REVIEW: The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain

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Roman-roadsThe Secret History  of the Roman  Roads of Britain
M.C. Bishop
Pen and Sword, £19.99
ISBN 978-1848846159

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

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