Drawing of two Ancient Britons; one with tattoos carrying a spear and shield; the other painted with woad, and carrying a sword and round shield. C. 1574. (Provided by the British Library from its digital collections. Catalogue entry: Add MS 28330)
‘Io Saturnalia!’ The Standard bearer (signifer) of the Xth Legion jumps from his ship and wades up the shores of England, leading the Roman invasion, James William Edmund Doyle, 1822–1892. (‘The Britons’ in A Chronicle of England BC 55–AD 1485, London 1864)
An eighteenth-century illustration of a wicker man, the form of execution that Caesar claimed the druids used for human sacrifice. From the ‘Duncan Caesar’, Tonson, Draper, and Dodsley edition of the Commentaries of Caesar translated by William Duncan and published in 1753. An image from a set of eight extra-illustrated volumes of A Tour in Wales by Thomas Pennant (1726 –1798) that chronicle the three journeys he made through Wales between 1773 and 1776. These volumes are unique because they were compiled for Pennant’s own library at Downing. This edition was produced in 1781.
Andrew Birrell (after Henry Fuseli), Caractacus at the Tribunal of Claudius at Rome, (1792). A defiant Caractacus in captivity having been sold down the river by Queen Cartimandua, puppet queen of the Brigantes from around AD 43 to 69, when he sought refuge with the Brigantes after his opposition to the Romans. (Public domain: Wikimedia Commons)
The last definite attestation of the IXth legion: a stone inscription at York dated AD 108, on display in the Yorkshire Museum. The inscription has well-formed Roman letters and numbers. Described in Eboracum as: ‘Commemorative Tablet fragment in magnesian limestone, comprising the middle part – 3 and 1/3ft by 3 and 3/4ft – of an inscription recording the building in stone of the SE gate of the fortress under Trajan. The fine lettering decreases in height from 6 ins in the first line to 3 and 1/2 ins in the last.
‘“IM]P(ERATOR) CAESAR DIVI N]ERVAE FIL(IVS) N[ERVA TRAI] ANVS AVG(VSTVS) GER[M(ANICVS DAC ICVS PO]NTIFEX MAXMV[S TRIBV NICIAE PO]TESTATIS XII IMP(ERATOR) V [CO(N)S(VL) v P(ATER) P(ATRIAE) PORTAM] PER LEG(IONEM) VIIII HI[SP(ANAM) FECIT”: “The Emperor Caesar, son of the divine Nerva, Nerva Traianus Augustus, Germanicus, Dacicus, pontifex maximus, in his twelfth year of tribunician power, five times acclaimed Imperator, five times consul, father of his country, made this gateway by agency of the Ninth Legion Hispana.”
‘This stone is dated by Trajan’s twelfth tribunician power to the year 10 Dec 107–9 Dec 108. The lettering is of very great elegance and its form suggests a draft written with pen or brush, faithfully copied by the mason and thus affording a glimpse of the official style used by clerks or draughtsmen of the IXth legion.
‘Found in 1854 at a depth of 26ft to 28ft in King’s Square near the house at the corner of Goodramgate and King’s Square while making a drain along Goodramgate and Church Street.’
Inset: Roof tile bearing the IXth legion stamp.
(Images courtesy of York Museums Trust)
A dignified Boudica and her daughters; she, a queen, was flogged and they were raped by the Romans. (Courtesy of Geoff Cook at Cardiff City Hall)
Relief carving in Aphrodisias Museum, Turkey. Originally sited on the Sebasteion in Aphrodisias. A victorious Claudius stamping out Britannia. Claudius is on the point of delivering a death blow to the slumped figure of Britannia. He wears helmet, cloak, and sword belt with scabbard. Britannia wears a tunic with one breast bare – like the Amazon figures on which she was based. The inscription reads ‘Tiberios Klaudios Kaisar – Bretannia’. (Public domain: Wikimedia Commons)
Roman generals and emperors in the frieze of the Great Hall of the National Galleries Scotland, by William Brassey Hole 1897. Agricola is second from the right, Tacitus far right with the scroll. (www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/159703/processional-frieze-great-hall-scottish-national-portrait-gallery)
The Multangular Tower in York’s Museum Gardens. The magnificent Multangular Tower forms the west corner of the Roman fortress. One of its stones is 21ft by 11ft wide and bears the legible inscription ‘Genio loci feliciter’: ‘good luck to the guardian spirit of this place’ – (RIB 647). It was uncovered in 1702 when digging a cellar below the Black Swan Inn in Coney Street outside the south angle of the fortress and is now in the Yorkshire Museum YORYM: 2007.6197. (Author’s Own)
On 13 March 2010, to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of the end of Roman rule in Britain, a series of 500 beacons were lit along the length of Hadrian’s Wall. This monumental barrier extended seventy-three miles comprising ditch, a thicket of spikes, a stone wall, a sequence of forts, mile castles and observation turrets, and a permanent garrison of up to 8,000 men. (From www.geograph.org.uk. Author Gary Dickson)
The Antonine Wall near Bar Hill. Work on the Antonine Wall began in AD 142, extending from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde. This was abandoned after twenty years and only occasionally re-occupied. (Public domain: Wikimedia Commons)
Constantine outside York Minster, which was built on his fortress. This powerful bronze statue was commissioned by York Civic Trust and designed by the sculptor Philip Jackson. It was unveiled in 1998 to commemorate the accession of Constantine as Roman Emperor in AD 306 on this site, after the death, in York, of his father Constantius Chlorus. The statue depicts a seated Constantine wearing military dress. His right arm is outstretched behind him and his left holds the pommel of a sword, the tip of which is shown to be broken. A legend inscribed on the base reads ‘Constantine by this sign conquer’: a translation of the Latin ‘in hoc signo vinces’ from Eusebius of Caesaria, who recounts how Constantine was marching with his army and looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words ‘(ἐν) τούτῳ νίκα’ (‘In this sign, you conquer’). Inevitably, the statue was given a protective face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. (Author’s Own)
Blowing the cornu. A cornicen (hornblower) photographed during a re-enactment of Legio XV from Pram, Austria. The cornu was carried by the cornicen who ‘translated’ his commander’s orders into signals and broadcast them over the field during battles. Every legion had their cornicens. (This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
Obols have been found in Roman graves in York so that the deceased could pay the surly ferryman, Charon, and cross the River Styx. This is a nineteenth-century interpretation of Charon’s perilous crossing by Alexander Dmitrievich Litovchenko (1835–1890). Charon Carries Souls across the River Styx (1861) is now in the Russian Museum, St Petersburg. (Public domain: Wikimedia Commons)
Marble bust of the Emperor Constantine I, found before 1823, in Stonegate. Here he is clean-shaven and wearing an imperial oak wreath; weathering suggests that he originally stood in the open, perhaps in front of the headquarters building of the legionary fortress. Date c. AD 306–AD 337. In the Yorkshire Museum, YORYM: 1998.23. (Courtesy of York Museums Trust)
Constantine regally surveying his fortress from outside York Minster with the impressive column in the foreground salvaged from the basilica where it fell in the ninth century.
Above: The Course of Empire 4 – Destruction by Thomas Cole (1836). End of Empire – one of Rome’s final disasters. (New York Historical Society)
The stunning life-size statue of Mars, god of war, confronts you as you enter the Yorkshire Museum. He is wearing full armour and is carrying a shield. He has a sword on his hip and in his other hand he was probably carrying a metal spear. The statue would have been painted in bright colours. Mars was dug up in 1880 along with three altars in the grounds of the Bar Convent next to Micklegate Bar. (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
Complete ‘Julia Domna style’ female head pot. (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
The magnificent ‘Four Seasons Mosaic’ was uncovered in 1853 during drainage work at Tanner Row. Three other mosaics were also found in the same house, suggesting someone very wealthy lived there. A coin of the emperor Claudius Gothicus was discovered underneath it, thereby telling us that the mosaic must have been laid down during or after his reign (AD 268–270). (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
The mosaic depicts the head and shoulders of Medusa who is surrounded by the four seasons. Medusa was a popular image in Roman homes: her petrifying ability to turn people to stone was thought to ward off evil. The four seasons were each shown with items associated with their particular season. Spring is depicted with a bird, summer with a bunch of grapes, autumn with a rake and winter with a bare branch. (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
Stone statue of a winged deity (RIB 641). Dressed in a fringed skirt, this winged figure holds two keys in his left hand, while a serpent acts as a belt and rests its head above his right knee. The right hand and the head are lost. Found under the City Wall while building the railway station in 1874. Now in the Yorkshire Museum YORYM : 2007.6162. The dedication reads:
‘VOL(VSIVS) IRE[NAEVS D(ONVM) [D(EDIT)
ARIMANI V(OTVM) [S(OLVENS L(IBENS) M(ERITO)’: ‘Volusius Irenaeus, paying his vow willingly and deservedly to Arimanes, gave (this) gift.’
Eboracum tells us that the dedication is ‘to Arimanius, the Mithraic god of Evil. The missing head was most probably that of a lion, symbolic of all-devouring Death. The snake girdle represents the tortuous course of the sun though the sky; the wings signify the winds; while the keys are those of the heavens and the sceptre is the sign of dominion.’
(Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
Perhaps the exhibit in the Yorkshire Museum with the most impact is a preserved head of hair, with jet hairpins and cantharus-shaped heads in situ, from a fourth-century inhumation burial found at the railway station booking office site. The hair is fashioned into a loose bun. It is exhibits like this which bring Roman York to life, allowing you to experience day-to-day living and get inside the lives of the Romans. (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
An unusual roofed coffin using roof tiles.
(Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
The Serapis dedication-slab (RIB 658) was found in 1770 and is now in the Yorkshire Museum: YORYM 1998.27. It reads
‘To the holy god Serapis Claudius Hieronymianus, legate of the VIth Legion Victrix, built this temple from the ground up.’ (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
A third or fourth-century oval jet pendant showing what is probably a man and wife. This is the only jet pendant excavated in Britain showing a posed couple.
Jet family group.
(Images courtesy and © York Museums Trust)
The Corellia Inscription: ‘To the spirits of the departed: Corellia Optata, aged 13. You mysterious spirits who dwell in Pluto’s Acherusian realms, and whom the meagre ashes and the shade, empty semblance of the body, seek, following the brief light of life; father of an innocent daughter, I, a pitiable victim of unfair hope, bewail her final end. Quintus Corellius Fortis, her father, had this set up.’
A large glass vessel inside the coffin, sealed with lead, contained Corellia’s ashes. The reference to Dis – god of the underworld – and Acheron – one of the rivers of the underworld – make this epitaph particularly vivid and pathetic.
(Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
Julia Fortunata, celebrated in RIB 687, was from Sardinia. Her husband, Verecundius Diogenes, set up the tomb, perhaps quoting a hexameter written by Catullus (lxii, 54) in his last line. It was unearthed during the building of the railway station. Verecundius Diogenes was a sevir augustalis; these magistrates looked after the cult of the emperor’s divinity – a symbol of loyalty – ceremony and entertainment. Diogenes hailed from Bourges, southern France. The sarcophagus was found near Scarborough Bridge – but it contained the skeleton of a man. A good example of the recycling of sarcophagi which, if anything would have been cheaper when second hand – sold as having one careful owner? (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
A model of the principium in the Minster Undercroft Museum featuring structural remains of the Roman fortress headquarters and parts of the First Cohort centurions’ quarters, along with one of the sewers serving the fortress. Remains of the Roman basilica building, at the north side of the principia, are visible in the undercroft. (Author’s Own)
Julia Velva’s tomb and inscription (RIB 688). Funeral feasts are depicted on the tombstones of Julia Velva, Mantinia Maercia and Aelia Aeliana to cater for their culinary needs in the afterlife; here Julia’s family are shown reclining on a couch and being served food and wine. Julia Velva is depicted holding a wine jar with her daughter, the wife of Aurelius Mercurialis, who can be seen holding a scroll – possibly Julia’s will. Julia lived a good life – fifty years – and was believed by the family to participate in the annual celebration. (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)
Decapitated skeletons from Trentholme Drive cemetery thought to be gladiators. This shows the decapitated skeleton with shackles round his ankles; detail of the iron rings; a typical decapitation with the head beside the torso. (All courtesy and © York Archaeological Trust)
The Ophiotaurus mosaic. A fantastic sea creature from a mosaic found in Toft Green. According to its sole classical reference in Ovid’s Fasti (3.793 ff), the Ophiotaurus (Οφιόταυρος Serpent Bull) was powerful enough to enable whoever slew it and then burnt its entrails to bring down the gods. The monster was killed by an ally of the Titans during the Titanomachy, but the entrails were retrieved by an eagle sent by Zeus before they could be burned. The creature had emerged from Chaos with Gaia and Ouranos. (Courtesy and © York Museums Trust)
The Severan Tondo, from c. AD 200, is one of the few preserved examples of panel painting from classical antiquity. It is a tempera or egg-based painting on a circular wooden panel (tondo), with a diameter of 30.5 cm. It is currently on display at the Antikensammlung Berlin (inventory number 31329).
The panel depicts Septimius Severus with his family: to the left his wife Julia Domna, in front of them their sons Geta and Caracalla. All are wearing sumptuous ceremonial garments; Septimius Severus and his sons are also holding sceptres and wearing gold wreaths decorated with precious stones. Geta’s face has been erased after his murder by his brother Caracalla and the ensuing damnatio memoriae. (Image courtesy of and © York Museums Trust)