The sheer scope of the network of Roman roads at the height of the Roman Empire equated to around 29 great military highways radiating from the capital Rome itself, and these, in turn, were connected by at least 372 great roads that linked 113 provinces. When translated in terms of distance, the stone-paved roads alone accounted for over 50,000 miles, and they connected distant regions inside both Gaul and Britain. The overall massive arrangement in many ways directly fueled the logistical and economic capacity of the burgeoning Roman realm, by allowing free movement of goods, civilians, and armies (Roman legions could travel as fast as 25 miles or 40 km per day on highways). This incredible ambit of has been reimagined by Sasha Trubetskoy, an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, in a visualized version we modern ‘travelers’ can identify with. The result is a nifty subway-style diagram that recreates the huge network of major ancient Roman roads.
Suffice it to say, it was not an easy endeavor for Trubetskoy to map so many of these ancient pathways that dotted the empire. According to the creator, he utilized various sources for his subway-style diagram project, including the famous Stanford Geospatial Network Model (ORBIS project), the Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary Map (which in itself is possibly partly based on surveys carried during the reign of Augustus). Trubetskoy goes on to mention how long it would have taken to realistically travel down the ancient networks of Rome roads –
That depends a lot on what method of transport you are using, which depends on how much money you have. Another big factor is the season – each time of year poses its own challenges. In the summer, it would take you about two months to walk on foot from Rome to Byzantium. If you had a horse, it would only take you a month.
However, no sane Roman would use only roads where sea travel is available. Sailing was much cheaper and faster – a combination of horse and sailboat would get you from Rome to Byzantium in about 25 days, Rome to Carthage in 4-5 days. Check out ORBIS if you want to play around with a “Google Maps” for Ancient Rome. I decided not to include maritime routes on the map for simplicity’s sake.
Pertaining to his latter comment, ORBIS does actually present a pretty good example of how traveling by water was often the most efficient mode. As we described in one of our previous articles, the fastest route between Eburacum (York, England) to Rome was judged to be 2,036 miles – and it could have been traveled in around 30.4 days (covering both land and water – see below diagram). Now if the passenger wanted to travel ‘first class’ in the fastest sailing ship and his rented private carriage, the overall cost would have come to around 1063.6 Roman denarii, which might be equivalent of $21,300 (in present valuation).
Lastly, it should be noted that given the intricate scope of ancient Roman roads, it is not possible to map ‘every’ road into this subway-style diagram. In some cases, Trubetskoy even had to furnish names for the paths based on the proximity of the place they passed through. In few other scenarios, he had to totally exclude some of the ancient connective lanes and arteries –
The biggest creative element was choosing which roads and cities to include, and which to exclude. There is no way I could include every Roman road, these are only the main ones. I tried to include cities with larger populations, or cities that were provincial capitals around the 2nd century.
Obviously to travel from Petra to Gaza you would take a more or less direct road, rather than going to Damascus and “transferring” to the Via Maris. The way we travel on roads is very different from rail, which is a slight flaw in the concept of the map. But I think it’s still aesthetically pleasing and informative.
For more information (including the historical stuff he had to modify or exclude), you can visit Sasha Trubetskoy’s page.