Thursday, October 6, 2011

Roman Trip-Tiks

It seems that in Britain they are trying to determine if a path was built over an ancient Roman road:

A ground-breaking archaeological search for an ancient Roman road starts in Purbeck next week.

Experts will excavate part of the straight footpath running through Sandford Heath, known locally as the Roman Road.

Historians hope this dig will, once and for all, answer whether the thoroughfare visible today was constructed over an ancient road built during Dorset’s Roman occupation.


Historians believe such a road could have been built by the Roman army during the conquest of Dorset, not long after the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43.

If a road existed, it probably connected a known Roman fort near Wimborne to a possible fort at Wareham, say experts.

Local archaeologist Lilian Ladle will be leading a number of volunteers on the two-week dig, starting next Monday.
Now that sounds like fun.  I need to find a way to volunteer for one of these things.

It does remind me of a curiosity about Roman mapping.  I read Exploratio: Military and Political Intelligence in the Roman World from the Second Punic War to the Battle of Adrianople, by N.J.E. Austin (himself an author of an influential article on the Battle of Adrianople) and N.B. Rankov.  Narrowly focused and somewhat confusing inasmuch as its thematic approach results in a rather scattershot approach chronologically, but a very good and very informative read that I highly recommend. 

In any event, they had a section covering Roman maps.  To give battle, the Romans (like any military) had to be familiar with the territory so they could know where to deploy for battle, the time it would take to get there, where water and food supplies were, etc.  They had no GPS or Google Earth (that we know of) back then, so they had to map it themselves using their regional scouts (exploratores), army scouts (prosecutores), spies (speculatores) and other means.

That was military-specific for certain situations.  Otherwise, most Roman maps, especialy those for areas inside the Empire, were based on roads.  Entirely.  Or, more accurately, an individual road.

These "maps" were no more than strips with a particular road on them, showing waypoints and distances.  Sometimes, the "map" would be nothing more than a list of these waypoints and distances, with no representation of the physical features of the road and its environment, and in such case would be called an "itinerary."

To me, these sound a lot like the "Trip-Tiks" put out by the American Automobile Association, with individual pages showing a particular stretch of road and waypoints on it.

Very efficient, very useful.  So long as you were staying on the road.

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