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Transport / Mass transit

This map shows how Roman Britain kept the show on the road… by imagining it as a tube network

What’s the best way to get from Londinium to Isca Dumnoniorum, via a refreshing and restorative pit stop in Aquae Sulis? If such questions have never occurred to you, perhaps your previous incarnation was not as a wellness-aware man-about-town in Roman Britain.

But if, like me, this question is one of many of its kind that keep you up at night, there is finally a map to cater to all your needs.

Sasha Trubetskoy is perhaps the internet’s most surprising viral map guru. At just 20 years old, the student at the University of Chicago defies preconceptions of historical cartographers as reclusive, older men.

And this, his latest project, is truly a joy.

Click to expand. Image: Sasha Trubetskoy.

Trubetskoy painstakingly researched all the Roman roads of Britain to produce this map, showing connectivity across Roman Britain, with major Roman settlements from Londinium (London) to Dubris (Dover), Isca Dumononiorum (Exeter) to Verulamium (St Albans), and Eboracum (York) to Lindum (Lincoln).

And then he turned them into a geographically laid out tube map, with lines and interchange stations. Glorious.

Much of his data came from the Pleagios digital map, but a lot of the historical research came from Roman-Britain.co.uk, a resource that is simultaneously fascinating and revealing about how little we know about Roman Britain, relatively speaking. We don’t actually know the Latin names of many of the Roman roads, for example: that’s why “Watling Street”, perhaps the most famous of the Roman roads, running from Dubris to Viroconium (now just a village in Shropshire) doesn’t exactly sound that Latinate.

More observant map readers may notice that some Roman cities have modern English names, too:

A zoom view of the North. Image: Sasha Trubetskoy

This too is a sign of how little we know: Roman remains have been found during archaeological explorations of those places, but we don’t have records or evidence as to the Latin names of those settlements.

Very noticeable, also, is the fact that Londonium is still at the heart of the network. Even at the time of the Romans’ occupation of Britain, it was the national hub. It became Britain’s largest city in roughly 75AD, and was made the capital of the imperial province not long afterwards. Hence, just as many of today’s motorways mostly snake out from London, so many of the key arterial Roman roads come out of Londinium.


Watling Street ran through it, and forms today’s A5, that runs in an almost-perfect straight line from Marble Arch to Stanmore before it navigates a kink and continues up towards St Albans; Gread Road runs out towards Camulodunum (Colchester); Devil’s Highway runs to Calleva (Silchester); and Ermine Street ploughs up towards Eboracum (York).

The map is of course most enjoyable when pored over in a private, feverish, personal way, so I’ll just add one thing. I’d never heard of Watling Street II (Watling Street the Second? The Lesser Spotted Watling Street?) which runs a very long course from Venta Silurum (Caerwent), near Caldicot at the Welsh end of both Severn bridges, up to Veluniate (Borrowstounness) via Deva (Chester), Mamucium (Manchester) and Luguvalium (Carlisle).

Someone tell George Osborne: maybe we can get a quirky alternative to HS3 to produce some kind of double-Celtic link for the Northern Powerhouse.

You can see the full map here, and a version with town names in English here.

Happy map reading. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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