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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Roman Centuriation in the Middlesex District

The Roman Centuriation in the Middlesex District. (Brentford Printing and » 20 Jun 1908 » The Spectator Archive

The Roman Centuriation in the Middlesex District.
(Brentford Printing and Publishing Company. 3s. 6&)—
This is an addendum to Mr. Montagu Sharpe'e "Antiquities of Middlesex" A centuria was a square plot of land containing fifty iugera, equivalent to thirty-one and a quarter acres. This was the measure used in dividing the land of a conquered country. Each Roman citizen had four centuriac ; part was restored to the natives ; odd bits and unoccupied lands were leased out; forests, &c., were dealt with on the same principles. Mr. Sharpe writes about the details of this division—boundaries, landmarks, &c.—and applies his deductions to the Middlesex region, with some portions of the adjoining counties. He makes out eight territories (named "Break- spear's," "Colne," "Pontes "—these are in the west—" Ridge," "Sulloniacae," " Harrow," " Home," "Lea "). We cannot discuss the details, but we may point out a highly interesting list of landmarks as related to the road system given on p. 14.

More at
http://www.cantab.net/users/michael.behrend/repubs/sharpe_middx/pages/ehr.html"Evidence that this area had been settled by a Romano-British agricultural population was obtained in this way. For some time past it had been noticed that many fragments of its ancient rural ways ran in parallel lines, and were crossed at right angles by similar ones, which in the several districts of the county were distinguished by a different orientation. Thus in the northeastern division the direction of the cardinal ways was from north to south: in the southern portion between the Brent and the Lea rivers, and into Essex, they pointed south-south-east. Over the south-western area and beyond the Colne into Buckinghamshire the course was south by west, and in the north-western district they were again south-south-east. Passing into that part of the Middlesaxon province lying south of the upper Colne and Lea, but now in Hertfordshire, the two orientations were {490} respectively south-east by south, and south by east. A further feature was that many crossways occurred at equal intervals, and along one road five in succession were found at distances of 120 Roman poles or 388 yards, two being roads, two foot paths, and the other an ancient field boundary, presumed to have been formerly a plough balk or a footway.
It was manifest that this laying out of land amounting to 181,000 acres could not have been the result of chance, but must have been carried out at a time when the soil was mostly in its primitive condition, by a conquering race who had seized it, and who were accompanied by skilled land measurers. All this pointed unmistakably to the Romans and their corps of agrimensores, trained in applied geometry and using scientific instruments. The writings of the Gromatici Veteres were next consulted for information as to the manner in which Roman lands were surveyed and laid out, and it is worthy of note that one of the most eminent of these writers was Sextus Frontinus, Propraetor over Britain from a. d. 74. Among the more enduring bench or land marks used by Roman surveyors were mounds of earth (up to the size of a small haystack), stones, and trenches, and in these three respects important discoveries have been made in the county. A mound (botontinus) is to be seen both in Cranford and in Syon parks, also at Hampstead, Stanmore, Hadley—where there are two—and just out of the county at Salthill, Slough. Two others have not long ago been levelled, one by Bushy Park and the other at Hillingdon, while local names apparently preserve the sites of half a dozen more. Four stones are still in situ; two marked on old maps no longer exist, and the former positions of several others can be located. Two trenches are still to be seen.
A map showed that these boundary marks and the remnants of the oriented ways were naturally co-related, that each district had been of nearly equal area, rectangular in form, and contained by a boundary line, the course of which was disclosed by the botontini and stones. It was also seen that these districts or pagi were in general identical in area with those of the later hundreds of the Saxon period, as set forth in Domesday. From the orientation of the pagi, the territorium of the Londinium canton appeared to extend from the foot of the Chiltern hills across Middlesex and into Essex; the pagi had been laid out by lines (quintarii) crossing one another at right angles, and so forming possessae, each of which according to the text-book, and in fact, contained 1,300 jugera equal to 810 statute acres. These in turn could be divided into 25 laterculi or small centuriae of 50 jugera lying in rows of five, plus an area equal to a centuria distributable over a possessa for lanes and paths. This provision, equal to one-{491}twenty-fifth of a surveyed area, was later on found to have an important bearing when comparing the total acreage of the Roman and Domesday surveys of the county, for the latter did not include road surface. A side of this square centuria measured 120 Roman poles or 388 yards, and five of them lining the face of a possessa accounted for those five successive equal intervals formed by crossways which were noticed upon a Middlesex road between Greenford and Ealing as above mentioned."