The Romans are thought of as the great road-makers of Europe. However, the Romans were not the first people to construct these; indeed, archaeological evidence shows that the native British population (known generally as the Celts but should be referred to as Late Iron Age people) had themselves constructed their own roads.
These native roads were in no way as sophisticated as the Romans but it clearly shows that the Romans merely took the idea further along. These native roads were more like pathways than what we class as roads and the Romans continued their development to suit their needs.
When Britain became part of the Roman Empire it set about ‘civilizing’ this barbaric land which was rich in natural resources. Forums, temples, theatres etc were constructed and towns built up. Roads were important as it allowed for easier shipping and trade throughout the Empire.
The Fosse Way is the ancient Roman road that links the southwest of Britain to the rest of the province, which still bears its original Latin name. It was the most important road in Britain, serving not only trade, but military services as well.
We have some sources that describe how Roman roads were constructed. Stratius states that “The first task here is to trace furrows, ripping up the maze of paths, and then excavate a deep trench in the ground. The second comprises refilling the trench with other material to make a foundation for the road build-up. The ground must not give way nor must bedrock or base be at all unreliable when the paving stones are trodden. Next the road metalling is held in place on both sides by kerbing and numerous wedges. How numerous the squads working together! Some are cutting down woodland and clearing the higher ground, others are using tools to smooth outcrops of rock and plane great beams. There are those binding stones and consolidating the material with burnt lime and volcanic tufa. Others again are working hard to dry up hollows that keep filling with water or are diverting the smaller streams”.
Archaeologists have discovered a new Roman road in Britain in recent years known as the ‘North Cheshire Ridge’ road. It runs from “Newhouse Farm, Hatton (National Grid reference – 60I822) roughly along the line of the Bs3s6 road ENE to its abrupt bend at 645844, and thence along the line of the track past Bradley Hall (658846) to Redbank Bridge on the Aso road (670849). Near here it turns in an ESE direction and closely follows the Aso road to Hulme Barns Farm (722827)”. The road is over 12km and there were drainage ditches along each side of the road structures. These structures vary in size but most are some 2 m wide and 60 cm deep. There is evidence that this ancient Roman road was used well into the medieval period.
Dating of this road is given to around 70 – 80 CE, before Agricola marched northwards into Scotland. Despite the fact that scholars are debating over the destination of this road, it seems apparent that it provided a very practical use for later on in the Roman period. This road could have been a way for exporting products from the Romano-British industrial complex at Wilderspool, to Chester via King Street (which it crosses at 620827) or to Manchester via King Street.
Roads were extremely important to the Roman Empire. They were used to transport the rich natural resources from all over the Empire to Rome and were the routes on which the Roman army travelled. What is amazing about the Roman roads in Britain is that today, nearly 2,000 years later on, the British people still follow these ancient routes to travel all around the country.
Jermy, Kenneth E. (1993) Probable Roman Road in Saighton, near Chester, Britannia, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.
Rodgers, Ian (1996) The Conquest of Britain and the Development of the Roman Road System in the North-West, Britannia, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies.