The Multangular Tower

The Multangular Tower is the best example of standing Roman remains in York.

It is on the northern side of the gardens, between the Yorkshire Museum and St Leonard’s Hospital. You can see the tower and fine stretches of the fortress wall from both sides, inside and out.

The tower stood at the west corner of the legionary fortress. It was one of the two corner-towers of the huge stone wall that looked down onto the river. The small stones in the lower half are Roman whereas the upper half was reconstructed in the medieval period.

The original Roman parts of the tower probably date from the early third century. Archaeologists can tell that the stone walls replaced timber fortress structures: an immense undertaking. The Romans used several types of stone in their buildings including limestone, tough millstone grit and elland stone, now better known as York stone, which was used for floors and roofs as it splits naturally into flat slabs. But it was not so much the stone but the use of mortar to hold it together that was the real Roman revolution. This allowed for the creation of far larger buildings than ever seen before.

The fortress wall was built 5m (c.15 ft) high. At the west corner stood what we now know as the Multangular Tower, which may have been well over 10m (c.30 ft) high. A matching tower stood at the fortress’s south corner, with six interval towers in between, projecting from the wall.

These corner and interval towers were a military innovation, as they enabled soldiers to fire along the sides of the wall as invaders tried to scale them.

In practice, the Roman occupiers probably never expected an attack on Eboracum. The fortress was mainly a base from which to control the region.

We know very little about the medieval rebuilding and reuse of the tower but the fortifications were significant during York’s role in the English Civil War and damage from a cannon ball can be seen in the wall to the North of the tower.

The first historical description of the Multangular tower by Martin Lister was made in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1807. This was an important stimulus to other studies of York’s archaeology.