How were the Roads Built in Ancient Rome?
The Romans built three types of strategic roads (viae): the so-called
- Stratis Lapidibus (Paved)
- Injecta Glarea (Affirmed)
- Terrenea (Flattened)
Viae publicae – Public Roads
What were the Viae publicae (Public Roads) in Ancient Rome?
The main roads of the Empire are called viae Praetoriae, viae Militari or viae Consulares. It was the State that was in charge of its construction, but the cities and the owners of the areas crossed by these roads had to guarantee its maintenance. The average found for the width of the public roads was 6 to 12m.
Viae Vicinales – Neighborhood Roads
What were the Viae Vicinales (Neighborhood Roads) in Ancient Rome?
They started from public roads and allowed several Vicus in the same region to be joined together. They were the majority of the routes of the network. The average width of a viae vicinalis was about 13 feet.
Viae privataes, Rusticae, Agrariae – Private Roads
What were the Viae privataes (Private Roads) in Ancient Rome?
They united the main properties, the villae, with the viae vicinales et publicae. They were private, reserved for the exclusive use of the owner who financed it in its entirety. The average width of a Viae Privata (Private Roads) was 8 to 13 feet
The roads were initially used to facilitate the advance or displacement of the Roman legions. Of course they were also used for administrative, commercial and tourist purposes. The main roads were financed by the State, and the secondary roads were paid for by the affected municipalities. Along the roads, every 20 or 25 Roman miles, mansions, resting places and also for changing horses were built.
There are documents that provide data on the existing road network in times of the Roman Empire, the best known is the “Itinerarium Provinciarum Antonini Augusti”, known as the Itinerary of Antonino, from the year 280, of unknown author. It collects the 372 most important roads from Rome to the furthest points of the Empire, recording the existing mansions and the distances between them, totaling about 60,000 Roman miles
How Were The Roman Roads Built?
The main construction group was made up of the works Manager (Curator Operis), the Contractor, (Maceps), the Engineer, (Architectus), the Specialized workers (Cementarius) and the Bricklayers, (Structures).
To level the land they used excavation tools. They cut two parallel furrows with an Aratrum (Plow) 40 feet apart; These furrows were the Fossae (ditches) and they allowed to know the conditions of the subsoil. If it was not adequate, it was replaced or repaired, or wooden piles were driven into it.
Once the bottom was consolidated, a layer of sand 0.5 feet thick called Pavimentum was added in which the stones of the Statumen were embedded with a thickness that varied depending on the state of the soil from one to two feet.
The Stones – Built Roads in Ancient Rome
The agglomeration of the stones was done with lime or clay. After the statumen, a second layer called Rudus was placed. This layer used to be almost a foot thick and was composed of pebbles or small stones, plastered with lime mortar and compacted with the pavicula or rammer.
The third layer was the so-called Nucleus, which consisted of gravel concrete and slaked lime. It was consolidated with a roller, (Cylindrus), and its thickness varied from the ends of 1 foot to 1.5 feet. The next layer was the Summa Crusta or Summun Dorsum. This layer was placed on top of the previous one before it set. The cape could be made with blocks of polygonal stones with regular or irregular shape, (Opus Incertum). In other cases the layer was made of concrete with shale blocks placed on edge or simply gravel. The total thickness of the roadway was 3 to 5 feet and its width between ditches was 4 feet.
It also had lateral edges 1.5 feet high and 2 feet wide supported by the statumen, on which the Centurion (infantry officer) walked. From time to time, stones called Gradus were placed on the road, which was a pedestal that was used to climb on horseback. There were also stones called miliarii, milestones, which marked the distance every thousand Roman steps,
Bridges & Tunnels
When necessary, bridges were built and tunnels dug for the continuation of the road. In that case, more sophisticated tools were used such as Roman wheel cranes that lifted up to two tons. This type of crane was used in the Middle Ages and even some cranes survived until the 19th century. Here you can find information about the Roman wheel cranes in Germany, France and England, which can be seen today
That it was a Roman Mile?
In ancient Rome the Roman mile was equivalent to the distance traveled in a thousand steps (in Latin: mille passus, plural: milia passuum). For the Romans, one step was equivalent to two steps of the current ones, since they considered the stride as a complete cycle: the distance traveled by one of the feet after resting on the opposite foot. In turn, a passus was equivalent to five Roman feet. The Roman mile (milia passum in Latin) is 5,000 Roman feet and equals 1,481 meters in the decimal metric system and 0.92 United States miles
There is an online application called Statio Orbis, which calculates the distance between different places of the Roman Empire. It includes land and sea routes, both in winter and in summer. You can read Orbis’s note here
The Roman Ways Today
Very few and very few sections have survived. They are found sporadically in museums or outdoors in countries such as Italy, Spain, England, France and some countries in Africa.
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