In his “Geography”, the Greek historian Strabo who lived around the year 0, made a statement which later on became historical lesson for all the populations following the Romans:
The Romans took care of three aspects mostly, that the Greeks instead neglected. This is opening roads, building up aqueducts and underground sewers
The Roman aqueducts are popular and the “Aqua Virgo” one is still active in Rome: only in modern times mankind paid attention to the importance of water supply inside big cities. The Romans did not only understood such a necessity but also how to dispose the water waste, system which avoided the spread of pestilence during the centuries of history of the empire. Such pestilences instead were cause of terrible devastation during the Middle Ages, due to the ignorance and superstition which were common amongst the Europeans.
The construction of roads was one of the reasons that gave power to Rome and one of the causes of its wealth. Thanks to the Appia, Aurelia, Emilia, Cassia, Tuscolana, Tiburtina, Nomentana, Flaminia or the Salaria, Italy was soon reachable by all the units of the army as well as the merchants, who would fly with their heavy carts through these 2,500 years old highways.
All roads start from Rome
In 20 BC Augustus, once become “curator viarium” (roads administrator), erected the Miliarum Aureum, column of marble covered with bronze set in the Roman Forum, from where, ideally, all roads were supposed to start from Rome. The “mile” was the unit of measurement employed by the Empire and it was set forth by the “milestones” placed on the side of the street, showing the distance from the beginning of the journey and often where it was also showed the distance to Rome.
Below: the 1st milestone on the Appia Antica road, today kept in the Campidoglio and replaced by a copy in its original allocation. Picture by Lalupa shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
Below: the ruins of the basement of the Miliarium Aureum column that Constantine defined as the “navel of the city of Rome”. Picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
How the roads were made
The goal was for them to result as straight as possible removing, when possible, the natural obstacles which would show up before the continuation of the construction. It was then digged part of the mountains as well as removed other hurdles in favour of a qualitatively high result.
Below: bas relief of the Trajan’s column showing the construction of a road. Picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
The roads were built by digging between 40 to 60 cm (15 to 25 inches) above the ground, upon which they would place a layer of stones followed by a coat of lime which would make the pose compact and lasting. In the lower part named “Statumen”, there were a series of stones of different dimensions starting from the smallest ones; after that there was the “Rudus”, which was concrete in big chunks and then the “Nucleus”, with a fine structure; as for the last layer there was the “Pavimentum”, the flooring made out of rocks which would allow a perfect passage, the right hardness and ability for the water to flow through without creating any mud puddle.
The roads so built were not subject to wear (they were very similar to they way they would build the base of palaces), but back then they were perfectly smooth, filled up with concrete between the small gaps of the stones. On top of that there were the Roman coaches running, taking people within the empire.
The term “street”, in Italian “strada” comes from the Latin “strata” which means spreading or cobble
Below: the cobbled of Appia road today worn but back in time probably very smooth. Picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
Below: Roman coach. Picture by Nicolas von Kospoth shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
Augustus, during the construction of his reforms he founded an effective postal service which would run through the roads with the “Cisium”, type of cart with two wheels and a box under the seat of the driver.
The Romans did not connect only the Italian territory but they made sure to build up roads all over Europe apart from the areas beyond the Danube and Rhine rivers, territories lost after the massacre of Teutoburg forest.
From this road network, first of its kind, the current road organisation in the European continent drew inspiration from.