The Appian Way: Rome’s Greatest Achievement?

Once Rome’s main artery south, for centuries the Via Appia has been taken as proof of Roman greatness.

Tomb on Via Appia Antica near Albano. Engraving by Piranesi, 1764. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Public Domain.

As viewers of Monty Python know, in the long list of things the Romans did for us, ‘the roads go without saying’. Among the many roads constructed and reconstructed across Europe and around the Mediterranean, the most famous is the Via Appia. The ‘queen of the roads’ (according to the ancient writer Statius), it led south and east from Rome to the Adriatic port of Brindisi on Italy’s heel. As important as the original engineering achievement, however, is its long-term cultural impact. Artists painted it; writers described it. Ruler after ruler took inspiration from the Roman roads for new infrastructure projects. The monumentality of the road network, intrinsic to its design from the start, provides a physical link to ancient heritage even today. Almost anywhere on the empire’s old territory we can still find milestones and stretches of stone paving.

Various feet in ancient times

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