Historian Simon Schama has today published a new book which claims that the Romans’ celebrated ability to build perfectly straight roads was actually an elaborate attempt to convince the natives of the countries they conquered that they weren’t all ‘bent as nine bob notes’.
‘There can be little doubt that for the peoples they ruled over, the Roman Empire was thought to be the first entirely gay civilisation,’ said Schama. ‘The Romans wore togas and sandals, they loved the theatre, and don’t even get me started on their obsession with interior design. What red-blooded society is known for its earthenware pots, mosaics and indoor water features? You can see why the natives might have assumed they were playing for the other side. But by making a big deal about the straightness of their roads, and how at no point did they bend, I think they really made the natives think again.’
Schama bases his controversial theory on a recently discovered Roman tablet celebrating the completion of their 1001st British road – or the MI as it was known. ‘Natvre hast not seen a straighter, truer road than this,’ reads the tablet, recording a centurion’s address to a crowd of locals. ‘Dost it deviate from its natvral path to frolic in the woods or take in the local conveniences? It dost not. It proceeds just as the gods intended. Now, let’s continve with ovr Latin lessons. Conjvgate the verb to mince.’
However, many historians fail to accept Schama’s views. ‘It’s okay to point to the Romans’ roads and say ‘Ooh, aren’t they straight’, but the argument loses something when the road builders ended each day by getting naked in the communal baths before popping to the amphitheatre to watch scantily-clad men wrestle with each other.’
But Schama insists the Romans were ‘men’s men at heart’. ‘I know not everyone has been persuaded by my theory, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. And if you want to dismiss the Romans’ achievements on the grounds they weren’t macho enough, then just think what agriculture through the ages would have been without their innovations in uphill gardening.’
28th October 2010