Finding out about Roman settlements (Using maps and place names)

Using maps and placenames exemplar: Roman Britain

When working on The Romans in Britain, we took our modern road atlas as the basis for developing an understanding of the pattern of Roman settlement in Britain. The aim was to provide an activity that would enable our children to appreciate the extent of Roman conquest, colonisation and settlement.

Enough copies for one per group of four pupils:

  • A3 photocopies of a map of England and Wales, including Hadrian's Wall, from a modern road atlas
  • Blank outline maps of Great Britain
  • Plain sheets of A3 paper
  • Maps of Roman Britain showing the main roads and settlements

What we did
First we cut each atlas photocopy into four pieces, one piece per group member. We told the class that we were going to use the endings of town names as clues to Roman settlement. Names ending in -ter or -ster = fort, so towns such as Chester could originally have been Roman forts where army detachments were stationed.

Each group had a cut-up road map; and each pupil had a piece of that map. We asked the children to search on the road map for what might be Roman towns (i.e. those ending in -ter or -ster) and to highlight or ring them. When they had found all the names, each group re-assembled its map by gluing the four pieces onto the blank A3 sheet.

Now each group transferred its Roman names onto the outline map of Great Britain and added London: Londinium, the capital of Roman Britain. Now the groups drew onto the outline map where they thought the Romans had built their roads, following these rules:

  • Roads are straight, or nearly so.
  • Roads radiate out from London. Put these in first, to the nearest towns.
  • Roads link up all the towns.

The groups worked collaboratively to produce their own road and settlement maps of Roman Britain. We then gave out the maps of Roman Britain and asked the children to compare their maps with the actual pattern of Roman roads and settlements.

This gave rise to a useful discussion about the limitations of modern maps and place names as sources for learning about conquest and settlement.


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