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Military Roads

Military Roads
PersiaRoyal Road
ChinaSilk Road
RomeRoman Roads
IncaIncan Roads
IndiaGrand Trunk Road
VietnamHo Chi Minh Trail
United StatesInterstate Highway
United StatesSouthern Distribution Network
ChinaNational Expressway
IndiaExpress Highways
IndiaBorder Roads
RussiaFederal Highways
The interest taken in the improvement of the roads is one of the chief indications of civilization, and it might even be said that the condition of the roads of a country shows the degree of enlightenment which its people have reached. The increased mobility of Iron Age armies was also a function of the military road. Early imperial states had the advantage of regular travel over regular routes, a practice that packed down and widened dirt trails into usable, good-weather roads.

While the prosperity of a country depends largely upon its productiveness, the importance of proper facilities for expeditious transportation and for the ready exchange of its various products can scarcely be overrated. The free circulation of commercial commodities is as essential to the welfare of the people as is the unimpaired circulation of the blood to the human organism. In the past no nation that established a system of public thoroughfares through its dominions ever failed to make a distinguished figure in the theater of the world. There are some authors who even go so far as to call the high roads of commerce the pioneers of enlightenment and political eminence. It is true that as roads and canals developed the commerce of eastern Asia and Europe, the attention of the people was turned to those objects which distinguish cultured nations and lead to political consequences among the powers of the world. The systems of roads and canals which we find among those ancients who achieved an advanced state of civilization might well put to shame the roads which disgraced not a few of the European States as late as the Eighteenth century.

Among the early nations of Asia of whose internal affairs we have any historic knowledge are the Hindoos, the Assyrians and Babylonians, the Phoenicians, the Persians and the Chinese.

The wealth of India was proverbial long before the Christian era. The testimony of the Vedas, the religious books of the ancient Hindoos, relates that a high degree of culture must have prevailed on the shores of the Ganges more than three thousand years ago. Highways were constructed by the state and connected the interior of the realm with the sea and the countries to the northeast and northwest. For this purpose forests were cleared, hills leveled, bridges built and tunnels dug. But the broad statesmanship of the Hindoo did not pause here. To administer to the convenience and comfort of the wayfaring public and thus still more encourage travel and the exchange of commodities, the state proceeded to line these public roads with shade trees, to set out mile stones and to establish stations provided with shaded seats of repose and wells at which humane priests watered the thirsty hearts.

At intervals along these routes were also found commodious and cleanly kept inns to give shelter to the traveler at night. Buddha, the great religious reformer of the Indoors, commended the roads and mountain passes of the country to the care of the pious, and the Greek geographers speak with high praise of the excellence of the public highways of Hindustan.

Among the Babylonians and Assyrians agriculture, trade and commerce flourished at an almost equally remote period. The ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia cultivated the soil with the aid of dikes and canals, and were experts in the manufacture of delicate fabrics, as linen, muslin and silk. To them is attributed the invention, or at least the perfection, of the cart, and the first use of domestic animals as beasts of burden. Their cities had well built and commodious streets, and the roads which connected them with their dependencies aided to make them the busy marts of southeastern Asia.

While highways among the Babylonians served the development of agriculture and the exchange of industrial commodities, they were constructed chiefly for strategic purposes by the more warlike Assyrians, whose many wars made a system of good roads a necessity. The Greek geographer, Pausanius, was shown a well kept military road, upon which Memnon was said to have marched with an Assyrian army from Susa to Troy, to rescue king Priam. Traces of this road, called by the natives "Itaki Atabeck," may be seen to this day.

While the Phoenicians, who were the first of the great historic maritime nations of antiquity, for their commercial intercourse relied chiefly upon the sea, the great highway of Nature; they neglected, by no means, road building at home. They connected their great cities, Sidon and Tyre, by a coast road, which they extended in time as far as the Isthmus of Suez. They also established great commercial routes by which their merchants penetrated the interior of Europe and Asia. Caravan roads extended south to Arabia and east to Mesopotamia and Armenia, penetrating the whole Orient as far as India, and even the frontiers of China. The Phoenicians thus became the travelers of antiquity, Tyre being the link between the east and the west.

The Persian Empire, which under Darius stretched from east to west for a distance of three thousand miles and comprised no less than two million square miles, with a population of seventy to eighty millions, had with the exception of the Romans, perhaps the best system of roads known to ancient history. From Susa to Sardes led a royal road along which were erected caravansaries at certain intervals. Over this road, 1,700 miles long, the couriers of the king rode in six or seven days. Under Darius the roads of the empire were surveyed and distances marked by the means of milestones, many of which are still found on the road which led from Ecbatana to Babylon. These roads crossed the wildest regions of that great monarchy. They connected the cities of Ionia with Babylon and the royal city of Susa; they led from Syria into Mesopotamia, from Ecbatana to Persepolis; from Armenia into southern Persia, and thence to Bactria and India.

The Chinese commenced road building long before the Christian era. They graded the roadway and then covered the whole with hewn blocks of stone, care fully jointed and cemented together so that the entire surface presented a perfectly smooth plane. Such roads, although very costly to build, are almost indestructible by time. In China, as well as in several other countries of Asia, the executive power has always charged itself with both the construction and maintenance of roads and navigable canals. In the instructions which are given to the governors of the various provinces, those objects, it is said, are constantly commended to them, and the judgment which the court forms of the conduct of each is very much regulated by the attention which he appears to have paid to this part of his instructions. This solicitude of the sovereign for the internal thoroughfares may easily be accounted for when it is considered that this revenue arises almost entirely from a land tax or rent, which rises and falls with the increase and decrease of the annual produce of the land.

The greatest interest of the sovereign, his revenue, is therefore directly connected with the cultivation of the land, with the extent of its produce and its value. But in order to render that produce as great and as valuable as possible, it is necessary to procure for it as extensive a market as possible, and consequently to establish the freest, the easiest and the least expensive communication between all the different parts of the country, which can be done only by means of the best roads, and the best navigable canals. In Africa the Egyptians and Carthaginians are the only nations of antiquity of which we have much historic knowledge.

To facilitate commerce, they constructed and maintained a number of excellent highways leading in all directions. One of the most important among these was the old royal road on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, or the "Road of the Philistines" of the scriptures. This road crossed the Isthmus of Suez and led through the land of the Philistines and Samaria to Tyre and Sidon. Another road led in a northwesterly direction from Ramses to Pelusium. This, however, crossed marshes, lagoons, and a whole system of canals, and was used only by travelers without baggage, while the Pharaohs, accompanied by their horses, chariot* and troops preferred the former road. A third road led from Coptos on the Nile lo Berenice on the Red Sea. There were between these two cities ten stations, about 25 miles apart from each other, where travelers might rest with their camels each day, after traveling all night to avoid the heat. Still another road led from the town of Babylon, opposite Memphis, along the east bank of the Nile into Nubia.

Rome is the connecting link between antiquity and medievalism. The great empire sprang from a single city, whose power and dominion grew until it comprised every civilized nation living upon the three continents then known. Under the emperors the Roman Empire extended from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, a distance of more than 3,000 miles, and from the Danube and the English Channel to the cataracts of the Nile and the Desert of the Sahara.

Its population was from eighty to one hundred and twenty millions. The empire was covered with a net-work of excellent roads which stimulated, together with the safety and peace which followed the civil wars, traffic and intercourse between the different regions united under the imperial government. Solidly constructed highways connected the various provinces of this vast realm. There was one great chain of communication of 4,080 Roman miles in length from the Wall of Antonious in the northwest to Rome, thence to Jerusalem, a southeastern point of the empire. There were several thousand miles of road in Italy alone. Rome's highways were constructed for the purpose of facilitating military movements, but the benefits which commerce derived from them cannot easily be over estimated. These military roads were usually laid out in straight lines from one station to another. Natural obstacles were frequently passed by means of very extensive works, as excavations, bridges, and, in some instances, long tunnels.

It has justly been said that the roads of the Roman Empire, whose strong net-work enlaced the known world, were the architectural glory of its people. There military roads caused in the various parts of the empire a wonderful, social and commercial revolution. They made it possible for civilization to penetrate in the most remote retreats and to conquer their inhabitants more completely than Caesar at the hand of his legions could.

Louis XI of France, took the first step toward making a nation of the French when he transferred the postal service from the cities and other feudal authorities to the State. Two or three centuries later, France obtained a national system of roads and canals. The idea was largely due to Colbert, the minister of Louis XI. It was, however, not executed in detail until the middle of the last century. Many abuses grew up in connection with it; but on the whole it was probably the soundest and most efficient part of the French administration. A system of lines of communication, radiating from Paris, was constructed by skilled engineers, and placed under the supervision of men of talent, especially trained for the purpose at the Ecole des Pouts et Chausses. The whole system was further improved by Napoleon, and has served as a basis for the present system of railroad supervision.

In the Netherlands the cities, towns and villages were connected by canals, which to a large extent took the place of roads. While the Romans constructed some highways in Great Britain the present public road system is of comparatively recent origin. The first public postal route was established in 1635, during the reign of Charles I. In 1678 a public stage coach route was established between Edinburg and Glasgow. The distance is only forty-four miles, but the roads were so bad that, though the coach was drawn by six able horses, the journey took three days. It was considered a great improvement when, in 1750, it could be completed in half the time originally required. In 1663 a mail coach made only monthly trips between London and Edinburg, eight long days being required for the journey, which to-day is made in less than twelve hours. The number of stage passengers between these two capitals averaged about twenty-five a month, and :close to fifty on extraordinary occasions. In those days coaches were very heavy and without springs, and travelers not un frequently cut short their journeys for want of conveniences.

Turnpikes in Great Britain do not even date as far back as stage coaches. It is true the first turnpike act was passed as early as 1653, but the system was not extensively adopted until a century later. Previous to that time the roads of England, such as they were, were maintained by parish and statute labor. In the latter half of the last century, under improved methods of construction, turnpike roads multiplied rapidly. Both roads and vehicles attained previous to the advent of the railroads such a degree of perfection that the stage coach made the journey between London and Manchester, 178 miles, in 19 hours; between London and Liverpool, 203 miles, in less than 21 hours; and between London and Holyhead, 261 miles, in less than 27 hours.

Next to Turkey and Spain, no country of Europe was as slow to appreciate the advantages of a system of highways as Russia. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the vast Empire of the Czar had but a few roads connecting its principal cities, and these were almost impassable in the spring and fall. Much progress has, however, been made since then, and at present Russia has over 75,000 miles of wagon road.

In ancient Peru the Incas built great roads, the remains of which still attest their magnificence. Probably the most remarkable were the two which extended from Guito to Cuzco, and thence on toward Chili, one passing over the great plateau, the other following the coast. What above all things relieves the severe aspects of the deserts of the Cordilleras are the remains, as marvelous as unexpected, of a gigantic road, the work of the Incas. In the pass of the Andes, between Mausi and Loja, on the plain of Puttal much difficulty is found in making a way for the mules over a marshy piece of ground, while for more than a German mile our sight continually rested on the superb remains of paved road of the Incas, twenty feet wide, which we marked resting on its deep foundations, and paved with well cut, dark porphyritic stone. This road was wonderful, and does not fall behind the most imposing Roman ways to be seen in France, Spain and Italy.

The length of this road, of which only part remains, is variously estimated at from 1,500 to 2,000 miles. It was built of stone, and was, in some parts at least, covered with a bituminous cement, which time has made harder than the stone itself. All the difficulties which a mountainous country presents to the construction of roads was overcome. Suspension bridges led over mountain torrents, stairways cut in the rock made possible the climbing of steep precipices, and mounds of solid masonry facilitated the crossing of ravines. Under the rule of the Spaniards the roads of the Incas went to ruin. In fact, throughout South America but little, if anything, was done by the mother country to aid transportation.

This glance at the history of the great past shows that the more intelligent and progressive a people became, the greater efforts they made to improve their facilities for transportation, and a careful survey will more emphatically demonstrated that the great desideratum of civilization is cheap and rapid transit.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2020 13:37:09 ZULU