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Roman Roads in Wikipedia
The Roman roads were a vital part of the development of the Roman state, from about 500 BC through the expansion during the
Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. Roman roads enabled the Romans to move armies and trade goods and to communicate
news. The Roman road system spanned more than 400,000 km of roads, including over 80,500 km of paved roads. When
Rome reached the height of its power, no fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the city. Hills were cut
through and deep ravines filled in. At one point, the Roman Empire was divided into 113 provinces traversed by 372 great
road links. In Gaul alone, no less than 21,000 km of road are said to have been improved, and in Britain at least 4,000
The Romans became adept at constructing roads, which they called viae. They were intended for carrying material from
one location to another. It was permitted to walk or pass and drive cattle, vehicles, or traffic of any description along the
path. The viae differed from the many other smaller or rougher roads, bridle-paths, drifts, and tracks.
The Roman road networks were important both in maintaining the stability of the empire and for its expansion. The legions
made good time on them, and some are still used millennia later. In later antiquity, these roads played an important part in
Roman military reverses by offering avenues of invasion to the barbarians.
The Romans' roads were called viae (plural of the singular term via) in Latin. The word is related to the English way (Old
English weg) and weigh, (OE wegan, "to lift up, carry, bear, move, convey"; cf. "weigh anchor", where the sense is simply
"lift up"). These words are all derived from the Indo-European root, *wegh-, which means "to move or convey". Vehicle, from
Latin vehere, "to carry, bring, drive", has the same root, as do the English words wain and wagon (the latter word coming
Roman systems --
Livy mentions some of the most familiar roads near Rome, and the milestones on them, at times long before the first paved
road - the Appian Way. Unless these allusions are just simple anachronisms, the roads referred to were probably at the
time little more than levelled earthen tracks. Thus, the Via Gabina (during the time of Porsena) is mentioned in about 500
BC; the Via Latina (during the time of Coriolanus) in about 490 BC; the Via Nomentana, or Via Ficulensis, in 449 BC; the Via
Labicana in 421 BC; and the Via Salaria in 361 BC.
In the Itinerary of Antoninus, the description of the road system, after the death of Julius Caesar and during Augustus
tenure, is as follows:
"With the exception of some outlying portions, such as Britain north of the Wall, Dacia, and certain provinces east of the
Euphrates, the whole Empire was penetrated by these itinera (plural of iter). There is hardly a district to which we might
expect a Roman official to be sent, on service either civil or military, where we do not find roads. They reach the Wall in
Britain; run along the Rhine, the Danube, and the Euphrates; and cover, as with a network, the interior provinces of the
A road map of the empire reveals that it was generally laced with a dense network of prepared viae. Beyond the borders
were no roads; however, one might presume that footpaths and dirt roads allowed some transport.
For specific roads, see Roman road locations below.
Laws and traditions --
The laws of the Twelve Tables, dated to approximately 450 BC, specified that a road shall be 8 ft (2.45 m) wide where
straight and 16 ft (4.90 m) where curved. Actual practices varied from this standard. The Tables command Romans to build
roads and give wayfarers the right to pass over private land where the road is in disrepair. Building roads that would not
need frequent repair therefore became an ideological objective.
Roman law defined the right to use a road as a servitus, or claim. The ius eundi ("right of going") established a claim to
use an iter, or footpath, across private land; the ius agendi ("right of driving"), an actus, or carriage track. A via
combined both types of servitutes, provided it was of the proper width, which was determined by an arbiter. The default width
was the latitudo legitima of 8 ft (2.4 m). In these rather dry laws we can see the prevalence of the public domain over the
private, which characterized the republic.
Roman law and tradition forbade the use of vehicles in urban areas, except in certain cases. Married women and government
officials on business could ride. The Lex Iulia Municipalis restricted commercial carts to night-time access to the city
within the walls and within a mile outside the walls.
Types of roads --
Roman roads varied from simple corduroy roads to paved roads using deep roadbeds of tamped rubble as an underlying layer to
ensure that they kept dry, as the water would flow out from between the stones and fragments of rubble, instead of becoming
mud in clay soils. According to Ulpian, there were three types of roads:
Viae publicae, consulares, praetoriae or militares
Viae privatae, rusticae, glareae or agrariae
Viae publicae, consulares, praetoriae and militares --
The first type of road included public high or main roads, constructed and maintained at the public expense, and with their
soil vested in the state. Such roads led either to the sea, or to a town, or to a public river (one with a constant flow), or
to another public road. Siculus Flaccus, who lived under Trajan (A.D. 98-117), calls them viae publicae regalesque, and
describes their characteristics as follows:
They are placed under curatores (commissioners), and repaired by redemptores (contractors) at the public expense; a fixed
contribution, however, being levied from the neighboring landowners.
These roads bear the names of their constructors (e.g. Via Appia, Cassia, Flaminia).
Roman roads were named after the censor who had ordered their construction or reconstruction. The same person often served
afterwards as consul, but the road name is dated to his term as censor. If the road was older than the office of censor or
was of unknown origin, it took the name of its destination or of the region through which it mainly passed. A road was
renamed if the censor ordered major work on it, such as paving, repaving, or rerouting. With the term viae regales compare
the roads of the Persian kings (who probably organized the first system of public roads) and the King's highway. With the
term viae militariae compare the Icknield Way (e.g., Icen-hilde-weg, or "War-way of the Iceni").
But there were many other persons, besides special officials, who from time to time, and for a variety of reasons, sought to
connect their names with a great public service like that of the roads. Gaius Gracchus, when Tribune of the People (123-
122 BC), paved or gravelled many of the public roads, and provided them with milestones and mounting-blocks for riders.
Again, С. Scribonius Curio, when Tribune (50 BC), sought popularity by introducing a Lex Viaria, under which he was to be
chief inspector or commissioner for five years. Dio Cassius mentions as one of the forcible acts of the triumvirs of 43 BC
(Octavianus, Antony, and Lepidus), that they obliged the senators to repair the public roads at their own expense...
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