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January 09, 2018

The expression "all roads lead to Rome" comes from tradition and is used in other languages, such as English, with the same meaning known in Italian. What does it mean? Well, basically it tells us that whatever the direction we take for a decision it will still lead to the same result. The sentence originates from the fact that during the Roman expansion and the Empire, which occupied the entire Mediterranean basin and much of continental Europe, the Roman road system was organized in such a way that from all places, mainly from the big cities and from the great markets, as well as from legionary fortresses, it was possible to arrive in Rome along one of the many imperial roads. This system of irradiation of communications was very ancient and dates back to the first construction of the great consular arteries, some of which are still used today, at least as connecting routes (the most famous is the Via Emilia).

The Roman road system was very efficient: irradiating along the empire from a thick peninsula, with strong obstacles, it was able to connect centers very far from each other, promoting both trade and integration. The empire was a unitary institution, in which two languages were spoken officially (Latin and Greek) and the same currency was used (denarius, like its fractions), the same laws were used and equal rights were granted to the citizens, ie the inhabitants in possession of Roman citizenship (today we would say of the "Roman passport"). The streets were essential for cultural, social, and of course military penetration. Indeed it can be said that the Roman roads were the largest military infrastructure ever built by man: a nervous system able to withstand the fortunes of the empire for 5 centuries. Legionary troops, even on horseback, could move freely between the various centers at very high speeds compared to the times, often burning opponents with surprise moves.

Recently, designers Benedikt Gross, Phillip Schmitt and Raphael Reimann (Moovel Lab) have shown, with modern mapping systems, that even today all roads lead to Rome.

Omnes viae Romam ducunt, recites the ancient adage. But this motto is perhaps less ancient than one might think. It seems that it does not date back to the times of the Roman Empire, when effectively the Urbe, the City par excellence, was the center of the then known world. The first attestation of the expression "road" that has come down to us dates back to the Middle Ages, and precisely to 1175, when it was used by the French philosopher and theologian Alain de Lille (or Great Dane) in his Liber Parabolarum, Book of Parables. Here the context was that of a moral and spiritual similarity: just as the roads leading to Rome are endless, the ways for salvation are infinite for man, since everything is traceable to God. But the parable made sense only if its literal meaning was universally recognized and accepted by the common opinion of the timeAnd indeed the maxim contains a profound truth: during the Antiquity Rome was connected up to the remotest borders of the empire by a network of more than 370 roads, traced with rational criteria and perfectly maintained, and historians have always stressed how the magnitude and prosperity of Rome were also due to these routes of communication, which facilitated trade between the various regions, allowed the transmission of news and correspondence through an effective system of couriers, and allowed the central government to quickly move soldiers from one side to the other. another of the empire to respond to an external threat or to quell a revolt. The most important ways of communication were the consular roads, built in the Republican era and often called with the name of the consul who had promoted its construction; many left directly from Rome and crossed the Italian peninsula far and wide. Even in the Middle Ages, centuries after the fall of the empire, at the time of Alain de Lille, Roman roads were often the only effective and safe ways of communication to move around Europe. They had survived admirably over the centuries as they were the only paved roads, a characteristic that allowed them not to turn into rivers of mud and then into traps deadly for the wagons that passed through it, as happened instead for the predominant dirt roads in the Middle Ages. The saying "All roads lead to Rome" was therefore largely true in antiquity and in the Middle Ages, but still retains its validity today? For centuries other European capitals, first of all, Paris, London, and Berlin, have stolen to Rome the primacy of the most important and populous city on the continent, and these metropolises are in turn the center of a widespread network of communication routes. Some designer members of moovel lab, an interdisciplinary research space based in Stuttgart, Germany, took up the subject and looked at the old saying through the eyes of new technologies, realizing a project, called Roads to Rome, which is halfway between statistics on transport and communication routes, thematic cartography and conceptual art. Using OpenStreetMap, an online mapping service similar to Google Maps but whose data are created by users and freely usable and editable, the researchers took a map of the entire European continent and overlapped a grid, thus dividing an area of 26.503 .452 km² into 486.713 squares of the same size.


They then asked the computer to calculate the shortest route to reach the capital, starting from a point within each of these squares, thus creating 486.713 different roads leading to Rome from every corner of Europe. But it did not end here: using traffic data freely available online, they produced a map in which each of the identified streets is drawn with progressively bolder tones of bold depending on how much is used. The result is magnificent to behold: a web of streets that extends from the Italian capital and covers the entire continent. The map then has a fascinating resemblance to the illustrations of blood circulation in a body, with the thinner and peripheral capillaries that flow into larger and larger vessels as they approach the heart; it is no coincidence that the great routes of communication are often called, taking up this anatomical metaphor of road "arteries". The map may not answer our initial question if all the roads in Europe lead to Rome, but it certainly points out that the great routes of traffic that depart from every part of the continent towards the Italian capital are still many. Even more noteworthy is that the layout of many of these routes of communication corresponds with a minimum gap to that of ancient Roman roads, testifying that the ancient engineers had already chosen the best possible route to connect regions and cities of the republic and then of the 'empire. Limiting ourselves to the Italian peninsula, in the map of moovel lab the Via Aurelia is clearly distinguishable, which, starting from Rome, reached Liguria and then extended to France, and the Via Emilia that crossed the entire Po Valley. And then the great alpine passes like the San Bernardino, the Brenner, and Tarvisio, through which the ancient emperors already passed modern military roads to take the Roman pax beyond the borders of Italy. So this curious and meaningful motto could is both real, proven and versatile to use. How beautiful is that? Check our t-shirt All roads lead to Rome to spread the word? Which meaning you love the most?