Great Britain has one of the most fascinating histories in all of Europe. Stretching back millennia, its heritage is linked to great empires, most notably the Romans. But while many remember how the conquerors took away the native’s sovereignty, they often forget the technological innovations that they brought with them, including aqueducts, triumphal arches, and roads. The latter innovation in particular had a great impact on the small isle, breathing new life into the burgeoning people’s veins. In order to show our appreciation all that the Romans have done for us, let us spend a little bit of time exploring this great innovation and all they have done for this small island.
While Romans began building roads as early as 500 BC, the earliest efforts in Britain began under the Julio-Claudian’s imperial expansion between 40-70 AD. The military needed to move swiftly, relying on builders to create roads as they went. These ancient engineers used London and its many ports as its headquarters, building out to bases in Colchester, Lincoln, Wroxeter, and Gloucester.
This system grew under the Flavians in the later part of the first century AD, resulting in further legionary bases in York, Chester and Caerleon. Once the Romans conquered Wales and Northern England they built roads from Carlisle to Corbridge, and under Emperor Trajan would continue along the area that would then become Hadrian’s Wall. As modern day Scotland remained outside the boundaries, the system did not extend much father than a system of forts in the lowlands, ultimately making up its ends of the system.
These roads were built using a standard technique brought from the continent. Historian L.V. Grinsell wrote that: “A road occupied a wide strip of land bounded by shallow ditches, varying in width from 86 pedes (25.5m or 84 ft) on Ermin Street in Berkshire to 338 pedes (100m or 330ft) on Akernan Street in Oxfordshire. A trunk road in Britain would typically be 5-8m in width, with a gauge of 7m being the most common.”
Many of the modern roads today follow directly the legacy of the Romans. For example, much Walting Street is now under A2 and A5. Similarly, Roman names would continue to be seen in modern name streets, for example Stretham means “homestead” while Stretford means “ford on a Roman road.” While the Romans may have gone, few could argue that they didn't leave behind a massive legacy, setting the path for future endeavors to come.