ONCE, when we all spoke Latin, Micklegate ran as straight as a Roman road should to the only bridge over the River Ouse, somewhere near today’s Guildhall.

Since then, it has gone wandering off course and now winds across the slope to end up further downstream at today’s Ouse Bridge. The question is, why doesn’t it go straight to the new bridge site – and what is it avoiding?

Back in the 1920s, a learned historian put forward the theory that it couldn’t make a beeline for the first Ouse Bridge when the Vikings built it because there was a big ruined building in the way, namely, the old Roman amphitheatre, which lay somewhere in the space bounded by Trinity Lane, Martin Lane and Micklegate. There is a bit more to the theory than that, but that’s the essence of it, and of course, since archaeologists announced a few weeks ago they had found what looks like the amphitheatre’s cemetery, the question of where the amphitheatre was situated has become more important.

I’m not suggesting we should tear down the buildings that currently occupy the site to find out if the 1920s don was right, and I’m sure that today’s archaeologists and historians will inform me of the many other sites proposed for the amphitheatre before and since. But it would be nice to know why Micklegate goes round the bend.

I mention the possible amphitheatre site as an indication of how little we know our own city.

York is lucky to have libraries of documents and books tracing its history from the first legionaries splashing through the forested fens of the Vale of York to today’s familiar skyline.

But despite this, all we know about the structure of Eboracum is that there was a praetorium under the Minster, more or less, various bits of houses or shops here and there, a column or two and, of course, the routes of Bootham and Micklegate (part of).

St Albans can trace whole districts of its Roman predecessor, Verulamium, but that city moved itself uphill after the Romans left rather than build on top of itself as York did. So its Roman ruins are easy to find and it knows exactly where its forum, basilica and theatre were. Eboracum shaped York today and not just in terms of where the roads run. It was the Romans who decided York would be a military city, not a leisure city like St Albans, which never had a resident legion, and there are soldiers in York to this day.

If Hugh Bayley can distract the Ministry of Defence from its Trident arguments with the Treasury, it may even have a divisional army headquarters again. It is difficult to think of York without soldiers, just as it is difficult to imagine St Albans with them.

But today’s York is not just the work of the Romans. The Vikings made us a trading centre par excellence, and the Victorians put us back on the national transport map with the railways, after the Middle Ages preferred Wetherby for the Great North Road.

So how are we shaping the future for our great-great-great-grandchildren? Will they live on the Nestlé housing estate and wonder how it got its name?

Will future archaeologists study the street map of Clifton in the hope of locating the lost stadium of Bootham Crescent? Or will today’s tourist industry have ensured that we are no longer a working city, but one frozen in time for the benefit of the many visitors who will flock to Olde Worlde England, chatting in Chinese, Swahili and a multitude of subcontinent languages from the future powerhouses of the world?