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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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Economy

How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over Two Centuries

This unique animated visualization uses health and wealth measurements to chart the evolution of countries over time.

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two centuries of health and wealth

How Global Health and Wealth Has Changed Over 221 Years

At the dawn of the 19th century, global life expectancy was only 28.5 years.

Outbreaks, war, and famine would still kill millions of people at regular intervals. These issues are still stubbornly present in 21st century society, but broadly speaking, the situation around the world has vastly improved. Today, most of humanity lives in countries where the life expectancy is above the typical retirement age of 65.

At the same time, while inequality remains a hot button topic within countries, income disparity between countries is slowing beginning to narrow.

This animated visualization, created by James Eagle, tracks the evolution of health and wealth factors in countries around the world. For further exploration, Gapminder also has a fantastic interactive chart that showcases the same dataset.

The Journey to the Upper-Right Quadrant

In general terms, history has seen health practices improve and countries become increasingly wealthy–trends that are reflected in this visualization. In fact, most countries drift towards the upper-right quadrant over the 221 years covered in the dataset.

However, that path to the top-right, which indicates high levels of both life expectancy and GDP per capita, is rarely a linear journey. Here are some of the noteworthy events and milestones to watch out for while viewing the animation.

1880s: Breaking the 50-Year Barrier
In the late 19th century, Nordic countries such as Sweden and Norway already found themselves past the 50-year life expectancy mark. This was a significant milestone considering the global life expectancy was a full 20 years shorter at the time. It wasn’t until the year 1960 that the global life expectancy would catch up.

1918: The Spanish Flu and WWI
At times, a confluence of factors can impact health and wealth in countries and regions. In this case, World War I coincided with one of the deadliest pandemics in history, leading to global implications. In the animation, this is abundantly clear as the entire cluster of circles takes a nose dive for a short period of time.

1933, 1960: Communist Famines
At various points in history, human decisions can have catastrophic consequences. This was the case in the Soviet Union (1933) and the People’s Republic of China (1960), where life expectancy plummeted during famines that killed millions of people. These extreme events are easy to spot in the animation due to the large populations of the countries in question.

1960s: Oil Economies Kick into High Gear
During this time, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia all experience massive booms in wealth, and in the following decade, smaller countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait rocket to the right edge of the visualization.

In following decades, both Iran and Iraq can be seen experiencing wild fluctuations in both health and wealth as regime changes and conflict begin to destabilize the region.

1990s: AIDS in Africa
In the animation, a number of countries plummet in unison at the end of the 20th century. These are sub-Saharan African countries that were hit hard by the AIDS pandemic. At its peak in the early ’00s, the disease accounted for more than half of deaths in some countries.

1995: Breaking the 65-Year Barrier
Global life expectancy reaches retirement age. At this point in time, there is a clear divide in both health and wealth between African and South Asian countries and the rest of the world. Thankfully, that gap is would continue to narrow in coming years.

1990-2000s: China’s Economic Rise
With a population well over a billion people, it’s impossible to ignore China in any global overview. Starting from the early ’90s, China begins its march from the left to right side of the chart, highlighting the unprecedented economic growth it experienced during that time.

What the Future Holds

If current trends continue, global life expectancy is expected to surpass the 80-year mark by 2100. And, sub-Saharan Africa, which has the lowest life expectancy today, is expected to mostly close the gap, reaching 75 years of age.

Wealth is also expected to increase nearly across the board, with the biggest gains coming from places like Vietnam, Nigeria, and the Philippines. Some experts are projecting the world economy as a whole to double in size by 2050.

There are always bumps along the way, but it appears that the journey to the upper-right quadrant is still very much underway.

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Misc

Slices of the Pie: Mapping Territorial Claims in Antarctica

Antarctica is the most inhospitable region on Earth, but that hasn’t stopped countries from making territorial claims. This maps shows them all.

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antarctica territorial claims

Slices of the Pie: Mapping Territorial Claims in Antarctica

For the 55% of the world’s population who reside in cities, land is viewed as a precious commodity—every square foot has a value attached to it. As the global population continues to rise toward the eight billion mark, it can seem like humans have laid claim to every available corner of the earth.

While this is mostly true, there is one place on the planet that is vast, empty, and even partially unclaimed: Antarctica.

Today’s map, originally created by the CIA World Factbook, visualizes the active claims on Antarctic territory, as well as the location of many permanent research facilities.

The History of Antarctic Territorial Claims

In the first half of the 20th Century, a number of countries began to claim wedge-shaped portions of territory on the southernmost continent. Even Nazi Germany was in on the action, claiming a large swath of land which they dubbed New Swabia.

After WWII, the Antarctic Treaty system—which established the legal framework for the management of the continent—began to take shape. In the 1950s, seven countries including Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom claimed territorial sovereignty over portions of Antarctica. A number of other nations, including the U.S. and Japan, were engaged in exploration but hadn’t put forward claims in an official capacity.

Territorial claims in AntarcticaTerritory nameArea of claim
🇦🇺 AustraliaAustralian Antarctic Territory3,663,915 mi² (5,896,500 km²)
🇳🇴 NorwayQueen Maud Land1,677,702 mi² (2,700,000 km²)
🇬🇧 United KingdomBritish Antarctic Territory1,062,171 mi² (1,709,400 km²)
🇦🇷 Argentina Argentine Antarctica908,194 mi² (1,461,597 km²)
🇨🇱 ChileChilean Antarctic Territory776,874 mi² (1,250,258 km²)
🇳🇿 New ZealandRoss Dependency279,617 mi² (450,000 km²)
🇫🇷 FranceAdélie Land268,432 mi² (432,000 km²)

Despite the remoteness and inhospitable climate of Antarctica, the idea of claiming such large areas of landmass has proven appealing to countries. Even the smallest claim on the continent is equivalent to the size of Iraq.

A few of the above claims overlap, as is the case on the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out geographically from the rest of the continent. This area is less remote with a milder climate, and is subject to claims by Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom (which governs the nearby Falkland Islands).

Interestingly, there is still a large portion of Antarctica that remains unclaimed today. Just east of the Ross Ice Shelf lies Marie Byrd Land, a vast, remote territory that is by far the largest unclaimed land area on Earth.

While Antarctica has no official government, it is administered through yearly meetings known as the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. These meetings involve a number of stakeholders, from member nations to observer organizations.

Frontage Theory: Another Way to Slice it

Of course, critics could argue that current claims are arbitrary, and that there is a more equitable way to partition land in Antarctica. That’s where Frontage Theory comes in.

Originally proposed by Brazilian geopolitical scholar Therezinha de Castro, the theory argues that sectors of the Antarctic continent should be distributed according to meridians (the imaginary lines running north–south around the earth). Wherever straight lines running north hit landfall, that country would have sovereignty over the corresponding “wedge” of Antarctic territory.

The map below shows roughly how territorial claims would look under that scenario.

hypothetical Antarctica frontage territories claims

While Brazil has obvious reasons for favoring this solution, it’s also a thought experiment that produces an interesting mix of territorial claims. Not only do nearby countries in Africa and South America get a piece of the pie, but places like Canada and Greenland would end up with territory adjacent to both of the planet’s poles.

Leaving the Pie Unsliced

Thanks to the Antarctic Treaty, there is no mining taking place in Antarctica, and thus far no country has set up a permanent settlement on the continent. Aside from scattered research stations and a few thousand researchers, claims in the region have a limited impact.

For the near future at least, the slicing of the Antarctic pie is only hypothetical.

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