Our last article on the history of Yorkshire ended with the arrival of the Romans in Yorkshire around 60 AD. This period marked the beginning of documenting records of Britain, so much of what you read here will come from written Roman sources. Many significant events occurred in the 329 years the Yorkshire area was controlled by the Roman Empire – just a few of which are chronicled below.
The first real evidence of Roman consolidation of military victories into actual conquered territories occurred in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Here they built a fort on the banks of the River Don. For nearly a century Doncaster acted as a staging post for Roman road builders, soldiers and settlers heading further out into the Yorkshire hills.
By this time the Roman forces had reached as far North as Ikley near the Pennines. They had declared their northern capital as Eboracum, which is modern-day York. During this time, they defeated the last remnants of the Brigantian tribe at their stronghold in Stanwick.
Between this year and 128 AD, under the direction of the Emperor Hadrian, the Roman’s constructed a famous wall in his name across the North of England and parts of Yorkshire. Built to keep out the warring Picts of Scotland, Hadrian’s Wall was 73 miles long, ten feet wide and up to six metres high. It was a marvel of ancient engineering. Long stretches of it still stand today, including dozens of the forts positioned once every mile and even many of the smaller watch-towers.
As for old Hadrian himself, he left Britain before construction of his namesake was finished. He never returned to Yorkshire to see it again before he died, back in Rome, in 138 AD.
In this year Antoninus Pius, Hadrian’s successor, ordered a second wall to be built – this one further North into modern Scotland. He did not come to Britian to supervise its construction himself, which may have had some influence on why it took twice as long to build, finishing up twelve years after building began.
The legendary Constantine the Great was crowned Roman Emperor at York in this year. His father Constantius, originally a lowly army general, had begun to call himself Emperor of the West as he assumed more power over the colonies. The father & son spent much of the previous five years to this campaigning against the Picts – but never getting very far. After Constantius died, loyal troops in York proclaimed Constantine as Emperor.
He would eventually prove the victor in a bloody civil war, reuniting the Empire and bringing the age of Christendom to much of Europe.
This year marked the end of permanent Roman presence in Yorkshire, as the garrison at York was abandoned due to the threats and instability at home and across the Empire. Increasing attacks from the Picts were also partly involved, with a major defeat to natives occurring in 367. The most enduring legacy of the Romans in Yorkshire is most definitely their road routes, many of which are still major public motorways today.