The Appian Way

The Appian Way is one of the earliest ancient Roman roads, stretching for more than 700 km from Rome to Brindisi on the south-east coast of Italy.

It was the brainchild of Appius Claudius, a Roman censor, who was blind but had a very acute mind. He realised that goods, travellers, carts and, most important of all, the army could move more quickly over paved roads than unpaved tracks. After his idea was accepted, work began in 312 BC on what would become the most important Roman road.

Appius Claudius personally supervised the workmen and stone-masons and tested the levelness of the blocks that comprise the road with his own bare feet. These blocks, made from volcanic basalt, were arranged in the manner of a mosaic and fitted together so perfectly that they have not been dislodged by traffic or the passage of time. Where the original surface can still be seen, it is possible to see the care with which the road was constructed more than two thousand years ago.

The Romans called this road Regina Viarum, the Queen of Roads. It ran firstly to Capua before being extended to Brindisi, although Emperor Trajan, several centuries later, would build a branch road to reach Brindisi by an easier route.

Many difficulties had to be overcome in creating the Appian Way. These included marshes, broken ground, and masses of rock that had to be levelled. The engineering skills needed to build this road were highly sophisticated.

In ancient times the road was lined by temples and villas, tombs and monuments. Many historical events are associated with the Appian Way, including the suicide of the great philosopher Seneca, who died at a villa on the Appian Way having slit his wrists on the orders of Emperor Nero. The slave result of Spartacus was put down with great slaughter by the Romans, who crucified 6,000 rebels along the Appian Way in 71 BC.

Although much of the original route has been lost in more recent years, a great deal of the Appian Way has been preserved. This includes a stretch that is the longest straight road in Europe, a distance of 62 km.

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