What Do Roman England and Construction Technology Have in Common?


Did you know that the Romans revolutionised the modern world we know today? Aside from conquering lands far and wide, the Roman era was one of deep innovation, advancement, and development. In fact, much of the modern infrastructure we see in the world today wouldn’t exist if it were not for the Romans. From building early roads to discovering and using the earliest form of concrete, we have a lot to thank them for. 

From ancient ruins to modern infrastructure

Today, we’re still discovering the ancient ruins of Roman England across the UK. Interestingly, this is happening more and more as we embark on the game-changing infrastructure projects of our time. From discovering the remains of a Roman town below a field along HS2’s route, the tonnes of domestic Roman pottery uncovered by the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme, there is no denying that the impact of Roman England is still as present today as ever. 

At its height, the Roman empire encompassed nearly 1.7 million square miles and included most of southern Europe. In order to successfully manage this vast realm, the Romans coined the building of our system of roads – the most sophisticated invention the ancient world had ever seen. These roads—many of which are still in use today—were constructed using a combination of gravel and dirt which made ‘bricks’ consisting of granite or hardened volcanic lava. For example, Watling Street was a 276-mile road linking Dover, London, St Albans and Wroxeter in Shropshire – and today you’re still following the Roman route when you take the A2 or A5.

The beginnings of civil engineering with innovation at the core

The discipline of civil engineering dates all the way back to Roman times with our ancient engineers inventing strict standards when designing their highways. Roads with curves to allow for water drainage, the use of stone mile markers and distance signs – much of our modern highway networks remain unchanged.

Living in a time of such significant innovation must have been exciting for inventors and creators. With so much of these advancements shaping the way our communities and society operates, we can draw many parallels between Roman England and the technological advancements of the infrastructure sector that we’re experiencing today.

Time for disruption

With the dawn of building information modelling (BIM), and the need for more sustainable practices in our modern world, the infrastructure sector has always had a need to be disrupted by technology in whatever shape or form that existed in. Today digital trends, from cloud computing to 3D printing and from artificial intelligence (AI) to virtual reality, are converging to cause major transformation across the way we design, construct and operate major infrastructure.

When it comes to solving complex design and construction problems, resource constraints have plagued our teams which we’re sure was no different in the Roman era. But, with access to vast amounts of computing power via the cloud, a growing volume of asset data, and emerging technologies such as AI, we’re seeing a fundamental shift in the nature of design and construction. Outcomes-based design where technology does the heavy lifting is changing how we do things, and soon will be the norm when it comes to infrastructure design and build.

For construction projects, the potential lies in the opportunity to tap into historic project data. Imagine what we could do with project data from the Roman era? Their explorations and findings from their own experience of constructing early infrastructure could in fact help shape our approach to using more sustainable materials. By applying techniques such as machine-learning to improve the predictability of outcomes and bringing more projects in on budget and schedule, our teams can unlock funding for projects by providing greater investor certainty and focus on the more pressing issues at hand.

Although worlds apart for some, the current technological revolution can learn a lot from the Roman’s approach to creating the fundamentals of the infrastructure we still know and use today. So, whether it’s Watling Street, HS2 or whatever infrastructure comes next, we can continue to benefit from the Roman spirit of innovation into the future.

Amanda Fennell

Amanda Fennell is Director of EMEA Marketing in Autodesk Construction Solutions and Autodesk Ireland Site Lead. She has over 20 year’s marketing experience in IT, including working with some leading cloud organisations. Amanda holds an MA in Communications and Cultural Studies from DCU and is based in Autodesk’s European headquarters in Dublin.