Where do Roman roads lead, exactly?
We’ve all heard the saying that all roads lead to Rome, but do you know where exactly in Rome they led to?
The Milliarium Aureum, the Golden Milestone, was a momument of marble or gilded bronze that was erected by Augustus near the Temple of Saturn, in the Forum. All roads were considered to begin from this point, and all distances in the empire were calculated from it. On it, there may have been a list of all the major cities of the empire, and their distance from the milestone.
If you go to Rome today, you can see the marble base of something labelled the Milliarium Aurium, but historians are still arguing about that today.
When you get into Roman history, there’s a lot of, well, wankery, out there amongst laypeople (as opposed to historians) about the Roman Empire. It’s definitely been co-opted before, notably by the Italian fascists, as some sort of militarised ideal that modern society should be striving for—which is honestly too many layers of bullshit to even start uncovering in what’s supposed to be a light-hearted series of blog posts. Suffice to say, if I run into anyone online who claims to be a lover of Roman history, especially military history, I side-eye them until they prove they’re not some kind of asshole totalitarian dickhead. Those people would have a shitfit at how messy, how ordinary, and how multicultural the Roman Empire, and the city of Rome itself, actually was. I had a point when I started this paragraph, I promise: the Roman Empire wasn’t built on military expansion—it was built on its roads. Now of course the two went hand in hand, but the wannabe fascists never fawn over the surveyors and the ditch diggers, do they?
Roman roads were a marvel of ancient infrastructure, and allowed not just for the movement of armies, but they also allowed officials and civilians to move about the Empire, and for trade. If you lived in Londinium, you could—eventually—get mail and gifts from friends in Singara in Mesopotamia.
Roman roads allowed space for armies to march, but they also allowed space for two carts to pass each other, without impeding pedestrian traffic, but could be as wide as 7 metres in some places. Each one was built with a camber, allowed water to run off to the sides instead of pooling. Roman roads look rough to the modern eye because the concrete between the stones has worn away, but, in their day, they would have been smooth.
You can still see Roman roads today, and if you get the chance to walk part of one, do it! Old buildings and statues are fine—they’re great!—but there’s something very special about knowing you’re putting your feet in the same places that hundreds of thousands of ordinary people have done before you. About doing, instead of just looking. It’s always interesting to take a moment and contemplate lives that, on the surface, seem so foreign compared to ours, but perhaps when we look deeper weren’t so different after all.
Which is why I love this transit map by Sasha Trubetskoy. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
You can find more Roman transit maps on Sasha’s site at sashamaps.net.