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All roads led to Rome but they also led to Europe's modern-day prosperity, study finds


Not only did all roads lead to Rome in the ancient world, they also led to modern-day prosperity.  A new study has shown a remarkable correlation between the network of stone roads built by the Romans 2,000 years ago and cities, transport hubs and economic development today.

All roads led to Rome but they also led to Europe's modern-day prosperity, study finds
The ancient Romans built their roads to allow soldiers and supplies to move 
around the empire [Credit: Getty]
The spider’s web of Roman roads that were constructed from Hadrian’s Wall to North Africa and the Near East corresponds closely to contemporary patterns of urbanisation and industrialisation.

The similarity is particularly striking for modern-day London, Paris and Rome, as well as the Po Valley of northern Italy, where the Romans established Milan.

Danish economists from the University of Copenhagen said that their findings showed that Roman military and economic endeavours put down deep roots that persist to this day.

Carl-Johan Dalgaard and his team of researchers produced a map of roads across the Roman Empire when it was at its greatest geographical extent, in the year 117 AD.

They then compared it with a 2010 satellite image of contemporary Europe at night, with the most brightly illuminated areas indicating major cities, towns and motorways.


They discovered a “remarkable pattern of persistence showing that greater Roman road density goes along with greater modern road density (and) greater economic activity in 2010.”

Roman cities, military outposts and roads set the template for economic development for the next two millennia, the academics suggest.

“Areas that attained greater road density during antiquity are characterised by a significantly higher road density today,” the research team wrote in their paper, which was published by Copenhagen University.

“Roman roads were linked to economic activity beyond the end of antiquity, and remain a strong and positive correlate of prosperity today.”

The only part of the Roman Empire where there is not a correlation is North Africa and the Middle East, where roads were abandoned as the Romans retreated, with local tribes switching from horse and carts to camel caravans. Roman roads fell into disrepair because there was no longer any use for them.

All roads led to Rome but they also led to Europe's modern-day prosperity, study finds
Roman roads and contemporary night light intensity among 1000 country-cells within the 
Roman empire in 117 CE [Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/Harvard University]
The development of the Middle East and North Africa subsequently took a very different course and both regions are now “considerably poorer” than Europe.

As a result, “we find that there is no significant link between ancient infrastructure and modern infrastructure within North Africa and the Middle East.

“In contrast, Roman roads continued to be maintained and in use in Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire,” the economists said.

Roman road-building began in earnest with the construction of the Appian Way from Rome to Capua, near present-day Naples.

The all-weather paved road was built to allow the army to move men and supplies south as they fought the Second Samnite War. The road was finished in 308 BC and the Romans defeated the Samnites four years later.


The Appian Way was eventually extended far to the south, to Brundisium, modern-day Brindisi on the Adriatic coast. It became the model for all subsequent road-building, both in Italy and across the rapidly expanding empire.

At the height of the empire’s reach, there were 50,000 miles of paved road. Many of them incorporated bridges, tunnels, sophisticated drainage systems and guesthouses for weary travelers.

“The purpose of the roads was to increase the speed and the ease with which the legions could reach locations of military interest – including territories of ongoing campaigns, army bases and Roman colonies that provided the army with essential supplies,” the study said.

“Very soon, the roads were also used by traders and for transportation of agricultural goods, but this was not the main intention.”

Author: Nick Squires | Source: The Telegraph [August 11, 2018]

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