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The Roman Empire’s Roads In Transit Map Form

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The Roman Empire's Roads In Transit Map Form

The Roman Empire’s Roads In Transit Map Form

View the high resolution version of the map by clicking here.

Unless you’re a historian or map buff, interpreting a map of the Roman Empire can be a daunting exercise. Place names are unfamiliar and roads meander across the landscape making it difficult to see the connections between specific cities and towns.

Today’s visualization, by Sasha Trubetskoy, has mashed-up two enduring obsessions – transit maps and Ancient Rome – to help us understand the connection between Rome and its sprawling empire.

At the height of the Roman Empire, there were approximately 250,000 miles (400,000 km) of roads, stretching from Northern England to Egypt and beyond. This impressive network is what allowed Rome to exercise control and communicate effectively over such a large territory.

For a detailed look at travel times and costs, check out Stanford’s amazing ORBIS platform. The screenshot below shows the fastest, cheapest, and shortest routes between the settlement of Lutetia (the predecessor of present-day Paris) and Roma.

Lutetia map to Rome

There were three main types of roads in Ancient Rome:

Viae publicae: Public highways or main roads, typically maintained by the military. These were the main, paved arteries of the empire and often included infrastructure such as drainage, milestones, and way stations.

Viae privatae: Private or country roads were financed by wealthy individuals to connect towns and other noteworthy points to the viae publicae.

Viae vicinales: These tertiary (often dirt) roads connected villages and areas within districts, eventually linking to the larger network.

This network of roads was vital as it allowed for quick troop movement as well as the development of a mail system. As the first major road network in Europe, the Romans quite literally laid the foundation for development across the continent.

There’s something alluring about Rome’s ability to carve out such a huge and advanced empire, with a legacy that lasts today.

– Sasha Trubetskoy

The Enduring Influence of Roman Roads

London, Paris, Barcelona, and countless other major cities sprang from Roman settlements along the road network, and even as Europe descended into the Dark Ages (476-800 CE), Roman roads remained as one of few functioning modes of movement and communication. A recent study even points out that proximity to that foundational network of roads even has a strong correlation with economic activity today.

Beyond mere curiosity or entertainment, looking back at Roman ingenuity allows us to see the impact their road network had on today’s world. That enduring influence is one of the reasons ancient Rome still fascinates us to this day.

For more reading, check out Trubetskoy’s followup, Roman Roads of Britain.

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History

Mapping the Spread of Words Along Trade Routes

When goods traveled to new regions, their native names sometimes hitchhiked along with them. This map shows the spread of loanwords around the world.

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Mapping the Spread of Words Along Trade Routes

In the early history of international trade, when exotic goods traveled to new regions, their native names sometimes hitchhiked along with them.

Naturally, the Germans have a term – Wanderwörter – for these extraordinary loanwords that journey around the globe, mutating subtly along the way.

Today’s map, produced by Haisam Hussein for Lapham’s Quarterly, charts the flow of Wanderwörter along global trade routes.

Tea

China’s export dominance over tea influenced how people around the world refer to their steeped beverages.

The spread of tea along the Silk Road from Mandarin-speaking Northern China resulted in much of Asia and Africa having similar sounding words for tea. Chá evolved into the chai widely consumed in India and surrounding areas today.

Tea’s other major trade route, through Min-speaking Southern China, spread the pronunciation that became the standard around Europe. This is why we see such striking similarities between thé (French), thee (Dutch), tee (German), (Spanish), and (Italian).

Tomatoes

Sometimes, a word’s journey isn’t completely linear.

In the case of tomatoes, the Italians’ decision to dub the red fruit pomodoro, or golden apple, led to a linguistic fork in the road. This is the reason the English name for tomatoes is still similar to the Aztec term tomatl, but in Russian, pomidor can be traced back to Italian.

Cotton

Many people in North America would be surprised to learn that “cotton” is a direct link to the Arabic word al-qutn.

Coca

When the Spanish brought coca from South America and spread it into the global market, its easy-to-pronounce name tagged along for the entire journey. Though its spelling may differ across cultures, say the word “coca” in many countries and people will likely know what you’re referring to.

A Small World After All

Most of us are vaguely aware that parts of our langauge consist of loanwords from other regions and cultures, but seeing the spread of language in map form is a powerful reminder that the globalization as we know it is a continuation of centuries of commercial and cultural exchange.

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Chart of the Week

Visualizing Africa’s Free Trade Ambitions

The Gambia recently became the latest country to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), helping the landmark agreement reach critical mass to move forward.

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africa free trade

Visualizing Africa’s Free Trade Ambitions

A united African continent working towards common goals would be a major force on the global economic stage.

To this end, nations in the region have been working towards an ambitious plan to create the world’s largest trade area. The Gambia recently became the latest country to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), helping the agreement reach critical mass to move forward.

Today’s graphic helps put the region – and the status of AfCFTA – into perspective.

The Patchwork Problem

One key to unlocking the region’s economic potential is making it easier for Africa’s 55 countries to trade with one another.

Currently, Africa is a patchwork of regulations and tariffs, and trade between countries has suffered as a result. For example, only 10% of Nigeria’s annual trade activity is with other African countries. This is a surprising given the country’s dominant economic standing and location firmly in the center of the continent.

As a whole, Africa’s intra-continental trade level hovers at just around 20%, while nations in Europe and Asia are at 69% and 59%, respectively. Clearly, there is a lot of room for growth.

What is AfCFTA?

AfCFTA is the biggest free trade agreement since the establishment of the World Trade Organization.

The objective of the agreement is to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business people and investments.

Last year, 44 African leaders signed an agreement to ratify AfCFTA, with half that number needed to move the agreement forward. Earlier this week, The Gambia was the 22nd country to announce that its government has ratified the agreement, meeting the threshold to officially put the wheels in motion.

We have witnessed a historic moment for the African Continent. AfCFTA is now set to become operational within
the month, creating a single continental market for goods
and services.

– Mark-Anthony Johnson, CEO, JIC Holdings

The good news for the agreement is that many of Africa’s largest economies – including Egypt and South Africa – are already on board. There is, however, one significant holdout.

The Elephant in the Room

Even though the threshold for pushing AfCFTA forward has been reached, Nigeria’s lack of commitment is still a major blow to the strength and credibility of the agreement.

Nigeria’s situation is complicated. The country’s economic prospects are bright, and Lagos is on a trajectory to become the world’s largest city over the next few decades. On the other hand, there is fierce opposition from labor unions, and the country is home to largest concentration of people living in extreme poverty in the world.

[AfCFTA is] an extremely dangerous and radioactive
neo-liberal policy initiative.

– Ayuba Wabba, President of NLC, Nigeria’s largest labor union

While the majority of African nations appear to be on board with the plan to enact AfCFTA, it remains to be seen whether Nigeria comes along for the ride or decides to go it alone.

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