Roads

The first indications of constructed roads date from about 4000 BC and consist of stone paved streets at Ur in modern-day Iraq and timber roads preserved in a swamp in Glastonbury, England. It was during the Roman empire that roads took a whole different dimension and importance.

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. 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 km. There were footpaths on each side of the road.

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. To make the roads the Romans used stones, broken stones mixed with cement and sand, cement mixed with broken tiles, curving stones – so the water could drain, and on the top they used tightly packed paving stones.

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.

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