Roman roads were a powerful determining factor in the history and geography of the medieval period, influencing trade, warfare, and settlement long after the Emperor Honorius relinquished control of the island. In my book The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain I looked at the evidence for the continued use of Roman roads in later periods and how that evidence can then be turned around to aid in the search for gaps in Margary's network.

The locations of battles, motte-and-bailey (and subsequently stone) castles, and monasteries can all be directly related to the available road network in the Middle Ages - a network that was still primarily Roman (and, by extension, prehistoric). Using reconstructed medieval royal itineraries alongside more traditional tools, such as placename research, which help to enhance the picture, and tying all of this in with data derived from mapping inscribed Roman milestones and lead pigs and interrogating the Portable Antiquities Service database (for both Roman and medieval finds), Roman roads in Britain - both known and unknown - can be seen to leave a palpable wake or contrail in the dataverse. The potential inherent in marshalling both this Roman and medieval data provides an extremely important keystone in the quest to understand and expand Margary's network which, it is important to emphasise, was always just a subset of the ever-evolving Roman network.

In the book I took as a case study a putative South Coast Roman road that ought to exist between Southampton and Canterbury (indeed, fragments were already embedded in Margary's network) and showed how the Gough Map, together with a limited amount of placename evidence, along with knowledge of coastline changes, could be used to support the notion. For the present paper, I will apply these techniques to look at a further (and arguably more ambitious) case study in the south of England and show how broad-brush, desk-based research like this acts as a vital preliminary to the refinements available through aerial photography, lidar scans, geophysical survey, fieldwalking, and excavation. Moreover, the extent of the Margary network, by comparison with the likely extent of the original Roman system, suggests there is room for a lot more research like this to be undertaken.

Medieval Progresses, Military Campaigns, and the Roman Road Network

M.C. Bishop