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Roman roads – the mobility revolution

Acting as traffic arteries for an enormous empire, the Roman roads served to ensure the cohesion and governability of the far-reaching dominion. Built primarily for military and administrative purposes, the “viae publicae” linked military installations, towns and larger settlements. However, the increasing volume of trade soon led to a hive of activity along the roads. It was a colourful scene that included marching military units, convoys of busy traders transporting their wares to the markets on ox and mule-drawn carts, well-to-do citizens travelling in comfortable coaches or sedans and government officials in light, single-axle carriages. Amongst them all were hordes of pedestrians on their way to wherever they had to go.

Along the Roman roads: way stations, settlements and customs posts

There was a buzz of activity on not only the Roman roads themselves but also in the areas off to the left and right: way stations occasionally furnished with baths were only natural for Roman travellers. Stables where fresh horses or other draught animals were kept ready were also needed by the majority of the travellers. Toll houses and control stations were to be found at regular intervals and there was even a signposting system. Roadside milestones informed people of the distances to the next major town. Over the course of time, civil settlements also sprung up at crossroads and river crossings.

Roman road construction: masterful planning and engineering

Superior engineering skills coupled with Roman organisational aptitude: Their straightness, impressive bridges and tunnels and efficient road maintenance led to the highways sparking a revolution in mobility. The Romans planned their roads to be as straight as possible. By building bridges and tunnels, they were even able to keep to their principles in hilly and mountainous terrains. Only formidable gradients were overcome by the building of elaborate serpentines. A typical road often consisted of a hard core made of vertically arranged rubble upon which an up to 20 cm sand and gravel mixture was laid. It was finished off with a 5 cm surface dressing. 

Flourishing trade thanks to the Roman road:

Wine from Italy, oil from Spain or luxury goods like amber, gold and ivory – trading on the highways flourished. The roads also opened up remote areas for traders for whom waterways also played a vital role as a large portion of the mass goods and heavy loads were transported on water