Based on recent bone analysis, there was a significant Egyptian or North African population in York. This explains the number of bronze and ceramic images of Egyptian gods excavated in the area, along with the stone head of one of Egypt’s Ptolemaic kings. Several Egyptian-god-worshipping Roman emperors were based in the city.
More recently, Roman coins have been unearthed near the Yorkshire town of Barnsley that predate most of the York finds. Some show images of Egyptian gods like Isis and Horus, but the earliest were silver denarii struck around 32-31 bc by Mark Antony, husband of Queen Cleopatra. They were used to pay the men who fought at Actium in north-western Greece.
The Battle of Actium was a turning point in world history, installing Augustus as the first emperor of Rome. The coins found in Barnsley reflect the fact that Antony and Cleopatra had 500 warships and 11 legions; on the reverse of each coin Antony names his legions individually, and on the other side you see the image of a warship above Antony’s own title.
It is often thought that the Romans in Britain were mostly in the South East of England – particularly major outposts like London, St Albans and Colchester. However, they had numerous forts all over England and a large presence in Gloucester, Lincoln and York. Recent archaeological evidence suggests that the north of England was more important to the Romans, and certainly more cosmopolitan, than previously thought.
Between ad 208 and ad 211 the entire Roman Empire was governed from York.
There used to be an Egyptian temple on the banks of the Ouse in York, dedicated to Serapis (Osiris).
The emperor Hadrian visited York in ad 122 en route to create his famous wall and Roman emperor Septimius Severus, born in Leptis Magna (now in Libya) in ad 145, lived there from ad 208-211.
York was also the home of the Yugoslavian-born emperor, Constantius Chlorus in ad 305-306. He died there and his son Constantine, who was with him at the time, was declared Emperor on the site of York Minster (originally the site of a Roman legionary headquarters). As Constantine the Great, he became the first Christian emperor of Rome.
There are at least 50 Egyptian mummies buried in York, mainly underneath the old railway station and the University of York's campus.
Despite his Christianity, none of Constantine's coins bore Christian symbols, and many showed images of Egyptian gods.