York: politics and economics

Early History of York

Roman York / Eboracum

York was founded in the year 71 AD when the ninth legion of  Rome set up camp. The Romans would name the place Eboracum and it became an important strategic for a staging area for defending the empire against local gaelic tribes. York is located where the Foss and Ouse Rivers meet, which provided a valuable source of transportation. The Romans came into contact with a loose conglomerate of gaelic tribes called the Brigantes as well as a smaller tribe called the Parisi. York strategic importance convinced roman emperors such as Constantius to York for their campaigns. Constantine the Great was proclaimed the emperor of the Roman empire after the death of his father in 306. 

A copper alloy coin featuring Carausius (AD 286 – AD 293) dating to the period AD 286 – AD 293.

York was an industrial center producing pottery, metalwork, textiles and glass. York’s location as a port played an important role in trading goods across the empire. Roman coins have been found in archeological digs at York. The presence of such coins indicate the connectedness of this outpost city to the rest of the Roman empire.

Sub-Roman York/ Eboracum

After 410 AD, york experienced a significant decrease in population. Scholars have argued that climate change affected the water levels of the rivers causing massive amounts of flooding, however this theory is still heavily debated. Archaeological evidence suggests that York was partially deserted due to the flooding and its economy greatly suffered. However, York was still an attractive location for rulers to use as a center of authority.

Anglo-Saxon York / Eoferwic

Upon the retreat of Roman forces in 410 A.D, the Saxons and their Germanic relatives overcame the Britons. The city was renamed Eoferwic, which became of capital of the Saxon kingdom of Deirwa. Kingship was not hereditary, it was solely based on a successors strength as a military commander, thus allowing him to gift land and other riches to his followers. There is limited information regarding the history of the kings of Northumbria during this time period. Bede has stated that King Ida ruled in 547 and king Aelle resigned in 597. Aelle’s son Edwin was exiled for a time, but then managed to unite Northumbria. Different historical writings suggest that York was a royal center during this time period. Kings of Northumbria gave large section of York to various religious figures.

Copper coin depicting a late Anglo Saxon king.

By about 700 A.D, artisan and trading businesses were revived. Golden coins were beginning to make there way into the market and trading began to blossom. York was trading for Ipswich pottery and other exotic goods. Archaeological evidence suggests that York main industries were woodworking, metalworking, textiles, leatherworking, carpentry, masonry, glassworking, and bone working. Yorks short distance to the ocean, made York a prime location for a fish processing, which encouraged more industrial growth, such as the evidence found from fishergate. The city flourished under economic prosperity. Grand wooden churches were built during this time period, showing that King Edwin of Northumbria held large coffers.

Viking York / Jorvik

York was a very important Viking hub during the 9th century.  Three viking brothers, Ivarr, Halfdan, and Ubba. captured York on November 1, 866. Eventually Aelle and Osberht were killed, which forced the remaining Northumbrians to surrender York and the territory surrounding it. There was a short period of disruptions after this point, which led to the destruction of various. For a time a puppet king was set into power, however he was quickly killed in a rebellion in 873. There is evidence that the viking kings ruled with support from the church, more specifically Archbishop Wulfstan played an important role negotiating between the Northumbrian council and the great army. Eventually King Guthfrith of the vikings would be the king of York, which led to embassies being established in the city from Alfred of Wessex and many others.

This image is from the frontispiece of Bede’s Life of St Cuthbert, and it depicts King Æthelstan (924–39).

Between 910-914 York was captured by Ragnall an Irish king.  He and his descendants would expanded their territory southward , which led to Aethelstan capturing York in 927. In 939 York was captured by Olaf Guthfrithson, the king of Dubli, which angered the English. This would led to a plethora of sort term kings who were quickly driven out of the city. In 954 the Dublin-York alliance was broken. The English king Edgar then held court in York for a time. King Aethelred II reunited the English states around the year 1006.

Danish raids were a response to population pressures in their homeland, and so they ventured to find new lands to settle. Under Viking control, the city was renamed Jorvik, the Danish provocation of the previous name. The city maintained its capital status as the capital of Danish settlements in northern Britain.

This silver coin was minted in York around the year 915. This coin is an example of the St. Peter coins. The coins show a cross and a hammer, which indicates they were likely the 2nd version of the St. Peter pennies.

York had a Viking coin-mint, the only one in the region, demonstrating how important the region was commercially. Some coins minted at Jorvik held the names of saints, while holding imagery of Thor’s hammer. They specifically minted St. Peter pennies, which were remarkable due to their size, complexity, and sophistication. The continuity of York as a commercial hub and it imports and exports largely did not change, however the goods produced were of finer quality and more technologically advanced. Objects from this period are often made of gold, amber, silk, tusks and other rare and precious materials, especially when compared to those incorporated in crafts made in Anglo-Saxon York. Archaeological evidence suggests York’s trading network expanded to the point where they were importing goods from China, Arabia, and Samarkand.

Bede. Æthelstan Presenting a Book to Saint Cuthbert. Circa 930. The National Portrait Gallery History of the Kings and Queens of England by David Williamson, 1998, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. In Wikipedia. April 27, 2009. Accessed March 10, 2019. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Athelstan.jpg.

Britain Express. “York History – Saxon York.” Britain Express. Accessed March 11, 2019. https://www.britainexpress.com/cities/york/saxon.htm.

Clark, George, R. G. Collingwood, J. N. L. Myres, F. M. Stenton, Austin Lane Poole, Maurice Powicke, May McKisack, E. F. Jacob, J. D. Mackie, J. B. Black, Godfrey Davies, Basil Williams, J. Steven Watson, Llewellyn Woodward, R. C. K. Ensor, A. J. P. Taylor, and Richard Raper. The Oxford History of England. the English Settlements. 1986.

Design, SUMO. “History of York.” Viking Invasion: History of York. Accessed March 11, 2019. http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/the-romans-arrive.

Graham-Campbell. Coin. 1980. Ex J. Pierpont Morgan and Sir John Evans, Dublin.

Hitchens, Gail, Miss. “Record ID: YORYM-53B8E5 – ROMAN Coin.” Welcome to the Portable Antiquities Scheme Website. Accessed March 11, 2019. https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/891256.

Palliser, David Michael. Medieval York: 600-1540. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Jackson, Caroline M., H. E. M. Cool, and Emma C. W. Wager. “THE MANUFACTURE OF GLASS IN ROMAN YORK.” Journal of Glass Studies 40 (1998): 55-61. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24190500.


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