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Roman Ways. Itineraries of the Roman Empire

Date of Submission: 27/04/2007
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture
State, Province or Region:
Autonomos Communities of Valencia, Castille-La Mancha, Andalusia and Catalonia
Ref.: 5130
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Description

Of all the past civilisations, the Roman civilisation was the first to envisage from the very beginning the systematic construction of roads.

The creation of a very extensive road network standing the test of time up to the present was only possible thanks to the administrative organisation which Rome had developed throughout the different provinces of its empire.

The perfect interconnection of these roads facilitated the development of Roman trade and industry, the progress of its cities and, possibly the most important accomplishment of all, the very existence of Rome as a State. These roads united all of the Provinces from the Sahara to Asia Minor, Greece and the Balkans, the Germanic plains and Gaul, Italy and Hispania.

The Romans placed such a priority on the roads that many of them were built and maintained by private initiative.

On numerous occasions, the Roman Legions were called upon to build roads for the simple purpose of gaining access to battle grounds but mostly they were built to facilitate the transport of supplies, baggage and military equipment.

In respect of Roman roads, the first thing to highlight is their structure, secondly their organisation and thirdly the support structures emerging in their vicinity.

There are a number of different types of Roman roads: those made of dirt, gravel and paved (vía terrena, viae glareae (sternedae) or via glarea sternenda ab miliario and strata).

Once the route was established, the surveyors measured and defined its exact path and then soldiers or slaves did the actual construction work. First of all a ditch was dug, its width varying according to the importance of the road (between 1.10 m and 7.30 m). The ditch was then filled with the material chosen for the road surface, i.e. loose stones and rubble held together by dirt or fine gravel. Another layer of finer stone was put on this base and then another layer of gravel comprising the definitive base for the heavy stones which were to serve as the actual pavement. However, this was not the only road-building technique used by the Romans who devised spectacular solutions for any problem that arose.  These solutions are evident in the stretch of the Apian way crossing the Pontine marshes. The technique in this latter case consisted of driving wooden pillars into the marsh forming a corridor which was then filled with stone forming an above-water embankment.  Possibly the most spectacular of all of the solutions of this type was the Via Popilia which skirted the Adriatic Sea crossing four estuaries and a marsh during the course of its 160 km. and the Ponti Longi which crossed a myriad of marshes, rivers and the marshy estuary of the Rhine. However, Roman engineering went well beyond these challenges of nature. To cross fast-flowing rivers they built large barge bridges like the one used to cross the Ebro River at DERTOSA (Tortosa) or stone ones such as EMERITA AVGVSTA (Merida) and Alcántara. The mountains were certainly not exempt either from the incursion of the Romans. There are many examples of tunnels and cut rock especially in Italy, the most famous being Petra Pertusa (tunnelled rock) at Furlo next to the Candigliano River built in 220 BC. Vespasiano widened the tunnel in 78 AD so that two carriages could pass from opposite directions at the same time. No less renowned are the roads through the Alps where difficult terrain called for enormous engineering feats such as the Piccolo San Bernardo mountain pass and Aosta Valley.

As mentioned above, one of the principal concerns of the Romans was proper signalling of their roads and to this end they used large stone pillars as mile markers, i.e. placed 1,480 m apart.

A number of different forms of lodging were favoured as resting spots during long journeys such as MANSIO, MUTATIONES, Tabernae and Cauponae. Of these, only the MANSIO which were controlled by the Roman Administration offered guaranteed comfort although an official safe-conduct pass was required to stay at these places.

Travelers were able to bathe when they stopped at cities. Depending on the place, bathing facilities ranged from large thermal hot spring baths to modest public baths (Balneae).

For an Aquitaine pilgrim in the year 333 under the rule of the Emperor Constantine travelling from Burdigala (Bordeaux) to Jerusalem through the Alps, Milan, Serbia and Turkey, we know that there were no fewer than 458 inns of different types as well as 240 mansions. We know this route by the name of "Itinerarium Hierosolymitanum or Burdigalense" covering a distance of approximately 5,909 miles (8745 km.), quite a distance for that time (including the return trip through Italy).

Journeys were typically made on foot covering distances of 16 miles (24 km) during a full day. However, means of transport were also available to travellers at that time. In addition to the horse and mule there were different classes of carriages, the heaviest known as carrus clabularius whose four wheels were fitted with iron rings and which were pulled by oxen covering a distance of between 8 and 10 miles per day.  Other heavy carriages were known as the carpetum and the plaustrum which were pulled by mules. The currus, the cisium and the monachus were light carriages used for different purposes. The most luxurious was the raeda, a family-type carriage in the shape of a bath tub.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Roman Roads are living proof of the transfer of technological knowledge and reach the most unsuspecting corners of the continents traversing valleys, rivers, mountains and marshes.

They all share the same technical characteristics and construction methods and also share a common associated culture in terms of language as well as other traditions such as food and dress.