In 1175 A.D., French theologian and poet Alain de Lille wrote, ‘mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam’. When translated, the saying is ‘a thousand roads lead men forever to Rome’. Or, as famously abbreviated, “All roads lead to Rome”.
At one time in history, had he changed it to read ‘most roads lead to Rome’, he would have been right on target. It was the idea of other major roadways that interested me.
Persian King Darius I, in the 5th Century B.C. built the Royal Road. Paved for fast travel, the highway extended for over 1,600 miles. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, born 480 B.C., Royal Persian messengers ‘…are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed’. Or, as paraphrased, they were stopped by ‘neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night’. Thanks to relay stations, it took the couriers only 9 days to ride from one end of the Royal Road to the other.
In 220 B.C., Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang started the Imperial Highway. A wide, tree lined boulevard with a stone surface, the highway grew to 25,000 miles by 700 A.D.
In comparison, by the fall of the Empire, the Romans had constructed around 50,000 miles of stone paved roads. Along with thousands of miles of lesser thoroughfares, these straight roads spanned the far-off territories controlled by Rome.
Which leads me to the theme of this article. If ancient Roman roads were built to accommodate the military, who else could use them? It was the use and purpose of the Roman roads that interests me.
History reports that the first military road was the Via Appia or Appian Way. Begun in 312 B.C., the paved road ran southeast from Rome and ended 162 miles away at the coastal city of Taranto on the Ionian Sea. It spanned a major impediment to travel, the Pontine Marshes. Once the first section was completed, Legions and supplies crossed the malaria infested swamp and joined the fighting. Men and supplies sent over the Via Appia led to Rome’s victory in the Second Samnite War.
But, was the Appian Way the first road built by the Romans for military purposes? The answer may give us a clue as to who else could use the highways.
The city of ancient Rome had little urban planning. Streets twisted and turned, and merchants used sidewalks to display merchandise, causing further traffic congestion. Yet, the city was surrounded by a defensive wall, the Servian Wall, for security against invaders. Ten gates allowed access to Rome. To defend the portals, boulevards ran through the city to facilitate the movement of troops to a gate that needed extra defenders. These were the first Roman roads built to accommodate the military.
And being in Rome, the public could use the relative the straight doublewide, paved roads. With the understanding that the Legions had priority on the use of the boulevards, the citizen enjoyed the benefits of unimpeded travel across the city.
Likewise, the freeways crisscrossing the countryside and built by the Legions were used by Legions, their baggage trains, chariots, officials, and official couriers. Also allowed on them were citizens on horseback, in coaches, or on foot. And certainly, as important, farmers and tradesmen moved goods across the network of Roman roads.
The main purpose of the roadways might have been to facilitate the rapid deployment of Rome’s armies. But a secondary benefit of Roman roads was an economic boost to the Republic, and later the Empire. The easy movement of merchandise and food items from farms and factories to urban centers created wealth for its citizens on the highways built for the military.
J. Clifton Slater
I am J. Clifton Slater and I write Military Adventure both Future and Ancient.
The question of how the Legionaries heard commands while in combat came to me while doing research for my historical adventure series. The Clay Warrior Stories are books set in the framework of the First Punic War. They are epic tales designed to make you want to strap on a shield, grab a gladius, and join a Century’s battle line.
Available on Amazon.com in paperback, Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.
Clay Warrior Stories
Set in the backdrop of the 1st Punic War, the books tell the tales of a hot-headed young swordsman in the growing Republic.
The Clay Warrior Stories are Available at Amazon.com in paperback, on Kindle, and Kindle Unlimited.