Looking for the author and title of a short story about time travel and an old Roman road. I read the story in 11th grade in 1994. The narrator has a friend who, I believe, is a professor of history.

The professor tells the narrator about a story he heard: each year on a certain night, ancient Roman soldiers (ghost figures) can be seen walking down the road (to or from a battle?) dressed in battle garb. The professor wonders if someone who was dressed to look like them spoke to the soldiers in that ancient dialect, if he might be able to pass through and join them in their time.

The story ends with the professor disappearing on the same night that the soldier’s ghosts were always seen, with the implication that he indeed had learned their dialect, dressed like an ancient Roman soldier and had gone to the spot and successfully spoken with them and passed over to their time in history.

I have been looking for this story for almost 30 years.

1 Answer 1


I believe this is A Legion Marching By by John Hynam, who also wrote as John Kippax.

According to its page on ISFDB, it was first published in "The Eighth Ghost Book" edited by Rosemary Timperley, and republished in "Ghost Stories" edited by Robert Westall (which seems to have also been republished under the title "Spinetinglers"). That's how I found it - I remembered it in connection with Westall, and searched for "robert westall roman ghost".

I'm struggling to find a synopsis confirming the plot, but this page has a very brief summary:

Two schoolboys witness a ghostly Roman legion marching by on a Roman country road as it's said to do every thirty years. Even after he's grown up and married, one of them can't forget what he saw.

I was also able to get a preview on Google Books which confirms it's the same story:

"Don't you remember, Tom, how I cried 'Hail Caesar' - but it was the wrong language? Now if I, clad as a Briton, call to them in their own language, and say that I want to join them ... don't you see?"

Archive.org's "Open Library" has a digitised copy of the Robert Westall collection you can "borrow".

  • 9
    You have found it. I read the story on Archive.com and it is very well written and just as good as I recalled. I can’t believe it has been found. The Roman legions in the story passed by the village every thirty years and it took me that long to read it again! I have bought the paperback collection and look forward to holding it in my hands. I can’t thank you enough! This story influenced me greatly and at one point I even lived and studied in Rome and would go to the Forum and walk in the chariot ruts in the stone roads. 🙏🏼
    – Redbird
    Oct 23, 2022 at 18:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.