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Roman Roads in Britain

Community Veteran
Posts: 16,862
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Registered: 06-11-2007

Roman Roads in Britain

Having just spent  best part of the day behind the wheel of my beloved Skoda Fabia 1.9 SDI . and having travelled along some of the major arteries of this country, from time to time. I have often pondered how the Romans new where places were, so they could build nice straight (almost) roads to them...
It is easy for us to understand the layout of our country, and how the A1, A3, A4, A5 and A6 became the major routes (into) out of London, due to modern maps, and satellite images.
BUT....
when the Romans landed 2,000 (or so) years ago, for example, near Portsmouth, they then decided to "walk" to Londonium, in a straight line which we now call the A3....How did they know the direction of Londinium from Portsmouth?  They certainly could not see it!    or later, after being established in Londinium, how did they know the way to Anglesey, and Ireland was along the route of the A5 .... Yes, it has a few bends in it along the way, but generally it is a straight line....  Similarly, the A4 from London to Bath?  both major roman cities.....Huh? And what about the A6?  Presumably they used the lodestone to point North to the Scottish borders, so that was fairly easy to guess...... " hail ceasar, ther`s trubble up North again, them blokes in skirts keep bashing our wall down, can you send some troops up the A6,  PDQ?"
Does anyone have any ideas?
21 REPLIES
pierre_pierre
Grafter
Posts: 19,757
Registered: 30-07-2007

Re: Roman Roads in Britain

well go back a bit before that, Stonhenge was built from stones quaried on the Preseli mountains in South Wales.  And then there are the Nazca lines  http://www.croponline.org/images/nazca1.jpg how and why?
geewizz
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Registered: 01-08-2007

Re: Roman Roads in Britain

Quite simply, they didn't build the roads for the first journey. Roads were built between established forts or settlements in order to make established journeys easier. So they weren't building roads blindly. They knew where they were going.
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

Yes, Pierre, I know the stones at Stonehenge came from Wales....(without my permission I might add)..... but I just wondered how the Romans, who were clever enough to get here, knew where they were going in the first place!......
I mean, can you imagine the centurion, in front of his squadron of soldiers....
"Right ho, chaps, lets go for a walk  to London,(Anglesey, Aqua Sullis, Cirencester, Ratae Coritanorum, Eboracum, or wherever,)  
I know the way, it`s just over that hill, and the next, and the next, If we keep on in a straight line in this direction, we can`t miss it"....  Roll eyes
Community Veteran
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

@geewizz.....  some romans landed in Portsmouth,  some landed in Chichester,  some landed in Londinium..... HOW did they know the way to the other places?  Undecided
geewizz
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

They didn't invade in one day and build roads the next.
The romans colonised the islands over years. They landed, made camp and then sent out scouts while establishing a base near where they landed. They travelled around the country and discovered the areas as they moved around. They only built roads after they had need for roads and that would be between two known places that were strategically important.
Community Veteran
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

Yes, I understand that bit, but what I don`t understand is HOW they KNEW where the places were in relation to where they started from....
e.g. When we decide on a new road, it is easy to get aerial photographs of the area, and draw a line on it, and then basically build a road from A to B....
The romans did not have helicopters,  Scouts, would only be "wandering around" until they found somewhere populated, and then the problem is.... where did I come from..... how did I get here?  I know, I`ll build a road about 50 miles long .... over that hill, and the one behind it, and the one behind that, etc etc.... (A6 or Six Hills Road)  (A5 or  Watling Street)  etc
geewizz
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Registered: 01-08-2007

Re: Roman Roads in Britain

Oh I see where you're coming from.
The Romans had surveyors in their ranks.  By the time they wanted to build a road, the route would be well known and well trodden. All they needed to do was to place big sticks on high places and then move them around until they had the straight line. One roman surveyor would turn to the other and say "Oh, I see where you're coming from", and move his stick accordingly.
pierre_pierre
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

the ancient certainly knew about astro navigation, even if they didnt find Merica,  dont forget that the henge's seem to be directly aligned on astro features. (given that the continents have shifted since built)  so they would take a reading of the source and destination and from that plan the route - in a straight line.
It goes a long time before the Romans,  The pyramids are also Astro Aligned
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

When I only had my  "home made bike" that my father built from scrap yard parts,  to get around on, age 12 to 15, I used to go for bike rides by myself, or with my two mates, and one of our favourite routes included the "six hills road" (aforementioned)..... very straight, with lots of "lay by`s"  for the old lorries to rest in !....
I often used to imagine squads of Roman soldiers marching along, then pulling into the lay by, to brew up,  Roll eyes 

or let some other "fast moving " squad, overtake safely ! ! ! Cheesy
Community Veteran
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Registered: 30-08-2007

Re: Roman Roads in Britain

Probably used a saturniusnavus...
Experience; is something you gain, just after you needed it most.

When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin. It works not because it settles the question for you. But because in that brief moment while the coin is in the air. You suddenly know what you are hoping for.
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

Quote
Their method was simple and clever. They despatched a company of soldiers in roughly the right direction, and the captain left men on the top of each hill they crossed. Eventually there were men on top of each hilltop between the two towns. Then each group lined itself up with those on either side—quite easy to do with one sighting rod on a post or on two men's shoulders. The shuffling would go on for some time as each group moved to and fro, but when they stopped moving they would all lie on a straight line from A to B. Then they simply had to put stakes in the ground and despatch squads of soldiers to stake out straight lines between the reference stakes on the hills.

http://uk.encarta.msn.com/encnet/Features/Columns/?article=WhatDidTheRomansEverDoForUs
Community Veteran
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

My current bedtime reading is the mighty tome 1200+ page historical novel; " London" by Edward Rutherfurd. Which charts the history of London from pre-Roman times. My understanding is that quite a few of the main centres of living; Canterbury, Colchester, Oxford, Salisbury etc. existed long before the Romans arrived, were connected with tracks and winding pathways. The Romans "merely" straightened the existing routes by building "proper" roads, but I think they probably knew what they were doing and where they were going.
Experience; is something you gain, just after you needed it most.

When faced with two choices, simply toss a coin. It works not because it settles the question for you. But because in that brief moment while the coin is in the air. You suddenly know what you are hoping for.
Community Veteran
Posts: 16,862
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Re: Roman Roads in Britain

Quote

They despatched a company of soldiers in roughly the right direction,

But my point is how did they know " roughly the right direction" to send out the men in the first place?    Embarrassed
Yes, I saw the series on the television, I think he explains things very well, but not the "initial direction " problem....
pierre_pierre
Grafter
Posts: 19,757
Registered: 30-07-2007

Re: Roman Roads in Britain

a lot of from their friendly ship of course