The Romans were master builders and that included the roads, many of which have survived as such or simply by their itinerary.
The very first road the Romans built was the well-known Appian Way that connected
Rome to as early as 312 BC. Realizing the importance of moving troops quickly over all-weather roads through the Italic peninsula, the Via Appia was constructed that same year in order to link Capua Rome to Brundisium, modern . It was named after Appius Claudius, who was Consul of Rome at that time. Brindisi
The success of the Via Appia was such that the road immediately became the model for all those built afterwards not only in
Italy but all over the Roman Empire, i.e. from Hadrian’s Wall on the modern Scottish border all the way to Northern Africa and the Near East.
A team of Danish researchers took a very close look at the Roman network when it was at its greatest geographical extent in 117 AD and compared it with satellite images of modern
Europe at night with astonishing results. As expected, the night view revealed that the most brightly illuminated spots corresponded to major cities, towns and motorways. Overlaying the Roman network, it appeared, however, that modern road density went hand in hand with the Roman road density, meaning greater economic activity. This similarity is particularly striking for today’s capitals like London, Paris and Rome, as well as for the densely populated Po Valley in Northern Italy.
Let us not forget that Roman cities and military outposts all over
Europe needed to be reached quickly by the legions and only well maintained and paved roads could ensure such fast moves of troops. At the same time these roads were used for trade purposes which in turn led to a serious economic development that lasted even after the fall of the Roman Empire, and it is still strong two thousand years later.
It is not really surprising to notice that North Africa and the
Middle East did not follow this trend because after the Romans left the area the roads were no longer maintained. The local tribes, abandoning horses and carts switched to camel caravans who moved outside the paved routes. As a consequence, no significant link between the old and modern infrastructure is left for us to see.
Europe alone the Roman network extended over 80,000 kilometers. Speed and travel comfort were important for the Romans in order to reach their base or battlefield and to connect with their colonies at the edge of the empire. It is worth mentioning that roads also implied the construction of bridges, tunnels and adequate drainage systems – logistics that have nothing to envy to our modern communication system. An amazing facet of Roman history.