Friday, 29 July 2011

The History Chapter

Apologies for the long delay since the last post, I have been writing a chapter of my thesis, in very early rough draft form, sketching out the history of London and how it had both shaped, and been shaped by the A10. Here is an excerpt, examining the ancient history of the A10, and what road building meant to the Roman Empire.

The A10 and A1010 began life between AD45 and AD75, as the Roman Ermine Street. The settlement of Londinium was founded in AD43 as a fort, and archaeological evidence of the Second and Sixth legions (Augustus and Victorius) have been found to support this. The choice of site was closely related to the geography of the Thames, and Londinium lay at a point where the river could most easily be bridged, and enemies be seen approaching along the river from the sea. It was a settlement of stone houses, municipal buildings, with paved streets, which became the provincial capital of Britain in AD 190. The town was walled with 145,000 metres of defences, in which were six gates: Lud Gate, New gate, Alders Gate, Cripple Gate, Ald Gate and Bishops Gate. From Bishops Gate, Ermine Street ran, as the road still does today, to Ware, Godmanchester (Durovigvtum), Water Newton (Durobrivae), Lincoln (Lindum) and finally to York (Ebocarum(BBC 2007).

Although many accounts of the construction of roads in the Roman empire assume their geometry is a result of a pursuit of economic efficiency, speed and convenience, there is another aspect to their construction which must not be overlooked. They also served as a statement of the power of the empire, and the imperial subjugation of both nature and any pre-existing society and paths they may have used. To construct a straight road regardless of the terrain it passes through is actually much more expensive than to skirt around obstacles, so the construction of roads such as Ermine Street was both a physical and symbolic conquest of the landscape (Witcher 1997, pp.6-7). The gradual (or perhaps rapid) adoption of the new route by the local populace would have been almost unavoidable, as the new road would have been the most convenient to use locally, and its use as a route and as a focus for religious activities, such as burials, served to legitimate its presence (and therefore the presence of the Empire) and to add depth to its meaning (Witcher 1997, pp.6-7). The places on the road begin to assume a greater importance than the old places, which are not on the road, while simultaneously, the road becomes the context for all places along it. This quality of a road, which indicates the presence of something greater, will be discussed in greater depth later. Space is a social product, which cannot be understood as separate from the human beings who both structure it, and are in turn structured by it (Witcher 1997, p.4). That words like ‘path’ and ‘route’ are synonyms for ‘road’, embodies this relationship between the physical existence of a road as an engineered object, and the purpose of it for movement from place to place. 


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