From the obvious (architecture and hygiene) to the more unusual (fast food and advertising) the Romans have left their mark across the country.
We asked two of our experts, English Heritage Properties Curator Mark Douglas and Curator of Roman Collections Frances McIntosh, to explain more about what things in modern Britain that we owe to the influence of the Roman Empire.
“The Romans were great trend-setters of the ancient world – what they didn’t invent they copied and adapted from others, transporting new ideas across the empire,” explains Mark. “Their impact can be seen across England, from Dover to Hadrian’s Wall and beyond, and has had a profound impact on our modern landscape and culture.”
1. Fast Food
It might seem a modern marvel, but the Romans were the first to introduce street stalls and ‘food on the move’ as we might think of it today. With 10,000 soldiers in Britain, based at forts such as Birdoswald, having access to tasty, convenient food (like burgers…) was vitally important and vendors serving fast food would have been commonplace in large towns. The Romans also introduced staple foods such as apples, pears and peas to Britain.
2. Advertising and Trademarks
The modern concepts of Public Relations, Marketing and Advertising can all trace their roots back to the Romans. Traders would advertise their wares with billboards and signs, while self-promotion was a major concern to the emperor and who proclaimed his military victories on his coins. Potters would often stamp their vessels with their name, a mark of quality.
3. Plumbing and Sanitation
Keeping towns and forts clean through drainage and access to fresh water was a new concept to Britain. At the root of sanitation was the great engineering works of the Romans, with aqueducts bringing water in and drains to keep the streets and houses clean. The remains of Roman toilets and bath complexes can be seen across the forts of Hadrian’s Wall, especially at Chesters and Housesteads.
Large settlements existed in Britain before the Romans arrived, but they were the first to introduce significant ‘towns’ and administrative centres, which were planned out.
Londinium, Aqua Sulis (Bath) and Lindum colonia (Lincoln) are all examples of Romans towns that still exist as modern towns, whilst Coria (Corbridge) and Isurium Brigantium (Aldborough) are Roman towns you can visit today.
From military structures such as forts and walls (including the spectacular Hadrian’s Wall) to engineering feats such as baths and aqueducts, the most obvious impact of the Romans that can still be seen today is their buildings. Most buildings in Iron Age Britain were made of timber and were often round in form. The Romans built in stone, in straight lines and in a grand scale. Just imagine the bridge at Chesters when it was complete, spanning the river.
Everyone knows the secret to a Roman road – build wide and straight, often with paved streets. Constructing reliable transport routes was a necessity of such an expansive empire, and a huge upgrade on the primitive routes that came before in Britain. Many, such as Watling Street (the A2 and A5) and Dere Street (A59 and A1 from York) still form the basis of routes used today.
7. Our Calendar
The Julian calendar was the first to consist of 365 days, along with a leap year every four years. It forms the basis of the Gregorian calendar we use today. The names of the months derive from Roman months, reflecting the important Roman impact on our modern diaries. This is most obvious for July and August, which are named after the early emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus.
Although some of the tribes in the South of England produced coins before the Romans arrived, it was not used as currency, to purchase things. The Romans brought in their own coinage, which was the same across the Empire. A denarius minted in Rome could be spent in Britain, North Africa or Turkey, such a global currency has not been seen since.
The introduction of Latin had a profound impact on words and language within Britain. Latin became the language of religion, law and administration, and a great many modern words still derive from this language.
Did you know that plumbing is called this because the Romans made their pipes out of lead (plumbum)? Or that the Latin word sinister meant left, which the Romans considered to be bad-luck.
The introduction of writing to Britain had a huge impact on our understanding of the history. Being great record keepers has left a wealth of information about life in Roman Britain. The army in particular was extremely bureaucratic and rotas, food orders and stock checks of weapons, could be filled out in triplicate!
Join us for Hadrian’s Wall Live 2016
On Sat 3 & Sun 4 September 2016, the Roman empire will return to Hadrian’s Wall at one of England’s most epic events. Over one weekend at Housesteads and Birdoswald you’ll see armies clashing and gladiators in hand-to-hand combat and walk with Roman legionaires on marches.
Tickets are available now – join us for:
- the 2 day event at Birdoswald Roman Fort
- the spectacular Night Time Patrol at Housesteads Roman Fort
- There’s also the evening Barbarians Night Attack event at Birdoswald – which is free to everyone who has purchased a ticket to the above two events, and also available to book tickets for separately.