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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Relatively brief & lacking good maps (but there is a supplementary online resource), 14 Jun 2014
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E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain (Hardcover)
M. C. Bishop's book begins with a consideration of the prehistory of Roman roads, and is of the opinion that they were re-using pre-existent unmetalled roads. Two chapters follow on the construction of roads in the Roman period, followed by their later development and use. Bishop is of the opinion that the roads were purely built for military purposes, movement of troops and also acting as their supply network, and not specifically for general use - economic development resulting from their civilian use for trade was an accidental by-product. The author sees the existence of the road network as evidence of Britain as a militarised province throughout rather than on the frontiers only, with forts throughout to safeguard the military supply network against endemic brigandage.

The next chapter argues that the Roman road network determined the location of battles throughout Britain's later history. It consists of not much more than a list of brief descriptions of battles and which road in the numbering used by Margary's survey dating from the 1960's and 1970's the battle is supposed to have taken place near. Since Margary is out of print, and the book only has one page on the frontispiece with a map and Margary's numbering which is not very detailed and does not mark towns, it's not very helpful. (There are other maps in the book marking forts and towns on the road network, but the towns are not named and the roads not numbered.) There is however an online resource from the author to go alongside the book which uses Google maps with overlays of Margary's roads. I would still have liked overlays of Roman towns though, which is still lacking on those maps. The overlays of battle sites here don't really seem to me to support the general hypothesis that battles always occurred very close to roads - the author seems too keen to assume that if a battle did not occur near a known road, that just means there was a road nearby not yet discovered.

The following chapter discusses rediscovery of Roman roads by modern researchers and the final chapter is a summarisation. There are appendices of list of Margary's road numbers and battles with associated Margary number, a decent further reading list (including online resources, both the author's own and others) and bibliography. Bishop decries the decline of the Ordnance Survey Roman Britain map between the fourth and fifth editions, saying it has become more of a children's wallchart than a serious resource. Certainly comparing my fifth edition to the Margary network, it is somewhat lacking in its coverage of roads other than the major ones.

Overall the book is somewhat brief, and in itself lacks maps of sufficient detail to make a great deal of sense of the Margary numbers used throughout. However the aforementioned online resource goes some way towards rectifying this, though as mentioned before an overlay of Roman towns would make it much more helpful. The book on its own I would only rate 3 stars, but with the website I'll bump it up to 4.
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The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain
The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain by M. C. Bishop (Hardcover - 7 May 2014)
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