Britain wasn’t built in a day: Five cities and their Roman roots

The Romans gave shape to many of the modern cities and towns of Britain. Even many of the place names by which we know our cities today are derived from the names the Romans gave them.

For example, a place name ending in either -chester or -cester is likely to have its roots in Roman times and many of our modern roads still follow the paths made by the Romans. Under the leadership of Julius Caesar, the Romans first set foot on British soil in 55 BC and stayed for around 400 years.

The city of York, called Eboracum (the place of Yew trees) by the Romans, was founded in 71 AD. The area was chosen for its strategic location at the point where the River Foss joins the River Ouse, making it the ideal site from which to oversee and control the tribes of the Brigantes to the north and the Parisi to the east.

In addition, the place the Romans chose to occupy stood on a ridge of land which made an ideal approach to the settlement. This route exists today as the A64 road.

Evidence of Roman occupation can be found all over the city of York to this day, with one of the most famous remains being the Multangular Tower, which is open to the public and can be found on the eastern side of the Museum Gardens.

Bath, known as Aquae Sulis by the Romans because of the natural hot springs present in the area, was built between the years 44 AD and 410 AD.

The most famous remaining Roman sites are the baths, where citizens and centurions alike bathed and worshipped Minerva, the goddess of the waters.

Visitor staying in Bath nowadays can view the extensive ruins and walk in Roman footsteps, trying out the naturally hot spa waters amid Roman-costumed characters. The site is also open until 10.00pm in the summer months, so visitors can experience the baths by torchlight.

Further north is the city of Lincoln, called Colonia Lindensium by the Romans and established in 48 AD. It was from here that the ninth legion marched to build the city of York.

The name Colonia was given to cities that had self-governing rights, similar to those of Rome. Lincoln in Roman times was large and prosperous, with a population of up to 8000 and surrounded by walls. Parts of the walls are visible today and form the basis of the main tourist attractions in modern Lincoln.

Various Roman remains can be seen around the city, including portions of the walls and the sites of the original gates. Newport Arch was the north gate into the town and is the only remaining Roman arch in Britain

The modern town of Leicester fell under Roman rule in around 47 AD, when they arrived on the east bank of the River Soar. There they established an outpost that they called Ratae Corieltauvorum, which grew into a thriving and important town filled with important public buildings that included the baths.

These were built around 150 AD and a part of the wall is still standing today, marking the spot of one of the most important tourist attractions in Leicester. Known as the Jewry Wall and situated at the museum of the same name, the wall is thought to be one of the tallest examples of Roman masonry still standing.

Gloucester, known to the Romans as Glevum, started life as a fortress built around 40 AD and it is thought to be the point from which the Romans advanced into Wales.

Some of the armour found at the old site can be seen on display at the Gloucester City Museum. 20 years after first arriving, the Romans dismantled the original fort and in its place enclosed 43 acres with huge clay ramparts containing gates on each side.

In Eastgate Street, one of the supporting timbers for the gate can still be seen. So important and well established was the Roman city of Glevum that Roman remains are discovered whenever building work is undertaken in the city.

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