Famous for their architectural expertise, the ancient Romans were capable of building perfectly straight roads and durable ones that extended to vast distances. They knew the modern survey tools, construction equipment, and precise location. How was that possible in those times with none of the modern tools. They built 50,000 miles of roads in Britain, and 50 miles being the longest straight stretch is some commendable architecture.
The noteworthy thing is that throughout the Roman Republic and Empire, the construction of different types of roads was done. Methodology and material for construction have slightly varied from region to region and have also evolved over the centuries.
Three main classifications of the Roman roads:
- Viae terrenae – These are the dirt roads that were made for walking people and riding wagons on the same path.
- Viae glareae – These are the dirt roads that have been graveled later on.
- Viae munita – These were the paved roads that have survived through modern times.
Further, the roads were classified based on who could use them.
Classification based on use:
- Viae publicae; which are the roads meant for public
- Viae militares; which are the roads intended for state and military use
- Viae privatae; which are the roads meant for very few people, mainly the ones who constructed the road at their private expense. The owners decide as to who will walk the path, perhaps the general public or a few select members of the society.
Tolls were a common practice to help pay for the roads. They were charged at particular locations like the bridges and the city gates, where it was absolutely impossible to avoid tolling.
Construction of a building is a time-consuming, labor-intensive work even with modern machinery. The question arises how did the ancient Romans pave these incredibly straight roads. Supposedly a group of surveyors was sent to figure out the precise direction connecting two points. Side by side, they would also attempt to plan a valid route that was possible between those two points. Every potential obstacle was taken into consideration like the tall mountains, rivers, and the like. Then a plan to execute, of either taking a detour around the obstacle or building way directly over it or through it.
For example – The longest tunnel excavated from 38 to 36 BCE was approximately 1 km, that is, 0.62 miles and 5 meters, that is, 5.4 yards high and wide known as Grotta di Cocceio. Despite 2000 years of standing, the tunnel was still fully functional and safe to traverse till before WWII, but it was damaged during the war, and efforts are being made to repair and open it for the public once again.
Tools like Groma, making steep slopes up and down the hill/ mountains, and various surveyors made it possible to construct roads in ancient times. The surveyors would set up markers, map out an optimal path, and estimate the need for labor material other things essential to construct a straight road.