What Were Roads In Ancient Rome Made Out Of

Ancient Rome is renowned globally for its impressive legacy of providing the foundation and setting the path for many cities that were to come up in the centuries after. Designated routes connected places, connecting them to major cities – Rome being the most notable amongst them – during the Ancient Roman Empire. The ‘street-like’ system enabled quick troop movements, tolls and controlled trade across their growing and expanding sphere of influence. This article seeks to look at the intricate details of what these roads were made of.

Natural Materials

In several regions, the Roman road system was simply an overlay on existing pathways and trails. In such cases, the material used to make the roads was naturally found underfoot and along the sides of what is now known as the Roman Empire. Much of the time, this material was a combination of stones, mud, animal feces and clay. The Romans had a meticulous way of putting these materials in certain proportions to make the roads durable and efficient. Stones from the countryside were picked and put in the collection cart.

Once these were located and gathered, the Romans had a bunch of draught animals assist them in these tasks. Goats and bullocks were the most common, with horses being the expensive exception. Their powerful kick helped to break stones, whereas others facilitated the movement of debris. The debris, upon being collected on the carts, were then transported to the construction sites. A deep layer of mixed earth was then laid on the foundation or base bed of the road.

Construction Process

The mixture was cleverly put together with stones in the center, to provide support in the form of rigidity, with packed sand on both the sides. This made sure that the roads would stay intact against heavy handling and the elements of nature. Altogether, this left the roads capable of handling numerous forms of transportation, such as those with carts, carriages, carts and riders. Sticks and wooden logs were also used to provide lateral support and structural robustness.

The roads were kept at a consistent level that was decided by the thickness of the stones and its consistency. Layers of stones were added as the top layer, in addition to disposing of excess earth and pebbles. All this was helping to create a clean and spotless look, which made walking and riding more efficiently. The trench along the side helped prevent slippage in the wintertime and stored rainwater. This could be used in areas facing water scarcity.

Advanced Road Construction

The Romans used a special type of construction to make the roads resilient amid harsh weather. Surface leveled and wooded surfaces provided traction and were bolstered by two side pavements that ran along the whole length of the road. An expert civil engineer from the University of Rome, Alessio Zambreno commented on this aspect, “The Romans used wooden planks to level the roads. This was very well planned for the weather conditions and the given terrain of each region.” The side pavements carried away gutters, enabling the roads to remain free from mud and other debris.

The depths and width of the Roman roads varied depending on the usage, terrain and amount of traffic the roads were expected to bear. Smaller roads that cross-bifurcated several smaller communities typically had widths ranging up to 5 meters. These were meant to only cater to carts, horses, donkeys and pedestrians. Major highways, leading to Rome, were especially planned to enable troop movement and heavier carts.

Maintenance & Repair

The upkeep of the Roman roads included frequent repair and maintenance. This was done by examining and assessing the more heavily trafficked roads. Romans took a ritualistic approach to maintenance and repairs, involving the surfacing, supporting and cleaning of the roads. The removal of weeds and shrubs that grew up along the sides were one of the many tasks that had to be regulated. This was done for reasons of convenience, as well as for aesthetic purposes.

Rocks, if found to be unstable, were replaced by small stones and clay mixed with butter. This made sure the surface was not slippery in wet weather. The roads were utilised for military movements, communal events such as markets, processions and ceremonies. Repairing and maintenance were key in enabling people from all walks of life to conduct their business with efficiency.

Egalitarian Distribution

As well as maintenance and upkeep, the Roman road network had a sense of equality with regards to its infrastructure. Every district had each road maintained in accordance to the laws and regulations of the Republic. Substations and schools dedicated to roads existed in major cities. This was done specifically to ensure that citizens had access to the same standards and quality of roads regardless of their wealth or social advantages.

The Roman roads were made of natural materials, special construction process and regular maintenance routines. This helped to keep the network of pathways integrated, while also allowing different parts of the Empire to remain connected. It is thought that the elaborate details and robust efficacy of th Roman road system has set the stage for modern highway systems, tunnels and bridges for centuries to come.


The legacy of the Ancient Roman road network has served as a benchmark or a reference model to many cultures that came and went in the centuries that followed. The very same rules, regulations and systems for construction and maintenance are employed for road systems of today. Even the concept of the trench on the side of the road was adopted, to ensure safety when dealing with rainy weather.

The nations of the world, Rome included, have recognised the importance of an efficient and well-maintained road system. A survey conducted in 1992 revealed that the Roman road network was almost as big as modern network, with over 85000 kilometers of routes of which 53 percent were stone, 24 percent of dirt and 23 percent of sand. Even today, various segments of their network, particularly the “Via Appia” is open to trekking and other forms of recreation.

Economic Impact

The Roman roads had a significant impact on the economy of the region. Horses, donkeys and carts were used to transport goods and services to markets, when the roads were in their prime. They were also used to transport goods from farms, from one town to another, as well as to important cities. Apart from goods and services, the road network also enabled efficient postal services across the Roman Republic thanks to its design.

Victor Boyer, an archaeologist from Italian Heritage Foundation, said, “The roads enabled the boom of commerce, as merchants, entities and investors all fought to get access to this asset of transportation. Rome itself acted as a central point, with strong leader in the form of Julius Caesar to negotiate by sending letters and transporting goods to other territories.” This made sure that the Roman Republic saw some of the highest levels of commerce and trade volume during that era.

Class Distinction

The construction and management of the road network were undertaken by two different entities. The main roads were administered and cared for by the Senate, with support from the army of Rome. On the other hand, smaller roads were taken care of by individual private entities or landowners who had access to their own carts under the self-funded arrangement. This setup resulted in most roads not being able to support larger chariots, carrying heavy loads, as the roads got much narrower.

The private arrangements were seen to be reserved for wealthy citizens, while non-wealthy citizens had strict regulations barring them from owning and using carts. Individuals and carts had to use designated pathways to avoid conflict. This led to many irregularities, as the Republic had to deal with overcrowded and maintenance deficient roads with limited resources.

Influence on Other Nations

Another interesting aspect of Roman roads was the influence they had on other nations. The discovery of the Druids was a major feat for the Romans, as their routes enabled them to move around North Europe. This eventually resulted in Romans emerging victorious over the natives. The Druids, seeing the technological superiority of Roman roads, manage to use them for their own usage and to replicate the same structures in their own towns and regions.

The Byzantine Empire emerged from the ancient Roman Empire. The Byzantines, seeing the power of roads, were unable to improve on it, but were focused on the maintenance and repairs. This enabled the Byzantine Empire to remain relevant and have a network of roads that may have been generations old. It is even said that some of the roads used in the Middle Ages followed the same paths of Roman roads, centuries ago.

Conclusion of Ancient Roman Roads

The Ancient Roman roads have made a strong mark on history and have been a direct contribution to several factors which facilitate the development of infrastructure in our times. It is due to their commitment to overseeing the development and repair that they left us with a network of highways and roads to pave the way for the advent of new technologies. Affordability and convenience made them the efficiency boosters of their times and the sophistication with which they were constructed coupled with ample detail makes them something still to be admired.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

Leave a Comment