Primary History

Romans: Roads and places

  • How did people travel in Roman Britain?

    In Roman times people travelled on land on horseback, in carts pulled by oxen, or walking. Before the Romans, Britain had no proper roads. The Roman soldiers built good roads. All the roads they built were remarkably straight. The Romans knew that the shortest distance from one place to another is a straight line, but their roads did zigzag sometimes, to make going uphill easier.

    The Romans built their roads on foundations of clay, chalk and gravel. They laid bigger flat stones on top. The road sloped from the middle to ditches either side, so rain water drained off.

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  • What was it like in Roman Britain?

    Most of Roman Britain was wild, with forests and hills where few people lived. Away from the towns, people lived in villages of round wooden houses with thatched roofs, much as they had before the Romans arrived. Some wealthy Romans lived in villas. Villas were large farms with a big house for the owners. Servants and farm workers lived in small wooden houses. Villas had rooms with painted walls and mosaic floors, baths and central heating. Most of the Roman villas found by archaeologists are in the south of England.

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  • What were Roman towns like?

    The Romans built towns in Britain, with walls and gates to let people in and out. Before the Romans came, people lived in villages, though some big settlements were like towns but with only wooden buildings. Roman builders used stone, brick and tiles. Some Roman towns were built at Celtic places. For example, Calleva Atrebatum was a Roman town built on a settlement of the Atrebates tribe. Its modern name is Silchester.

    Roman towns were neatly laid out. Streets criss-crossed. There were shops, workshops, houses and yards for animals. People gathered in the market and meeting area, the forum. The basilica was both a law court and town hall. Many Roman towns had public baths, open to everyone, and an amphitheatre. By AD 100, London was the biggest town in Roman Britain.

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  • Is Manchester a Roman town?

    If a place-name has 'chester' or 'cester' in it (from castrum, the Roman word for a fort), it's almost certainly Roman. Many towns grew up close to or on the site of a Roman fort. Examples are Chester, Gloucester, and Manchester. You can probably find more.

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  • What were the finest Roman homes?

    The biggest and grandest Roman homes were villas and rulers' palaces. The governor of Britain had a palace in London. Another palace was beside the sea, at Fishbourne (near Chichester in West Sussex). Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins. The house had about 100 rooms, an underfloor heating system, and lots of mosaics. You can still see some today.

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Fun Facts
  • When they built a road across boggy ground, Roman engineers put down bundles of sticks and sheepskins as foundations, to stop the road sinking.

  • The heavy goods vehicle of Roman Britain was a four-wheeled cart pulled by up to eight oxen.

  • The Romans buried their dead along roads out of town. The idea was that ghosts would not find their way back to their old homes.

  • Roman towns had public lavatories (for men). There were large pottery jars at street corners for men and boys to 'wee' in. The jars were emptied at night.

  • Urine was a useful chemical. It was used to bleach cloth. Romans also used urine to make toothpaste!

  • The finest Roman homes had glass windows, but because the glass was thick and usually a greenish colour, it can't have been very light inside.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-Z

A to D

Acropolis [a-CROP-olis]
The Acropolis is a large hill in the centre of Athens. On top of it were many temples and other buildings, the remains of which can be seen today.
amphitheatre
A place like a stadium, where Romans went to watch animals and people fighting.
aqueduct
A system of pipes and channels used to bring water into towns.
archaeological site
A place such as a ruined fort studied by archaeologists.
archaeologists
People who study the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
archaeology
Studying the past by looking at old things, often found underground.
Aristophanes [aris-TOF-a-neez]
Lived in Athens in the 5th century BC. He wrote comedies for the theatre in Athens.
Aspasia [as-PAY-zia]
Was a woman to taught public speaking in Athens. She was the partner of the famous general Perikles. Aspasia had much more independence than most women in Athens.
barbarian
A person who lived outside the Roman Empire, seen by Romans as violent and uncivilized.
basilica
A large building where town business was carried out (like a modern Town Hall).
assembly
The Assembly was the public meeting of the giovernment of the city. All citizens could take part and vote there.
Athena
The patron goddess of Athens. A huge statue of Athena stood outside the Parthenon.
Attica [A-tik-a]
The region around Athens.
aulos [OW-los]
A wind instrument with a reed similar to a modern oboe.
capital city
Main city of a country, the centre of government.
catapult
A machine that threw rocks or burning tar at the enemies. In Latin it was called an onager.
cavalry
Soldiers who fight on horseback.
chariot
Cart with two wheels pulled by horses. Romans raced chariots, and Celtic warriors rode into battle on them.
celts
People who lived in Europe, including Britain, and who fought the Romans.
centurion
An officer commanding about 80 legionaries.
citizen
Person with special rights such as the right to vote and own property in the Roman Empire. Only men could be full Roman citizens.
cohort
There were ten cohorts in a legion.
crossbow
Weapon like a bow and arrow, only the string is pulled back by turning a handle and the bow is fired by releasing a trigger. In Latin it was called a ballista
druids
The priests of the old Celtic religion.

E to G

election
Process where people vote to choose the people they want to be in charge.
empire
A large area with many people ruled by one strong leader, called an emperor.
forum
An open space in the middle of a town for markets and meeting people (like a market square). It was the centre of Roman town life.
fort
A building with walls to keep out enemies, used by soldiers.
foundations
Firm base for a road or building.
general
leader of an army, the soldier giving the orders to everyone else.
gladiator
A person trained to fight other gladiators or animals in amphitheatres.
governor
The ruler of Roman Britain, who worked for the Roman Emperor.

H to L

hypocaust
Roman central heating. Hot air from a furnace (fire) flowed through gaps between walls and flooring
latin
The language spoken and written by the Romans
legate
The officer commanding a whole legion.
legion
The main battle unit of the Roman army, its soldiers were called legionaries. There were between 4,000 and 6,000 legionaries in a legion.
legend
A story made up about people in the past

M to O

mosaic
A pattern made from coloured pieces of stones and pottery.
myth
A made-up story, often about gods and spirits, told to explain things such as why the sun rises and sets every day.

P to Z

pension
Money paid to a retired worker or soldier.
picts
people who lived in Scotland
republic
A country without a king, queen or emperor. The Roman republic was ruled by the elected Senate. Most countries today are republics.
sacred
Something that is believed to be holy and to have a special connection with a god or gods.
scroll
Roman book, written on a long strip of paper rolled around a stick.
senate
The Roman government, made up of senators.
senator
A person elected to the Roman Senate who helped run the government. Some countries today, like the U.S.A., have senators.
sewage
Dirty water and toilet waste which flows into sewers from drains and toilets.
sewers
Pipes or tunnels that carry away sewage.
slave
Someone who can be sold to another person to work for nothing. A slave is not free and has no rights.
slingshot
Weapon for throwing stones, made from a long strip of leather and whirled around by the thrower.
standard
Roman army emblem, a pole with special decorations (such as a metal eagle) carried by a soldier. Each legion had its own standards.
stirrups
the metal holder for a rider's foot. Attached to a horse's saddle by a leather strap.
strigil
A metal object used in Roman baths to scrape sweat, dirt and excess oil off.
stylus
A metal pen for scratching words into soft wax on wooden tablets.
taxes
Money or items taken by the government from people, to pay for things like the army, wars, emperor's palaces and building roads.
Thatched roofs
Roofs of buildings made from bundles of straw or reeds.
treadmill
Machine like a big wheel inside which slaves walked round, to turn the machine.
tribe
A group of people who live in one part of a country and are ruled by a chief.
tutor
A teacher who gives lessons to a student at home.
underworld
A gloomy place where Romans believed your soul went after you died.
villa
A large house in the country. Some Roman villas were farmhouses and some were like palaces.
warrior
A trained soldier, someone used to fighting in wars.
wreath
A ring or crown made of leaves or flowers.