And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

onsdag 16. februar 2011


Even their emperors, though they ruled nearly the whole world, gladly sought any opportunity to make the voyage hither and here spend their time. Severus and Constantius, for instance, princes of great distinction, both died in the island and were solemnly buried here.
- The History of the English Kings, William of Malmesbury
All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
- Reg, People's Front of Judea

In the first century AD a Roman fort was established at the junction of the rivers Foss and Ouse by the ninth legion, sent north by the governor to quell the Brigantes confederation. Around the fort there emerged a town which was called Eboracum, either meaning "place of the yew trees" or "estate of Eboros". Due to its strategic location - easily defended and accessible by boat all the way from the North Sea - Eboracum became a very important settlement of Britannia Inferior (lower Britain). It served as a base for the campaign launched against the Caledonians by Septimius Severus during his stay in the period 209-11, and by the 4th century it was the capital of Lower Britain. Upon his father's death in 306 Constantine the Great was proclaimed emperor here.

Thre are still remains of the Roman legacy scattered throughout York, and this period of the city's past is commemorated in a number of ways.

One of the most prominent features of the Roman era is the city walls, although not much of the original walls remains after centuries of repair and improvements. The most striking vestige is the multiangular tower, situated in what is today the gardens of Yorkshire Museum.

The upper part is from the Middle Ages, which can be seen clearly due to the cross-shaped slits at the top storey where the archers were stationed.

The headquarters of the Roman army were situated at the place of York Minster, and remains have been excavated beneath the crypt floor. Among the finds was a column which is now erected outside the cathedral.

Closer to the Minster we also find a statue of emperor Constantine the Great, commemorating his proclamation as Emperor in 306.

Constantius, who was reputed a most cultivated prince, left as his heir a young man of great promise, Constantine, his son by Helena, a stable-girl.
- The History of the English Kings, William of Malmesbury

The people of York appear quite anxious to celebrate famous people connected to the city in one way or another. Further evidence of this - apart from the statue of Constantine - can be found in the fact that my residence is called Constantine House.

Old, worn, but neither ancient nor Roman.

Another remnant of Eboracum is the hypocausts of a Roman caldarium, or sauna, excavated in the city centre. It is now the main - and some may argue sole - attraction of the very small Roman Bath Museum, situated under the Roman Bath Pub.

 Saepe stilum vertas (Often turn your stylus)
- Ars Poetica, Quintus Horatius Flaccus

deep-buried hypocausts dense for the harrowing
- De Jure Belli Ac Pacis, Geoffrey Hill

We haven't changed since ancient times.
- Iron Hand, Dire Straits

(c) Amanda Hauer and Mort Walker respectively

This month Yorkshire Museum has organised an exhibition to commemorate Septimius Severus, who died in York January 4th and who was cremated in Acomb, the most elevated point in the Eboracum area. This exhibition includes a bust of Severus on loan from British Museum, a bust of his son Caracalla and is complemented by lectures and films. February 15 two of these lectures were held at the museum, one on Caracalla and one of Severus' British expedition. I attended both of them, as I considered the subjects quite fascinating. 
Lucius Septimius Bassianus, later Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, commonly known as Caracalla

The first lecture was a half-an-hour talk on Caracalla, describing his career, his personality and his achievements, giving a nice summary of his lifetime. The second lecture was given by Professor Anthony Birley and focussed on the archaeological sources to the reigns of Severus and Caracalla, highlighting the erasing of Severus' second son Geta's name from tablets and altars throughout the Empire following his assasination in 211. Birley also paid attention to the astrological preoccupations of the two emperors, noting for instance that Septimius Severus chose Julia Domna, daughter of a Syrian sun priest, as his wife because her horoscope had predicted a marriage to an emperor. Both Severus and Caracalla forged their years of birth. Severus because he preferred a better horoscope, Caracalla - allegedly - because this change brought him closer to a date of birth that was significant to his interest in the moon cult.

Lucius Septimius Severus

Additionally, Birley talked about their military and civic achievements and the various literary sources we have to this period and included some mentioning of the historiographical approaches. However, although the lecture was quite extensive in its scope, I missed an into-depth discussion of the actual consequences of Severus' campaign on Eboracum as a settlement and some of the topics were, to my taste, treated a bit lightly. It is of course understandable due to the relatively short amount of time given Birley - an hour and a half - yet I felt nonetheless a bit disappointed, but I take some solace in the fact that I now know the whereabouts of Septimius Severus' funeral, although his ashes, despite William of Malmesbury's statement, were taken to Rome. 

 Mosaic from the Roman exhibition depicting an ophiotaurus.

2 kommentarer:

  1. Three questions:

    1: Did I ever send you that article on what the Romans ever did for their subjects?

    2: I seem to remember something about that column being upside-down. Do you recall it?

    3: Didn't we eat at the Roman Bath Pub?

    Also, the lectures sounded awesome.

  2. 1: I think you have mentioned the article and I may even have read some of it. However, I would very much like to receive it.

    2: Now you come to mention it there is this tinkling notion in the back of my head whispering that you are right, but I can't say with any certitude (yes that is a word, I learned it in disbelief).

    3: Yes we did. I think we had burgers and I experimented with various sauces, an experiment I have continued to some extent - and with minor successes - in my recent stay.

    The lectures were absolutely interesting, and - with the risk of rubbing it in your face - I think you would have enjoyed it even more than I did.