York and the Romans

I’ve been in York this weekend for the Eboracum Roman Festival. I’ll be blogging about that next but on the Friday before I indulged in some historical tourism and visited the Yorkshire Museum.

Eboracum was a fort in the Roman province of Britannia and, at its height, the largest town in northern Britain. The site was still occupied after the decline of the Western Roman Empire and ultimately developed into the present-day city York.

Celebrity connections
Emperor Hadrian may well have visited in AD 122 on his way north to plan his wall and he either brought, or sent earlier, the Sixth Legion to replace the existing garrison. Emperor Septimius Severus visited Eboracum in AD 208 and made it his base for campaigning in Scotland. However, he was one of two Roman emperors who died in Eboracum: Severus in AD 211, and Constantius Chlorus in AD 306. Chorus’s son, Constantine (called the Great), was declared emperor in Eboracum. So lots of imperial connection.

Most people would never see the emperor in the flesh but coins circulated his image to the masses. Emperors chose how they wanted to be perceived. Hadrian is bearded – powerful in the spirit of the Greek god Heracles/Hercules. Constantine the Great is clean shaven – a strong military leader. Septimius Severus styles himself on his favourite god, Serapis.

Early years
The Roman conquest of Britain began in AD 43, but they didn’t advance beyond the Humber until the early 70s AD. The Romans called the tribes in the region around York the Brigantes and the Parisii; York may have been on the border between them. At first, the Brigantes held the status of a client kingdom, but when Brigantian leadership changed, they became more hostile to Rome. When that type of thing happens, we know what follows…

Roman General Quintus Petillius Cerialis led the Ninth Legion north from Lincoln across the Humber and in AD 71 constructed a military fortress (castra) on flat ground above the River Ouse near its junction with the River Foss. In the same year, Cerialis was appointed Governor of Britain.

At some time between AD 109 and AD 122 the garrison of the Ninth Legion was replaced by the Sixth Legion. There’s no documented trace of the Ninth Legion after AD 117. Multiple theories abound about its fate. (Have you read Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth?) The Sixth Legion remained in York until the end of Roman occupation about AD 400.

Rapid growth
A legion at full strength at that time numbered some 5,500 men. As with any large army on the doorstep, it provided new trading opportunities for enterprising local people who doubtless flocked to Eboracum to take advantage Nothing new under the sun….

As a result, a permanent civilian settlement grew up around the fortress. By the later 2nd century AD, it had grown exponentially; streets were laid out, public buildings erected and private houses spread out over covering terraces on the steep slopes above the river.

Maturing into a local capital
Eboracum was the major military base in the north of Britain and, following the 3rd century AD division of the province of Britannia, became the capital of northern Britain (Britannia Inferior). By AD 237, Eboracum had been made a colonia, the highest legal status a Roman city could attain, a significant mark of Imperial favour – one of only four in Britain. At around the same time, Eboracum became self-governing with a council made up of prosperous locals, including merchants and veteran soldiers. In AD 296, Britannia Inferior was divided into two provinces of equal status with Eboracum becoming the provincial capital of Britannia Secunda.

As a busy port and a provincial capital Eboracum was a cosmopolitan city with residents from throughout the Roman Empire. As well as the development of social and hospitality businesses, workshops grew up outside the fortress to supply the needs of the thousands of troops garrisoned there. Production included military pottery until the mid-3rd century. Military tile kilns have been found in the Aldwark-Peasholme Green area, glassworking at Coppergate, metalworks and leatherworks producing military equipment in Tanner Row.

In the Roman period, Eboracum was the major manufacturing centre for Whitby Jet. Known as gagates in Latin, it was used from the early 3rd century AD as material for jewellery which was exported throughout Britain and Europe. Examples found in York include rings, bracelets, necklaces and pendants depicting married couples and the Medusa which you can see in the Yorkshire Museum.

Whitby jet jewellery AD 200-410

Change on the way…
In the early fifth century AD significant social and economic changes were underway throughout Roman Britain. Whilst the last verifiable inscription for Eboracum dates from 237 AD, the settlement continued after this time. Building work in the city continued in the fourth century AD under Constantine and later Count Theodosius. The effect of Constantine’s religious policy allowed the greater development of Christianity in Roman Britain — a bishop of York named “Eborius” was noted as attending the Council of Arles in AD 314 and the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Several artefacts decorated with chi rho symbols are known.

A small bone plaque from an inhumation grave bore the phrase SOROR AVE VIVAS IN DEO (“Hail sister, may you live in God”) suggesting she had Christian beliefs. Known as the Ivory Bangle Lady, aged between 18 and 23 years when she died, the skeleton this belonged to was found in 1901 near to Sycamore Terrace in York, a street lying mid-way between Bootham, the main road going north out of York, and the River Ouse.

Photos courtesy of the Yorkshire Museum

Her remains, dated to the second half of the fourth century, were found with jet and elephant ivory bracelets, earrings, pendants, beads, a blue glass jug and a glass mirror.

The University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology analysed her facial features, the chemical signature of the food and drink she consumed, and the evidence from the burial site. It pointed to a high status incomer to Roman York, likely to have been of North African descent.

By 400 AD, York’s fortunes had changed for the worse. The town suffered from  periodic winter floods from the rivers Ouse and Foss, its wharf-side facilities were buried under several feet of silt and the primary Roman bridge connecting the town with the fortress may have become derelict. By this time, Eboracum was probably no longer a population centre. While the colonia remained above flood levels, it was largely abandoned, retaining only a residual population for a time.

And in the Roman dusk?
Little written evidence exists about York in the centuries following the Roman withdrawal from Britain in AD 410, a pattern repeated throughout post-Roman Britain. Archaeological evidence suggests some continued settlement at York near the Ouse in the 5th century AD and private Roman houses, especially suburban villas, remained occupied after the Roman withdrawal. But it was a turbulent period of invasion, so information about the next period is as muddy as the floodwaters of the Rivers Ouse and Foss…


The Ryedale Hoard
Billed in the new exhibition as some of Yorkshire’s most significant Roman objects it includes an 1,800 year old bust of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, a horseman, a horse-headed handle and a plumb bob. The mystery is who buried the hoard and why. The 13cm bust is part of a collection of bronze objects found by metal detectorists James Spark and Mark Didlick in a field near Ampleforth in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, in May 2020. 

If you ever find yourself in York, make sure you book up a visit – you won’t regret it!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

JULIA PRIMA - cover reveal!

Opening the email from cover designer Jessica Bell is exciting. But the moment I click to open the image file itself brings feelings of joy, fear, anticipation and hope. When it opens on the screen, I am enveloped in wonder and admiration. There’s the heroine. There’s her determination, her own fear, her courage.

Here is JULIA PRIMA, the first Julia destined to become one of the two founders of the dynasty which will rule Roma Nova for sixteen centuries.

Not that she has any idea about that…

AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Neither wholly married nor wholly divorced, Julia Bacausa is trapped in the power struggle between the Christian church and her pagan ruler father.

Tribune Lucius Apulius’s career is blighted by his determination to stay faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire. Stripped of his command in Britannia, he’s demoted to the backwater of Noricum – and encounters Julia.

Unwittingly, he takes her for a whore. When confronted by who she is, he is overcome with remorse and fear. Despite this disaster, Julia and Lucius are drawn to one another by an irresistible attraction.

But their intensifying bond is broken when Lucius is banished to Rome. Distraught, Julia gambles everything to join him. But a vengeful presence from the past overshadows her perilous journey. Following her heart’s desire brings danger she could never have envisaged…

Readers have repeatedly asked me for this story, so I’ve written it.

JULIA PRIMA will be out in August – perfect timing for summer reading!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

The Romans are coming to York!

Yes, it’s the time of year the Romans invade York. Along with the governor of Britannia and the mighty marching men of six legions (escaping from their humdrum 21st century lives) come a load of riff-raff and camp followers including a bunch of scribblers.

But the good news is that these are nine of the best scribblers. They’ll be lurking in the Tempest Anderson Hall next to the Yorkshire Museum during Saturday and Sunday 10 am-4pm each day. If you’re not completely taken over by the Roman living history camp, kids’ army, demonstrations, Roman parades and activities for all ages, come and discover some fascinating fiction and non-fiction. Plus, the authors will be delighted to sign the books you buy.

Simon Turney (S J A Turney)  

With in excess of 40 books to his name, Simon is a prolific writer, spanning genres and eras and releasing novels both independently and through renowned publishers including Head of Zeus, Canelo and Orion. Look for his Roman military novels featuring Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the form of the bestselling Marius’ Mules series, Roman thrillers in the Praetorian series, set during the troubled reign of Commodus, a series of fictionalised biographies of damned Roman emperors, the Legion XXII books in Roman Egypt and a rollicking Viking series: Wolves of Odin.  https://simonturney.com

Ruth Downie
In her own words, Ruth wasn’t looking for the Romans. ‘We only went to Hadrian’s Wall because we thought our children should do something educational on holiday.

Sheltering from the rain in a museum, I read, “Roman soldiers were allowed to have relationships with local women, but they were not allowed to marry them.” Obviously, here was a terrific story waiting to be told. All I had to do was find out everything there was to know about Roman Britain, invent things to fill the gaps, and work out how to put it all together in a novel…

So arose the Ruso (and Tilla) Medicus series of now nine books.

When she’s not researching or writing the Ruso novels, Ruth spends the occasional joyous week grovelling in mud with an archaeological trowel, because Roman Britain is still there. Underneath our feet.   https://ruthdownie.com

Alex Gough

Alex’s latest series of books are based around the adventures of Silus and Atius, spies and assassins for the controversial Emperor Caracalla. In non-writing time, he is studying for a PhD in Applied Health Research. He confesses to a decades long interest in Ancient Roman history, and his two series, the Carbo of Rome trilogy, and the Imperial Assassins hexology are the culmination of a lot of research into the underclasses of Ancient Rome. www.romanfiction.com

His latest book, Emperor’s Lion (Imperial Assassin Book 5) sees Silus, inducted into Caracalla’s bodyguard, penetrating a conspiracy that could bring down Rome.

Paul Chrystal
Paul works in medical publishing, but combines it with being history advisor to local visitor attractions such as the National Trust in York and ‘York’s Chocolate Story’, writing features for national newspapers and broadcasting on BBC radio.

A contributor to several history magazines, he’s the author of over 100 books published since 2010 on classical history, social histories of chocolate, coffee and tea, transport and local history of towns and cities in Yorkshire, Durham and Greater Manchester.

He regularly reviews for and contributes to ‘Classics for All’ and has contributed to a 6-part series for BBC2 ‘celebrating the history of some of Britain’s most iconic craft industries’, in this case chocolate in York.  From 2019  he’s edited York Historian, the journal of the Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society.   http://www.paulchrystal.com 

Jane Finnis
Write something about yourself,” they said, and I thought wow, at last I can tell the world how brilliant, charming and beautiful I am. Then they spoilt it all by saying, “But stick to the truth.” Oh well…

Jane’s been fascinated by the past ever since as a child she walked along the Roman roads of East Yorkshire and discovered that York’s medieval Minister was built over something even older, a Roman fortress.

At school she became completely hooked on Roman history when she read t Robert Graves’s I, Claudius and Claudius the God. After studying history at London University, she worked for some years in radio, mostly as a freelance broadcaster for the BBC.

Her Aurelia Marcella novels and short stories are set in Yorkshire around a mansio, an official inn/way station and there’s a lot of murder about… http://www.janefinnis.com/books/

Nancy Jardine

Can you imagine Roman soldiers tramping all over your garden?

Nancy Jardine lives beside the now-flattened ramparts of a large Agricolan Temporary Encampment in Aberdeenshire. On discovering it sheltered around 10,000 soldiers, she felt compelled to write about those Roman invaders  – though writing and publishing didn’t happen till after she retired from primary teaching. The six novels of her Celtic Fervour Series are set in late 1st Century North Britannia. The adventure stories showcase members of a clan from Brigantia who find ways to resist their Roman usurpers. However…Britannic Governor Gnaeus Iulius Agricola also features in the series, and some of the action takes place in the very first Eboracum Roman Fortress.

Nancy’s other published work includes a time-travel adventure about Emperor Severus’ invasion of Aberdeenshire in AD 210 and contemporary mystery novels, where unlocking an ancestral tree provides the solutions. Current writing is set in Victorian Scotland, done at her desk where she awaits the muse while staring blankly out of the window at the fairy house in her garden. http://www.nancyjardineauthor.com/

Clive Ashman

Clive Ashman is fairly described as ‘artist, writer, motor mechanic and qualified lawyer’. He discovered the unsolved heritage crime in his first novel ‘MOSAIC‘ (the 1940’s theft of a pavement from a lost Roman villa in East Yorkshire) whilst practising as a criminal lawyer.

Its blockbuster sequel, ‘TWO-EIGHT-SIX’, concentrates on Carausius – charismatic commander of their navy in Britain, whose Third Century ‘Brexit‘ and rebellion against Rome parallels more modern themes. Published in 2021 by Voreda Books, Clive’s third book, ‘LAWYERS of LUGVALIO’ starts-off in Scotland, but uses a genuine Roman court-case and York-based advocate to take its action forward. www.voredabooks.com

Edwin Pace

Edwin Pace was first an armour officer, and then a career intelligence officer–the perfect combination for writing his latest book, The Long War for Britannia. Now in its second printing, it is the definitive history of Late Roman and Early Medieval Britain. It reveals just how the Roman diocese of Britannia became England and Wales.

The book shows that Britain was a powerful state in the mid-fifth century, able to deal with Rome on an equal basis. However, ethnic tensions between Briton and Saxon led to centuries of civil war. Still, memories of this brief era—embodied in the figure of Arthur—persist down to the present day. https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Long-War-for-Britannia-367664-Hardback/p/19205

Edwin is the author of a previous work of history, Arthur and the Fall of Roman Britain, as well as the novel Rhinelord, a retelling of the Siegfried myth. A member in good standing of the International Arthurian Society, he has contributed many articles to its journal, Arthuriana. https://independent.academia.edu/EdwinPace

Alison Morton (That’s me!)

Alison Morton writes the award-winning Roma Nova alternative history thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines.

She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading historical, adventure and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected an MA History.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation, she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women… The Roma Nova series is the result!

Now she continues to write thrillers, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband. (This is my blog 😉 )


Do come to the Tempest Anderson Hall next to the Yorkshire Museum and say salve! – we’re all quite nice people really –  or we’ll start a coup, force feed each other with fish garum sauce or possibly fall on our swords. See you there!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. Double Pursuit, the sequel, is now out!

Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.