You’re likely familiar with the “Roman Road”—passages from Paul’s epistle that some Christians use for evangelism. But did you also know our faith was spread far and wide (and rather quickly) because of a literal network of roads constructed by the Romans?
• How did they do it? First, workers dug a trench about three feet deep and leveled the ground. Once a foundation (rudus) of gravel, crushed bricks, or sand was laid between retaining walls, a layer of finer gravel (nucleus) was laid atop it and sealed with lime mortar. The road was then surfaced with blocks or slabs (summum dorsum). Ditches were also built in to make sure the roads didn’t flood.
• The Roman empire, at its largest, covered about 2.2 million square miles, encompassing everything from northern England to southern Egypt, and from Portugal on the Atlantic ocean to the waters of the Persian Gulf.
• Sixty million people (roughly one fifth of the world’s population at the time) claimed Roman citizenship, and everyone, including members of the early church, enjoyed the stability of the Pax Romana (Roman peace). The roads were efficient, easy to navigate, and safe because they were patrolled by imperial army troops known as stationarii and beneficiarii.
• The early apostles traveled much of Rome’s 75,000-mile road network, preaching the gospel or carrying the letters that eventually became part of the New Testament. It is estimated that in 30 years of ministry, the apostle Paul logged 10,000 miles on these ancient “superhighways.”
If you would like to see how long a particular trip would have taken on the Roman road network (and how much it would have cost), visit orbis.stanford.edu. This interactive model even accounts for different seasons and modes of transit!
• Most roads were approximately 14 feet wide, which allowed wagons or chariots to pass one another. There were actually three types of roads in ancient Rome:
- Viae publicae—Public highways or main roads
- Viae privatae—Private or country roads financed by wealthy citizens
- Viae vicinales—Dirt roads that connected villages and areas within districts
• Rome’s engineering feat served as the basis for many of today’s routes across Europe and the Middle East. Some of the original roads—such as the Via Appia (Appian Way) in Italy—can still be seen (and walked on) today.
• The English word mile is a derivative of the Roman phrase mille passus, which means “a thousand paces.”
Graphic by Metaleap Creative