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10 Things The Romans Did For Us

Posted:
31 August 2016
Posted By:
English Heritage
Categories:
History Uncovered
Roman centurion helmet at Hadrian's Wall

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.

Typical Roman camp food

Typical Roman camp food had to be quick and easy to eat

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.

The Samian bowl was made in South Gaul and dates to c. AD 70 – 85 AD. The maker's mark inside (inset) reads 'OF CEN'. OF is the abbreviation for Officina, a workshop. CEN is an abbreviation of a name, possibly Censorinus.

The Samian bowl was made in South Gaul and dates to c. AD 70 – 85 AD. The maker’s mark inside (inset) reads ‘OF CEN’. OF is the abbreviation for Officina, a workshop. CEN is an abbreviation of a name, possibly Censorinus.

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.

The latrines at Housesteads Roman Fort are some of the best preserved Roman toilets in the country.

The latrines at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall are some of the best preserved Roman toilets in the country.

4. Towns

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.

Aerial view of Corbridge Roman Town from the north © Skyscan Balloon Photography. Source: Historic England Photo Library

Aerial view of Corbridge Roman Town from the north

5. Architecture

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.

The Roman bath house at Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall is unusually well preserved

The Roman bath house at Chesters Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall is unusually well preserved

6. Roads

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.

The B6318, west of Housesteads, which was built on top of Hadrian's Wall in the 18th century

The B6318, west of Housesteads, which was built on top of Hadrian’s Wall in the 18th century

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 rulers Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus.

8. Currency

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.

Roman coin found in Northamptonshire

An example of a Roman coin found in Northamptonshire

9. Latin

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.

Latin inscription at Chesters' Clayton Museum

Latin inscription at Chesters’ Clayton Museum

10. Bureaucracy

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!

An iron stylus, used for writing on clay tablets

An iron stylus, used for writing on clay tablets

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:

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  • About the Author

    English Heritage
    English Heritage cares for over 400 historic sites around England.

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  1. They also gave us rabbits, lettuce and pigeons ( rock doves.). With their introduction of paved roads, they also gave us potholes and endless roadworks. Thank you Rome!

  2. These same influences came across the Atlantic to the British colonies that would also have an impact on the creation of the United States. The hillforts in Gaul were influenced by the Roman threat to the people we call Kelts or Keltoi or strangers. Conquest of Gaul is a great read.

  3. Great history and research;so interesting-thanks

  4. Thanks for commenting Roger, we’re glad you found the post interesting.

  5. Don’t forget hydraulic cement!

  6. Hi Ken, thanks for your comment. There were so many things we could have chosen to include… that is just one we had to miss off the list!

  7. I love romans!

  8. the romans are soooooooooooo cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  9. Pingback: Did we Lose Out From Having No Roman Invasion Here?

  10. Julius Caesar was never Emperor of Rome as you say under “Our Calendar”.

  11. “Hi Ken, thanks for your comment. There were so many things we could have chosen to include… that is just one we had to miss off the list!”

    Did you actually read my comment before replying?

    It isn’t about what you chose to include or not. It is a glaring factual error.

    You blatantly state that Julius Caesar was a Roman Emperor. He wasn’t. Not ever. Shakespeare wrote a play explaining why, if you don’t already know.

  12. Hi Ken, that response was to a different comment from someone else called Ken (Brown) who wanted to remind us of hydraulics, which aren’t included in this post. Thank you for your comment though – we’ve re-worded the sentence to clarify that Julius Caesar wasn’t an emperor but Augustus was.