Ancient Rome was famous for many things, many of them big and flashy. Gladiators, triumphs, and emperors often spring to mind, but perhaps Rome’s most enduring contribution to history is more humble: their roads (which all led back to Rome), a vast, interconnected network spanning as many as 200,000 miles at its maximum.
Across Europe, parts of North Africa, and the Middle East, the remnants of these roads can be found crisscrossing the landscape, from Scotland to Mesopotamia, from Romania to the Sahara. Rome’s earliest roads were built to connect the city on the Tiber with other cities on the Italian Peninsula. As Rome’s influence grew, their system of roads expanded too. They became arteries connecting new territories and their peoples to Roman civilization and eventually the Roman Empire. Some 30 roads from all points of Italy connected with Rome, many bearing the names of their builders, such as the Appian Way named for Appius Claudius, or the names of their destinations, such as the Ardeatina Way that led to Ardea, about 24 miles from Rome.
Roads were Rome’s “DNA” from the very beginning. Begun in 451 B.C. and finished a year later, the Lex XII Tabularum, or Law of the Twelve Tables, was the earliest set of written policies. Inscribed on 12 bronze tables, they spelled out procedures for trials, property ownership, crime and punishment, and civil rights. They also included rules for the road, setting a standard width of eight Roman feet for straight roads and 16 for curved ones (one Roman foot is slightly longer than a foot in the modern Imperial system).