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  This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Roman Roads in Britain

by Thomas Codrington

published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
London, 1903

Text and maps are in the public domain.


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Chapter 2

p7 Chapter I
Introduction

The roads constructed during the Roman occupation do not appeal to the imagination like such remains as the Wall of Hadrian, or the ruins of an ancient city; but when the extent and the permanent nature and effect of them are considered, they may claim a foremost place among the remains of Roman work in the country. They were part of the network of roads that covered the Roman world; for many centuries they continued to be the chief means of communication within the island; and while some of them are still to be seen in almost perfect condition, portions of many more form part of the foundations of roads now in use.

The course of the roads was evidently planned with skill, and laid out with a complete grasp of the general features of the country to be passed through; the work of construction, however, was probably carried out under many masters, and perhaps not at the same time.

The method of construction followed by the Roman p8road-makers has unfortunately not been investigated with any thoroughness in this country. What we do know of it has generally been learned from sections made by chance, and too often not carefully described, and in the absence of ascertained facts writers have fallen back on the descriptions of ancient authors, as given by Nicholas Bergier in 1622.1 Vitruvius, who wrote about the time of the Christian era, is often cited as having described the manner in which the Romans made their roads, but he was really describing the making of pavements in connexion with architectural works.2 Bergier states that as he found no ancient author who had described clearly the interior parts of paved Roman roads, he was led to go to descriptions of the manner of constructing pavements in connexion with buildings, and he opened Roman roads near Rheims to see how far they corresponded with Vitruvius' description. He gives the results, which show that neither the number of the layers which he found, nor their order, agreed with this description, or with each other. He however adopted Vitruvius' names for the several layers, and this is the only authority from which later writers give those names, Stratum, Rudus, Nucleus, and Pavimentum, to layers found in Roman roads.a

A quotation from the poet Statius3 (A.D. 81‑96), p9with the explanation given by Bergier, has often been made use of since. It relates to the making of the Via Domitiana, but Statius was more concerned with flattering Domitian than with precise description, and he affords only a very general and poetical sketch of marking out the road, excavating the ground, and filling in other material for the pavement or other surface layer.

Palladio4 (1570) gives an account of two methods of making Roman roads in Italy. One is described as simply a mound of sand or gravel raised somewhat in the middle; the description of the other seems to have been based on remains of roads then existing, and a plan is given in illustration. The road consisted of three divisions, the middle paved with flat stones somewhat lower separated from the middle by stones set on edge. The sides, which were half the width of the middle, were covered with sand and small gravel. According to Palladio those on foot travelled on the paved road, and horses on the side roads, and he does not mention wheeled traffic.

In France remains of Roman roads with a middle and two side spaces have been found. Bergier unfortunately tells us nothing about the transverse p10section of the roads which he opened near Rheims, but Gautier, a century later, describes5 such roads, of which he had seen many remains. The materials composing the middle portion of the road were in a trench as much as three feet deep, from which the earth had been taken to form the side roads. At the bottom of the trench was a pavement of stones on edge, five or six inches thick, and a little rounded, over which was a bed two or three feet thick of stones of about the size of eggs. The middle road was separated from the side roads by flat stones set on edge, and appeared to have been used by wheeled vehicles. The side roads, which were made much in the same manner, might, he thought, have served for foot passengers and perhaps for horsemen, and were wide enough to allow a horseman and a man on foot to pass easily. No mention is made of a paved surface.

Of such roads there are still remains, which are called Chaussées de Brunhaut, and the middle and side roads seem to survive in the chaussées and accotements of modern French roads. The evidences of similar roads in Britain are few and doubtful.

It is evident from remains which have been described, and others which still exist, that the Romans followed no hard-and‑fast rule, but made their roads according to the situation and to the materials available, and perhaps in a different manner at different times.

In Britain we find considerable variation in the Roman method of construction. An embankment is p11a very usual feature, and, constructed with the utmost care on a solid foundation with suitable materials, it constitutes the ridge of the road, which often remains almost unchanged by time when man has not disturbed it.

The height of the embankment or ridge was sometimes considerable, not only where a low place had to be crossed, but on high ground. Perhaps the most striking example remaining is the embankment called Atchling Ditch or Dyke to the south-west of Salisbury, which for four miles runs across the high open down almost unchanged in profile, five yards across the top and five to six feet high. Another example may be seen between Doncaster and Pontefract, where for several miles there is an embankment four, six, and eight feet high, and six yards wide, on high ground with a rock subsoil, In some places the Roman road has been removed for the sake of the materials, so that instead of a ridge, a wide shallow trench remains. In other places the paved foundation is found a foot or more below the level of the ground without a trace of the road on the surface. This has arisen from the removal of the upper part in the interests of cultivation, the portion beyond the reach of the plough having been left; deeper ploughing has caused this process to be repeated in recent years. It is, however, difficult to suppose that the roads were in all cases raised. On the Foss Way, between Bath and Cirencester, where it is a wide, grass-grown, deserted road on a high oolitic plateau, there is, to the south of Jackments Bottom, a ridge p12in the middle four to six feet high; but not much further south there are no traces of a ridge for miles. The same thing is to be observed on the deserted part of Watling Street north of Watford Gap, where the green road shows no sign of a ridge for several miles until low ground is crossed, and then the ridge appears as much as five feet high, where it has not been removed for the sake of the materials.

The width of the embankment appears to have varied from six or seven feet, as at Radstock, to six or seven yards south of Jackments Bottom, both of these places being on the Foss Way. Deep trenches were commonly dug on the sides of the road, the material from which, when suitable, went to raise the ridge, but in soft places it appears to have been cast outwards. The side ditches can now generally only be traced by digging, but they sometimes remain, as on the chalk down between Vernditch Chase and Woodyates. Where Roman roads have been modernized the side ditches have become the natural receptacles of mud, etc., from the road surface, with which they are filled up.

Perhaps in this country the surface of the roads was more generally made of gravel or stone, grouted with lime or coarse mortar, and of a considerable thickness. Camden describes roads which in his time were of gravel, as in the case of Kind Street between Middlewich and Northwich, made of gravel brought from a distance. The Sussex Stane Street when it was cut through early in the century, in a situation where previous disturbance was unlikely, was found p13to consist of "four and a half feet thick of flints and other stones laid alternately and bedded in sand or fine gravel."6 The Roman road near Woodyates, between Old Sarum and Dorchester, appears to have been of gravel. The ridge on the chalk down is as much as six or seven feet high, and where it is away from a modern road appears to be in its original state. Where it has been cut through for a drove-way, a coating of tertiary gravel two and a half to three feet thick is exposed that must have been brought four or five miles, and any material for a paving was probably not to be got. Evidence of the same sort is to be seen for several miles further on.

The original structure of Watling Street may be seen near Kilsby, where no modern road has taken its place, and a brook on one side has cut into it. The ridge across the low ground close by is five feet high where it has not been dug away, but there is little or no ridge where the stream has made a section of the grass-grown road, and there is a thickness of about a yard of gravel with a layer of pebbles or cobbles at the base on a clayey subsoil.

The surface was certainly sometimes paved. Camden describes the Kentish Stone Street as being paved with stone.7 Stukeley found part of Ermingº Street north of Huntington still paved, and describes the paving of the Foss Road south of Ilchester as consisting of the flat quarry stone of the country, of a good breadth, laid edgeways, and so close that it p14looked like the side of a wall fallen down,8 and the road remained much in its original state up to the beginning of the last century. Near Radstock the paving of the Foss Road still remains on the top of a hill where it has been deserted. Stukeley saw a paving for several miles on the Foss near Willoughby-in‑the‑Wolds9 — some of which still remains near Six Hills; and he described Leeming Lane10 on Ermingº Street as paved with large coggles which were being taken away for building, and which are still to be seen in adjacent walls and buildings. The original paving of Watling Street has been discovered of late years in Rochester, Stroud, Dartford, and in London. Wade's causeway remains paved on the Yorkshire moors, where the stones have not been removed for building fence walls. Maiden Way still retains its paved surface on the Cumberland Fells, and part of Dean road remains paved.

The destruction of the Roman roads for the sake of their materials began long ago, as Camden, Stukeley, and others testify, but their wholesale obliteration took place when turnpike roads were constructed along them or near them, in the latter part of the eighteenth, and the beginning of the nineteenth century. It would appear that the more usual plan was to use the materials of the old embankment to make a wider road, the height being reduced to insignificance in the process, and in time still p15further reduced by wear. Thus, the Salisbury and Blandford road, where it takes the line of the Roman road near Woodyates, is not sensibly raised above the surface of the ground, while beyond, in both directions, where it has not been destroyed for the sake of the materials, the narrower embankment of the Roman road remains five or six feet high. Sometimes the Roman embankment was widened, generally on one side, and if it was reduced in height at all it was still left elevated considerably above the ground at the sides. This is well seen along the Ermine Street between Castleford and Aberford.

The so‑called milliaries afford very little information about the roads. With very few exceptions those that have been preserved only bear inscriptions to emperors, and it may be doubted if they can properly be called milestones. They consisted of a short column on a square base, or of a flat stone set upright, and their fate has been to be used for garden-rollers, posts, grottoes, gravestones, building, and the like purposes. The inscriptions are nearly always of too late a date to be evidence for that of the roads, and the original position of the stones, which might sometimes determine the course of a road, is often unknown.

Almost the only contemporary information of the Roman roads of this country is furnished by the Itinerary of Antonine (Itinerarium Antonini Augusti). This work is generally considered to date from the second or third century; it embraces the whole Roman Empire, giving routes from one place to another, and p16the total distances, with the names and distances apart of intermediate stations. It was first printed in 1512, and not long after a part of it was brought to notice with annotations by Talbot, and was afterwards printed by Hearne in Leland's Itinerary. Camden's many references to Antonine show that the Itinerary was well known to him. Roger Gale in 1709 published at length that part of the Itinerary relating to Britain, with a commentary, in which, taking Iter by Iter, he suggested localities for the stations, and proposed emendations in the distances in the Itinerary to suit those localities. Horsley in 173211 followed Gale in the text of the Itinerary as printed by him at length, and also in most of his alterations of the numerals, and added others of his own to suit his localities. Unfortunately in his essay, taking Iter by Iter, and localizing the stations, he prints the numerals as if the proposed emendations were of equal authority with the originals in the Itinerary. Thus he prints XIII. al. XVI. & XVIII., XX. al. XXX., XVIII. al. XIII., and so forth, and Gough, in his edition of Camden's Britannia, prints the Itinerary consecutively with Horsley's emendations in this manner. Reynolds, in a commentary published in 1799, with far less information or local knowledge than Gale or Horsley, makes much more free with the distances to suit his localities, and then prints his version of the Itinerary, "with the numerals in their corrected state, and in words to secure them from alteration." It seems to have been p17considered that the Itinerary had been so much corrupted by copyists that any emendation that fitted a writer's speculations was allowable.

In 1735 an edition of the Itinerary by Wesseling was published,12 giving the result of a comparison of various MSS., but without reference to localities of the stations, except that supposed sites are given in the notes. Another edition by Parthey and Pinder was published at Berlin in 1848. These authors state that out of a large number of codices they selected twenty for comparison. On comparing the text of the Iter Britanniarum thus arrived at with that of Wesseling, and with that used by Gale and Horsley, it is found that with some variations of spelling, the differences in the distances are few. Thus out of 176 distances in the Iter Britanniarum, there are 16 differences between the text of Parthey and Pinder and that of Wesseling, of which 10 are of one and two miles; 12 differences between Parthey and Pinder's text and that used by Gale and Horsley, of which seven are of one and two miles; and eight differences between Wesseling's text and that used by Gale and Horsley, of which four are of one and two miles. There are no doubt errors in all three texts, but there is no indication of such general corruption by copyists as to warrant the alteration of the numerals to suit mere guesses as to the sites of the stations.

The Iter Britanniarum is here given from Parthey and Pinder's edition. It is prefaced by a statement of the distance from Gessoriacum (Boulogne) to Portus p18Ritupis (Richborough), which was apparently the place to which the sea was generally crossed. At Gessoriacum an Iter of Antonine ends which begins at Lugdunum (Lyons) and communicated thence with Rome by a road over the Cottian Alps. The Iter Britanniarum contains fifteen Itinera, which are not numbered in the original, but they have been so long known as Iter I to Iter XV that they have been so numbered. The word "Item" which appears at the beginning of Iter II and each succeeding Iter is printed by Wesseling and others "Iter," and the "mpm" before the numbers is printed by Wesseling M.P. In the first entry of the Itinerary "milia plus minus" in Parthey and Pinder's edition is printed at length, with a note to the effect that "mpm" is so explained in several codices. There can be no doubt that the figures signify Roman miles (millia passuum), and they are conveniently indicated by the abbreviation M.P.

ITINERARIUM ANTONINI AUGUSTI.
ITER BRITANNIARUM.

A Gessoriaco de Galliis Ritupis in portu Britanniarum.
Stadia numero CCCCL.

(Iter I.)
A limite, id est a vallo, Praetorio usque mpm. clvi
A Bremenio Corstopitum xx
Vindomora viiii
Vinovia xviiii
Cataractoni xxii
Isurium xxiiii
Eburacum, leg. vi victrix, xvii
Derventione vii
Delgovicia xiii
Praetorio xxv (Total 156)
p19

(Iter II.)
Item a vallo ad portum Ritupis.
mpm. cccclxxxi sic.
A Blato Bulgio Castra exploratorum xii
Luguvallo xii
Voreda xiiii
Brovonacis xiii
Verteris xiii
Lavatris xiiii
Cataractone xvi
Isurium xxiiii
Eburacum xvii
Calcaria viiii
Camboduno xx
Mamucio xviii
Condate xviii
Deva, leg. xx vict, xx
Bovio x
Mediolano xx
Rutunio xii
Urioconio xi
Uxacona xi
Pennocrucio xii
Etoceto xii
Manduesedo xvi
Venonis xii
Bannaventa xvii
Lactodoro xii
Magiovinto xvii
Durocobrivis xii
Verolamio xii
Sulloniacis viiii
Londinio xii
Noviomago x
Vagniacis xviii
Durobrivis viiii
Durolevo xiii
Duroverno xii
Ad portum Ritupis xii (Total 501)
p20

(Iter III.)
Item a Londinio ad portum Dubris
mpm. lxvi sic
Durobrivis xxvii
Duroverno xxv
Ad portum Dubris xiiii (Total 66)

(Iter IV.)
Item a Londinio ad portum Lemanis
mpm. lxviii sic
Durobrivis xxvii
Duroverno xxv
Ad portum Lemanis xvi (Total 68)

(Iter V.)
Item a Londinio Luguvalio ad vallum
mpm. ccccxliii sic
Caesaromago xxviii
Colonia xxiiii
Villa Faustini xxxv
Icinos xviii
Camborico xxxv
Duroliponte xxv
Durobrivas xxxv
Causennis xxx
Lindo xxvi
Segeloci xiiii
Dano xxi
Legeolio xvi
Eburaco xxi
Isubrigantum xvii
Cataractone xxiiii
Levatris xviii
Verteris xiiii
Brocavo xx
Luguvalio xxii (Total 443)
p21

(Iter VI.)
Item a Londinio Lindo
mpm. clvi sic
Verolami xxi
Durocobrivis xii
Magiovinio xii
Lactodoro xvi
Isannavantia xii
Tripontio xii
Venonis viii
Ratas xii
Verometo xiii
Margiduno xii
Ad Pontem vii
Crococalana vii
Lindo xii (Total 156)

(Iter VII.)
Item a Regno Londinio
mpm. xcvi sic
Clausentum xx
Venta Belgarum x
Calleva Atrebatum xxii
Pontibus xxii
Londinio xxii (Total 96)

(Iter VIII.)
Item ab Eburaco Londinium
mpm. ccxxvii sic
Lagecio xxi
Dano xvi
Ageloco xxi
Lindo xiiii
Crococalana xiiii
Margiduno xiiii
Vernemeto xii
Ratis xii
Venonis xii
Bannavento xviii
Magiovinio xxviii
Durocobrivis xii
Verolamo xii
Londinio xxi (Total 227)
p22

(Iter IX.)
Item a Venta Icinorum Londinio
mpm. cxxviii sic
Sitomago xxxii
Combretonio xxii
Ad Ansam xv
Camoloduno vi
Canonio viiii
Caesaromago xii
Durolito xvi
Londinio xv (Total 127)

(Iter X.)
Item a Clanoventa Mediolano
mpm. cl sic
Galava xviii
Alone xii
Calacum xviiii
Bremetonaci xxvii
Coccio xx
Mancunio xvii
Condate xviii
Mediolano xviiii (Total 150)

(Iter XI.)
Item a Segontio Devam
mpm. lxxiiii sic
Conovio xxiiii
Varis xviii
Deva xxxii (Total 74)

(Iter XII.)
Item a Muriduno Viroconium
(Wesseling per Muriduno)
mpm. mpm clxxxvi sic
Vindomi xv
Venta Belgarum xxi
Brige xi
Sorvioduni viii
Vindogladia xii
Durnonovaria viii
Muridono xxxvi
p23 Isca Dumnoniorum xv
Leucaro xv
Nido xv
Bomio xv
Iscae leg. II Augusta xxvii
Burrio viiii
Gobannio xii
Magnis xxii
Bravonio xxiiii
Viroconio xxvii (Total 272)

(Iter XIII.)
Item ab Isca Calleva
mpm. cviiii sic
Burrio viiii
Blestio xi
Ariconio xi
Clevo xv
Durocornovio xiiii
Spinis xv
Calleva xv (Total 90)

(Iter XIV.)
Item alio itinere ab Isca Calleva
mpm. ciii sic
Venta Silurum viiii
Abone xiiii
Traiectus viiii
Aquis Solis vi
Verlucione xv
Cunetione xx
Spinis xv
Calleva xv (Total 103)

(Iter XV.)
Item a Calleva Isca Dumnoniorum
mpm. cxxxvi sic
Vindomi xv
Venta Belgarum xxi
Brige xi
p24 Sorbiodoni viii
Vindogladia xii
Durnonovaria viii
Muriduno xxxvi
Isca Dumnoniorum xv (Total 126)

The text of the Itinerary (Parthey and Pinder's edition) has been followed in the spelling of the names of the stations in preference to choosing between different forms that have been given to them. They are generally presented in the locative case, but sometimes in the nominative or accusative, and the name of the same place is in some instances differently spelt. Hence the proper form of the name is not always certain.

Another record of a somewhat similar nature is the Tabula Peutingeriana, a Roman Itinerary in the form of a rude map supposed to date from the third century, though the actual copy is not older than the thirteenth. Four places on the south coast of England are marked as Ysca Dumnoniorum, Lemanio, Dubris, and Ratupis, all of which are known; and two on the east coast, Ad ansam, and Ad taum, the former a station in Antonine's Iter IX, of uncertain position, and the latter unknown. From these, perhaps seaports, red lines are drawn inland marking roads, against which the names of 11 places and numerals are written. Most of the names have been identified with names in the Itinerary of Antonine, and the numerals seem to indicate the distances between the places. The map, though a mere sketch, throws some light on the relative positions of stations.

p25 Other ancient authorities for the names and positions of places are the geographer Ptolemy, the Notitia, and the Ravenna list of place names. Ptolemy gives the positions of places by degrees of latitude and longitude, but it is very unlikely that the positions of places in this country, with a few possible exceptions, were fixed otherwise than by distances obtained from Itineraries or from travellers. His degrees are five-sixths of true degrees in magnitude, and when allowance has been made for that, the relative positions of some well-known places in the south of England are tolerably correct; while others are so much out as to throw doubt upon the accuracy of some of the degrees as we have them — Verulamium, for instance, is placed more than four times as far from London as it ought to be. In the north the errors are more general and greater.

The Notitia13 is a list of civil and military officers with the names of their stations in the fifth century, methodically arranged.

The position of many places named in the list of the anonymous geographer of Ravenna is uncertain.

The spurious Itinerary attributed to Richard of Cirencester requires more notice.

This Itinerary, purporting to have been collected from fragments left by a Roman general, was published by Stukeley with an analysis of the treatise containing it (De Situ Britanniae) in 1757, from a copy furnished him from Copenhagen by Bertram, p26who afterwards printed it but never produced the orig.

Stukeley accepted this Itinerary as genuine, fortunately after the publication of his Itinerarium Curiosum, as did Whitaker (who gave a copy of it in his History of Manchester), R. Gough, General Roy, Sir Richard Colt Hoare, Bennet Bishop of Cloyne, and others, though doubts were expressed about it from the first.

In 1809 an English translation of the treatise by Hatcher was published, with the text of the Itinerary and a commentary upon it by the Rev. T. Leman, aided by Archdeacon Coxe, Sir R. C. Hoare, and Bennet Bishop of Cloyne, and with these sponsors the Itinerary of Richard of Cirencester was generally looked upon as authentic in spite of the doubts of the more critical. Dr. Guest in 185014 spoke of it as "Bertram's clever fabrication" and as a "patent forgery."

In 1869 the spuriousness of the whole treatise was completely demonstrated by Professor Mayer, in the preface to an authentic work of Richard of Cirencester,15 edited for the Master of the Rolls. Of the Itinerary attributed to Richard, he says that it is in the main from Antonine's Itinerary, the routes broken, combined, and reversed; nine-tenths of the names in Antonine re-appearing with additions from Ptolemy, the Notitia, the Ravenna list, the Tabula Peutingeriana, p27and from Camden's, Baxter's, and Bertram's imaginations.

Unfortunately the effects of a fabrication believed in by antiquarians for so many years have been lasting. An editor's preface to a genuine treatise is not the best means of making generally known the spuriousness of another work attributed to the same author, and the fictitious names, stations, and roads of the so‑called Itinerary of Richard continue to be given without a hint of the authority for them, which probably is often not known. Those responsible for the new Ordnance maps must presumably have been ignorant that it was proved more than 30 years ago to be a forgery, as they have engraved names of stations for which there is no other authority than that of those who, like Stukeley, Gough, Hoare, and others, took the names from the supposed Itinerary of Richard and found sites for them.

The first historical mention of a Roman road after Roman times is in the treaty of Wedmore, A.D. 878, in which Watling Street is named in defining the boundary between the dominions of Alfred and Guthrum. This was four and a half centuries after the departure of the Romans from Britain.16

In the Laws of Edward the Confessor17 four ways which are undoubtedly Roman roads are given by p28name as protected by the King's peace: Watling Strete, Fosse, Hikenild Strete, and Ermingº Strete, of which it is said that two run lengthways and two across the kingdom. In the Laws of William the Conqueror, which in the preamble are stated to be the same as those of Edward, only three ways are named, viz. "Watling Strete, and Ermingº Strete, and Fosse," Hikenild Strete being omitted.

These names are still borne by Roman roads, but there is some doubt as to what roads they properly apply, and the uncertainty dates from early times. Henry of Huntingdon, who wrote in the first part of the twelfth century, and Ranulphus Higden, Monk of Chester, who wrote about 1344, described the course of the Four Ways, and while agreeing generally about Watling Street and the Foss, they differ altogether about the other two. Higden, in his Polychronicon, repeats a fable of Geoffrey of Monmouth, that the four ways were made by an imaginary King Belinus, and he describes the course of them. He gives the course of Watling Street with a fulness which seems to result from a personal knowledge. According to him it begins at Dover, goes through Kent, crosses the Thames on the west of Westminster, and passes by St. Alban's, Dunstable, Stretford, Towcester, Weedon, south of Lilleburne, by Atherstone, and thence to Wrekin, crosses the Severn near Wroxeter, and goes by Stretton through the middle of Wales to Cardigan. As Dr. Guest observes, the King's peace could not have run into Cardiganshire in the time of Edward, but as far as Stretton, Higden describes accurately the p29course of a Roman road, which he extended without particulars through Wales to complete King Belinus's road from sea to sea. Henry of Huntingdon takes Watling Street to Chester, which Higden the Monk of Chester does not.

Higden at first appears to identify the Foss with one of Geoffrey's roads, supposed to have been made by Belinus, beginning at Totnes and ending in Caithness; but he adds that according to others it begins in Cornwall, going through Devon and Somerset, near Tetbury and Coventry to Leicester, through a great plain towards Newark, and ends at Lincoln.18 The latter description from Devon to Lincoln is generally correct.

Ermingº Street, according to Henry of Huntingdon, runs from south to north through Huntingdon, for which there are other ancient authorities. Camden19 says the Roman road through Royston to Huntingdon was called Ermingº Street in the Book of Ely, and that near Stilton the road was called Ermingº Street in an ancient Saxon charter.20 Higden, following another of King Belinus's roads in Geoffrey of Monmouth's account, says that Ermingº Street tends from west to east, beginning at St. David's, and goes to Southampton, that is, roughly parallel to Watling Street, and extending from sea to sea. There can be little doubt that he referred to the line of Roman roads through Gloucester, Cirencester, Cricklade, to near Wanborough, and then south by Marlborough to Winchester and p30Bitterne near Southampton, a route which in Gloucestershire and North Wiltshire still bears the name of the Erminº Way.

The fourth road, called in the Laws of Edward Hikenild Strete, is generally supposed to be connected with the country of the Iceni. Dr. Guest21 says that the earliest forms of the name in Anglo-Saxon charters are Icenhilde Weg or Icenilde Weg, that it is mentioned in an ancient parchment quoted by Dugdale probably not later than the fourteenth century as Icknild at Dunstable, and that Icenilde Weg is mentioned in a charter of the tenth century relating to estates between Blewbury and Weyland Smithy in the west of Berks, and that it is certain that in the tenth and eleventh centuries Icenilde Street was the name of the road leading on to Avebury,b1 and also that an old charter describes an estate near Andover as bounded by Ickeneld Way. The name not long since survived in descriptions of boundaries of estates on the Roman road from Winchester to Cunetio. The Rev. E. McClure gives Ican-geat as the name in a charter A.D. 779; Icenhylte as a boundary near Great Kemble, and Icenhilde Weg near Hardwaela (? Wherwell), Hants, in charters of A.D. 903; and Icenhilde weg near Wenbeargan (Wanborough) in a charter of the eleventh century. The name under various forms designates roads from the borders of Norfolk through Cambridgeshire, Bucks, Berks, Hants, and Wilts into Dorset.

p31 Higden, however, gives the name of the fourth road as Rikenild Strete, which, he says, tends from the south-west to the north, and begins at St. David's and continues to the mouth of the Tyne, passing Worcester, Droitwich, Birmingham, Lichfield, Derby, and Chesterfield. Dr. Guest suggests that the Monk of Chester in passing along Watling Street would cross Riknild Street, and was led to adopt it as Icknild Street; however that may be, Riknild Street, as Higden describes it, can now be followed from Worcester to near Chesterfield, and can be traced as far north as Aldborough, and it has borne that name, or Rigning, Reenald, or Rignall, from early times to the present.22

Confusion has arisen from an attempt to ignore Riknild Street as a road distinct from Iknild Street. Dr. Plot is a good deal responsible for this; he not only extended Icknild Street into Staffordshire, but he established the Iceni there as a ground for so doing.

These names are all applied to roads which seem to have little or no connexion with those to which they properly belong. Thus Watling Street is the name of a road running north from Kenchester in Herefordshire, of a road between Chester and Manchester, and of a road between Manchester and Blackburn. Leland calls the road crossing the river Wharfe at St. Helen's Ford, the road at Aldborough p32on Ermingº Street, and the road by Greta Bridge on the way to Carlisle, Watling Street, and says that "Ancaster standeth on Wateling." Watling Street is the name borne by the road which runs through Northumberland into Scotland, where it seems to be the usual designation of a Roman road. The names Foss and Ermingº Street are also applied to roads having no connexion with the roads properly so called, and the wide distribution of Icknild Street under various forms has been noticed.

Akeman Street, Portway, Peddars Way, Maiden Way, Sarn Helen, are old names of Roman roads, but Latin names, such as Julia Strata or Via Julia, Via Devana, Via Badonica, are not Roman and generally modern.

The straightness of Roman roads is the characteristic which strikes ordinary observers, and has been, perhaps, too much insisted upon, while the skill and the comprehensive grasp of the feature of the country displayed in laying them out has received too little notice. In an open country like much of the south of England, the general course of the Roman roads is often wonderfully direct, perhaps not deviating more than a quarter or half-a‑mile from an absolutely straight line in 20 or 30 miles. But even here between the extreme points there are many pieces of straight road not quite in the same line, and where a difficulty, such as an unnecessary crossing of a river, or a steep hill which need not be passed over, could be avoided by leaving the straight line, it was generally done. Where steep-sided p33valleys had to be crossed the road winds down and up, and resumes the straight line on the other side. In a broken country, or along valleys, a winding course to suit the ground was usually followed, and in a hilly country straightness is sometimes not a characteristic at all. Considerations of a military nature sometimes caused difficulties to be faced which might have been avoided, and it is plain that high ground was generally preferred.

The directness and straightness of Roman roads seems to be largely a matter of convenience in setting them out. In many cases the general course may have been laid out from one end, perhaps with the help of a smoke signal, as the road from Lincoln to the Humber, the road from Notting Hill to Staines, and the 19 miles of Watling Street south-east of Chatham Hill. But there can be no doubt that the Roman engineers made use of a method well known to surveyors for laying out a straight line between extreme points not visible from each other, from two or more intermediate points from which the extreme points are visible. By shifting the intermediate points alternately all are brought to lie in a straight line. The general course of many roads must have been thus laid out.

Between the extreme points there are many straight pieces not quite in the same line, generally pointing to some landmark which can often be identified, either on the ground, or with the help of the Ordnance map with levels and contours.

Changes of direction from one straight line to p34another, when the change is not at a station or some other point through which the road had to pass, almost always occur at points on high ground. There are several instances where a barrow or tumulus was the landmark, the road passing round it on nearing it. Silburyb2 affords one example, and Brinklow, on the Foss, another.

The straightness is often less apparent in travelling along a Roman road than on a map. When the roads were enclosed, of course long after they were made, the usual width between the fences appears to have been about 20 yards, or even more, and where that width has been preserved the present road, perhaps not more than 12 or 15 feet wide, often winds from fence to fence. Hedges and trees overgrowing the sides, and other encroachments on the width are frequent. Parts have been taken in to adjacent fields, or long strips have been fenced off as separate enclosures on which houses have often been built. The original width between the fences has thus often been reduced to one-half or even one-third, sometimes on one side of the road and sometimes on the other; and especially where trees and hedgerows hinder the view of any length of road the straightness is far from being obvious. A way in which the original straightness has been lost is shown on heaths and commons where the ridge remains, and a cart-track runs sometimes on the ridge, and sometimes alongside it on one side or the other, as the best way along the neglected road has been followed.

Certain place-names constantly recur on or near p35Roman roads. The more numerous are those connected with Street, such as Old Street, High Street, Green Street, Stretton, Stratton, Stretford, Stratford, etc. Others refer to the elevation above the surface, as the Ridge, Roman Ridge, Ridgeway, Long Causeway, Devil's Causeway, High Dyke, Atchling Dyke. Others to the paving or solid construction, as Stone Street, Stane Street, Stanegate, Stangate, Staney Street, Stoney Stratford, Stanford, and in Wales Sarn. "Street", however, must not always be taken as evidence of a Roman road, places so called having originated in modern times where houses have sprung up along roads. In Wales "Heol" and "Ffordd" take the place of Street in such names as Hên heol (old Street), "Heol lâs" and "Ffordd lâs" (green road), Hênffordd (old road).

Chester, Cester, Caster, Castor, Caistor, alone or in composition, refer of course to camps often on or near Roman roads. In the north, Birrens, Burwens, Burrens, Borrans, Borrowens are names given to the sites of Roman camps.

"Cold Harbour" is a name which in the south of England is found constantly accompanying Roman roads, the meaning of which has been a moot point. In the north, "Windy Arbour" takes its place, which seems fatal to more than one suggested derivation, and to favour the more natural explanation that a place of shelter is meant, of Roman or later times. Caldecot, a name of similar meaning, is nearly always found near the course of a Roman road.

"Toot" is claimed as a name connected with p36Roman roads, and it is so, but it is not confined to them. The word is said on good authority to signify a place of look-out, and though some Toots, like that of Tothill Fields, Westminster, the Toot of Toot Baldon, or Toat Hill in Sussex, may have looked out along Roman roads, there are many others with no such connexion.

In studying the courses of the Roman roads of England, and the manner in which they were laid out, observation on the ground is greatly aided by a careful study of the Ordnance maps both of the old and the new survey. In these days of cheap and accurate maps, the imperfection of those at the disposal of earlier writers is apt to be forgotten. To go no further back than the eighteenth century, Stukeley appears to have had no map, and to have guessed his distances as he travelled, and he falls into mistakes in consequence. Thus in passing over the Foss Way from Lincoln to Leicester, by wrongly estimating his distances, he brings Margidunum to Willoughby, some ten miles too far south, and he says he "must with the Itinerary make an excursion to take in Vernometum," which he does by going to Borough, and earthwork seven miles away from the Foss road, with no sign of a Roman road to it. In making Borough Vernometum he, however, followed Camden. He goes entirely astray between Silchester and Salisbury in this 7th Iter.

Horsley (1732) was evidently without a map from which he could ascertain distances. He relied on Ogilby's survey of the principal roads, originally p37published in 1675, and when that did not serve he sometimes trusted to the landlords of inns or others he met with. It is not surprising that his distances are often wrong, and his conclusions from them sometimes erroneous. He measures by a "computed" English mile, and finds that wherever he is sure of his distances the proportion of Itinerary miles to English computed miles is generally as four to three; and he gives a table of distances between Lincoln and Cambridge, and between Catterick and Carlisle in proof. But his computed miles are far longer than a statute mile. Thus the distance from Lincoln to Littleborough, which is 14 statute miles, he makes 16 computed miles, and from Littleborough to Doncaster, which is 21½ statute miles, he makes 16 computed miles, and so on throughout, and if statute miles as measured on the map be substituted for the computed miles in his table, it will be found that Itinerary miles and English statute miles are about the same. According to the usual authorities, the Roman M.P. would be about eleven-twelfths of an English statute mile, but absolute accuracy is not to be expected in Itinerary distances, which were probably measured by pacing. There is sometimes a difference of a mile or two in the distance between the same stations in one Iter and another.

Modern maps not only give correct distances, but throw valuable light on other things. It is well known that the ridges of Roman roads were often made the boundary between parishes and townships; and boundaries follow roads which are certainly Roman for many miles together. On Watling Street, south of p38London, from Kidbrook over Shooter's Hill, and through Dartford, parish boundaries run along seven and a half out of 12 miles, and on the north of London parish boundaries follow Watling Street along the Edgware Road continuously for five miles, from Oxford Street to the river Brent, and again for two miles after an interval of one and a half miles, or for seven out of eight and a half miles. Watling Street marks the north-east boundary of Warwickshire for 22 miles continuously, and between Bath and Cirencester parish boundaries follow the Foss road almost continuously for another 22 mils. Parish boundaries run along the Roman road from the north of Lincoln to the Humber for 14½ miles without a break, and almost continuously along Ermingº Street, south of Lincoln, for 18 miles, and many other examples might be given of undoubted Roman roads which are followed by parish boundaries. A boundary running straight along a road, track, or hedgerow, or across country, often indicates the course of a Roman road when all of the trace has disappeared.

The form of the ground as shown by contour lines and levels on the modern maps often gives suggestive information as to the probable way in which the roads were laid out, where, as is often the case, modern enclosures, planting, or building prevent access to or a look-out from prominent points to which the course of roads appears to be directed.

The older Ordnance maps dating from early in the last century afford a record of ridges of Roman roads which have since disappeared, and generally seem to p39be more trustworthy in such matters than the new survey, the maps of which mark Roman roads for which there is little or no evidence or authority.

In describing the courses of the Roman roads it will be best to follow as far as possible those which have generally recognized names, grouping with them such other roads as may be convenient. Thus with Watling Street will be described the three roads which meet at Canterbury, and the Sussex Stane Street; and the road will be followed from Wroxeter into Herefordshire, to Chester and Carnarvon, and to Manchester, Lancashire, etc. In the same way Ermingº Street will be followed into Scotland, though bearing the name of Watling Street in Northumberland, and the roads connected with it in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Durham, and Northumberland will be grouped with it. One very important group of roads, from London to Silchester and the west, has no authentic name of a road by which to distinguish it.

It will also be convenient to follow, in the first place, a road about the course of which there is no doubt, and which is in all respects characteristic. Watling Street, by which Britain was entered, fulfils these conditions, and it does not appear that confusion will arise from beginning with it, a road passing through the middle of England. Ermingº Street will be taken next, then the roads to the east of it and Icknild Street, then the Foss and Ryknild Street, and then the road from London to Silchester, branching to Southampton, to Salisbury, Dorchester, and Exeter, and to Speen, Bath, Gloucester, and South Wales. p40The Roman roads in connexion with these main lines will be followed up, but it will be impossible to notice all that are known, and the continual discovery by chance of remains of Roman roads shows how much remains unknown, which a judicious use of the spade might reveal.


The Author's Notes:

1 Histoire des Grands Chemins de l'Empire Romain, 1622.

2 De Architectura, lib. VII cap. I.

3 Silvarum, lib. IV.III.

Hic primus labor inchoare sulcos,

Et rescindere limites; et alto

Egestu penitus cavare terras,

Mox haustas aliter replere fossas,

Et summo gremium parare dorso;

Ne nutent sola, ne maligna sedes,

Et pressis dubium cubile saxis.

Tunc umbonibus hinc et hinc coactis,

Et crebris iter alligare gomphis.

An English translation may be found at Elfinspell (beginning with "The first task was to prepare the furrow").

4 I quattro libri dell' Architectura, lib. III cap. III.

5 Traité de la construction des Chemins, p7, 1721.

6 Manning's History of Surrey, vol. III p. xiv.

7 Britannia, vol. I p321.

8 Itinerarium Curiosum, p155.

9 ibid., p106.

10 Iter Boreale, p72.

11 Britannia Romana.

12 Antonini Augusti Itinerarium. Amsterdam, 1735.

13 Notitia utraque dignitatum cum orientis tum occidentis ultra Arcadii Honoriique tempora.

14 Archaeological Journal, vol. VIII.

15 Speculum Historiale de Gestis Regum Angliae, pp447‑1066.

16 Dr. Guest, Archaeological Journal, vol. XIV, says that the Foss is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon Charters as early as the eighth century, and the Rev. Edmund McClure cites charters in which the Foss is a boundary near Baltonborough, Somerset, in 744; near Evenlode A.D. 779; and near Malmesbury A.D. 931.

17 Leges Edwardi Regis, David Wilkin, p190.

18 Polychronicon.

19 Britannia, II.211.

20 ibid., II. 249.

21 'The Four Roman Ways.' Archaeological Journal, vol. XIV p99.

22 In three of the four MSS. of Higden, collated and printed under the authority of the Master of the Rolls, the name is given Rikenilde, Rikenyldes, and in the fourth, which is said to be one of the earliest, Hikenil Street. Trevisa's English translation (1387) calls it Rykeneldes Strete.


Thayer's Notes:

a They remain convenient general educational terms; but to see what Prof. Codrington was reacting against, see the article Viae in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, which in his time was the most commonly used work of its type in the English-speaking world.

b1 b2 For Avebury and Silbury, see "Avebury, Stonehenge, and Silbury Hill" in Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales, Their Legendary Lore and Popular History, by John Timbs (1870, as revised by Alexander Gunn † 1901). In addition to pertinent details as were then known about both mounds, the chapter is interesting for reporting — pp33‑34 — the curious argument, among other commoner ones, made by Rickman (1839) that they could not antedate the Romans since they are distant one Roman mile from the Roman roads that pass by them: which appears to be flatly contradicted by Codrington in chapter 10 (q.v.).

Page updated: 6 Apr 09