What the Romans Left Behind: The Roads


One thing the Romans discovered early on is that a well-regulated empire is a happy empire. In other words, as long as your soldiers make regular appearances and respond quickly to inside or outside threats, you will be a happy emperor.

What the Romans Left Behind: The RoadsThe secret to the Roman Empire’s stability for so many hundreds of years? It was the roads. They were straight. They were well made. They were easily traversed. Got a peasant uprising in Brundisium? Send the troops at a fast march. They’ll get there in no time. Why? They travel by road. Not just any road, either. They took the Roman road.

What the Romans Left Behind: The RoadsHow did the Romans make these architectural wonders? They thought a lot about it beforehand. Then they put the roads wherever they wanted. The one amazing fact about most Roman roads is that they were straight. Anybody reading this have a job in urban planning or civil engineering? Then you know how hard it is to build a straight road. Some farmer or other kind of property owner will always tell you that he or she will not grant you permission to build a road on his or her land. So, you have to go around. Not the Romans. They proved the theory about the shortest distance between two points.

What the Romans Left Behind: The RoadsBut back to the road construction itself. The bottom layer was rubble, like pebbles or burned logs and ash. The next layer up was slabs set in mortar. Just underneath the surface was a layer of crushed stone and concrete. Finally, the Romans laid flat paving stones in tight formation to make their road. Both sides of the road were bounded by curbstones, which further reinforced the straightarrow nature of the road. Finally, drainage ditches on both sides kept water and other refuse from clogging the road.

Now, the soldiers didn’t build these roads. No, that’s what slaves were for. The soldiers told the slaves how to build the roads and made sure that the orders were followed. The result was an even more efficient way of keeping slaves in slavery. (Romans sure were an ironic lot, weren’t they?)

There you have it: the Roman road in a nutshell. The Romans built almost 50,000 miles of roadway across their vast empire. More than a few hundreds of these miles were in Britain, where the Romans ruled for 400 years. Roman roads still abound, and some are used even today. The Roman presence is still felt in Britain today, and this is partly due to the continued existence of Roman roads.