Thursday, January 8, 2015

Roads in History: Roman Empire

The Roman Empire was the prominent superpower in Europe for more than half a millennium. It lands encompassed the coastlines of the whole Mediterranean Sea and towards north covering half of the British Isles. To connect such a massive empire resulted to the creation of one of the best known road networks in history. Roads had been a way to connect lands, kingdoms, and empires. It brought great benefits to civilizations that created such networks. And one of the first well-known civilizations to use roads in a massive scale was the Roman Empire.

The Roman Empire is one of the largest empire that the world have ever seen. It covered lands in three continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa. It became the standard of a glorious civilization that the world came to recognize. But to command such a huge Empire, connectivity must be excellent in order to maintain it. And Rome achieved it by laying down road.

Romans were good road builders. At the height of its power, Rome had over 50,000 miles of roads. It connected provinces and allowed the rapid deployment of legions to areas where there were needed. When the Romans fully developed their road building skills, they had the finest roads that the ancient world could offer. Roman roads were made of layers of different materials. First, a bed of mortar made of sand would be place along the route. It would then be followed by what the Romans called the statumen, or a combination of clay or concrete and stones. But in cases of terrain with rocks, this layer was not added. Then a third layer called rudus was then added. A rudus was made of concrete mixed with either stones, crush tiles, bricks, or even gravel. Finally, a fourth layer called the summa crusta made of lava or silica was added to give the roads their final touch. 

Besides being paved and sturdy, the Roman roads also exemplified a road that had drainages. The designs of the road allowed water to go to the sides of the road for drainage. This was achieved by building the middle of the road slightly higher than the side. This made rain water to flow down the sides where ditches called umbo, which were made of stones, collected the water.

Such capability of building paved roads was a result of hundreds of years in a making. The early Roman during the time of the Republic were inspired by the roads built in Carthage and Etruscan cities. They then laid out early roads in Rome measuring 3 meters wide and made of lime mortar. From this road, other routes followed. The Via Gabina, Via Latina, and Via Salaria were then constructed.  Then in 312 BCE, the famous Via Appira was built under the orders of the Roman censor named Appius Claudius Caecus. It connected Rome to Capua, and as Roman territories expanded, reached further to Southern Italy, towards Venusia and Brindisi. It had a length of over 132 miles. After the Via Appia, road construction continued to expand and develop. Under the consulship of Aulus Postuminus Albinus and Quintus Fulvius Flaccus during the 3rd century BCE, Roman roads began to be made of stones and gravel. After a hundred years, roads also began to connect places other than road. The Via Egnatia connected Dures and Thracia during the century. Ever since, Consuls and later, Emperors, saw the importance of roads in the maintenance and the administration of the Empire. Afterwards, legions became involved in road construction. Each had road engineers and soldiers serving as workers were tasked to construct of repair roads. Over the course of Rome’s long history, it built over 372 roads across the vast empire. Roman roads only began to decline in 400 CE when corruption and mismanagement led to the disrepair of the roads, and some even disappeared.

But even after the fall of the Roman Empire in 410 CE, Roman roads left a legacy that humanity would never forget. The roads of the Roman showed the importance of paved roads in maintaining a country. It displayed new designs that even today remains in use. Roman roads then became one of the hallmarks of Roman civilization and even a mark of development in the modern world. 

See Also:

Bunson, M. Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire. New York: Facts On File, Inc, 2002.

Grimbly, S. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 2000.

Van Tilburg, C. Traffic and Congestion in the Roman Empire. New York: Routledge, 2007.

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