Pen and Sword (2021) h/b 304pp £25 (ISBN 97815267812840)

The Ninth Legion established a fortress at what is now York in AD 71. A civilian community grew up around the fortress to serve the needs of the military. The Ninth Legion departed in circumstances which are not entirely clear (C.’s is interesting but reaches no conclusion) and the Sixth Legion, which arrived with Hadrian in AD 122, took over the fortress. The legate of the legion in residence at York became the commander of all troops in the northern half of Britain. Successive legates probably oversaw the construction, manning and maintenance of Hadrian’s Wall (C. reviews the Vindolanda tablets, with quotations from the more famous ones).

York emerged as the second most important city in Britannia and acquired the status of colonia. Early in the third century Britain was divided into two provinces, the north and the south. York became the capital of Britannia inferior, so called because it was further away from Rome. C. explains how the elevation of York to the status of colonia put it at the top of the urban hierarchy (other coloniae of similar standing were at Arles, Belgrade, Budapest and Cologne). In later years, there was more subdivision so that we ended up as five separate provinces. But York always retained its status as a provincial capital.

The city which grew up around the fortress certainly pulled its weight. For three years it served as the administrative hub of the Empire when Severus and his sons were based there (AD 208-211). No less than three emperors assumed office while they were in York, namely Caracalla, Geta and Constantine. Admittedly, Geta had the misfortune to be murdered soon after his elevation. But the other two—Caracalla during the third century and Constantine during the fourth century—were major figures on the world stage.

Part Two of the book provides an account of what remains in York from the Roman period. This begins with a summary of antiquarian research over the last five centuries. The Tudor historian William Camden surveyed what remained of Roman York in the sixteenth century. In the eighteenth-century John Horsley’s Britannia Romana included a chapter on Roman York. In 1817 William Hargrove published his History of York, which included a number of recent finds. One of these was a Mithraic relief found near St Martin-cum-Gregory church. At the end of part two of this book there is a timeline from the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age through to AD 410.

There then follow no less than fourteen appendices. These include a ‘select’ list of Roman emperors, a list of governors of Britannia in the first century AD, and a series of appendices on particular topics. For example, appendix 12 provides an account of the Antonine Plague. This structure works quite well. The reader can delve into whatever he or she is interested in. There are a useful set of maps and a wide selection of photographs.

This excellent book is very much a book for the general reader. Anyone who is interested in history and planning a visit to York would do well to take it with them.

Rupert Jackson