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Roman Roads in Britain

It's a lovely day for a drive in Great Britain, so how about a trip from Dover to London? According to the map, you will be travelling the A2.

Once in London, you decide to go further west, perhaps all the way to Holyhead. The map specifies that you'll be driving the A5. To the Romans, the A5 and the A2 were designated Watling Street.

A great battle was fought just off Watling Street. The Roman Governor Paulinius, in AD61, marched his troops from Holyhead and lured the Iceni Queen, Boudicea, and her army to a large field in The Midlands. There her followers were slaughtered, and history says Boudicea took poison.

Oxford Street in London is now full of designer shops, large department stores, and small boutiques. But it didn't begin that way. Oxford Street was one of the first Roman roads in Britain to be built.

Running between military headquarters in Colchester, and the border of Hampshire and Berkshire, Oxford Street used to carry marching troops. However, it was also important for trade, so the street hasn't completely changed in 1700 years.

Pre-dating London, Oxford Street crossed another Roman road, Park Lane. At this junction is where the village of Tyburn grew. Tyburn became infamous for its 'Hanging Tree' in the area where Marble Arch now stands.

Going from Leicester to Lincoln? Now better known as the A46, in Roman times it was the Fosse Way - a name still used by locals to this day. The Fosse Way allowed a traveller to go from Exeter to Bath, cross the Cotswolds, and thence into Lincoln.

Parts of the now A10, between London and Hertfordshire, were known by the Romans as Ermine Street. The A15 which runs out of Lincoln is also part of that Roman road.

Before the Roman occupation of Britain, there weren't roads, per se, around the country. Pathways and tracks were the offering for travellers, trade goods, and any sort of ease of motion around Great Britain.

Roman roads in Britain were needed to maintain control over the country - it was important for troops to be transported with little problem from place to place. It was also necessary to ease the routes of supplies for these troops. That's why one of the first projects for Rome was the construction of roads.

Although sometimes following the native tracks, Roman roads in Britain were usually made from scratch. Beginning with a solid stone foundation, a middle layer of either sand or gravel would then be added. The surface would then either feature gravel or paving stones. Local material was used as much as possible. Roman troops were the labour force.

Due to the primitive survey technology of the time, most Roman roads were made in a straight line. When a straight line wasn't possible, right angles were made instead of curves; curves being difficult to survey properly.

Suitable crossing points would be scouted for necessaries on the road, such as bridges. Crossing marshy land, or ascending a valley would also provide obstacles to the construction.

In the case of wet land, a causeway would be built. A valley would find itself sporting a lovely zig-zag pattern up its side.

Roman roads in Britain weren't just for the military, however. Secondary roads were also built. These would allow easy access to mining pits and pottery kilns for example.

Distances between villages were soon easy to traverse. Market towns, villas, and farms were soon connected by roads.

Although society generally collapsed with the withdrawal of Rome from Great Britain, Roman roads in Britain were so well built and maintained, that they can still be travelled, in some fashion, today.

Article by "Tudor Rose"

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