City blog. Rome based.

All roads lead to Rome

For a long time, the Etruscans governed Rome, and by them the Romans borrowed habits and practices. Etruscans were, in fact, three of the seven legendary kings who governed Rome: the Tarquinii (Tarquin the Elder, Servius Tullius, Tarquin the Proud).

In 509 BC The last Etruscan King Tarquin the Proud was banned from Rome, Etruscan rule over the city done and the Republic began.

If the presence of the Etruscans in Rome considerably  influenced the customs of the original population (especially religion, with the construction of important temples and shrines, or the construction of essential infrastructures fot the future of Rome such as Cloaca Maxima or the drainage of the Valley of the Forum), their absence also brought great changes to Roman society.

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Questo post è disponibile anche in italiano.

Rome, in the center of the ancient world.

When, around 500 BC, people who lived in the city of Rome became independent from the Etruscan rule, they started some innovations which completely changed the course of history.

The Romans were a population dedicated to commerce. This particularity required some expedientes to make contacts with other cities in the Peninsula easier.

One of the elements that made Rome the center of an empire was the creation of a global road network. The roads are perhaps the greatest witness, the greatest monument that the Romans left us.

The roads, an essential element for the birth of the Empire.

Ph. credits www.capitolium.it

In Roman territory, as for all populations of the ancient world, there was always some war to fight. The construction of the Roman roads was formerly a military purpose, enabling men and war supplies to reach every corner of the conquered lands in the shortest possible time.

From the beginning, however, they were not used solely for military purposes. Just because of their main feature – capillarity – the use of Roman roads was immediately essential for both the commerce and cultural development.

The streets of culture.

We can therefore consider the roads as an important element for the expansion of Rome. The roads allowed the goods and the ideas to travel and to affirm themselves in territories far from Rome; likewise, they guaranteed the circulation in the opposite direction: Rome became the center of the world because it was able to export habits, goods, ideas, but also because they flowed there, from every corner of the world.

What we may consider as globalization, so similar to the one we are experiencing today, was made possible by the Roman road system. Thanks to the mobility guaranteed by the complex of communication channels, one language was spoken throughout the empire, one coin was used, it was administered through the same laws… Let us not forget that Roman was a multiethnic, but monocultural civilization!

It is not surprising, then, that such a well-accomplished system has not run out of function after the fall of the empire. Especially in Rome, but also in much of Italy and, to a lesser extent, in Europe, we are still walking the same streets as our ancestors crossed over two thousand years ago.

Roman roads across the centuries.

This is particularly evident in Rome, which from two thousand years is surrounded by a radiant road system. Roads start from Rome, center of the Empire, to reach all subjected territories.

The most important roads were the ones known as consular routes (vie consolari): they were constructed by a consul (except for the Appia Street, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries BC by the censor Appius Claudius Caecus to provide military aid to the city of Capua) . Some of these are the basis of modern road maps:

main consular roadssecondaries consular roadsconsular roads of the Reign of Rome (necessaries ro link Rome with other areas)
  • via Aurelia (Romr-Ventimiglia)
  • via Cassia (Romr-Florentia, now Florence, later Rome-Pistoria, now Pistoia)
  • via Flaminia (Rome-Rimini)
  • via Salaria (Rome-Castrum Truentium, now Martinsicuro)
  • via Tiburtina (Rome-Tibur, now Tivoli)
  • via Casilina (Rome-Casilinum, now Santa Maria Capua Vetere)
  • via Appia (Rome-Brundisium, now Brindisi)
  • via Nomentana (Rome-Nomentum, now Monterotondo)
  • via Prenestina (Rome-Praeneste, now Palestrina)
  • via Anagnina (Rome-Anagni)
  • via Ardeatina (Rome-Ardea)
  • via Laurentina (Rome-Laurentum, now Tor San Lorenzo)
  • via Tuscolana (Rome-Tusculum, now Frascati)
  • via Portuense (Rome-Portus, now Fiumicino)
  • via Trionfale (Rome-Veio, now Formello)
  • via Cornelia (Rome-Caere, now Cerveteri)
  • via Ostiense (Rome-Ostium, now Ostia Antica)
  • via Collatina (Romw-Collatia, now Lunghezza)

The great roads built by the Romans were very similar, as idea, to the modern highways. Looking at its tracks, they look straight for miles. These great ways of communication left the inhabited centers to their sides, but did not deviate from the natural obstacles. The large obstacles were surpassed spectacularly. The consular routes did not hail mountains or hills, but overtaken them by digging tunnels or sloping the heights. Viaducts, arches and bridges, however, allowed to pass quickly over rivers and valleys.

Romans were great builders!

However, the greatness of these communication channels can not only been traced back to the geographical level. If these roads have been run daily for hundreds of years, the credit it to the construction technique too. We frequently see parts of street still perfectly preserved in some archaeological sites.

The Roman way to build roads allowed to make its set on place for a long time: the place housing streets were filled by a layer of pebbles, from the roughest (bottom) to the finest (top), with a covering of large flat lava stones (paving). This system allowed a great stability of stones and an easy flow of rainwater. The arrangement in a way called “humpbacked” on the paving (more bombed in the middle of the road) helped the rainfall to outflow on the sides and guaranteed greater cleanliness of the street itself.

The main roads that left the city had to be wide enough to allow the passage of two chariots (one in each way). The streets were flanked by a wide pedestrian sidewalk on each side, similar to the modern streets.

Where are we going?

Along all the main roads, at regular intervals, there was a large cylindrical stone engraved with the street name and other information. These milestones were used to mark the distances, being placed at one mile (1 mile = 1000 steps = 1478.5 meters) from the previous one. The “zero” point, from which all the streets depart, was the miliarium aureum, a bronze coated column set in the Roman Forum (Augusto). On the miliarium aureum were indicated the distances between Rome and the main cities of the Empire. Something very similar survives in Paris (also a Roman city with the name Lutetia Parisiorum, conquered by Julius Caesar in 52 BC!) where, in front of the Notre-Dame cathedral, a bronze slab marks the “point zero des routes de France“.


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