On a dreary
wintry day in York, Spain with its white-washed villas and Moorish
legacy, seems a long way both geographically and culturally. However,
there is a very ancient link between York and Spain, one that stretches
back nearly 2000 years.
started in 71 AD when a Roman legion, Legio IX, arrived to set up
a fortress on the north bank of the Ouse. When they arrived there
was nothing here; nobody had found any good reason to settle the
the legionaries arrived they probably didn't know if they were going
to be based here for a matter of months or a few years; in fact,
they stayed for a full half century, the longest single posting
in their history.
legacy survives today. The fortress that they built, first in wood
and later in stone, established the pattern and layout of York's
historic core. If you approach the city from the A19 it is along
a road established by the IX. Going through Bootham Bar you are
entering through the one of the original openings in the Roman defences.
down Petergate you follow the line of one of the principal streets
within the fortress and when you gaze on the Minster you are looking
at the spot where there once stood an equally massive and impressive
structure, the Roman Headquarters Building.
what is the Spanish connection in all this? Well like many Roman
Legions the IX also had a name, not just a number. Like all legionary
titles it was a name which reflected something in the history of
a particular legion that marked it out from others and was borne
with pride. The IX was known as Legio IX Hispana, or as we would
say today the Ninth Spanish Legion; not that there were ever eight
other Spanish legions.
Legio IX Hispana re-enactment
Legio IX was one of the oldest imperial legions and had served with
distinction under Julius Caesar fighting for him in Spain in 49
BC. It later served in Africa, Macedonia, and then spent 12 long
years campaigning back in Spain. Here the legion acquired its first
Spanish title, Hispaniensis, meaning based in Spain. Sometime
later, after it had moved on to fight more battles in equally hostile
corners of the Empire, this became Hispana and that is the title
that stayed with it until its bitter end.
tombstones found at the many different locations where the legion
was based before it came to York we know that it it continued to
attract recruits from Spain. This part of the empire may well have
remained one of the IX's principal recruiting areas.
its time in York there would have been an influx of many thousands
of new recruits and the retirement of many time served soldiers.
Most would presumably have returned to their birthplace attracted
by the prospect of sun, sand and sangria.
with Spanish blood?
Others were probably encouraged to take up generous land grants
and settle around York to contribute to the process of romanisation,
a policy promoted from Rome itself. On their retirement they would
also have been able to enter into a legal marriage for the first
time and gone on to start their own local dynasty. Today, running
through the gene pool which is now York, there may well be some
traces of those old Spanish troopers.
IX left York sometime around 120AD, possibly redeployed after suffering
some humiliating defeat in a campaign in northern Britain. They
were replaced by another legion, this time Legio VI Victrix, the
Victorious. Like the IX they had spent most of their history moving
around the empire, never staying more than ten years in a single
place. Perhaps it is something in York's water but it also proved
to be their longest single posting; they were still here at least
two hundred and fifty years later.
presumably it is no more than mere coincidence that this legion
had also served in Spain for many years, that its veterans settled
there in large numbers, set up the city of Zaragoza and it was known
for many years as Legio VI Hispaniensis; the only other legion
to bear the title.
the Spanish connection was continued and still continues today.
Perhaps we should celebrate it by giving York's Quarter the honorary
title of the 'Spanish' Quarter and look for a twinning link in Spain.
How about Zaragoza? You never know we may even have some very distant
relatives out there...