Designing Roman Roads Author(s): Hugh E. H. Davies Source: Britannia, Vol. 29 (1998), pp.

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and has led to the putting forward of many exotic theories to explain how the roads were designed and laid out. Fulford and Dr R.'. The apparent regularity of the system has given rise to several suggestions that the Romans imposed a strategic boundary plan on Britain. rectangular road alignments at Ripe in Sussex and Cliffe in Kent (Dilke 1971. by covering large parts of the country with regularly-shapedgeometric patterns of roads. 18).The direction of due 4 south could be found accurately by marking the position of the shadow of an upright gnomon during the morning. 94-5).D. The references in The Odyssey to the navigation skills of the mythical Phaecians have suggested to some that Homer was familiar with the magnetic compass. 84. with sides equal to one Roman mile 3 I7. Despite their ingenuity. Lawrence. 13). 17.Designing Roman Roads By HUGH E. 7. but there is evidence that such a device was not even available to Norse navigators in the thirteenth century (E. and bisecting the angle between the two positions (Waugh 1973. Margary. INTRODUCTION parts of the road design process. 2 Margary 1973. This paper shows that available knowledge and equipment were quite adequate to allow the Romans to design their roads with the same level of careful planning as they demonstrated in other fields of technical endeavour. 81). alternative method of finding the north-south direction. and is in direct contradiction to a fundamental assumption made by the acknowledged master of the subject.4 However. marking it again when it reached the same length in the afternoon. Hugh Davies is a retired Transport Scientist. it certainly seems unlikely that it was familiar to the Romans. for which Fosse Way acts as a principal axis. .R. a square grid with sides of about 12 miles (19 km). with other roads running parallel or perpendicular to it (Jones and Mattingly 1994. if less convenient. Taylor 1971. 191-5).H. (Ulrix 1963).it should be rememberedthat no maps or compasses were available to them. II.G. DAVIES I. and remark on the accuracy with which long straight lengths of road were laid out. . these theories are highly impractical. After praising the achievements of the Roman road builders he writes: '. . THE ROMANROAD NETWORK The and centralthesisof thispaperis thatthe Romansusedlandsurveys mapsas integral Many writers have acknowledged the skill shown by the Romans in planning and constructing their roads. 5 See for example: Margary I971. I. 2 . the supposed absence of maps is more critical.' This is not the conventional view.5 They praise the ability of the designers to link distant places with direct routes. Chevalier 1976. . Codrington 1905. 214) for a description of the portable sundial as used by the agrimensores. See Dilke ( I987a.2 As far as the magnetic compass is concerned.3 but the sun-dial offered a reliable. and in Gaul a network of equilateral triangles. but to address the problem of how the network 1 The work described in this paper is based on current research for a PhD at the University of Reading.G. yet still fail to explain how the Roman engineers solved the problems they faced. 6 Examples include: a large-scale grid of roads.6 It is not the purpose of this paper to debate the question of whether any regular pattern exists. based on daily travel distances (Bagshawe 1994. under the supervision of Professor M.

33.12 Markers would be placed on these ridges. the business of linking them directly is by no means straightforward. it is difficult to decide which came first. for example C. between London and Chichester. However. However. undoubtedly."' Codrington and Chevalier postulate essentially the same approach. 84. Rackham 1994. 67). part of the appeal comes from the remarkable accuracy with which the section from London Bridge to Ewell appears to be aligned on the East Gate of Chichester (see FIG. III. with intermediate marks adjusted between. Grant 1922. for sighting marks could be quickly aligned from one high point to another. GETTINGTHE ROAD STRAIGHT Margary expresses the general view of how the Romans set about their road planning. Here. even if intermediate points are hidden by ridges. the straightforwardevidence suggests that the Romans were capable of high quality planning. Three books have been devoted entirely to the road. 12 C. it is noteworthy that Roman roads nearly always make important turns upon high ground at points from which the sighting could be conveniently done'. 18. even if high points conveniently present themselves. . . probably by the use of moveable beacons shifted alternately to right and left until all were brought into line. and it has been the subject of numerous journal articles . Taylor 1979 and Johnston 1979. Taylor goes into more detail about how the Romans might have exploited high points.Margary cites 22 (Margary 1973. Though the designers took the alignment away from the direct line after passing Ewell. He notes that even this would not explain how road lengths could be laid out in which the ends are not inter-visible. 7 8 .7 Similar accuracy is often claimed for the alignment of Stane Street. but for straight alignments running over ten or fifteen miles he suggests the use of '. Chevalier 1976. In this case. When the two teams met up. 59-60. they would assess how far from a straight line the two sections were. and Winbolt 1936. FIG. Authors of other books have remarked on it. the balance of probability must favour the former: finding a route through the South Downs is quite sufficienta reason for the road to be placed where it is.I). fires in baskets.9 The following section shows how the assumption that Roman road designers did not have maps available has led to progressively more complex theories to explain their achievements. probably at night'. For example. C. DAVIES was designed on the ground. the road or the place. on the line of Watling Street between Towcester and Stony Stratford. 2 shows his proposal for the design of just such a straight length. The road has long been a popular subject for studys and. designing straight alignments approximately in the right direction. 10 Margary 1973. Belloc 1913. Rackham notes that: 'Whoever set out the Fosse Way evidently knew in which direction Lincoln lay from Exeter to within a fraction of a degree'. 119. this decision appears to have been made for perfectly understandable reasons of topography.H. He claims that marker poles would be adequate for short lengths." This begs the question of how to select the particular pieces of high ground which lie between the intended origin and destination of the road. 11 Codrington 1905. whereupon other markers would be aligned in the intervening valleys. and manoeuvred until they were in line. 'The real purpose of the straight alignments was merely for convenience in setting out the course of the road. 9 It can be argued that the diversion is needed in order to pass through Alfoldean and Hardham. in setting out a road when the two ends of an alignment are visible from each other. Taylor 1979.2 HUGH E. and would then progressively adjust each half until they lined up. Taylor suggests that teams of surveyors set out simultaneously from the two ends. rather than uncertainty about the required overall direction. as with most examples of intermediate destinations on Roman roads. Even if we resist the temptation to seek geometric patterns.

_ R. . . Plan of Stane Street. aligned closely on the East Gate at Chichester (after Johnston 1979). showing the section from London (Old London Bridge) to Ewell. .Gate 5 miles 20 FIG.Mole / Alfoidean R..survey lines o + Old London Bridge posting station terminal point Merton .Downs.DESIGNING ROMAN ROADS 3 - actual course oftStaneStreet .Aun .Arun S. I.Wandle I Ewell Dorkk -Dorkir?i Hill"(9cXY) Warren Brockham (700 ) R.(7001) Arun 0 Chichester E.+R R.

while fires would be lit at London and Chichester. there are a number of reasons why they are fundamentally implausible. the operation of isolated teams of surveyors. Manoeuvring the equipment and communicating with other teams in the field would both pose severe difficulties. maybe at night.13 who has proposed that the key surveying instrumentis the groma. may in fact take it further from the overall straight route. an existing line. SGHTINGNVGOO~ •SIGHTING t• 0 *% 0 0 s FIG. Hargreaves has refined the successive approximation approach and applied it to Stane Street. between London and Chichester. using practical trials with a replica device. Fourthly. providing suitable river crossings and the numerous other engineering considerations which may need to influence the line of the road.. Despite the ingenuity of these methods. providing perhaps the first detailed account of how the accurate alignment could have been achieved. DAVIES Towcester . 61). the procedure may never reach a conclusion. a straight line course between the termini is achieved. seems highly impractical. out in unfamiliar and possibly hostile territory. or is at right angles to. in which a rough solution is refined by trial-and-error. Stony Stratford 00 . operating simultaneously at night.2. attempting to line up movable fire beacons. because any given change of position. Each would be equipped with a groma and a movable fire beacon. . First. the methods do not explain how a road as long as the Fosse Way could have been planned: it is not 13 Hargreaves 1990. He has shown that acceptable accuracy could be achieved even at night. Thirdly.until sufficient accuracy is achieved. a device for establishing a survey line which is a continuation of.m. By successively sighting the fires at adjacent locations and then changing their own position so as to get more nearly into line. Its use by Roman surveyors is reasonably well established and Hargreaves has demonstrated. which may seem to straighten the line in the immediate vicinity of a particular surveyor. that it is indeed capable of giving accurate results. Perhaps the most sophisticated example of this approach has been developed by Hargreaves. the methods seem to ignore the practical difficulties of dealing with over-steep gradients. All these methods are examples of successive approximation. Diagram showing a method of laying out a long straight length of Roman road when the ends are not intervisible (after Taylor 1979. He envisages up to four separate teams. Secondly.H.4 HUGH E. using a torch to illuminate the groma itself.

Maps of appropriate scale are used at each stage. so that the Roman engineers would have required accurate information about the area through which they planned to build. with separate roles for surveyors and engineers. 69. under pressure to build roads as quickly as possible in support of the occupation of Britain. Within this region. finding suitable crossing-points for rivers. and maps would be essential for displaying the results. The likely answer is that the straight sections are not part of the planning process at all. as having been chosen. Also. that it is fair to ask: 'Why bother?'. would have been obtained by surveying and map-making. The steps of the planning process used by today's highway engineers are described by O'Flaherty. As direct a route as possible needs to be planned linking the selected endpoints and any intermediate destinations. A conquering force would have had few worries about the opposition of land-owners. Probably the Roman engineers. Johnston I979. would suggest that perhaps 29 km of width would have been needed for Stane Street. being about a third as wide as it is long. so that the road alignment could then be designed to follow this bearing as closely as possible. THE PROBLEM OF ROAD DESIGN There are many similarities between the problems faced by the modern road designer and his Roman counterpart. until a number of possible road alignments are available for closer study. Using O'Flaherty's figure of a planning region having a width of one third its length. inside which roads could be designed. What these duties are likely to have been is discussed below. 4. and the use of land. little has changed in the designer's task. but the outcome of it.DESIGNING ROMAN ROADS 5 credible that routes of hundreds of kilometres could be derived from successive adjustment of local sections. in most respects.15 The process starts by identifying the boundary of a region between the endpoints. while also taking account of local geographical features. . as various options are identified and compared. Roman design constraints for maximum gradient were far less stringent than they are for modern motor roads. so characteristic of Roman roads. there are many clues as to how they could have been produced. would not have evaluated as many alternatives as is common today. not found. the whole business seems so complicated. The process should be seen as supportive of. and locating supplies of suitable material to form the structure of the road. Though no maps of the type being proposed have been found. There are of course some differences. But modern practice demonstrates that finding a satisfactory route is not straightforward. Good survey techniques would have been needed to gather information. soil types. though he does not go into detail about how either group would have gone about their duties. all being studied in progressively more detail. but distinct from. The search gradually narrows. IV. with such items as ground levels. We should begin by asking not how the Romans built such straight lengths of road but why? Far from being the convenient way of linking high points. water-courses. It can be seen therefore that it is not possible for the modern highway engineer to select the best route for a road without examining many alternatives. reducing the need for cuttings or tunnels. The requiredinformation on bearing. However. particularly from large areas like this. tedious and even dangerous. We should see these straight sections. A section of road would have been designed as a straight line only when it was convenient to do so. Finally a preferredline is chosen and its position on the ground defined precisely. based on 14 15 O'Flaherty 1993. various corridors are identified. while avoiding steep or marshy ground. Johnstonl4 has recognized this distinction. along with other geographical data. that of road design. It seems inescapable that the required bearing of a proposed road was known in advance to the engineers.

together with the length of the side between them. crucially. the easting and northing of all the triangulation points were calculated with reference to the Greenwich Meridian.3. a series of prominent points. St Ann's Hill. Within each triangle. so it was preferred to observe by day. V. These formed a network of what were called the primary triangulation points." From the beginning of the survey. accurate measurements depended on the development of the Ramsden Theodolite for taking angular measurements. Finally. visible from each end of the base line. This gave a triangle. 17 Seymour 1980. the length of the other two sides could now be calculated. still under Roy's control. was sighted and the angles carefully measured. since the motivation was the need for improved maps to support the design of military roads. There is a parallel with the earlier discussion on road planning: if the Ordnance Survey found it difficult to co-ordinate the showing of lights at night on fixed high points. Sighting was sometimes carried out at night using lamps or flares. and the first base-line was carefully laid out and measured across about 5 miles (8 km) of Hounslow Heath. battles with the Scots had demonstrated that improved roads needed to be planned. was identified so that each could be sighted from two points whose positions were already known. but conflicts with France prevented much progress for forty years. 35. and checked for accuracy. The commonly used scale of one inch to the mile was inadequate and. The circumstances which led to the setting-up of the OS offer parallels with the Roman era. . DAVIES knowledge of other forms of map-making carried out during the Roman period. It is from this base-line that all subsequent measurements have been made. there was little detail of topography. the primary triangulation points could be related to an international grid. near Bushey Park. at King's Arbour and Hampton Poorhouse. but it proved to be difficult to co-ordinate the showing of these lights. until it was decided that a full national survey was needed. This was commenced in 1784. and the Army realized that existing maps were inadequate for the purpose. Though many maps had been produced before the eighteenth century. Thereafter. and the work was carried out by army personnel. William Roy was appointed to begin a survey in Scotland in the late 1740s. THE ORDNANCE SURVEYAND EARLYMAP-MAKING The formal founding of the Ordnance Survey (OS) in 179116 offers an example of map-making before the era of computers and satellites. 18 Seymour 1980. see FIG. 18 16 Owen and Pilbeam 1992. 38. followed by a third set. 3. The position of each new point could then be estimated. afforded by the well-documented beginning of the Ordnance Survey. a third point. and then used to fix the position of further points. thus giving the distance to the sighting-point from either end of the base-line.H. The third angle could also be calculated.6 HUGH E. and others across the Channel. by using the Pythagoras theorem which showed that the three angles of any triangle must add up to 180 degrees. the Romans would have had even greater difficultydoing the same with movable fire baskets. Heights of all points were calculated relative to several reference points whose heights were obtained by direct measurement from sea level. Using trigonometry. From the ends of this base-line. Before reviewing this knowledge. such as hill-tops and church steeples. of which two angles were known. subsequent surveys fixed the position of secondary points in the same way. it will be useful to look at a more recent example of the map-maker at work. Any local features could then be located by using ground surveys to relate their positions to the nearest triangulation points. The device had an integral telescopic sight to improve accuracy. By including some points in the survey which lay on the Greenwich Meridian.

though unfortunately the section showing Britain is nearly all lost.1oo. The map is not of true scale. whose extensive work is described by Strabo. It was built up by assembling information obtained from travellers. Towns are shown as symbols.DESIGNING ROMAN ROADS 7 King's Arbour St Ann's Hill Hampton Poor House (Bushy FIG. this has come down from Antiquity in a visible form. 3. 20 Nicolet 1994. Pliny the Elder describes a map of the Roman world prepared by Agrippa at Augustus' request and completed by the Emperor after Agrippa's death. being elongated horizontally.19 Though there are several literary references to it. ROMANMAP-MAKINGAND SURVEYING Julius Caesar commissioned a world map during his dictatorship. and later copied onto parchment.40. Miller1962. presumably because it was originally produced on a long narrow papyrus roll.20 Opinions differ about what the map looked like. with sufficient detail to estimate travel times and make correct decisions at junctions. with some of them being shown in perspective. The map is best described as an itinerary.together on withthefirstsighting pointon St Ann'sHill. set against a world view derived from Greek astronomers such as Eratosthenes. showing the principal roads and places likely to be encountered. Park) Thetriangle formedby thefirstbase-line the Ordnance of of Survey Great Britain HounslowHeath. This suggests the document was used as a travellers' guide.21 Unlike Agrippa's map. and could only be produced once the road system was in place. The map was displayed in Rome on a portico named after Agrippa. there is no record of its shape or form. VI. to assist travellers. but did not live to see it completed. 21 . The same can 19 Dilke 1985. though textual information suggests some similarity with the Peutinger Table.

following the invention of a reliable chronometer. At the opposite end of the mapping scale from Ptolemy's world atlas was the work of the land surveyors. again.Taylor1971.8 HUGH E. The lack of accuracy is perhaps not surprisinggiven the nature of the available information.Geography 28 E. Rivet 1970. appears to be tilted through a right-angle.who were concerned with the location and marking out of parcels of land. 27 Ordnance 2. with distances and directions being estimated by the travellers who supplied the data. whereas the tabulated figures in Ptolemy's Geographyimply that the same bearing is only 9 degrees. not only to give a good overall knowledge. the results were fitted in to the overall view of the Earth. appears to have been achieved with an error in bearing of less than one degree. rather than north-east of it. As to longitude. 25 26 Dilke 1987b. even after this correction is made.25Jones and Keillar show that when Marinus' figures are used.H. though recognizable. in which technical expertise was needed to avoid disputes and ensure that tax liability was clear.23but. which seems to have been based mainly on journey times by land or sea. which seems unlikely.27Thus Ptolemy has Londiniumlying almost due north of Noviomagus. Survey1994. This was an important job. though it contains none of the graphical elements of the Peutinger Table or the Dura Shield. It comprises simple lists of places along various routes together with the distances between them. 249. Scotland. It has been a valuable source of information on place-names in the Roman period. DAVIES be said of the Dura Shield. built beforePtolemy'stime. In particular.is nevertheless. this road. availableto the earlyRoman occupiers.Ptolemy.this did not become possible until well into the eighteenth century.Sobel1995. would have been used other than for the most general overall planning. By comparing these and making adjustments to achieve a degree of consistency. the Agrimensores.28 If Roman road engineers had nothing better than Ptolemy's maps with them when they landed. and quickly. could only have been produced after the roads were built. However.G. or anything like it. Pagani 1990. the map of Britain remains heavily distorted. but also to gain very specific skills in geometry and measurement. Ptolemy does not seem to have had much data of this type available. However. It has recently been shown that the error can be ascribed to Ptolemy's mistaken corrections to information provided earlier by Marinus of Tyre. consider the two towns Londiniumand Noviomagus (Chichester) and suppose that Ptolemy's map was the best available planning tool for a road between them. However. so that there are serious errors in the relative positions of towns. there were no reliable direct estimates at all .22which has attached to it a parchment depicting roads in the area of the Roman legionary base at Dura Europos. 29 Dilke 1971.29Land was mostly set out using a 22 23 24 JonesandKeillar1996. Scotland is orientated correctly. followinganalysisis worthwhile to unlikely havebeenanymoreaccurate. Another example of a travellers' guide is the Antonine Itinerary.26As noted earlier. Perhaps the most famous map from Antiquity is attributed to Ptolemy of Alexandria. The difference of approximately 22 degrees would mean that anyone building a road starting at Noviomagus and using Ptolemy's figures would miss Londiniumby about 30 km. As an example. its shape and dimensions.the This is not strictlypossiblebecausethe road was almostcertainly becauseany worldmap. then something more accurate would have been needed. Training was regarded as important. on the Euphrates. Direct measures of latitude were technically possible by measuring the elevation of the sun at noon or the height of the North Star at night.R. now known by its Anglo-Saxon name of Stane Street.2. The Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain shows that the bearing of Londinium from Noviomagus is 31 degrees.24It seems unlikely that Ptolemy's world map. allocated to individuals or towns by the Roman state.245. .

In chs I to 20 of his Dioptra. including the groma.27). . BM and DM. it would have been possible in principle for Heron to have used trigonometry. 35 Heron. with a place being located by referring to a specific milestone along a particular road. which would need an instrument such as the groma. a road tunnel between Pozzuoli and Naples. angle MBD. cords or rods for measuring distance. Heath 1921. which completes a rightangled triangle. an important instrument would be an equivalent of the modern theodolite. 84. FIG. but the surveyor needed to be able to deal with other shapes. 193 and Dilke 1971. Roads are referredto in the CorpusAgrimensorum. Alternatively the tunnel length could easily be calculated directly. between the plots. but there are many tunnels in the Roman world.34Heron himself shows examples of the device in use for measuring levels. limites.4. to set up points O and P on the ground. The orientation of the traverse lines is arbitrary. grid. 57. BD.32 This could have been used for measuring either horizontal angles. is established by adding (or subtracting) a succession of shorter lengths (known as traverses in modern surveying).30 Roads could also provide a geographical reference system. Provided that the surveyors took measurements of level as well as distance along the individual traverses. To obtain the bearing.245. but it seems likely that they would have been aligned on north-south/east-west axes. Ep. etc. for plan surveying. 2* 31 For example.37 no information on its planning is 30 of Rome (Frontinus. Whether or not Heron's method was standard practice for tunnelling is not known. The length of each of the other two sides. using its vertical adjustment. and hence the required slope calculated. 345-6. 5. together with the required distance. the difference in level between the ends of the tunnel can be worked out. the construction of which would have needed proper planning of this sort rather than trial and error methods.DESIGNING ROMAN ROADS 9 rectangular. with the line of the tunnel itself forming the hypotenuse. which can then be used to indicate the direction of the tunnel. I-2. since this would make it easier to relate the plan to operations on the ground. geometric compasses. 190-253. based on similar triangles.35 Note that the method allows the location of an imaginary point M. such as triangles and hexagons. Frontinus used this approach to specify the locations of sources of water feeding into the aqueducts Campbell 1996. left or right. and the water tunnel at Saldae. 37 Strabo adLuc. 33 Vitruvius 8. Though the former is referred to by Strabo and others. usually square. the dioptra. the chorobates along with various staffs and rods for measuring levels. for levelling. 32 Heron provided a diagram of the instrument in his Dioptra (see Sch6ne 1903. For the present discussion. triangle BDM can now be constructed. The mechanical engineer Heron of Alexandria described the use of just such an instrument. which was capable of measuring angles. However.31 A wide range of surveying instruments is known to have been available. Seneca.with the width of any particular road being appropriate to its relative importance.5. 34 Schdne 1903. 75). 239). already mentioned. he usually suggests methods based on right-angled triangles. where bearings are required. 4 shows an example of his approach to the design of a tunnel. Aqueducts 1.1. Vitruvius recommends use of the dioptra for designing water-supply systems33and Pliny the Elder mentions its use for astronomy. so that teams could start boring from both ends simultaneously. or vertical angles.but mainly as boundaries. Having drawn up a scale plan.7. Thus Heron's method locates the line of the tunnel precisely. The vertical angle of the tunnel must also be known before construction work can begin. using Pythagoras' Theorem of right-angled triangles. Dioptra 15 (SchOne 1903. to obtain BD2 = BM2 + MD2.5. 36 Heath i92I. Two examples are the crypta Neapolitana. These same constructed triangles could also be used to calculate the length of the tunnel. by measuring OB on the ground and then scaling up by the proportion MD:ON.36Instead he suggests a geometrical method. by employing Hipparchus' or Menelaus' tables of chords of circles. centuriae.

IO HUGH E. According to the inscription. known. 232). 38 39 . Construct a line from D to be perpendicular to JK at L. It should be noted that. During the railway-building era it was claimed that. by Nonius Datus.it is not part of the planning process itself. Such marking is still normal practice in tunnel design. because of the failure of the first attempt. The form of the plan is not known. From B. CIL 8. DAVIES P / K D // Q L G O 4. FIG. The instructions specify that a tunnel is to be dug from both sides through a hill (in plan) ABCD. Nonius Datus claims. on the ground above it. a perpendicular EF. Measure lengths around the hill. The direction of the tunnel follows sightings along OB and PD (after Dilke 1987a.3"This describes how the tunnel had to be rebuilt. in the inscription. to have produced a plan of how the two parts could be linked up underground. Heron of Alexandria's method for digging a tunnel through a hillside. No doubt many tunnellers in Antiquity would have been under similar time pressure and so would also have used excavation at intermediate shafts. the building of the latter is the subject of a long inscription. the marking is done after a plan has been prepared. nowadays. but the fact of its production demonstrates that plans were used for design work. Produce EB to a random point N. in case intermediate shafts are needed for excavation39 or ventilation. as no doubt was the case in Nonius Datus' time. and thus supports the case for the use of maps in road design. tunnelling should commence from intervening shafts. draw a random line BE. Likewise Q and P are located such that DQ:QP = BM:MD. Nonius Datus marked out the line of the tunnel. as well as from the ends (Simms 1896. being sides of the right-angled triangle BDM.2728. Calculate the lengths BM and DM. in which the builders started from each end but failed to meet in the middle. and so on round the hill to K. if tunnelling work was to be completed in under one year. and construct O such that BN:NO = BM:MD. However. which were no more than 200 yards apart. with a line of posts. 35).H.

We need to look at the work of the land surveyors.3 (Stevenson 44 Dilke 1971. the latitude and longitude of the ends must be established independently. are based on existing roads and are not necessarily drawn to scale. the dioptra was not equipped with a telescopic sight. there is little evidence of maps between the small scale of world maps like Ptolemy's and the local cadastra maps of towns showing the land they owned. so it is possible to make an informed guess as to how road plans could have been produced. whose effectiveness has yet to be demonstrated. An example of Ptolemy's problems with longitude has already been noted in his figures for Londiniumand Noviomagus. is that neither their bearing nor distance apart is known. such as the Peutinger Table and the Dura Shield. In the former. it would be an appropriate instrument to use in marking out the traverses for a tunnel. It therefore seems much more likely that Roman road designers would have used dead-reckoning. Geography I. However. 42 1994. as Nicolet points out. Ptolemy acknowledged this by pointing out that the distance between two places of known latitude. of known length and direction.they could not have formed the basis for road design between the two towns. a series of links. as is usually the case. VII. assuming. a major obstacle to position location was the fixing of longitude. 14. so that the bearing of a line joining them can be worked out. of true scale. though the published techniques do not relate directly to road building. As has already been noted. and. must be followed between the ends. 79. can be found if their relative bearing is known. The first question to answer is how the designers knew in what direction to plan the road. 28). 1991. from which road alignments would have been designed.42 and it is this gap into which road-design plans fall. . and both Adam40 and Hargreaves41have verified its potential accuracy using replicas. that the ends are not within sight of each other. In the former case. so they are not suitable for designing new roads. direct observation and dead-reckoning. there would appear to be no shortage of either relevant knowledge or equipment. for example by astronomic observation. but not lying on a meridian (in other words not having the same longitude). There are two candidates.DESIGNING ROMAN ROADS II Though Heron does not describe the groma. Nicolet 1993. or vice versa. All this information would have been used to produce maps. However. It is suggested here that a more likely alternative is the use of maps or plans as a design medium.44 A 40 Adam 41 Hargreaves I990. Unfortunately. 43 Ptolemy. the position of the ends is known absolutely. With dead-reckoning. and in any case it has been suggested that the device was too cumbersome for general use in the field. there would have been little difficulty in adapting them for this purpose. trying to link two distant points. both to provide the required bearing and information about the intervening landscape. while in the latter. Some known Roman maps. There is no reason in principle why maps should not have been produced by triangulation. ROMAN MAP-MAKING FOR ROAD DESIGN It has been shown above that previous notions about how the Romans set about fixing alignments for their roads rely on cumbersome trial-and-error methods.43 The difficulty for the road designer. and knowledge of trigonometry was adequate to the task of calculating the distances to points whose bearings had been measured. one end is known relative to the other. 72. which would have restricted the length of the sides of triangles that could be sighted. the method used by the early Ordnance Survey and described in Section v above. Heron's dioptra was designed to do the same job as the Ramsden Theodolite.

each at right-angles to its neighbours.. at this stage..5.45 The survey continues.line Imaginary FIG. along with a change in level. The survey team first marks off a section AC due east. but it is not necessary... make distances difficult to measure directly... is a likely candidate. and the bearing of B relative to A can be worked out by adding the easterly and northerly lengths and then constructing the imaginary triangle ABK..5.. Next. the distance apart and bearing of the two hills can be calculated. establishing bearings between all suitable pairs of high points in the area._. and so on until B is reached.. to know whether any particular hill lies on the direct line between the end points. 61... The first task for the surveyors is to select relevant high points. though other orientations could be used.. The method described by Heron of Alexandria for tunnel design. The length of each traverse is measured.. •: 5. The distance between A and B.. Such an approach is illustrated in FIG. simpler instrument. When obstacles. Lengths such as FG. Points A and B are hills to be linked to a survey. can be estimated using Nipsus' method. The figure shows an imaginary area of countryside lying approximately along the line of a required new road.. such as rivers.. on the opposite side of the obstacle. The 45 Dilke 1971. These sections are called traverse lines. a method of estimating short distances.. then a section CD due north. From these two figures. In FIG. between any two high points. the groma. and includes the start and end points of the road... pairs of hills are linked with surveys. because it was limited to treating rightangles.12 HUGH E. but. using the properties of right-angled triangles. A record of the length of each traverse section is made.. so that the total distances east and north. by using the groma to establish a series of traverses. Changes in level can also be recorded along each traverse section. such as a tree.. ascribed to Nipsus.H.. Proposed survey method for road planning. to provide information on the intervening topography. certainly was used. marked by posts. The size of these triangles is related to the distance to be estimated. these are shown orientated north-south/east-west. -. can be used. it would not have been suitable for estimating distances by means of triangulation. which crosses the river and so may be difficult to measure. so the method is not suitable for estimating long distances between hills.. The only adaptation needed is to direct the survey so that it links areas of high ground.B "> line gnary . DAVIES Contour .. which are straight lines. can be worked out.. rather than going round them. .. . The method relies on sighting an object. The diagram shows an area of countryside with a river running through it.... noted above. We must therefore consider procedures which rely on all distances being measured directly. and then setting up similar triangles on the ground. These will lie within the region through which the road will pass.

as a means of positioning milestones once a road has been built. The engineers could then start planning their alignment in detail. the position of each point being defined by a specified distance along Vitruvius 10. Vitruvius describes a hodometer. such as the military base itself. the length of the straight line between the end-points. can be established. and the survey needs to continue until there is at least one continuous series of survey lines linking the start and end points of the road. Finally. Also it is likely that most Roman army personnel would have been trained to pace evenly for efficient marching. 149 note 7) refers to the 'bematistae' whose job it was to record the daily distance covered by Alexander's army. and the corresponding change of level. The hills involved in the survey. with part of a road alignment being shown by the striped line. streams. relative to points whose positions are already known. particularly for difficult situations. and Aujac (1987. would need to be labelled using names or numbers.48 As the survey continued. The map would need to be of true scale. involving one or more pairs of hills. but simply pacing out distances may well have given sufficient accuracy.46 but it may have been too elaborate and cumbersome for use across country. However. and chains may well have been the basic devices for short lengths. The same method would be used to produce sketch plans of the local area in which they were working. linking relevant high points in an area. denoted by the dashed lines. It also aids the linking together of different surveys. As soon as the two ends of the road had been linked with a continuous series of survey lines. The position of important features such as rivers. There are several methods available for measuring distances. 557) also mentions pacing. thereby assisting the engineers to narrow their search towards the preferred line. and ground levels shown relative to a convenient datum. The surveyors in the field would record the information on the length of each traverse line.9. and other prominent features. forests. on another part of the floor. by adding the total distance east and the total distance north of the end of the road. the advantage of using north-south and east-west is that checks for accuracy can be made regularly. where their work would be transferred to the design plan. can then be filled in. 153) refers to 'bematists'. probably on wax tablets or scratched on wood. and its bearing. FIG. Rods. Individual sections of road might be marked out to a larger scale. cords. The road is defined by points along its length. Their work does not need to be co-ordinated . in tabular form. 46 47 . 48 Of course the engineers would have been active before this stage to familiarize themselves with the countryside through which the road would be likely to pass. Fischer (1975. possibly using tiles as markers. relative to its beginning. each survey team would return to the base.I.a wheeled device using cogs to record rotations and so indicate distance travelled.unlike the teams who have previously been proposed as seeking a straight road alignment . the length and bearing of the direct line linking them could be calculated and marked on the plan. with lines being scratched.DESIGNING ROMAN ROADS 13 straight line between each pair of hills is called a survey line. It is now appropriate to consider how the survey data would have been recorded and displayed. Having completed a section of the survey. This would be a map covering the area of country encompassing the entire length of the road. The way the road itself may have been marked on the plan is shown below. it would not need to be produced on a permanent medium.all that is needed to link the work of the various teams together is for one or more high points to be common to adjacent surveys. covering different areas. because several teams can be in the field at once. probably the local military headquarters. 6 shows a series of survey lines. Sherk ( 1974. using a portable sundial. existing roads and towns.47Although any orientation can be used for the survey lines. The most likely form would be a layout on the floor of a large room. more detail would be added progressively. again using the groma. and large enough to contain all the relevant data in graphical form. painted or marked in sand on the floor itself. and could be done far more quickly. This points to an advantage of the proposed approach. Egyptian clerks trained to pace evenly.

They would measure the required distances along each survey line. in essence. rather than curved elements. In this case. denoted by the dashed lines. though local corrections could easily have been accommodated without jeopardizing the overall plan. DAVIES Contou Rive p II tIIII II u111111 II s i at ""ttitti . The striped line shows the design for a new road alignment. linking relevant high points. whereby the Romans located a place in relation to an existing road. that small-scale copies. establish the rightangle with a groma. though. the same method of specifying position as that which was referred to in Section vi. each point on the road is defined by a specified distance along a survey line together with a specified distance to left or right. The procedure just described explains why Roman roads are composed of straight.H. The process of transferringthe alignment from the plan to the landscape is computationally far simpler if linear rather than curved lengths of road are used.14 HUGH E. since the road itself becomes the geographical reference datum for the area. the design plan would no longer be needed. either to left or right. it should not have been necessary to make significant modifications to the line. Its position is defined by a series of offsets. ine"-"- 6. which is a line of specified length at rightangles to the survey line. together with an offset. The end-point of each offset defines a point on the road. Thus. and then measure the specified offset distance. a particular survey line.49Once the engineers had designed the road. The diagram shows a series of survey lines. Because the road had been designed with the aid of a proper survey. is a simple linear proportion of its predecessor. Calculating the position of the road relative to the survey lines is made simpler if the road is designed as a series of straight elements. would be preserved. so as to maximize this run of simple linear progression of offset calculation. while the survey lines provide the position reference. . These would later form the bases for maps and itineraries such as those mentioned in Section vi. It seems likely. denoted by the dash-dot lines. Each straight length of road would therefore be made as long as possible. Mathematical convenience can thus be seen as the factor which gives Roman roads their most well-known characteristic. using the plan. But the original 49 This is. which are marked off at right-angles to the survey lines. showing the line of the new road. OffsetOffset linele ALSurvey FIG. since the length of each offset along the same survey line and the same element of road. Once a particular road was built. it is the road which is being located. surveyors would be called in again to transfer the planned road to points on the ground.

The observation of long. 1987b:'Itineraries geographical mapsin the earlyand late Roman Empire'. The survey results would enable the required bearing of the road to be worked out.A. Woodward(eds). TheHistoryof Cartography and and Ancient. straight sections of road. in Harleyand D. so vital in the road design process. would have fulfilled its purpose and would probably be obliterated.212-33 and in Dilke. J. 1913:TheStaneStreet. Medieval and Europe theMediterranean. and would also allow important features. Chicago. I: Volume Cartography Prehistoric.W. Once the road design was complete. Cartographyin Prehistoric. Chicago.W. such as rivers.A. London Cunliffe. VIII. J.O. CONCLUSIONS The absence of written design manuals for Roman roads has led to the assumption that evidence for how the roads were planned must lie in the alignments themselves. so characteristic of Roman roads: far from requiring the elaborate procedures envisaged by current theories.148-60 R. London B.B. to be located accurately.O. 74-99 R. Chevalier. 1996:'Shaping ruralenvironment: surveyors ancientRome'.Princes Bagshawe. RoadsinBritain Codrington. irrespective of its length. A suitable survey procedure could have been similar to that used for the design of tunnels and published by Heron of Alexandria. the main design plan would have been a truescale map. 1994:Roman Building (first in Aujac. An alternative approach is described which assumes that a ground survey would have been conducted.J. the design feature is shown to arise directly from the requirements of mathematical convenience.London T.W. Woodward(eds).A.B.1987a: mapping theearlyEmpire'.1985:Greek Roman Maps. 1994:Roman Roads(5th edn). namely that alignments were designed by successively moving a series of fire beacons to bring points along them into line.London B. has given rise to a deceptively simple proposition. 1976:Roman Roads. 1994:RomeandherEmpire. and Medieval Europe . LandSurveyors. An to NewtonAbbot Dilke.W. While wax tablets may have been used by surveyors in the field to record their findings. 1905:Roman (2nd edn).H. to link the start and finish points of a proposed road. its course could be set out on the ground without the need for successive adjustment. and fails completely to explain how alignments as long as Fosse Way or Stane Street were planned. probably drawn on the floor of a large room. in Ancientand I.DESIGNING ROMAN ROADS 15 plan.B.in J.: Introduction theAgrimensores.A. Woodward andtheMediterranean. The apparent simplicity of this approach is deceptive: it becomes highly complex when applied to places which are not visible from each other.G.W.JRS 86. The method also accounts for the long straight sections.1971:TheRoman and Dilke.O. The History of CartographyVolumeI.H. O. 1924:TheRoad. 1987:'Thegrowthof an empirical cartography HellenisticGreece'. Medieval Europe theMediterranean. Sandhurst BIBLIOGRAPHY in Material Techniques published French1989). Ancient. Risborough Belloc. allowing the room which contained it to be allocated to other functions.London 'Romanlarge-scale in in Dilke. sometimes aligned on high ground. Chicago.London and Adam. the in Campbell.234-57 (eds). Information from the survey would have been displayed on a map to assist the road designers to plan a suitable alignment.London Belloc. Harleyand D. The History of Cartography Volume Cartography Prehistoric.HarleyandD.

A History of Navigationfrom Odysseus to Captain Cook (3rd edn). 1996: Longitude. 1936: Witha Spade on Stane Street. 1996.E. K. Ann Arbor O'Flaherty.. London of Hargreaves. W. 157-80 Vitruvius:De Architectura. Geographyand Politics in the Early Roman Empire. 1896: Practical Tunnelling. 1990o: Road Planning Operations of Roman Surveyors. ed. New York Taylor. C.G.E. H.New York Winbolt.E. I. 1994: An IllustratedHistory of the Countryside. Volume 3. A. Bennett. 1992: OrdnanceSurvey: Map Makers to Britain since 1791. VolumeII: From Aristarchus to Diophantus. R. 152-67 Frontinus: The Strategems and the Aqueductsof Rome. 1963: 'Recherches sur le methode de traqagedes routes romaines'. New York.K. 1993: Highways. B. D. 1962: Die PeutingerscheTafel. T. Ptolemy and the turning of Scotland'.) 1980: A History of the OrdnanceSurvey. C. 199I: ClaudiusPtolemy.L.London Rivet. 534-62 Simms. Britannia 27. and Keillar.16 HUGH E. Aufstieg und Niedergang der Rimischen Welt2. London Ulrix. 1994: Space. QuarterlyJournal of the Royal AstronomicalSociety.D. 1975: 'Another look at Eratosthenes' and Posidonius' determinations of the earth's circumference'. 0.E. Oxford (reprintedby Dover Publications Inc. London Jones.R. I. (ed. D. 1970: 'The British section of the Antonine Itinerary'. 1996: 'Marinus. Volume2: Highway Engineering(3rd edn). B. the Geography(first published 1932).A. 43-50 Margary.H.W. 199o: Cosmography:Mapsfrom Ptolemy's Geography. A. Latomus. Folkestone Sherk. 1979: Roads and Tracksof Britain. 1973: Sundials: their Theoryand Construction. T.. (ed. Granger. London Taylor. E. F. 1993. 1971: The Haven-FindingArt. F.. C. London . 1974: 'Roman geographical exploration and military maps'. Capt. 192I: A History of Greek Mathematics. 1922: The Topography Stane Street. unpub.) 1903: Heron of Alexandria: Opera Quae Supersunt Omnia. F. Rationes Dimentiendiet CommentatioDioptrica. DAVIES Fischer. C.L. Stuttgart Nicolet. D. University College London Heath. 1973: Roman Roads in Britain (3rd edn). Britannia I.Leicester Rackham.London Sobel. I. Southampton Pagani.A. 16. 34-82 Schine. 1981I) Johnston.A. Southampton Owen. W. E. Leipzig Seymour. G. S.H. E.ed. and Mattingly. BA dissertation. London Ordnance Survey 1994: Roman Britain. and Pilbeam. L.F. Bourne End Jones. London Miller. 1979: An IllustratedHistory of Roman Roads. 1990o:An Atlas of Roman Britain. London Waugh. London Stevenson. I. Harvard Grant.

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