The Road: A Story of Romans and Ways to the Past by Christopher Hadley - review by Bijan Omrani

Bijan Omrani

When in Essex

The Road: A Story of Romans and Ways to the Past

By

William Collins 320pp £20
 

It was the sight of the ruins of the Capitol and the Temple of Jupiter that led Edward Gibbon to become obsessed with the grandeur of Rome. However, one need not venture so far to share in such contemplations. For me, it is easier to walk a couple of miles from my home and ponder the A358 outside Axminster, built on top of the southernmost stretch of the Fosse Way, to be struck by the power of ancient Rome.

One may marvel at the vast Roman edifices that still stand – the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Pont du Gard – but arguably the Roman road network is a greater wonder still. Distance has always been mankind’s worst enemy, as the French historian Fernand Braudel once commented, and before the modern age none were able to overcome it as comprehensively as the Romans. A network of tens of thousands of miles of sturdily built roads, furnished with way stations and mileposts, brought every extremity of the vast Roman Empire within reach. ‘The Roman roads ran absolutely straight in all directions and all led to Rome,’ quipped the writers of 1066 and All That.

Christopher Hadley describes a journey in search of a particular Roman road, seeking to discover both its physical remains and its complex legacy, even where its traces are not immediately obvious. He chooses to focus not on any of the well-known roads, such as the Fosse Way or

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