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Roman Roads

The Romans, says Strabo, have principally employed themselves upon what the Greeks neglected - paved roads, aqueducts, and those sewers which drain the city of Rome. In fact, by cutting through mountains and filling up vallies, they have every where throughout the country made paved roads, which serve to convey from one place to another the goods brought by sea to the ports.

The communications between the capital and the frontier provinces of the empire were maintained by means of the great system of military roads, the construction of which everywhere followed in the wake of the Roman conquests. The starting-point for these, from which the measurements along them were calculated, was in each case the gate by which the road issued from the walls of Rome ; and the distances to which they respectively extended were recorded on the Miliarium Aureum, or Golden Milestone, which was set up for that purpose by Augustus in the Forum at the foot of the Capitoline Hill.

Through the facilities which they offered for speedy transit the intelligence which was constantly required by an elaborately centralised system of administration was transmitted to headquarters, and provision was made for the rapid passage of the Roman armies, and for the conveyance of merchandise from distant countries. The massive construction of these roads is made evident by the terraces, raised above the level of the neighbouring ground and paved with solid masonry, which remain in part in lands which were formerly subject to Rome; and the system of milestones by which they were measured is represented by numerous specimens which are found in all the three continents.

The ancient Roman roads, which, even at the present day, after the lapse of two thousand years, may be traced for miles, as perfect as when first constructed, were essentially dressed-stone pavements, with foundations of concrete, resting on sub-pavements. The most perfect modern constructions thus appear to be only imperfect and incomplete imitations. The practical science with which the Roman roads accommodated themselves to the geography of the lands they traversed may be inferred from the fact that the main highways of Europe still follow the Roman lines, and that where, for short distances, modern roads deviate from the Roman, it is in most cases not to their advantage.

The direction and length of the intended road were marked out by two parallel furrows, from the space between which the loose earth was removed. The foundation of the road (Statumeri) was composed of one or two courses of large fiat stones, laid in mortar, a bed of which was first spread over the earth. Next came a course of concrete (Rudus) formed of broken stones mixed with quicklime, and pounded with a rammer. If the stones were freshly broken ones, three parts of them were mixed with one of quicklime ; if they were from old buildings, two parts of lime were used to three of the rubbish. The third course (Nucleus) was composed of broken brickss tiles, and pottery, mixed with lime, which formed one-fourth of the whole. The mixture was spread in a thin layer, and in it were imbedded, so that their top surfaces were perfectly level, the large blocks of stone (Summa crusta) which formed the pavement. These stones were irregular polygons, usually with 5, 6, or 7 sides, rough on their under side, but smooth on top, and so perfectly fitted together that the joints were scarcely perceptible. The entire thickness of the four strata was about three feet.

When the road passed over marshy ground, the foundation stones rested on a framework of timber, (made of a species of oak not subject to warp or shrink) and to protect this from the lime, it was covered with a bed of rushes or reeds, and sometimes of straw. On each side of the road were paved footpaths, and parapets; with stones at regular intervals for mounting on horseback Milestones marked the distances to all parts of the empire from the Milliarium aureum, a gilt column in the Forum of Rome.

In the Roman roads may still be read the shifting of centers and lines of operation from the coast to the Save, and thence to the Alps and the Danube, while the records of the mile-stones enables ascertaining whether at the respective dates Rome was in communication with Germany, the Alps, or Pannonia. Chief among the geographical factors not influenced by, but powerfully influencing, Roman history is the great chain of the Alps, which opposed a formidable barrier to foreign invasions, and imposed a salutary check on rash extension of Boman dominion beyond them. To the west is a series of great mountain masses, penetrated by some deeply cut valleys or mountain passes over 6000 feet high. It was, however, very late before the Romans carved out roads along these lines. They preferred circumventing the Alps by following the Julian road along the sea-coast. To the east is a succession of chains lower and more practicable. Yet it was not till the tide of Roman conquest assailed Pannonia and Bohemia that the passage of the eastern Alps became of urgent importance.

Roadmaking was an important means employed by the Romans to consolidate their empire over the allies. Within 50 years of the construction of the Appian way from Rome to Capua, the Valerian was laid to Cortinium; the Aurelian skirted the coast of Etruria; the Flaminian penetrated the Apennines to Ariminum ; and the AEmelian continued this line to Placentia. Upon their solid pavement, in all weathers and at all seasons, the Roman legions could with all their baggage travel with speed and certainty.

Via Sacra - The Sacred Way was a road (about an eighth of a mile in length) carried up a steep slope between the Palatine and Velian hills, from the Roman Forum to the ridge upon which stand the Church of S. Francesca Romana and the arch of Titus, by which ridge the higher part of the Palatine was most easily approached. Though the ancient Roman antiquaries tell us that the name Sacred was also applicable to the extensions of this road, in one direction through the Forum to the Capitol, and in the other beyond the ridge to the now unknown site of the sacrum of Strenia, we learn from the same authorities that the only road popularly so called was the slope already described : and all the allusions to the Sacred Way in the classical poets, orators, and historians, will be found to apply to this short street.

Via Appia - The Appian Way is paved from Rome to Brendisium (Brindiri), and is the most frequented of all the roads made in Italy. Beyond Terracina on the Roman side, the Appian way is bordered by a canal, which receives the water of the marshes and rivers. It is particularly by night that this way of the canal is preferred ; upon it people embark in the evening, and leave it in the morning, and take for the rest of the journey, the Appian Way, but even in the day-time the boats are towed by mules. In the year 312 B.C. the Roman censor Appius Claudius laid out the Appian Way from Rome to Capua. In the 20th Century long stretches of this road were still in use, and patches of paving stones dating back to Roman times are still in situ here and there. This unusual state of preservation, extending also to its attendant monuments, and the halo of historical and literary association that has gathered about it in the more than two thousand years of its existence, make the Appian Way to the modern traveler as it was to the ancient, a "Queen of Roads," and give it an individuality that amounts almost to personality. The Appian Way left Rome originally by the Porta Capena, in the "Servian" wall of the fourth century B.C. The location of this gate is attested by portions of its foundations, formerly in the cellar of a small building not far from the baths of Caracalla, in the region now included in the new Zona Monumentale. When the Aurelian wall was built in the third century after Christ, the road passed through it by the Porta Appia, represented today by the Porta San Sebastiano. Over three or four miles, ending with the Tor di Selce, is seen the Appian Way which the artist and the archaeologist have made familiar to the world at large. It is flanked by broken yet continuous lines of tombs, which time has moulded into fantastic shapes of endless variety and tinted with dull reds and grays and yellows that blend with the earth and stand out against the sky.

Valerian Way - According to modern accounts, the Valerian way was about 100 miles long; for the first 15 miles are found ruins of bridges, causeways, &c. Beyond, the remains of it are not so evident, but the boldness with which it is carried across three mountain chains is surprising. The example which Appius had set in his public works was followed by succeeding censors, M. Valerius Maximus and C. Junius Bubulcus a]so made some roads through the country in the neighborhood of Rome; that is, they either improved the line of the existing local roads, or widened them, and constructed them of better materials. One of the roads, thus in a manner made anew, led from Rome to Tibur; and this being afterwards continued through the country of the Equians by Carseoli and Alba, as far as Sulmo and Corfinium, and thus having become one of the greatest lines of communication in Italy, was known throughout its whole length by the name of the Valerian Way, because the first twenty miles of it from Rome to Tibur were made by the censor M. Valerius.

Flaminia Way - The Via Flaminia, which was the great northern road from Rome, was constructed in 220 BC by Gaius Flaminia Flaminius during his censorship, with the object of maintaining the communications between the capital and Cisalpine Gaul, which country he had previously subjugated. Leaving Rome by the Porta Flaminia, it crossed the Tiber at the Milvian bridge, two miles distant from the walls of the city, and passing the foot of Mount Soracte entered Umbria near Ocriculum, from whence by way of Narnia and Mevania it reached the foot of the Apennines. On the further side of that chain it descended the valley of the Metaurus to the Adriatic at Fanum Eortunae (Fano), and then followed the coast as far as its terminus at Ariminum (Rimini).

Emilian Way - M. Emilius Scaurus constructed the Emilian Way running to Sabbata and Dartbon ; and there is another Emilhn Way, which continues the Flaminian Way, and was the work of M. Emilius Lepidus, colleague of C. Flaminius - this is an error of Strabo in attributing the Flaminian way to this Flaminius. The Flaminian way was prolonged from its northern termination at Ariminum, under the name of the Aemilian way, to Placentia. The ia Flaminia was continued as far as Placentia (Piacenza) by M. Aemilius Lepidus, and Aemliia. from him this additional portion obtained the name of the Aemilian Way. It was carried through the plains of Cisalpine Gaul, skirting the northern spurs of the Apennines, and connected with one another and with its two termini the important cities of Bononia (Bologna), Mutina (Modena) and Parma. From Placentia, where it crossed the Po, it was subsequently prolonged to Mediolanum (Milan). The places thus reached formed the starting-points for the lines of communication which connected Italy with the central regions of Gaul.

Salarian Way - The Salarian Way is a great road very short. To it joins the Nomentan Way.

Via Aurelia - The great western road at its commencement was called the Via Aurelia, under which name it extended The via from Rome to Pisae (Pisa) by way of Cosa and Aurelia Populonium, passing through the unhealthy coast-land of Etruria, which is now known as the Maremma.

Via Aemilia Scauri - In the year 1O9 BC the Via Aurelia was continued by Aemilius Scaurus over the difficult ground which skirts the head of the Gulf of Genoa, as far as Vada Sabatia (Vado); and this portion was called the Via Aemilia Scauri, to distinguish it from the more famous Aemilian Way in Cisalpine Gaul.

Via Julia - During the reign of Augustus the Via Aurelia was again extended under the name of Via Julia along the Ligurian coast to Cemenelum (Cimiez, at the back of Nice), thus reaching the frontier of Gaul. The principal places which it passed in this part were the native towns of Albium Ingaunum (Albenga) and Albium Intemelium (Ventimiglia), and the old Greek colony of Portus Herculis Monoeci (Monaco). At Cemenelum the road was brought into connexion with the great Roman through way through the Provincia, which passed by way of Forum Julii (Frejus) and Aquae Sextiae (Aix) to Arelate (Arles) at the head of the delta of the Rhone; and from that place, first to Nemausus (Nimes), and then by Narbo (Narbonne) to the foot of the Pyrenees. That chain was crossed between Ruscino (Roussillon) and Gerunda (Gerona); and from the latter place the road proceeded to Tarraco (Tarragona), and after crossing the Iberus continued along the coast to Valentia and the mouth of the Sucro (Jucar). It there turned inland, and after passing the watershed which separates the streams that fall into the Mediterranean from those which reach the Atlantic, entered the basin of the Baetis (Guadalquivir), and traversed the province of Baetica by way of Corduba (Cordova), and Hispalis (Seville), until it arrived at the ocean, with which in this way Rome was connected.

In Gaul the chief highways started from Lugdunum, the Roman capital city, which is called by Strabo on account of the importance of its position the acropolis of the country. Four great roads diverged from this point in different directions, three of which communicated with three different seas. One ran due south along the course of the Rhone to Aries and the Mediterranean. A second pursued a westerly course through the territory of the Arverni (Auvergne) and by Augustoritum (Limoges) to the mouth of the Garonne, after which it penetrated southward into Aquitania. A third went northward up the valley of the Arar (Saone) to Cabillonum (Chalon), thence by Augustodunum (Autun) and across the upper waters of the Yonne and Seine and Marne to Durocortorum (Reims), the capital of the Remi, and from that point north-westward to Samarobriva (Amiens) and Gesoriacum (Boulogne), which was the ordinary place of transit for Britain. Again, from Cabillonum a fourth route diverged from the one just described, and followed the stream of the Doubs upwards throughout a great part of its course, but ultimately crossed a watershed into the valley of the Rhine, not far from where the road from the Pennine pass entered it. From this point to the German Ocean a continuous line of road maintained the communications of the Romans throughout the two provinces of Upper and Lower Germany, passing the important stations of Mogontiacum (Mainz) and Colonia Agrippina (Cologne), and reaching at last Lugdunum Batavorum (Leyden) near the mouth of the stream.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:28:42 ZULU