The Roman Empire's vast network of roads, spanning over 50,000 miles, was a monumental engineering achievement of the ancient world. However, these roads were not merely a means of transportation, but a critical component of the empire's organization and expansion. The construction and maintenance of the roads required advanced engineering techniques and an intimate understanding of the terrain's characteristics.
The Romans incorporated innovative techniques to ensure the roads remained stable and durable, even in challenging conditions. Culverts and other drainage systems were implemented to prevent erosion and ensure that water did not accumulate on the road surface. Stones and gravel were laid in a specific pattern to provide adequate traction for wheeled vehicles, while also allowing for efficient drainage.
The road network played a vital role in facilitating the exchange of goods, ideas, and culture throughout the empire, providing a means of transporting food, raw materials, and manufactured goods between regions. The Roman economy relied heavily on long-distance trade, and the network of roads enabled the efficient transport of goods across the empire. This trade helped to stimulate economic growth and provided a source of income for the empire.
The road network also facilitated the rapid deployment of troops and supplies, allowing the Roman army to respond quickly to threats to the empire's borders and to launch expeditions to expand its territory. This military capability was a significant factor in the Roman Empire's longevity and success.
The importance of the road network extended beyond the empire's borders, connecting major cities and trade hubs throughout Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa. Significant roads linked major geographical locations, such as the Via Appia, which connected Rome to Brindisi on the Adriatic coast of Italy, and the Via Egnatia, which connected the Balkans to Constantinople.
The road network's significance can still be observed today, with many of the roads still in use or having influenced the development of modern transportation systems. For example, the Appian Way, one of the oldest and most important roads in the empire, served as the model for the modern concept of a limited-access highway. The importance of the road network is also evident in modern architecture and urban planning, with many cities and towns continuing to develop around ancient Roman roads.
In summary, the Roman road network was a remarkable achievement of engineering, organization, and expansion. The roads facilitated trade, communication, and military operations, allowing the empire to expand and prosper. The legacy of the Roman road network continues to be felt in modern transportation systems and urban planning, demonstrating the importance of advanced engineering techniques and an understanding of the terrain's characteristics in creating durable, efficient infrastructure.
A history lesson for people who think that history doesn't matter:— Bill Holohan SC (@BillHolohanSC) September 27, 2019
What's the big deal about railroad tracks?
The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.
Why was that gauge used?
Well, because that's the way pic.twitter.com/oNxWuJ4TAl
then?— Bill Holohan SC (@BillHolohanSC) September 27, 2019
Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that same wheel spacing.
Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?
Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels pic.twitter.com/tRXF9Sarnx
been used ever since.— Bill Holohan SC (@BillHolohanSC) September 27, 2019
And what about the ruts in the roads?
Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match or run the risk of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome , they were all alike in the matter of wheel pic.twitter.com/9ryilr1yPB
ass came up with this?', you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. (Two horses' asses.)— Bill Holohan SC (@BillHolohanSC) September 27, 2019
Now, the twist to the story:
When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big pic.twitter.com/rXoRFzucDG
from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide pic.twitter.com/UIeRopweFn— Bill Holohan SC (@BillHolohanSC) September 27, 2019
Ancient horse's asses control almost everything and....— Bill Holohan SC (@BillHolohanSC) September 27, 2019
CURRENT Horses Asses are controlling everything else. pic.twitter.com/sBjhJEmQYN
|Ancient place name (major places), e.g. HERCULANEUM||7|
|Ancient place name (all other places), e.g. Stabiae||8|
|Ancient name of rivers, e.g. Aufidus (repeated)||6|
|Ancient name of lakes, e.g. Lemannus||7|
|Ancient name of road, e.g. Via Appia (repeated)||10|
|Ancient name of natural features (island, mountain, cape) e.g. Vosegus Mons||9|
|Modern placename, e.g. Terzigno||10|
|Poseidonia/Paestum||Alternate names, only one is selected for the map|
|‘Delphinis’||Name in its attested form|
|[Vicus Aventia]||Name known only from earlier or later source|
|Med(...)||Name only partially known|
|11||Major settlement (capital, colonia, municipium)||6|
|17||Major fort (legionary fortress)||6|
|13||Civitas capital (Late Roman Gallia)||8|
|12||Settlement (civitas, vicus, other settlement)||8|
|18||Fort (castrum, castellum)||8|
|16||Road or coastal station||8|
|31||Iron Age (Celtic) Oppidum||9|
|35||Late Roman Oppidum||9|
|61||Sanctuary or temple||9|
|57||Mine, quarry or production||10|
||Province, e.g. Raetia||5-7|
|Roman roads in Britain. Source: The Secret History of the Roman Roads of Britain, CC BY-NC-SA|
|Roman roads (Barrington Atlas). Source: Ancient World Mapping Center (AWMC), CC BY-NC 3.0|
||Aqueducts. Source: ROMAQ - The Atlas Project of Roman Aqueducts||8|
||Ancient coastline (AWMC, CC BY-NC 3.0)||8-9|
||Perennial/Permanent lakes and rivers||5|
||Non-Perennial/Intermittent/Fluctuating lakes and rivers||8|
Source: SRTM 90m Digital Elevation Database v4.1 | CGIAR-CSI
||Sea level (Coast lines are modern)|
||Below sea level|
||Elevation every 100 m||11|
||Elevation every 50 m||11|
Modern Forest and seminatural areas
Source: Corine Land Cover 2000 seamless vector data - version 16, © European Environment Agency (EEA)
||Moors and heathland||10|
||Beaches, dunes, sands||10|
||Glaciers and perpetual snow||10|
Many online sources contain the shapefiles for depicting the extent of the Roman Empire during different periods of time. However, the datasets are often the same which would indicate there was an originating source that was copied and distributed far and wide.
One such source is from Harvard University's Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilization Dataverse from 2008. This study provides a portable, digital version of the Roman roads identified in the Barrington Atlas, which users can visualise in combination with their own historical data.
McCormick, Michael; Huang, Guoping; Zambotti, Giovanni; Lavash, Jessica, 2013, "Roman Road Network (version 2008)", https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/TI0KAU, Harvard Dataverse, V1
Unfortunately, the Harvard dataset is not adequate enough when overlaid on a highly detailed terrain map. The example below shows the 2008 dataset over a topographic base map:
It becomes readily apparent that there is a mismatch. Taken at face value, the map can be interpreted in a way that shows how the Romans opted to conquer mountainous alpine territory instead of focusing their efforts on subduing towns and settlements in the fertile Po River Valley! This, of course, is not a logical conclusion. I applaud the work that went into creating the original shapefiles. However, I wanted to show a more realistic portrayal of what Roman territorial expansion may have looked like.
I was inspired by the old to create the new. Below, is my interpretation of what the boundaries may have looked like:
I used QGIS to perform most of the heavy lifting behind the scenes with vector layer creation, editing, analysis, and processing of data prior to use for web mapping. The Roman Empire extent layers were created from scratch and took into account terrain features that would have been obstacles to the deployment of Roman soldiers. There were many additional considerations taken into account besides terrain. The territorial boundaries in the new dataset better align with the Roman road network and account for more recent archeological findings.
MSI Pulse GL66 laptop w/ external monitor
CPU: 11th Gen Intel i7-11800H (16) @ 2.304GHz
GPU: GeForce RTX 3070 Mobile / 8192MiB
Dozens of maps and datasets were examined and referenced to create the new dataset displayed here. This includes independent research from Britain, Spain, Turkey, and elsewhere. Please check out my Github page for a comprehensive list of tools, resources, and methods used for this project.
Copyright © Sirius T. Bontea
(capital, colonia, municipium)
|Major fort (legionary fortress)|
|Civitas capital (Late Roman Gallia)|
|Settlement (civitas, vicus, other settlement)|
|Fort (castrum, castellum)|
|Road or coastal station|
|Iron Age (Celtic) Oppidum|
|Late Roman Oppidum|
|Sanctuary or temple|
|Mine, quarry or production|