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The Heritage of Ancient Rome:

A Vast Road Network

Have you ever heard of the saying, tutte le strade portano a Roma (All roads lead to Rome)? This famous proverb refers to the vast and interconnected network of Roman roads. What may be a hyperbolic statement today was in fact very accurate 2,000 years ago.

During the age of the Roman Republic and later the Empire, all territories under Rome’s rule were covered by roads, including the Italian peninsula itself. Romans built their roads to facilitate commerce and to more easily move their famed legions. At its peak, the network included over 250,000 miles of roads,connecting all regions to Rome, the center of power.

Ranging from small local roads to broad highways, these thoroughfares were often stone-paved, equipped with drainage ditches and flanked by foot and horse paths. They were laid out along accurately surveyed courses, with some cutting through hills and crossing rivers. Maintenance of these public works was assigned to special curators who were responsible for the work performed. 

Tabula Peutingeriana, Depicting the city of Rome, Vienna, Hofbibliothek

Particular roads, called Strade Consolari (Consular Roads), were named after the Consul or the Emperor who commissioned them.  

Roman roads are considered eternal thanks to their long-standing construction techniques, but also because many of them are still in use today. The Via Emilia (named in honor of Consul Marco Emilio Lepido), connects the modern-day cities of Rimini and Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. This thoroughfare still bears its original name and is used to this day. Another example is Via Flaminia, (for Censor Gaio Flaminio Nepote) in the Marche region. Here, the Romans went so far as to dig a tunnel through a mountain (known as la galleria del Furlo) that is also still used today.

Many Roman roads can be found outside Italy as well. The German city of Augsburg, founded in 15 B.C. as a legionary fortress, sits at a crossroads of Roman roads. One of these roads is Via Claudia Augusta (in honor of the Emperor Claudius), which connects Italy and Germany. Another example is Via Domitia (named after Consul Gnaeus Domitius), built to link Italy and Spain passing through southern France.

Tabula Peutingeriana, Depicting southern Italy, Vienna, Hofbibliothek

While many Roman roads have disappeared today, a historical account of this vast network can be found in the Peutinger Table. This map is attributed to a monk in the Alsace region of France in 1265 and housed at the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna, Austria. This artifact is thought to be the only known surviving map of the cursus publicus, the Roman roads network. It covers most of Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia, including the Middle East, Persia, India even an indication of China. Unfortunately, the portion containing the Iberian Peninsula and the British Isles was lost.

One of the most well known Roman roads is the Via Appia (The Appian Way) which resides in the Eternal City. This road is also known as the Queen of the roads, and passes through the Regional and Archaeological Park of the Appia Antica. This is the largest urban park in Europe, and runs for 10 miles southeast from Rome. It includes ancient monuments, aqueducts, tombs and villas.

To learn more about Roman roadways, click on the button below.

YouTube Video: American Institute for Roman Culture

Article written by Valentina Andreucci in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team

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