Mention has been made in another post on Rivers and Roads of the importance of the remnants of the Roman road system. An interesting paper I found on the internet by chance was An Archaeological Resource Assessment and Research Agenda for the Early and Middle Anglo-Saxon Period (c. 400-850) in the East Midlands by Alan Vince of Leicester University. In it the author reports that, because early Anglo-Saxon burial mounds can be found along the alignment of various major Roman roads, it may be reasonably assumed that they were still in use long after the Romans had gone. He also refers to the lack of evidence of occupation of the centres of Roman cæsters by the Angles and Saxons and suggests that the stone ruins may have served as central meeting places, with settlements clustered just outside them. However, I can’t see that this argument is strong. Maybe this was so in the first hundred years or so after the legions had left – because the cities would have become rat infested piles of rubble as they were pillaged for timbers, but there is archaeological evidence that they were later re-occupied.
In Cirencester Anglo-Saxon Church and Medieval Abbey, by David Wilkinson and Alan McWhirr, (Cotswold Archaeological trust 1998), the authors describe how the stone walls of a large church, 50m long were found sat close upon older Roman stonework. It was estimated that the church, which has since been replaced by an abbey (now also gone), was constructed in the ninth century. They also describe how the foundations of the ninth century church were found to intercept a Roman drain constructed of large stones, some of which were used by the Anglo-Saxons in their foundations. In other words, in 879, when Guthrum wintered in Cirencester, it is highly likely he would have been aware of the rectilinear shaping of the Roman walling. There was just too much of it to disappear in only four hundred years. Even today we still have Hadrian’s wall, the Newport arch at Lincoln, the amphitheatre at Caerleon, London Wall, and Portchester castle.
In the Scandinavian world, there were few straight lines in anything they made, used or decorated: sinuous organic curves abounded. So when they came to the British Isles they would have encountered sights that would have contained a weird straightness for them.
Today, we take our precise and machined rectilinear world for granted, as we do Euclidian geometry. And you can’t have geometry and a basic grasp of navigation, unless you have a handle on what is, and what is not, a straight line, i.e. the shortest distance between two points. This is obvious, I hear you say: common knowledge. But what if your perception of a straight line is only a trick of the straightness goddess? After all, she pulls some weird effects when you look through water.