Roman Roads – Tools of an Empire

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SS8 - EarlyMid02

Roman Roads and Aqueducts

Roman Roads and Aqueducts

Roman Roads – Tools of an Empire

The Romans built roads so that the army could march from one place to another. They tried to build the roads as straight as possible, so that the army could take the shortest route.

How the Road was Built...

  1. First, the army builders would clear the ground of rocks and trees. They then dug a trench where the road was to go and filled it with big stones.

  1. Next, they put in big stones, pebbles, cement and sand which they packed down to make a firm base.

  1. Then they added another layer of cement mixed with broken tiles.

  1. On top of that, they then put paving stones to make the surface of the road. These stones were cut so that they fitted together tightly.

  1. Kerb stones were put at the sides of the road to hold in the paving stones and to make a channel for the water to run away.

The Roman system of roads grew steadily to a peak of over 90,000 km. All major roads were built by the army or for the army. They were needed for massive armies to march to war or to defend the Empire. Because of this they often ran outside of the protected Roman World into the hostile lands beyond. However, at the same time the new roads improved communications inside the empire for the government too. The improved roads also improved the shipping of goods for business people.

Roman roads, although built with military needs in mind, were of immense benefit to civilian life. A few roads were built just for business purposes. One was the Via Salaria (The Salt Road) which was used to carry salt from the Adriatic Sea to trade with the Romans.
Roman roads are famous for their straightness, but even so, today we can see that some zig-zagging takes place in long sections. Often there will be a very straight section that changes direction slightly at high points of land, going straight again until the next point.


Finding Water

Human settlements must always be near a source of fresh water, whether a river or a spring. While Rome was just a small state within Latium, its source was the River Tiber. By the late fourth century B.C., when the Romans were fighting the second Samnite War, an alternative source of water was urgently needed. Perhaps this was because the water supply from the Tiber was not reliable enough for the expanding population of Rome, or perhaps it was because a single source of water could easily be poisoned by an enemy. Consequently, the Romans began building their first aqueduct, the Aqua Appia, in 312 B.C. Most of the later aqueducts were built less urgently to satisfy an amazing and ever-increasing demand for cold, clear water. To understand the builders’ task, we must look first at the geography of Rome and its hinterland.

The countryside around tome, know as the Campagna, is surrounded by hills and mountains. Rain and melting snow from this high ground feed many rivers, among them the Tiber and its tributary the Anio.
Some of this water, however, percolates through the soil and runs over the surface of the hard rock beneath, emerging from the ground lower down as springs. The many springs in the hills around the Campagna captured the attention of the Romans, and they decided to channel some of this pure water into the city.
One might have to dig to find a good source; where should one look? Vitruvius, a retired military engineer, who wrote ten books on architecture and engineering in the reign of Agustus, advised the Romans that;
“ Finding water is easy if there are open, running springs. If not, we must search underground. Just before sunrise, lie face downwards on the ground, resting your chin in your hands. Take a look over the countryside; where you see vapor curling up from the ground you will find water”.


An aqueduct is an artificial channel through which water is conducted to the place where it is used. Most aqueducts of ancient times were built of stone, brick or pozzuolana, a mixture of limestone and volcanic dust. Rome had many aqueducts and was the only ancient city reasonably supplied with water.


ome had eleven major aqueducts, built between 312 B.C. (AquaAppia) and 226 A.D. (Aqua Alexandrina); the longest (Anio Novus) was 59 miles long. It has been calculated that in imperial times, when the city's population was well over a million, the distribution system was able to provide over one cubic meter of water per day for each inhabitant: more than we are accustomed to use nowadays. The arcades, a series of arches, popularly shown to depict an aqueduct, should not be confused with the aqueduct itself. These arches, sometimes on several tiers, were constructed to carry the aqueducts over unavoidable dips, such as river valleys.
Water flowed to the city by the force of gravity alone and usually went through a series of distribution tanks within the city. Generally water was not stored, and the excess was used to flush out sewers. Rome's famous fountains were also supplied in this way.

t its height, ancient Rome was a city flowing with water, which effectively slaked the citizen's thirst, cleansed their bodies and carried away their sewage. During the Barbarians' various sieges, more and more of this water was chopped off, until Civilization, as the Romans knew it, literally dried up.

Although the Romans are considered the greatest aqueduct builders of the ancient world, quanta systems were in use in ancient Persia, India, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries hundreds of years earlier.

SS8 - EarlyMid02

  • Roman Roads and Aqueducts

Roman Roads and Aqueducts

Directions: Read the handout entitled Roman Roads and Aqueducts and answer the following questions using complete sentences.

1. On a separate piece of paper, provide definitions for the following terms;

Kerb Stones Via Salaria Aqueducts Arcades

2. On a separate piece of paper, answer the following questions using COMPLETE


  1. What was the main purpose of the Roman Roads? What were some of the additional benefits? (2 mks for quality of response)

  1. What was the name of the river that flowed through Rome? Why did they have to build aqueducts? (2 mks for quality of response)

  1. In your own words, explain how the Romans used their water. How did Romes enemies use water against them? (2 mks for quality of response)

  1. Use the internet to find and print out a collage of at least 10 different images of Aqueducts and Roman roads.

You will be marked out of 5 for your ability to create a 10 picture collage taken from the internet.

Total: ____/20

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