The city was founded by the Romans as Eboracum in 71 AD. It became the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jórvík. In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading centre and became the capital of the northern ecclesiastical province of the Church of England, a role it has retained.
In the 19th century, York became a hub of the railway network and a confectionery manufacturing centre. In recent decades, the economy of York has moved from being dominated by its confectionery and railway-related industries to one that provides services. The University of York and health services have become major employers, whilst tourism has become an important element of the local economy.
From 1996, the term 'City of York' describes a local government district (a unitary authority area) which includes rural areas beyond the old city boundaries. In 2011 the urban area had a population of 153,717, while the entire unitary authority had a population of 198,051.
The word York (Old Norse: Jórvík) derives from the Latinised name for the city, variously rendered as Eboracum, Eburacum or Eburaci. The first mention of York by this name is dated to circa 95–104 AD as an address on a wooden stylus tablet from the Roman fortress of Vindolanda in Northumberland.
The toponymy of Eboracum is uncertain because the language of the pre-Roman indigenous population was never recorded. They are thought to have spoken a Celtic language related to modern Welsh. It is thought that Eboracum is derived from the Brythonic word Eborakon, a combination of eburos "yew-tree" (cf. Old Irish ibar "yew-tree", Welsh efwr "alder buckthorn", Breton evor "alder buckthorn") and suffix *-āko(n) "place" (cf. Welsh -og) meaning either "place of the yew trees" (cf. efrog in Welsh, eabhrac in Irish Gaelic and eabhraig in Scottish Gaelic, by which names the city is known in those languages); or less probably, Eburos, 'property', which is a personal Celtic name mentioned in different documents as Eβουρος, Eburus and Eburius, and which, combined with the same suffix *-āko(n), could denote a property. In his Historia Regum Britanniae the 12th century chronicler, Geoffrey of Monmouth, suggests the name derives from that of a pre-Roman city founded by the legendary king Ebraucus.