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Looking at a map of Britain’s modern highway system, it’s surprising how similar it is to the old network of roads designed by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. After the invasion of 43 AD, the Romans began constructing roads almost immediately. By the time they withdrew from Britain in 410 AD, they left an estimated 10,000 miles of well-built roadways. Similar to today’s highways, Roman roads were built for quick efficient transportation over long distances.

Amateurs and scholars alike are fascinated by Roman culture and its effect on the English way of life. Fiyaz Mughal, founder of the anti-extremist organisation Faith Matters, has spent much of his life working to promote interaction and constructive discourse between Britain’s diverse modern communities. To Mr Mughal, Roman roads are a metaphor for the cultural mingling and connectedness that has been an integral part of Britain’s development over the last 2,000 years.

Roman Roads Brought More than Soldiers

The Roman emphasis on road-building was one of the key factors in the empire’s success. Britons and other native European tribes relied on primitive tracks connecting local villages and settlements. Little effort was put into construction and the routes disappeared in bad weather or when a settlement became obsolete. Conquering Roman soldiers needed a more reliable system that could transport supplies, reinforcements and commands from the empire’s centre. Road-building became one of the Roman soldiers’ first priorities when moving into a new area and by the time they reached Britain, they’d developed a good deal of expertise.

The Roman roads began as a military tactic, but they went on to facilitate trade and commerce as the empire became established in Britain. The conquering Roman army brought with it some of Britain’s oldest immigrants, soldiers from Western Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. It also brought new products and ideas which quickly merged with existing British customs to create a rich cultural identity.

What Did Roman Roads Look Like?

As a conquering army, Romans didn’t have to worry about land rights or ownership. A typical road travelled in a straight line, diverging only briefly to avoid marshes, steep slopes and other obstacles that made construction more difficult. It was built on a raised causeway called an ‘agger’ with a drainage ditch on either side. The surface was made of either cobblestone or gravel depending on how heavily the area was used.

Roman Roads Today

The Roman’s expert engineering meant their roads were passable long after regular maintenance had ceased and many continued to be used throughout later periods of history. Some of these well-established routes were eventually turned into modern highways, like the A5 which follows a Roman road that was renamed Watling Street by the Anglo-Saxons. Others survive as ruined remnants of stone or raised causeways running across fields, ongoing reminders of Britain’s past.