber palisade, interval towers and four gateways. It covered about 50 acres of a grid-plan of streets between timber barrack blocks, storehouses and workshops. More important buildings included the huge Headquarters Building or Principia, the Commandant's House, a hospital and baths. The fort was designed to house the entire legion - up to 6,000 men - and remained a military headquarters almost to the end of Roman rule in Britain.
The fortifications were strengthened around AD 80 by a caretaker garrison while the Ninth Legion campaigned with the governor, Julius Agricola, in Wales and Scotland. The original fort was replaced, in AD 108, by a massive stone structure with walls that survived the centuries to be used as part of the defences of Viking and Medieval York. The Roman fortress even influenced the layout of the citys streets in later centuries, an influence that survives to this day. In AD 118, there were further military clashes with the Northern Celtic tribes, though the Ninth Legion's exact involvement is unknown. Four years later, they were withdrawn from the province when the Emperor Hadrian toured Britain and almost certainly visited the city to personally oversee the installation of the Sixth Legion Victrix in the citadel. They later helped build the great wall named after their patron, from the Salway to the Tyne.
Further tribal unrest at the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century led to the rebuilding and strengthening of many military installations in Northern Britain. This was particularly necessary at York which appears to have been overrun in AD 197. The stone walls there had such poor foundations that in some areas they had partially collapsed. Celtic resistance north of Hadrian's Wall continued and, eventually, the Emperor Septimus Severus decided it was time to punish the natives once and for all. In AD 208, he and his son, Caracalla, set up the Imperial Court and from here, Severus ruled the entire Roman Empire for three whole years while campaigning in what later became Scotland. Worn out by his efforts, the Emperor actually died in the city in February AD 211, traditionally somewhere in the area of Goodramgate. He was cremated in York, but his ashes were sent back to Rome. Caracalla subsequently forced the Caledonian tribes into advantageous peace-treaties.
Roman York, however, was not just a garrison settlement. Across the Ouse, to the south-west, lay a major Roman town, with typically Roman accoutrements - public baths, public buildings, temples to a variety of Roman gods, shops, a water supply, drainage, sewers and houses, some luxurious with underground heating, mosaic floors and marble panelling.