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Roman Roads

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Roman Road in Tyre

Roman Road in Tyre Leading to an Arch

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Definition:

They say: "All roads lead to Rome." The Romans created an amazing network of roads all across the empire, initially to move troops to trouble spots (and back home again), but then also for speedy communication and ease of pre-motorized travel. The idea probably comes from the so-called "Golden Milestone" (Milliarium Aureum), a marker in the Roman Forum probably listing the roads leading throughout the Empire and their distances from the milestone.

Roman roads, specifically viae, were the veins and arteries of the Roman military system. Through these highways, armies could march across the Empire from the Euphrates to the Atlantic. Names of these roads are found on maps, like the Tabula Peutingeriana, and lists, like Itinerarium Antonini (Itinerary of Antonius), perhaps from the reign of Emperor Caracalla, or the Itinerarium Hierosolymitanum (Jerusalem Itinerary), from A.D. 333.

Appian Way

The most famous Roman road is the Appian Way (Via Appia) between Rome and Capua, built by the censor Appius Claudius (later, known as Ap. Claudius Caecus 'blind') in 312 B.C., site of his descendant Clodius Pulcher's murder. A few years before the (virtually) gang warfare that led to Clodius' death, the road was the site of crucifixion of the followers of Spartacus when the combined forces of Crassus and Pompey finally put an end to the slave revolt.

Via Flaminia

In Northern Italy, the censor Flaminius made arrangements for another road, the Via Flaminia (to Ariminum), in 220 B.C. after the Gallic tribes had submitted to Rome.

Roads in the Provinces

As Rome expanded, it built many roads in the provinces for military and administrative purposes. The first roads in Asia Minor were built in 129 B.C., when Rome inherited Pergamum.

The city of Constantinople was at one end of the road known as the Egnatian Way (Via Egnatia [Ἐγνατία Ὁδός]) The road, built in the second century B.C., went through the provinces of Illyricum, Macedonia, and Thrace, starting at the Adriatic at the city of Dyrrachium. It was constructed by order of Gnaeus Egnatius, proconsul of Macedonia.

Roman Road Markings

Milestones on the roads give the date of construction. During the Empire, the emperor's name was included. Some would have provided a place for water for humans and horses. Their purpose was to show miles, so they might include distance in Roman miles to important places or the end point of the particular road.

Layers of the Roman Roads

The roads did not have a foundation layer. Stones were laid directly on topsoil. Where the path was steep, steps were created. There were different paths for vehicles and for pedestrian traffic.

Roman Roads Sources:

  • Colin M. Wells, Roger Wilson, David H. French, A. Trevor Hodge, Stephen L. Dyson, David F. Graf "Roman Empire" The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Brian M. Fagan, ed., Oxford University Press 1996

  • "Etruscan and Roman Roads in Southern Etruria," by J. B. Ward Perkins. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1/2. (1957), pp. 139-143.

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The Most Important Roman Roads During the Roman Republic

  • Via Appia.
    To Capua, 312 B.C.; to Venusia, 291 B.C.; to Brundisium, c. 268 B.C.
  • Via Latina.
    To Anagnia, Fregellae, and Casilinum, where it joined the Via Appia.
  • Via Salaria.
    To Reate, Asculum, and the Adriatic.
  • Via Valeria.
    To Carsioli and Alba Fucens, c. 299 B.C., extended later to Corfinium.
  • Via Flaminia.
    To Narnia, 299 B.C. ; to Fanum and Ariminum, 220 B.C.
  • Via Aemilia.
    From Ariminum to Bononia, Mutina, Parma, and Placentia, 187 B.C.; crossroad from Bononia by Florentia to Arretium, c. 187 B.C.
  • Via Cassia.
    To Sutrium, Clusium, and Arretium; reconstructed and continued to Luca and Luna, 171 B.C. or later.
  • Via Aurelia.
    The coast-road to Pisae and Luna after 180 B.C.; continued by the Via Aemilia (Scauri), to Genua, 109 B.C.
  • Via Postumia.
    From Genua by Dertona to Placentia; from there by Cremona and Verona to Aquileia, 148 B.C.
  • Via Popillia.
    From Capua by Nola to Salernum, and from there by Consentia to Regium, 132 B.C. To the same period (and in part, i.e., from Ariminum to Atria to the same Consul, Popillius Laenas), were due the roads from Ariminum to Aquileia and from Fanum southwards to Brundisium.
  • Via Egnatia.
    From Apollonia and Dyrrhachium to Thessalonica, c. 146 B.C., continued later to the Hebrus.
  • Via Domitia.
    From the Rhone to the Pyrenees, c. 121 B.C., connected with Genua by the Massiliot coast-road.

From: A History of Rome to the Death of Caesar, by Walter Wybergh How, Henry Devenish Leigh; Longmans, Green, and Co., 1896.

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