The Roman Empire rose to power in about 27 B.C. and lasted until 410. During this time, Roman influence reached its height and Rome established a lasting legacy in the history of western civilization. One aspect of the Roman legacy is their architectural achievements. Roman engineering and architecture stand out as some of the most marvelously sophisticated for the time, with the variety of structures they built and the means of construction. Roman architecture went through a golden age beginning in 27 B.C. and lasting until about 180 A.D. when the Empire began to decline. During this golden age, the Romans built coliseums, an intricate road network, aqueducts, and bathhouses. Many examples of these structures still stand today, a testament to Roman architecture genius.
From among these four architectural achievements of the Romans, the best remembered is their road network (McCarty 120). The Romans designed their roads to last and, at the same time, to withstand both military and civilian traffic. They succeeded so well that some of these roads still function today, such as the Via Appia or Appian Way (see fig 1), which leads from Southern Italy to Rome (Boatwright 86). Most Roman roads started out as simple well-used tracks and paved much later. The Romans paved their roads by first adding a layer of crushed rock and rubble to the flat surface. This layer of debris was useful in providing a sturdy foundation and providing drainage for rainwater. Next, the Romans added a thick layer of sand and clay to the layer of debris. The final layer consisted of cut stone slabs (Giovanni). The Romans always wanted their roads to follow the shortest and straightest route. Sometimes this desire to build a straight and short road warranted extreme measures such as when the roads cut across swamps or through hills. Remarkably, the Romans could build tunnels to augment their road network, such as the Crypta Neapolitana in Southern Italy. The tunnel is 700 meters long, four meters wide, and five meters high (Giovanni). While not publicly used for transport today, it does serve as a functioning tourist attraction.
Fig 1. A segment of the Via Appia road outside of Rome.
Another interesting aspect of the Roman road network is summed up by the old saying “All roads lead to Rome.” This saying was actually true; the Romans constructed their road network so that every road in the Empire eventually led to Rome (Boatwright 380). Four classes of Roman roads existed, first viae publicae or public roads, built and maintained at the public’s expense. Second, the viae militare or military roads, constructed and used by the military, but eventually became public roads. Third, actus or local roads built and maintained by local communities. Finally, privatae or private roads, built by a private individual within his property (Giovanni). In many cases, paved roads followed the path of an aqueduct.
Aqueducts, while architectural wonders...