Archaeological discoveries suggest that the area surrounding the city has been inhabited for as long as 10,000 years, but York didn’t really get going until the Romans arrived. In 71AD, the Ninth Legion marched here from Lincoln and set up a city called Eboracum. Parts of the Roman fortress can still be seen, particularly the Roman baths and remnants found under the York Minster cathedral.
Two Roman Emperors died in Britain, both of them in York – Septimius Severus in 211 and Constantius I in 306. The city was an important strategic base for the Romans in their northern campaigns until the withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century.
Soon after, the Anglo-Saxons took over the region and renamed the city Eoforwic. In 601, Pope Gregory sent a mission to convert the British to Christianity with York as its religious centre, leading to the construction of churches. In 867, the Vikings captured the city and renamed it Jorvik, from where the name York stems.
In the 10th century, York became part of the Anglo-Saxon state, but invasions from Scandinavian forces were frequent. In fact, the routing of a Norwegian occupation of York by King Harold in 1066 was a direct factor in the Norman Conquest. When William the Conqueror met Harold at Hastings, he faced an English force weakened and tired after its engagement in the north.
York was subdued by the Normans and the Minster was rebuilt. Clifford’s Tower was constructed in 1244 and the city walls were completed in the early 14th century. But after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, York’s churches fell into disrepair.
Having been one of the most important English cities in the Middle Ages, York began to decline in the 15th century. During the English Civil War, it was besieged by parliamentary forces for its support of the Royalists, after which it lost its prominence in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In 1942, Nazi Germany’s Baedeker Blitz dropped bombs on the city. The Guildhall and the Bath Assembly Rooms were damaged, but many of the city’s historical buildings were left unscathed.
Did you know?
• The House of York was one of the most powerful in England and produced three kings, including Richard III, who was defeated in the Wars of the Roses in 1485.
• York’s iconic Clifford’s Tower once formed a part of the medieval Norman castle, but later became a jail.
• The city’s location was selected by the Romans for being near the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss, giving it strategic superiority.