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The road networks of antiquity: the secrets of masonry
The road networks of antiquity: the secrets of masonry

It is not easy to believe in it, but even at the end of antiquity, more than one and a half thousand years ago, it was possible to travel from Rome to Athens or from Spain to Egypt, almost all the time staying on a paved highway. For seven centuries, the ancient Romans entangled the entire Mediterranean world - the territories of the three parts of the world - with a high-quality road network with a total length of two Earth's equators.

Situated in the southeast of the historical part of Rome, the small church of Santa Maria in Palmis with a discreet classical facade of the 17th century looks, of course, not as impressive as the grandiose monuments of the Eternal City like the Colosseum or St. Peter's Basilica. However, the deliberate modesty of the temple only emphasizes the special atmosphere of the place associated with one of the most beautiful and dramatic legends of the times of early Christianity. As the New Testament apocryphal "Acts of Peter" narrates, it was here, on the Old Appian Way, that the Apostle Peter, fleeing from pagan persecution, met Christ walking to Rome. - Domine, quo vadis? (Lord, where are you going?) - the apostle asked the long-crucified and risen Teacher with surprise and dismay. “Eo Romam iterum crucifigi (I am going to Rome to be crucified again),” replied Christ. Ashamed of his cowardice, Peter returned to the city, where he was martyred.

Indian network

Among the road systems created in the pre-industrial era, only one is comparable in scale to the ancient Roman one. We are talking about the mountain paths of the Incas, whose empire stretched in the XV-XVI centuries nbsp; along the Pacific coast of South America - from the modern capital of Ecuador, Quito, to the modern capital of Chile, Santiago. The total length of this road network was about 40,000 km. The roads of the Incas served approximately the same purposes as the Roman ones - the vast expanses of the empire required a quick transfer of troops to "hot spots". Traders and messengers made their way through the Andes along the same routes, carrying messages in the form of specially tied knots. Constantly on the way was the emperor himself - the Great Inca, who considered it necessary to personally inspect the possessions. The most impressive element of the system was perhaps the rope bridges that the Incas stretched over deep chasms. However, if on Roman roads they both walked and rode - on horseback or in carts - then the Incas walked their paths exclusively on foot, and only loads were entrusted to the loaded llamas. After all, pre-Columbian America did not know a horse or a wheel.

Gift of the Blind Censor

By the time, according to legend, this legendary meeting took place (middle of the 1st century AD), the Appian Way had existed for almost four centuries. The Romans knew her as regina viarum - "queen of the roads", because it was with via Appia that the history of the cobbled paths that connected the cities of Italy, and then the entire Mediterranean ecumene, the inhabited world, began.

Mysterious card

Konrad Peitinger (1465-1547) - the most educated Renaissance man, historian, archaeologist, second-hand bookseller, collector, adviser to the Austrian emperor and one of those thanks to whom we know what the Roman road network looked like. From his late friend Konrad Bickel, the librarian of the Emperor Maximilian, Peitinger inherited an old map made on 11 sheets of parchment. Its origin was shrouded in a veil of secrecy - during his lifetime Bickel only mentioned that he had found her "somewhere in the library."After examining the map more closely, Peitinger concluded that this was a medieval copy of a Roman scheme, which depicts Europe and the entire Mediterranean world. Actually, this turned out to be enough for the find to go down in history as the "Peitinger's table". It was first published in Antwerp in 1591, after the death of the scientist himself. Another 300 years later - in 1887 - Konrad Miller published a redrawn edition of Peitinger's Tables.

"Table" consists of 11 fragments, each 33 centimeters wide. If you put them together, you get a narrow strip 680 cm long, into which the ancient cartographer managed to squeeze the entire world known to him from Gaul to India. For unknown reasons, the map is missing the westernmost part of the Roman Empire - Spain and part of Britain. This suggests that one sheet of the map has been lost. Historians are also puzzled by some anachronisms. For example, both the city of Constantinople (this name was given to the former Byzantium only in 328) and Pompeii, completely destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79, are plotted on the map. His work is more like a diagram of metro lines - the main task of which is only to depict traffic routes and stopping points. The map contains about 3500 place names, which includes the names of cities, countries, rivers and seas, as well as a road map, the total length of which should have been 200,000 km!

The name of the road was given by the outstanding ancient Roman statesman Appius Claudius Tsek ("Blind" - lat. Caecus). At the end of the 4th century BC. Rome, still at the origins of its power, waged the so-called Samnite Wars in Campania (a historical region centered in Naples) with varying success. In order to more firmly connect the newly acquired territories with the metropolis and facilitate the rapid transfer of troops to the "hot spot" of the Apennine Peninsula, in 312 AD. Appius Claudius, then a high censor, ordered the construction of a road from Rome to Capua, an Etruscan city that had been conquered a quarter of a century earlier from the Samnites. The length of the track was 212 km, but the construction was completed within a year. Largely thanks to the road, the Romans won the Second Samnite War.

As it is easy to see, like the Internet or the GPS system, Roman roads were originally created with a view to military use, but subsequently opened up unprecedented opportunities for the development of the civil economy and society as a whole. Already in the next century, the Appian Way was extended to the southern Italian ports of Brundisium (Brindisi) and Tarentum (Taranto), and it became part of the trade route that connected Rome with Greece and Asia Minor.

Dangerous straightness

Having first conquered the entire Apennine Peninsula, and then Western Europe to the Rhine, the Balkans, Greece, Asia Minor and Western Asia, as well as North Africa, the Roman state (first a republic, and from the 1st century BC - an empire) methodically developed a road network in every newly acquired corner of the power. Since, as already mentioned, the roads were primarily a military structure, they were laid and built by military engineers and soldiers of the Roman legions. Sometimes slaves and local civilians were involved.

Many Roman roads have survived to this day, and this is the best evidence that their construction was approached thoroughly and with all care. In other places, time has not spared the creations of ancient builders, but where legions once marched, modern routes have been laid. These paths are not difficult to recognize on the map - the highways following the route of the Roman viae, as a rule, are characterized by almost perfect straightness. This is not surprising: any "detour" would lead to a serious loss of time for the Roman troops, who moved mainly on foot.

European Antiquity did not know the compass, and cartography in those days was in its infancy.Nevertheless - and this cannot but amaze the imagination - the Roman land surveyors - "agrimenzora" and "gromatik" - managed to lay almost perfectly straight routes between settlements, separated from each other by tens and even hundreds of kilometers. “Gromatic” is not the word “grammarian” written by a poor student, but a specialist in working with “thunder”.

"Thunder" was one of the main and most advanced tools of Roman surveyors and was a vertical metal rod with a pointed lower end for sticking into the ground. The upper end was crowned with a bracket with an axis, on which a horizontal crosspiece was planted. From each of the four ends of the cross, threads with weights hung down. Road construction began with surveyors placing pegs along a line (rigor) representing the future route. Thunder helped to most accurately line up three pegs along one straight line, even if they were not all at the same time in the line of sight (for example, due to a hill). Another purpose of thunder is to draw perpendicular lines on the earthen plot (for which, in fact, a cross was needed). Survey work was carried out literally "by eye" - combining plumb lines and pegs standing in the distance in the field of view, engineers checked whether the pegs were not deviated from the vertical axis and whether they were exactly aligned in a straight line.

In three parts of the world

The total length of the roads built by the Romans cannot be accurately estimated. Historical literature usually gives a "modest" figure of 83-85 thousand km. However, some researchers go further and name a much larger number - up to 300,000 km. Certain grounds for this are given by the Peitinger's Table. However, it must be understood that many roads were of secondary importance and were simply unpaved paths or were not paved along the entire length. The first document regulating the width of Roman roads was the so-called. "Twelve Tables". Adopted in the Roman Republic in 450 BC BC (that is, even before the long paved roads), these statutes established the width of the "via" at 8 Roman feet (1 Roman foot - 296 mm) on straight sections and 16 feet at turns. In reality, the roads could be wider, in particular, such famous Italian highways as Via Appia, Via Flaminia and Via Valeria, even on straight sections, were 13-15 feet wide, that is, up to 5 m.

Stone cake

Of course, not all roads that were part of the colossal communication network of ancient Rome were of the same quality. Among them were the usual gravel-covered dirt trails and sand-sprinkled logs. However, the famous via publicae - paved public roads built using technology that has survived millennia - became a real masterpiece of Roman engineering. The famous Appian Way became their foremother.

The Roman technology of road construction is described in some detail by the outstanding architect and engineer of Antiquity, Mark Vitruvius Pollio (1st century AD). The construction of the via began with the fact that two parallel grooves broke through along the future route at a given distance (2, 5−4, 5 m). They marked the area of ​​work, and at the same time gave the builders an idea of ​​the nature of the soil in the area. At the next stage, the soil between the grooves was removed, as a result of which a long trench appeared. Its depth depended on the topography of the geological characteristics - as a rule, builders tried to get to the rocky ground or to a harder soil layer - and could be up to 1.5 m.

The sum of technologies

Laying roads over rough terrain, Roman engineers designed and erected a variety of structures to overcome natural obstacles. Bridges were thrown across the rivers - they were made of wood or stone. Wooden bridges were usually placed on piles driven into the bottom, stone bridges were often based on impressive arched structures.Some of these bridges have been well preserved to this day. The swamps were traversed with stone embankments, but sometimes wooden gats were used. In the mountains, roads were sometimes cut right in the rocks. Road construction began with surveyors placing pegs along a line representing the future route. To strictly maintain the direction of the surveyors used the instrument of "thunder". Another important function of thunder is to draw perpendicular straight lines on the ground. The construction of the Roman road began with a ditch, into which a layer of large rough stones (statumen), a layer of rubble fastened with a binder mortar (rudus), a layer of cemented small fragments of brick and ceramics (nucleus) were successively laid. Then pavement (pavimentum) was made.

Further, the road was built using the "puff pie" method. The lower layer was called statumen (support) and consisted of large, rough stones - about 20 to 50 cm in size. The next layer was called rudus (crushed stone) and was a mass of smaller broken stone, fastened with a binder solution. The thickness of this layer was about 20 cm. The composition of ancient Roman concrete varied depending on the area, however, in the Apennine Peninsula, a mixture of lime with pozzolan, a ground volcanic rock containing aluminum silicate, was most often used as a solution. Such a solution showed the properties of setting in an aqueous medium and, after solidification, was characterized by water resistance. The third layer - the nucleus (core) - was thinner (about 15 cm) and consisted of cemented small fragments of brick and ceramics. In principle, this layer could already be used as a road surface, but often a fourth layer, pavimentum (pavement), was laid on top of the "core". In the vicinity of Rome, large cobblestones of basalt lava were usually used for paving. They had an irregular shape, but they were cut so that they fit snugly together. Small irregularities of the pavement were leveled with cement mortar, but even on the best-preserved roads this "grout" has disappeared without a trace nowadays, exposing the polished cobblestones. Sometimes stones of the correct, for example, quadrangular shape were also used to create the pavement - they, of course, were easier to fit to each other.

The pavement had a slightly convex profile, and the rainwater that fell on it did not stand in puddles, but flowed into the drainage grooves running on both sides of the pavement.

Of course, engineering tasks were not limited to laying the route and creating the basis for the road surface. The construction of roads took place in a constant struggle with the relief. Sometimes the road was raised to an embankment, sometimes, on the contrary, it was necessary to cut passages in the rocks. Bridges were thrown across the rivers, and tunnels were built in the mountains, if possible.

It was especially difficult when crossing swamps. Here they came up with all sorts of ingenious solutions, like wooden structures placed under the road, installed on wooden piles. In particular, the Appian Way passed through the Pomptinsky swamps - a lowland separated from the sea by sand dunes and consisting of many small bodies of water and swamps, in which malaria mosquitoes bred in abundance. For about 30 km, an embankment was laid through the swamp, which was constantly eroded, and the road had to be repaired frequently. In the middle of the 2nd century A.D. on this part of the way, it was even necessary to dig a drainage canal parallel to the road, and many Romans preferred to overcome the swamp by water, in ships.

Pillar roads

Roman roads often passed through sparsely populated areas, so additional structures were required for comfortable and relatively safe movement along them. Every 10-15 km along the roads, mutationes were set up - stations for changing horses, or post stations.At a distance of a day's march - 25-50 km from each other - there were mansiones, inns with taverns, sleeping rooms and even a kind of "service station" where for a fee it was possible to repair the cart, feed the horses and, if necessary, provide them veterinary care.

Already in imperial Rome, a postal service arose, which, of course, used the road network. By changing horses at post stations, the postman could deliver a message in a day 70-80 km from the destination, or even further. For the European Middle Ages, such a speed would seem fantastic!

A separate type of monumental creativity of the ancient Romans was milestones, thanks to which travelers on the roads could easily determine which path had already been passed and how much remained. And although in fact the pillars were not installed on every mile, the number was more than compensated for by the grandeur. Each pillar was a cylindrical column with a height of one and a half to four meters, set on cubic bases. This giant weighed an average of about two tons. In addition to the numbers indicating the distance to the nearest settlement, it was possible to read on it who and when built the road and erected a stone on it. During the reign of Emperor Augustus Octavian, in 20 BC. at the Roman forum, the "golden" miliarium aurem, the miliarium aurem, was installed for the empire. It became a kind of zero mark (in fact, the Romans did not know the number "0"), the very symbolic point in Rome, to which, as the famous saying goes, "all paths lead."

Between the living and the dead

Helping to quickly transfer troops to the rebellious provinces, deliver mail and conduct trade, Roman roads occupied a special place in the outlook of the inhabitants of the great Mediterranean empire. In Rome, as in other large cities, it was forbidden to bury the dead in the city limits, and therefore cemeteries were set up in the vicinity, along the roads. Entering the city or leaving it, the Roman seemed to cross the border between the worlds, between the momentary and vain, on the one hand, and the eternal, unshakable, covered with legends, on the other. Burial monuments and mausoleums along the roads reminded of the glorious deeds of their ancestors and demonstrated the vanity of noble families. The government sometimes used the roads for demonstration and edification purposes. In 73 A.D. In Italy, an uprising broke out under the leadership of Spartacus, a gladiator from Capua, the very city where Appius Claudius Tsec led his famous "via" from Rome. Two years later, the armies finally managed to defeat the rebels. The captured slaves were sentenced to death and crucified on 6,000 crosses displayed along the Appian Way.

It is difficult to say for sure how the inhabitants of the "barbarian" outskirts of the empire felt about the Roman boon - the paved paths that cut like a sword through the lands of the conquered peoples and did not reckon with the traditional boundaries of the tribes. Yes, the Roman roads brought with them ease of movement, promoted commerce, but tax collectors came along them, and in case of disobedience, soldiers. However, it also happened otherwise.

In 61 A.D. Boudicca (Boadicea), the widow of the leader of the Brittish tribe of the Icenes, revolted against Roman rule in Britain. The rebels succeeded in clearing foreign troops and capturing the cities of Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulanium (St Albans). Judging by this sequence, Boudicca's army moved along the roads built by the Romans, and on the last segment between Londinium and Verulanium, the rebels "saddled" the famous Watling Street - the route of Roman times, which is actively used in a renewed form to this day.

And this was only the "first call". The road network of the Roman Empire has long helped to keep a huge part of the world under control.When the power of the state began to weaken, the great creation of the Romans turned against its creators. Now the hordes of barbarians took advantage of the roads to quickly make their way to the treasures of the decrepit state.

After the final collapse of the Western Empire in the 5th century A.D. stone roads, like many other achievements of Antiquity, were practically abandoned and fell into disrepair. Road construction resumed in Europe only about 800 years later.

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