The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain
Pen and Sword, £19.99
The title of this book is rather modest about its true scope. While this volume has plenty of interest to say about Roman roads, at its heart this is an alternative history of Britain. Laying out what could be called a ‘road determinism’ agenda, Mike Bishop, a renowned Roman military specialist, casts the highways and byways of Britain as a driving force of our history. In doing so, he resists labelling Roman roads as revolutionary alien impositions by a foreign power. Instead, Mike emphasises the influence that routes stretching far into prehistory exerted on their Roman successors. In turn, Roman roads paved the way for the Medieval and post-Medieval network. Highlighting such continuity rebuffs the fashionable view of Britain’s Roman interlude as a historical cul-de-sac.
Mike’s text ranges widely, considering the implications of milestones, what roads were for, how they evolved, and the events that they influenced. Perhaps pottery evidence from near Piercebridge could have been factored into discussion of Dere Street’s date, but all told this lively and thought-provoking read instills a new appreciation of the wheels of history.
Review by Matthew Symonds