Thursday, 7 March 2013

Road trip

Most of us probably think that the great freeway systems built through Europe and North America just before and in the decades after World War Two as the beginning of super road history around the world. True, four-lane, six-lane and eight-lane highways hadn't been seen before, nor had the vehicles designed to use them. But if you want to know when the world's first super highway was built, you've got to go a long way back before the internal combustion engine was 312BC to be exact.

Meet the Appian Way. Running 112-miles southeast of Rome, linking Italy's second largest city, Capua, to the capital, and then to the eastern port - and stepping off point for several invasions of Greece - Brundisium. Thirty-three feet wide, paved throughout and able to sustain a century's worth of road traffic between repairs. But this road was the just the beginning. Thousands of miles of paved two-lane highway (the Romans drove on the left) would be built across Western Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - most of which continued to be the Western World's only land transport corridors well into the 19th Century.

A Gallic road map from the 1st-century BC
And no, these roads weren't built by toiling slaves slashed by whips and chains...they were built by Roman soldiers, paid professionals who used complex surveying equipment barely bettered by today's laser technology to pour concrete and build pavements as good as anything we drive on. So if the Roman's had incredible roads, then their horse drawn road vehicles must have been a bit more sophisticated than the archaic (and completely wrong) contrivances we see in the movies...I guess that sounds like another post.  For more on Roman History, check out 'A Body of Doubt' - live on Amazon now and YouTube 


  1. Great blog.

    How do we know the Romans drove on the left?

  2. Thanks to wheel ruts in the stone pavements near quarries. We know wagons were leaving loaded, so the side of the road the ruts are on indicate which side of the road they were keeping to...which was the left. The move to the right in Europe was only cemented in law by Napoleon, mostly due to the changes in the way horse and oxen teams were being led during this latter period.