Monument record MYO4056 - Roman cemetery, York Castle


A Romano-British fort-vicus and inhumation cemetery at York Castle. In the immediate vicinity of the castle, partial excavation has revealed evidence of Roman wharves along the Foss and it is believed that further remains of the fort-vicus, such as taverns, shops and houses, underlie the car-park attached to Clifford's Tower.


Grid reference Centred SE 6048 5144 (110m by 150m)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

(a) Castle Yard Cemetery:
A late-Roman inhumation cemetery occupies the broader end of the spit of land contained by the confluence of the rivers Foss and Ouse. It is bounded on the N.W. by the Roman civil buildings in the Castlegate area and is traversed by Road 2. Two inscribed sarcophagi from here show evidence of re-use and were perhaps derived from an earlier cemetery on the same site. Both refer to centurions, as if the ground might originally have belonged to a burial club of the centurionate. A small decorative head from the corner of a tomb or precinct (see Inscriptions etc. No. 130; Raine YPL, 31 May 1879, 18) was found in 1879 built into a wall behind the present St. George's Cinema in Castlegate, just N. of Castle Yard. The first four individual burials here listed were found in 1956 when a deep drain was laid across Castle Yard from the area in front of Clifford's Tower to the N. end of the Castle Museum, at a point about 100 ft. W. of the latter (YAJ, XXXIX (1958), 400 ff.).

(i) Coffin, of lead, orientated N.W. to S.E., 4 ft. long by 9 ins. high by 1 ft. wide, made of a single sheet of metal and covered by a plain lid. The bottom lay 8¾ ft. below modern ground-level. It contained the skeletal remains of a child of about seven years, within a thin coating of gypsum held in place by linen wrappings of which fragments survive.
(ii) Coffin, of stone, inscribed and carved (see Inscriptions etc., No. 107), lying to N.E. of (i) at the same level and parallel and symmetrical with it. It had originally been provided by a centurion of the Vlth Legion for his wife Julia Victorina; but it contained the skeleton of a man at least thirty-five or forty years old laid on a bed of gravel and covered with gypsum. Originally, too, a coffin so finely carved and inscribed would have been placed in a tomb-chamber; fragments of tegulae, wall-plaster and building-stones found in an adjoining grave may have belonged to such a structure. But in its secondary use it was buried completely below Roman ground-level. The date of this re-use is uncertain, the sole indication being a sherd of rouletted Castor ware found in the filling of the grave.
(107) Coffin (Plates 56, 59), of millstone grit, 7 ft. 4 ins. by 1 ft. 11 ins. by 2 ft. 6 ins., with a gabled lid 12½ ins. high. The inscription is in a sunk panel on the face with ansae in the form of diminutive peltae flanked by elegant, lightly draped amorini, each holding the pelta in one hand and an upright torch in the other. In the top corners of the border of the panel are cut D(IS) M(ANIBVS). The coffin had been reused to contain the gypsum burial of an adult male, while its elaborately carved and inscribed face had been buried in the sand and clay subsoil. Found in 1956, in Castle Yard (N.G. 60525147), a few yards from the site of No. 104 (see Burials, I Region, (a), ii).
'To the spirits of the departed and to the memory of Julia Victorina, who lived 29 years, 2 months, 15 days, and to Constantius, who lived 4 years, 21 days, 11 months, Septimius Lupianus, centurion, ex evocatus, placed this memorial to his wife and son.' Maemoriae: this spelling occurs elsewhere, but is not repeated when the word is used again. For the spelling possuit see also No. 104. Centurio ex evocatus: when called back to service after serving his full time as a soldier in the Praetorian Guard or Urban Cohorts, Lupianus was promoted to the legionary centurionate. The fundamental study of evocatio is by Mommsen, EE, V, 142–59. JRS, XLVII (1957), 227; YAJ, XXXIX (1958), 400.

(iii) Grave, plank-lined, at right angles to (ii) and 10 ft. to N.E., containing skeletal remains of a man of twenty-five or thirty. The grave, 5⅓ ft. long, was too short for the body, and the head and shoulders had been pressed into a raised position.
(iv) Coffin, of wood, containing the skeleton of a young woman. It had been cut through by burial (iii) and lay immediately to S.W. and in line with it. Three bronze and two bone bracelets were tied on the right shoulder of the body by a leather thong and beneath the same shoulder was the base of a Castor ware beaker.
(v) Coffin, of stone, inscribed (see Inscriptions etc., No. 104), provided for Aurelius Super, centurion of the Vlth Legion, by his wife, and found in 1835. It lay a little to N. of the point where Julia Victorina's coffin (see (ii) above) was subsequently discovered and was orientated with the head to the N.N.W. The skeleton was that of a man 5 ft. 10 ins. tall. The depth of discovery, 7 ft. to 8 ft. below modern ground-level, suggests that this coffin may also have been reused (YMH, 52; J. J. Sheahan and T. Whellan, York and the E. Riding, I (1855), 305; C. Wellbeloved, Eburacum, 110; W. Hargrove, New Guide . . . York (1838), 57; Gents. Mag. (1836), pt. I, 82).
(104) Coffin (Plate 56), of gritstone, 7 ft. 5 ins. by 2 ft. by 2 ft. 3 ins., with a gabled lid 7 ft. 5 ins. by 10 ins. by 2 ft. 5 ins. Lid and coffin had originally been clamped together, as is shown by the matching slots on the ends of each. It was found in 1835, in making a drain across the Castle Yard, at a depth of 7 ft. to 8 ft. at the point marked on the 60 ins. O.S. (1853), Sheet 12 (N.G. 60525147), orientated N.N.W. (see Burials, I Region, (a), v). This depth, compared with the Roman level in adjacent excavations, indicates that the coffin was buried below Roman ground-level; thus the inscription would have been invisible and this in turn suggests secondary use, as with No. 107 (q.v.). It contained a male skeleton. A second coffin, uninscribed, lay parallel and adjacent. Cut on the lid is D(IS) M(ANIBVS) in large letters: 'To the spirits of the departed'. The main inscription is cut in smaller letters in a sunk panel on the face of the long side of the coffin.
'To Aurelius Super, centurion of the Sixth Legion, who lived 38 years, 4 months, 13 days, Aurelia Censorina his wife placed (this) memorial.' Solecisms are anis for annis, the metathetical coiunx for coniux and possuit for posuit, as on No. 107. CIL, 246; YMH, 52; Gents. Mag. (1836), pt. I, 182; J. J. Sheahan and T. Whellan, York and the E. Riding (1855), I, 305; C. Wellbeloved, Eburacum (1842), 110, pl. XII.

(vi) Coffin, of stone, uninscribed, now in the Multangular Tower, was found within a few feet of the foregoing. This contained a smaller skeleton than (v) and the two burials may be of man and wife (YMH, 53; other refs. as for (v) above).
There is evidence of other burials in addition to those listed above. In 1824 (Yorkshire Gazette, 1 May 1824) and again in 1902 (YPSR (1902), 72) the motte carrying Clifford's Tower was observed to contain abundant human bones, probably thrown up when the ditch was excavated (fn. 1). Skulls and other skeletal remains also came to light when Aurelius Super's coffin (v) was found in 1835 (W. Hargrove, New Guide . . . York (1838), 55). Abundant pottery and sherds are said to have been found in the area. The small perfume flask now in the Yorkshire Museum (H. 2352) was found at the Castle in 1885.

RCHME, 1962, Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume 1 Eboracum, p67-9 (Bibliographic reference). SYO62.

Sources/Archives (1)

  • --- Bibliographic reference: RCHME. 1962. Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of York, Volume 1 Eboracum. 1. p67-9.

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Record last edited

Jun 30 2020 1:33PM


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