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Queen of Roads

September 9, 2016

I’ve always been interested in popular sayings and enjoy researching the source for popular phrases in our culture. Referring to someone as “upper crust” is easy to figure out: bread was historically cooked in a flat pan over an open fire. The bottom usually ended up burnt and was given to children or servants. The middle was given to adult family members with the golden brown top of the bread reserved for high-ranking company. Eventually these esteemed guests were referred to as “upper crust.”


Many sayings originate with ancient Rome. Romans were incredible engineers. They developed the arch, making massive structures like aqueducts, baths and temples like the Pantheon possible. They also invented cement that could dry underwater to create harbors. But Rome’s greatest invention might have been the road.


For years it was thought that roads developed along animal trails, but animals seldom travel on the same paths because predators would know where to find them. There are records of streets being paved in ancient Egypt, and brick-paved streets have been discovered in India as early as 3000 BC, but these were streets, not roads. For most of recorded history, travel outside of cities took place on rivers; moving long distances over land was considered too dangerous.  


The Roman Empire built stone roads throughout Europe and North Africa, in support of its military campaigns. At the peak of Rome's development, no fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the capital, and the late Empire's 113 provinces were interconnected by 372 great roads. The whole comprised more than 248,548 miles of roads, of which over 50,000 miles were stone-paved. In Gaul alone, no less than 13,000 miles of roadways are said to have been built, and in Britain at least 2,500 miles. The courses (and sometimes the surfaces) of many Roman roads survived for millennia. Some are overlaid by modern roads.


Roads were critical for moving large numbers of troops to battles in far-flung regions of the empire. Without roads, a province could rebel and it would have taken months for legions to arrive to put down a rebellion. Knowing that Roman soldiers could march into your town in a matter of days was an incredible deterrent.


The most famous road in the ancient world was The Appian Way, connecting Rome to Brindisi in southeast Italy. It was named after Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman censor who began and completed the first section as a military road to the south in 312 BC during the Samnite Wars. Its importance is indicated by its common name: Appia longarum…regina viarum (The Appian Way…queen of the long roads).


The road began by leveling dirt upon which small stones and mortar were laid. Gravel was laid upon this, which was finally topped with tight fitting, interlocking stones to provide a flat surface. The historian Procopius said that the stones fit together so securely and closely that they appeared to have grown together rather than to have been fitted together. The road was cambered in the middle (for water runoff) and had ditches on either side of the road which were protected by retaining walls. Today, it’s possible to see ruts left by chariots on the Appian Way. A thousand years after Rome fell, Europe’s best roads were still those built by Romans.


An interesting phenomenon in England had people scratching their heads for centuries. Lightning was often seen striking the ground and mysteriously traveling vertically over the land. Eventually, scientists figured out that the lightning was attracted to buried roads left by the Romans after Britain had been abandoned.


So, why do all roads lead to Rome? Because Rome invented roads.




Appian Way


Do you have a favorite saying?




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I wonder if they had as much trouble with potholes as we do?
By: PT Dilloway on September 9, 2016
"There's a subtle perfection in everything I do." Chevy Chase in Caddyshack
By: Agent 54 on September 9, 2016
Interesting..ditto what PT said...I wonder if they had any trouble with potholes. HA HA
By: Terri on September 9, 2016
I did not know all of this detail although I have had the honor of walking a short way on that road outside of Rome. It was fascinating and now I want to go back!!
By: Tabor on September 9, 2016
I actually knew almost all about this except the lightening strikes which is pretty neat. I wonder what was in the actual roads that attracted the lightening. I will say "Kill 2 Birds with one stone" or " Can lead a horse to water but can't make them drink". I loved my dad's sayings since he was an old timer lumber man..."He's as useless as a dog's hind leg" or "He's as useless as a boar's tits." or "He doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground". I hope that isn't too risque for your blog but i would hear this since I was knee high to a grasshopper:)
By: Birgit on September 9, 2016
This was fascinating--I love learning new things!!
By: fishducky on September 9, 2016
My mother: "Can you breath?" Me: Yes My mother: "Then stop your complaining."
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 9, 2016
I had always heard of the Appian way but knew nothing about it. Thanks for the interesting info and pic. "A clean conscience makes a soft pillow."
By: Arkansas Patti on September 9, 2016
I never knew. Thanks Stephen. Appreciate it and thanks for sharing. I have a few favorite phrases but I made up one (for the love of fat bassets) and the other one might be made up to or it's from a Will Ferrell movie (sweet sassy molasses). I don't believe either one will carry the historical significance of all roads lead to Rome.
By: Mr. Shife on September 9, 2016
Very cool- when my sweetie and I were in Provence near the town of St Victor la Coste we were directed to a spot where we could find a bit of a road built by the Romans. It was amazing to think of all the generations that walked on these stones. We could see the ruts made by wagons. I love the Frost poem "The Road Not Taken" and the song about "I'll take the high road and you'll take the low road..." and we'll be in Scotland in just a few days...yippee....seriously!
By: Kathe W. on September 9, 2016
one my sister and i both use is: 'you lie like a sack of feed.'
By: TexWisGirl on September 9, 2016
Interesting explanation. My favorite: Don't beat a dead horse. Now I'll have to look it up.
By: red Kline on September 9, 2016
I didn't know any of that! Surprise, surprise. My football coach high school history teachers were holding out on me! I am fond of a saying from the movie "The Cutting Edge," when figure skater Kate sees her potential new partner as a stupid hockey player. "I'm surprised you don't chuck it all and start your own think tank."
By: Val on September 9, 2016
It looks like Rt. 22 in NJ!
By: cranky on September 9, 2016
I never really thought about the history of roads before. Kinda cool - thanks! I'm not a fan of stone or cobbled streets though. Too bumpy.
By: Lexa Cain on September 9, 2016
Love the history lesson here. The photo of the particular road is also gorgeous.
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on September 9, 2016
Dang! This is a fascinating post. I guess I knew pieces of this but you put it together beautifully. R
By: Rick Watson on September 9, 2016
Yes "Life's a bitch and then you die" NAS. Or maybe "Different toilet, same shit". Sorry to lower the tone of your post!
By: LL Cool Joe on September 11, 2016
Interesting history! I didn't know any of this, so thanks for the quick lesson. Maybe we could learn something from the Romans, seeing that so many of our roads and bridges are in disrepair. My favorite saying? "If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else." (At least that's the one that I can think of right now)
By: Pixel Peeper on September 11, 2016
Fascinating! You obviously have learned a lot in your travels.
By: Catalyst on September 19, 2016

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