ROMAN: THE SOLDIER

This story was inspired by a Roman finger ring found at Sittingbourne. Made of lead alloy, the ring has snakes’ head terminals and is crudely made. It dates from c. 100 – 300 A.D. and is listed on the Portable Antiquities website.

The Itinerary referred to in the story is the Antonine Itinerary. This important document listed roads in the Roman Empire specifying the distance between the main stations on any given route. Some 15 separate routes are recorded for Britain.

Although it was not mentioned as a specific destination in the Antonine Itinerary, Sittingbourne was located on the Roman route now known as Watling Street and it is believed that there was a staging post nearby.

Some 20 Roman villas were built in the vicinity of Sittingbourne and excavations have revealed a number of rare Romano-British lead coffins.

I’ve lost my ring. I woke up this morning and it was gone. I’ve looked everywhere. Not that it was valuable. Just lead. A crude affair with two crossed snakes’ heads. But she gave it to me. Faustina. My girl. And I won’t see her again for months.

We’re on our way north. To The Wall. A march of 481,000 paces from the port of Richborough. That’s what it says in the Itinerary.

Our surveyors have recorded everything: distances, roads, names. They’ve worked it all out: Richborough to Canterbury 12,000 paces; Canterbury to Rochester 25,000 paces; Rochester to London 27,000 paces; each pace measuring five Roman feet. There are 15 separate road routes for Britain; some 225 for the whole Empire. There is no corner that we cannot reach. Nothing has been left to chance. Amazing!

The engineers are with us now. We’re helping them to make repairs along the way. One told me that this was once a route used by Britons; meandering this way and that like a cattle track, always flooding, often impassable. No good for carts or armies.

But we changed all that. Our roads are paved with stone and flanked by ditches to drain off water. And they are straight. Rare curves are calculated: to avoid an obstacle or help us march uphill. We can travel swiftly if there’s trouble. With the Itinerary, we know exactly where we are going and how long it will take to get there.

Yet not everything has been recorded. No-one seems to know the name of this place. There’s a way-station nearby where we stopped last night to sleep and feed the horses and there are a few British dwellings either side of the road; a sort of small hamlet.

We asked the locals what they call it, but they looked at us suspiciously and shook their heads. How can you live somewhere and not know its name?

Typical natives! They spend their lives running round in circles. No idea of where they are or where they’re going. Can’t even remember the name of their settlement.

Well, I won’t forget it. It’s the place I lost my ring.

Photograph: A street sign in Sittingbourne.