James for Land Observations

A map of long straight Roman roads looks like a palmist’s chart, but on the land these lines are lacerating cuts gouging deep in to what was there before: huge tracts were cleared and the ancient Celtic tracks straightened out to ease the subjugation of the state.

But what of the people who built these roads – the slaves rounded up or snatched and worked until they dropped dead where they stood – “the scatheless Briton who trudged in chains down the Sacred Way”, and those forced to build the palaces and temples in the name of greedy gods, and those forced to plough and dig their land for the benefit of someone else, or the stonebreakers, the labourers, the harvest hands, carpenters, cooks, domestic help, dressmakers, grave diggers, shepherds, tailors and the rest who could not compete with the free labour flooding the local economy – those forced to ease the passage of the rich?

The history books name the people living in the big villas on the hill.

But did the road builders not have names?

Across the land in which these catastrophic events took place, there is a pattern of shallow graves under the pathologically hygienic layer to which I add my own tracery of steps – the palimpsest, the densely woven mess of marks laid down for two thousand years and more – has everything of which they warn us now come to pass?

Robin Page 2012