Chapter One

Eboracum - Roman York

    By AD 47 the Roman Empire controlled a section of Britain that stretched in an imaginary line from the River Humber to the River Severn controlled by fortresses established at Lincoln and Gloucester. Above that line, controlling an area from the Trent to the Cheviot Hills, was a Celtic tribe called the Brigantes. The Romans had made an alliance with their Queen Cartimandua, who by all accounts was something of a hellion. She took to the Roman way of life like a duck takes to water and, in the tradition of all Roman rulers, was soon having numerous lovers and affairs, playing the fiddle and watching buildings burn.

    This new behaviour annoyed her husband Venutius, who had been quite happy with the way things were, and, in AD 69, they fell out in a big way. One day when she was out visiting her Roman paramour, Venutius built himself a new fort near Richmond, and threw her out of the kingdom locking the door behind her. The resulting rumpus was heard throughout the Roman Empire.

    Meanwhile, back in Rome there had been a number of job rationalisations, restructures and reshuffles which led to the death of four Emperors in the same year. Vespasian, who had once been a commander in Britain, took over the job and set about establishing himself as Emperor. In a short space of time he put down rebellions in Judea and on the Rhine, and he needed the news of Cartimandua's rebellion like he needed a hole in the head. He appointed a friend of his, one Quintus Petilius Cerialis, as Governor of Britain and sent him off on the next boat to sort things out. Cerialis sailed from Holland and established his forces at Lincoln, and in AD 71 they marched out from their base, hacking and slashing their way up the A15 until they reached the A19 and marched straight on, into the tribal lands of the Celtic Brigantes.

    Eventually this force came to an area of land guarded by two rivers, the Ouse and Foss, known by the Brigantes as Eboracum. In Celtic this name meant either "a place where the yew trees grow" or, "that cucumber allotment owned by a bloke called Ebor". On seeing the grove of yew trees and the cooling river, Quintus Petilius Ceralis decided it would be a good place to take a rest.

    As the legionnaires bathed their aching feet in the river the commander looked around and decided that he had walked far enough. After his rest he called a stop to all the marching, hacking and slashing and ordered a large wooden fort from a local Celtic builder called Portafortia, based at nearby Huntington.

    Once the fort was erected the Romans settled in, changed its name to Eboracum, and began the unenviable task of bringing civilization to the wild Yorkshire folk. To this day it is debatable whether or not they succeeded. They introduced many innovations such as aqueducts and wine, which were good things, and laws and taxes, which were very bad things. They also introduced the Roman Baths, which were very wet things.

    The baths were not just for enjoyment. They were in fact a sneaky way of subduing the war-like Celts. When the Romans noticed a large army of blue painted tribal warriors waiting outside the gates of Eboracum they opened their baths to the general public, and quickly organised a special early morning rate for local tribes. This puzzled the Celts who had never seen a swimming pool before, and they soon joined the queue. Despite the Celts not having brought their swimming trunks the Romans allowed them entry and left the Celts splashing happily away.

    After some time in the pool the Celts suddenly noticed that all their blue woad had been washed away. With great terror the tribal warriors realised two things. First that without their paint they no longer looked fierce and secondly, they were now stark bollock naked. Shamed at their sudden nudity the Celts quickly left the pool and tried to sneak out of the fortress, but an alert Roman Guard spotted them and, alerted by the sound of his laughter, the rest of the guard came running. Afraid of the slings and arrows of outrageous Roman laughter the Celts fled through the fortress gates, never to return. It is believed that this event is the origin of the well known saying "It'll all come out in the wash."

    With the Celts subdued, the Romans had nothing much to do and so in AD 108 they set about improving their fortress and began to rebuild it in stone. This came as a relief to many of the Roman Legionnaires who for a number of years had suffered badly from splinters, but for the local inhabitants it was the start of an inconvenient building process that blocked roads and streets, and caused much traffic congestion. A tradition  that is still continuing today. 

    When it was eventually finished Eboracum was a walled fortress housing the Principia, the military headquarters, along with a number of smiths, shrines, bars, shops and fast food outlets. They also built a wooden bridge across the River Ouse.

    This fortress attracted the attention of various local tribes who realised that rather than fight the Romans, it was much more profitable to do business with them. There was a sudden demand for building materials and food, especially bread and meat, and someone had to supply it. Soon all around the fortress walls the local people, eager not to miss out on a good thing, began to build many hovels, butchers shops and small sandwich stalls from which they did a very brisk trade.

    In order to make themselves feel more at home, the Roman troops demanded many items that were not available locally. Olive oil and wine were imported all the way from Spain and France in amphorae, a type of large pottery jar.  However, as there was money back on them, there was a constant shortage of these jars. Discovering it was impossible to store olive oil and wine in anything else the Romans decided to open up their own pottery and make some amphorae of their own. This pottery business was run by a retired legionnaire named Filus Micupup and is believed to have been somewhere in the Peasholme Green area of the town. It must have been a very successful venture, as it not only held the catering contract for the entire fortress, but also made a large number of small statues of local gods and an even larger number of pottery mugs with "A Present From Eboracum", emblazoned on their sides.

    However it was just after AD 120, when the Ninth Legion left York, that the pottery business really took off big style. The Ninth Legion was replaced by the Sixth, a legion comprising men from the Greek part of the Roman Empire. These excitable new troops brought with them the Greek habit of smashing their plates after every meal, a habit brought about by an appalling lack of washing up liquid in Greece. This state of affairs was noticed by Filus Micupup, who encouraged the legionnaires not only to smash their plates, but also their cups, saucers and anything else made of pottery that they could get their hands on. He bought the broken bits back, remade them into more pots and sold them at 100% mark up. The resulting boom in business made Filus a very rich man. It is also the reason why so little Roman pottery has ever been dug up in York.

    The departure and subsequent disappearance of  the Ninth Legion has been the subject of many speculations. Some theories claim they travelled to Lower Germany on a special away-day trip and lost their return tickets. Some claim that they were selected to play in a version of the once popular, pan-European games called "It's A Knock Out" and that they were drawn away against the Parthians where they lost so badly they never bothered to come home. Others claim that they marched north to disappear forever among the mists and heather of Highland Scotland. Some even claim that they never disappeared at all but just got transferred somewhere else and that all the disappearance theories were put together to provide historical pundits and authors a gravy train in the writing of novels and other books.

    The Sixth Legion were brought to Britain by the Roman Emperor Hadrian who due to the fact that as a kid had once been given a set of Lego bricks for Christmas, was hell bent on building walls. This habit so annoyed the citizens of Rome whose city was built up already and who had no use for further masonry, that the senate sent him off to the furthest part of the Empire where a wall would come in handy. After wandering all around Europe looking for walls to build Hadrian ended up in York, but finding the city already had walls, he pushed onto the frontier of the Roman Empire and found a perfect place for one. He built his wall in a line that stretched from Newcastle to Carlisle.

    Throughout the following centuries an argument has raged whether the intention of the wall was to prevent the Picts from attacking the Romans, or to prevent the Romans from pushing even deeper north and attacking the Picts. Whatever the reason, the wall marked the northern most boundary of the Roman Empire, until another Lego inspired Roman called Antonine turned up on the scene and tried to do one better, further north. (He didn't succeed. It was a very little wall and hardly worth a mention!).     

    Around AD 200 the Romans rebuilt the city walls of Eboracum once again, this time erecting a series of large entrance gates (which seems a pretty obvious thing to do when you think about it). Again it seems that a local specialist building company was used, as their trade mark was used in the naming of these gates, which were Porta Principalis (where Bootham Bar now stands), Porta Principalis Sinistra, (where Kings Square stands), Porta Decumana, (about half way along Lord Mayors Walk), and Porta Praetoria, (where St. Helen's Square meets Coney Street and Lendal). They eventually finished rebuilding around AD 208, which was just as well as in the following year Porta Eboracum played host to another Roman Emperor, Septimius Severus, so called because he was very severe and was born in September.

    Severus had decided to pay the city a visit due to the fact that the Picts had discovered how to make ladders and were climbing all over Hadrian’s Wall and creeping across to attack the northern most Roman villas. As the visit was deemed official and the Roman Empire was picking up the tab, Severus brought his wife and kids along with him, (The Empress Julia Domna and his sons Geta and Caracalla). Not wanting to miss out on a free trip, and claiming that "what was good enough for the Emperor was good enough for them", the rest of the Roman government also came along.  

    This sudden influx of heavy duty Romans put a great strain on the available accommodation in the city and a number of bed and breakfast establishments were hastily built to house them all. This led to such another round of building and re-building and blocking up of roads that the native people of Eboracum soon wished that Hadrian was still around as at least, he had the decency to indulge his building fetish miles away from the city.    

    In AD 211 Severus, who had been feeling a bit off for a while, died. However his own death did not come as a surprise to him, unlike the deaths of many unfortunate Picts whom he had been beating the crap out of at the time. Indeed Severus believed he had been warned of his imminent departure from the world by experiencing a number of ill omens and bad dreams. One of these ill omens was recorded by a Roman writer called Dipusmepenin.

    It seems that on one of his regular visits to the Temple of Bellona, Severus discovered that the animals prepared for sacrifice were not their usual white colour, they were black. This was considered jolly bad form and so he stamped out of the Temple in a huff and began to walk home when he discovered that he was being followed by a giant black chicken.

    No matter how fast he walked, the chicken still followed him. He tried walking through the many alleyways and snickelways in the town. He tried turning corners and running like mad, but every time he turned round there was the chicken still following on behind him. Eventually he reached his lodgings where he collapsed in a heap and promptly died. Eerily, the giant chicken was never seen again. This event was commemorated on a small stone tablet, engraved with the image of a chicken and the feet of Mercury, the Roman God of fast running, which was found during an excavation at Wellington Row in 1988-89.  

    Severus was succeeded as Emperor of Rome by his son Caracalla, who as soon as the funeral was decently over, quickly left the city and returned to Rome. On his arrival in the capital he promptly promoted Eboracum to the status of Colonia, a regional capital. Why he did this action is uncertain, however some historians believe that it could have been to appease a large number of influential citizens of Eboracum who once witnessed him climbing out of a giant chicken costume in a back alley at the rear of his father’s lodgings.