Superhighway from Londinium to Isca

A Roman road was uncovered in Puddletown Forest in Dorset. While the existence of the road was a well-known historical fact, it had been well hidden by the forest that it could not be located so far. The harvesting of a planting of Norway spruce firs by the Forestry Commission brought parts of it to light finally.

The existence of an important Roman road as part of the highway system connecting Sorbiodunum (Old Sarum) with other important towns in England was known, but its exact site had been lost in the mists of time. Now part of a road has been found in Puddletown Forest, better known for being part of Thomas Hardy country.

The road had been built during the first century AD as part of the drive to conquer the island of Britain end to end. The scale of the road uncovered is on the massive side. The 85 ft wide construction consists of a cobbled centre for fast traffic including mounted messengers and whole legions on the march; on either side the slow lanes for civilians on foot and cattle on were found. Unlike modern British roads, the Roman road was carefully ditched to allow water to run away to prolong the lifespan of the road. For good measure, the road had been elevated 15 ft over the surrounding area. A superhighway indeed.

A Roman road was built as follows: On a foundation (called pavimentum) of stamped clay, the ‘statumen’ layer of large stones and mortar was laid. The ‘ruderatio’ layer of fist sized stones was put on top of the ‘statumen’. The next level called ‘nucleus’ was built of nut sized pebbles. The crowning top of it all was the ‘summa crusta’, the road surface. It could be built of a mixture of sand and pebbles in lesser roads, but was made of cobblestones on important and frequently travelled roads. The Londinium to Isca highway was one of the latter.

The road was an important part of the Roman Empire's drive to subjugate the savages inhabiting the British isles. The sheer size of the road implies that it was built to impress as much as to expedite travel. It stressed the importance of fast travel for the legions; thanks to roads like this, the Romans were able to march an army at a fast pace to wherever it was needed anywhere in the empire.

The uncovered stretch of road was part of the connection from Londinium (London) to Isca (Exeter). Londinium at that time was of some temporary importance as a troop port, but would later be nothing but a minor town besides more important big cities that would evolve on the island. When the invasion was over and the country pacified, the connection from Londinium to Exeter became obsolete and the road was allowed to be forgotten.

The Forestry Commission plans to leave the road accessible with no planting on top. Plans are to cover it with grass after the archaeologists have been allowed their dig. It will then be possible for visitors to easily follow in the steps of the Roman invasion of Britain.

The good state the road is in is testament to the building skill of the Romans who built it almost 2,000 years ago. As opposed to British road building, they were aware of the fact that water and ice will destroy road surfaces in short order. Seeing it, one could think that drainage and ditches should not be completely alien to the British mind but obviously that is a mistake. But contrariwise, the roads in Britain are a collection of potholes, badly built and worse maintained.

Further reading
About Roman Numerals (and Not Numbers)
Palimpsest: Ancient Recycling Method
Naval Arms Race in The Mediterranean